Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs

Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

The theme of this cute new book is that even the non-elephants deserve our respect, if only for the ability to survive. That ability is a combination of camouflage, ability to hide, and other factors. Playful language make the concepts fun. Accurate and detailed illustrations make them easy to understand.

Etruscan pygmy shrews and Amau frogs are so small they escape predators by slipping into holes and cracks. Galapagos tortoises are incredibly slow but can hide inside their strong shells. The hoatzin, a bird, and the zorilla, a weasel relative, scare predators away with their awful smells. The okapi is known for its ability to hide in plain sight. Koalas, giant armadillos, and brown bats get an edge by sleeping a lot and not needing a lot of food. The western fence lizard is so fast, it can catch any number of spiders and insects. It can also lose its balance a lot. Walruses rely on their blubber to keep them warm and act as storage for lean times. Naked mole rats and perfectly adapted to their desert burrows.

More information about each animal is available in the final section. A fun way to learn about animals that may not be featured in your favorite movie.

  • PipsqueaksTitle: Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs
  • Author: Melissa Stewart
  • Illustrator: Stephanie Laberis
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, September 1, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 2
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biology
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-950-6
  • Extras: More about the Underdogs

King and Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse

Written by Dori Hillestad Butler
Illustrated by Nancy Myers

Kayla and King are busy solving a mystery again in the third installment of this wonderful series for young readers.

King is playing ball with a puppy when his ball gets thrown over the fence. In trying to recover it, they find many other balls, but not King’s. He meets a cat who tells him “Mouse took it.” How could a mouse take a ball larger than itself? The girls list all the clues they know and all the things they don’t know. Then King figures out who Mouse is.

What’s great about this series is that there are enough illustrations to help move the story along and enhance a young reader’s ability to figure out the words. The story is exciting and complicated enough to make the reader think a bit. And the language is simple enough to be readable. Plus, it’s humorous.

Recommended for reading together, reading aloud, and independent reading.

  • Mysterious MouseTitle: King and Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse           
  • Author: Dori Hillestad Butler
  • Illustrator: Nancy Myers
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Early Reader, Mystery
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-879-0

La La La: A Story of Hope

Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jaime Kim

In her usual subtle and gentle style, the author tells a heartwarming and fundamental story of longing and companionship. There is very little text, so most of the story is told through the vivid illustrations.

When a young girl begins singing to the world, she gets no response. “La,” she sings to the air, to the leaves, to a lake, and to plants. She even tries to climb a ladder to the moon. She wears herself out singing, and still she gets nothing. She eventually falls asleep. When she wakes up, someone else is singing “La! La! La!” It’s the magical face in the moon, shining and singing away.

  • This can be viewed as a simple story of the girl finding a new friend, but so many other themes enter with each reading. As a read aloud or for independent reading, this is a wonderful book to add to any collection.
  • La La LaTitle: La La La: A Story of Hope
  • Author: Kate DiCamillo
  • Illustrated: Jaime Kim
  • Published: Candlewick Press, October 3, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 72 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Fiction, Loneliness, Frienship
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5833-5

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dreams of Don Quixote

Written by Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Raúl Colón

Although most people know about Don Quixote, few know much about the author behind the icon. In this fictionalized account of Miguel Cervantes’ early life, the reader learns that Miguel had a very tough life indeed. Escape into his fantasies about Don Quixote was often the only happiness in his world.

In simple language easily accessible to early grades, the author tells of Miguel’s father who lost most of his earnings to gambling and ended up in debtors’ prison for a time. So the family moved around a lot. Miguel found refuge in the stories his teachers read from books so precious only the teachers were allowed to touch them. Miguel witnessed burning of some of the books considered subversive due to use of imagination. The plague hit Europe, causing more suffering for the Cervantes family. Eventually, Miguel learned enough about writing that one of his teachers asks to publish some of his poems.

Fantastic pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations accompany every page of the manuscript. Realistic and authentic, they are certainly as enjoyable as the text.

In the Notes, the reader learns of Miguel’s later life. Nothing got easier. He was taken as a slave, was freed, and spent time in prison himself.

  • Miguels Brave KnightTitle: Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dreams of Don Quixote
  • Author: Margarita Engle
  • Illustrator: Raúl Colón
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, October 1, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Creative Nonfiction, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-856-1
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Historical Note, Biographical Note, Don Quixote: A Cultural Icon

Can an Aardvark Bark?

Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Getting to know wild animals is easier if you know how they are like you and the domesticated animals you are familiar with. In the area of sounds we make, the author first explores which animals make the noise known as a grunt, because aardvarks do not bark. Who would have thought this included aardvarks, river otters, Hamadryas baboons, white-tailed deer, and oyster toadfish? Animals that do bark include New Zealand fur seals, common barking geckos, capybaras, barking tree frogs, and woodchucks. Animals that squeal include European hedgehogs, Atlantic spotted dolphins, Abert’s towhees, margays, and you. Other sounds explored are whines, growls, bellows, and laughs.

The main text is written in simple language that can be read independently. The sidebars are also very simple, straightforward, and relatable. Kids will learn a ton and enjoy doing it.

The fun and lively illustrations bring the animals right into the reader’s world. Many of the animals discussed are unfamiliar, so the accuracy of the illustrations is important.

Recommended for classroom and home.

  • Can an Aardvark BarkTitle: Can an Aardvark Bark?
  • Author: Melissa Stewart
  • Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
  • Published: Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Nature, Animals
  • ISBN: 978-1-4814-5852-8
  • Extras: Selected Sources, For Further Reading

Claude on the Big Screen

Written and Illustrated by Alex T. Smith

Another installment in the “Claude” series sees Claude and Sir Bobblysock participating in the film industry. In a way, this story is custom made for Claude, a dog, and his sockly friend. It’s silly and imaginative and defines suspension of disbelief.

