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Grey, Mini. Toys in Space. U.S. edition: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. 32 pages (978–0–307-97812–7)

Ages 4-8

“That summer night, for the first time the toys were left outside. The sun went down, the sky grew dark, and, for the very first time … they saw THIS.” This being the dazzle of the stars in the sky. It’s overwhelming for some of them, and when Blue Rabbit asks for a story, WonderDoll spins a tale of a starry sky, and a spaceship, and a sad, glove-like alien called the Hoctopize who beams up seven toys left out in yard, hoping to find its lost Cuddles. Mini Grey’s warm, witty adventure features a cast of distinctive characters in a sweetly funny story. The seven toys left out in the yard are not only the characters in WonderDoll’s story, but provide an ongoing commentary about it. Dynamic illustrations incorporating panels and speech bubbles are an essential part of the humor.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Sayre, April Pulley. Stars Beneath Your Bed. Illustrated by Ann Jonas. Greenwillow Books / HarperCollins, 2005. 24 pages (0-06-057189-6)

Ages 5-8

Poetry and science grace one another in a lyrical picture book about dust. Sayre’s narrative begins with reference to a fire-painted sky in the morning -— the result of dust in the atmosphere scattering light. It ends by describing the pink, orange and red palette of sunset -— also the result of dust. In between, Sayre examines many of the ways dust is created: dirt flies when we ride our bikes, when a meerkat digs, when cheetahs chase gazelles; cotton rubs off our jeans and becomes dust; so does the smoke from burning toast or the eyelash of seal. “Old dust stays around . . . That dusty film on your computer screen / might have muddied a dinosaur.” And there is dust that comes from outer space: “The dust beneath your bed might be from Mars . . . or a bit of the moon.” Who knew? Dust may be small, but Sayre invites readers to consider it as an extraordinary element in the grand scheme of nature. A short prose narrative at the end of the book provides additional scientific information about dust and expands on information referenced in the poetic text. Ann Jonas’ bright water-color illustrations are a simple, strong backdrop for the words. (MS) ©2005 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Aston, Dianna Hutts. Moon Over Star. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Dial, 2008. 32 pages (978-0-8037-3107-3)

Ages 7-10

In the summer of1969, young Mae feels growing anticipation as the hour for the moon landing draws near. “A spaceship would land on the moon today, / And I dreamed that maybe one day, / I could go to the moon, too.” Mae and her cousins pretend to be the astronauts, and she is full of facts to share—about the moon being 240,000 miles away, and about President Kennedy’s declaration in 1961 that America would land on the moon. As the family gathers around the television to watch Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon, even Mae’s grandpa, who thinks money spent on the space program could do so much more good here on earth, seems impressed. “I reckon that’s something to remember,” he says. As for Mae, it’s something to inspire dreams. Dianna Hutts Aston’s poetic narrative is set against Jerry Pinkney’s stirring graphite, ink and watercolor illustrations in which scenes of African American Mae and her family are interspersed with the vision of her imagination and the astronauts’ experiences in space.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Meisel, Paul.
My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis. Holiday House, 2017. 32  pages (978–0–8234–3671–2)

Ages 5-8

The eventful summer of the spunky P. Mantis begins on the sunny day of May 17 (“I was born today!”). The praying mantis’s sparse but entertaining log continues for the next five months as she records her growth spurts, ravenous appetite—on June 2 she eats two of her brothers—and impressive camouflage skills. As we read about P.’s adventures, we learn interesting tidbits about praying mantises. They can turn their heads to look behind themselves; they can fly (eventually); they shed their skin many times as they mature. In the end, after laying her own eggs on the plant where she was born, P. Mantis lies down for “a long nap.” Notes on the endpapers confirm what readers may have suspected: adult mantises do not survive the winter, but their short lives are indeed “awesome.”  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Cornwall, Gaia. Jabari Jumps. Candlewick Press, 2017. 32 pages (978–0–7636–7838–8)

Ages 3-7

A young African American boy is sure he’s ready to jump off the diving board at the pool … or is he? “‘Looks easy,’ Jabari said. But when his dad squeezed his hand, Jabari squeezed back.” Jabari starts up the ladder, only to come down again to take “a tiny rest” at his dad’s suggestion. “It’s okay to feel a little scared,” his dad tells him. “Sometimes if I feel a little scared, I take a deep breath and tell myself I am ready. And you know what? Sometimes it stops feeling scary and feels a little like a surprise.” Intrigued (“Jabari loved surprises”), Jabari decides to try again. Anxiety, anticipation, and accomplishment all take the stage in this sparkling picture book featuring a finely paced text and a warm father–son relationship. The mixed-media illustrations show a range of wonderful perspectives, including an overhead of Jabari’s toes hanging off the board just before he jumps, or, in his mind, flies. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Garza, Cynthia Leonor. Lucía the Luchadora. Illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez. POW!, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–57687–827–9)

Ages 3-6

Lucía is a brave, active girl who wants to be a superhero. The boys on the playground tell her girls can’t be superheroes because they