Claude attempts to keep all manner of paraphernalia in his beret, including a clothesline full of costumes. This becomes important, as the line itself keeps snaking its way out of the hat. When Claude notices a giant gorilla in a dressing gown drinking a cup of tea, he and Sir Bobbly sock feel compelled to investigate. They find a film company shooting a movie. They immediately immerse themselves in all things cinema, helping with wigs, makeup, costumes, sound, and lighting. Claude’s clothesline causes a disaster that sends the lead actors to hospital, so Claude and Sir Bobblysock also try acting.

Much of the humor is very subtle, but kids will no doubt look for the signs on the buildings (e.g., Miss Reed’s Read-A-Lot Bookshop: We like big books and we cannot lie) and names such as Waggy Avenue. Of course, some of the jokes are beyond young kids (Gloria Swoon), but they will still get that there is humor there.

There is a lot here to encourage kids to keep reading. Also, a lot of fun.

  • Claude on the Big ScreenTitle: Claude on the Big Screen
  • Author/Illustrator: Alex T. Smith
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, October 1, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 4
  • Genre: Humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-68263-009-9

Daytime Nighttime All Through the Year

Written by Diane Lang
Illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

The author chose fun rhyme and relatable actions for each page of this informative new book. Each month, she highlights both a diurnal and nocturnal animal and what each animal might be doing in that month. The reader sees a bald eagle catching fish and a coyote pack howling and prowling in January. To a tortoise eating cactus flowers and an opossum carrying her young in May. And a snake sunning and a cougar tracking prey in December.

The illustrator brings obvious knowledge of the animals and their habitats. The illustrations are simple yet educational and always accurate.

This is a wonderful addition to a nature library and a good place to start for studying these animals.

So while you are sleeping,

And when you arise,

Animals everywhere

Lead busy lives.

  • Daytime and NighttimeTitle: Daytime Nighttime All Through the Year
  • Author: Diane Lang
  • Illustrator: Andrea Gabriel
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September 1, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Creative Nonfiction, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-607-0
  • Extras: Explore More for Kids: Busy Day and Night; Explore More for Teachers and Parents: More About the Animals, Teachable Moments

Tall Tall Tree

Written by Anthony D. Fredericks
Illustrated by Chad Wallace

High above the forest floor is a world few people know about. It’s home to hundreds of species and is only present where the coast redwoods grow. If the redwoods go, this environment goes.

The author presents the story as a counting book with gentle rhyme highlighting ten different animals.

A single soaring eagle

Against a sky of blue

Up through “ten spotted Ladybugs.” In the Explore More sections, detailed descriptions and fun activities make this an extremely educational experience.

The realistic illustrations show kids a world they might never see otherwise. He includes in each illustration an extra animal so kids will have something extra to spot after counting the stars of the show.

As with most books from this publisher, this is a great text to include in a classroom. In this case, one learning about nature, the environment, or redwoods in particular. Of course, parents might also enjoy reading the fun text and discussing the environment with their kids.

This is a wonderful addition to any nature library.

  • Tall Tall TreeTitle: Tall Tall Tree
  • Author: Anthony D. Fredericks
  • Illustrator: Chad Wallace
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Nature, Counting
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-602-5
  • Extras: Explore More for Kids, Explore More for Teachers and Parents, Activities on publisher’s website: dawnpub.com

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song

Written by Debbie Levy
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

More than ever, children need something positive to hold onto. If they can sing some of their troubles away, maybe that will clear their heads so they can come up with solutions. This book was published a few years ago, but has even more relevance to today.

The author, Debbie Levy, has written about many subjects that qualify as consciousness-raising, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, and Richard Wright. In this story of the civil rights movement, she treats the topic with her usual sensitivity. From slavery to the lunch counter sit ins to the Freedom Singers, this one song held the people together. The March on Washington and the fight for the Voting Rights Act featured the song. It spread throughout the world to inspire struggles in other countries. The song evolved over the years, but the sentiment remained the same.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton is also no stranger to working with sensitive issues nor to illustrations about songs. Her images perfectly show how the singers have incorporated the song into their lives.

Highly recommended for early grade school discussions of current events.

  • We Shall OvercomeTitle: We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song
  • Author: Debbie Levy
  • Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton
  • Published: Disney: Jump at the Sun, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 3
  • Genre: Creative nonfiction
  • ISBN: 978-142311954
  • Extras: The Life of “We Shall Overcome,” a timeline; bibliography

Don’t Call Me Turtle

Written by Elaine A. Powers
Illustrated by Nicholas Thorpe

Written in rhyme to hold a kid’s interest, this is a cute story about a tortoise that keeps getting mistaken for a turtle. So the author explains many of the differences between the two. This is most important for those who might encounter one of these creatures and are wondering how best to help it. Readers don’t want to be responsible for drowning a tortoise. The shape and consistency of the shell and the different feet and claws are dead giveaways.

The detailed illustrations also aid with tortoise/turtle identification.

This short book is perfect for a nature unit on reptiles. Back matter is lacking, but the story is compelling enough to urge kids to look for more information.

  • Dont Call Me TurtleTitle: Don’t Call Me Turtle
  • Author: Elaine A. Powers
  • Illustrator: Nicholas Thorpe
  • Published: Lyric Power Publishing LLC, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 26 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Creative nonfiction
  • ISBN: 978-1517509576
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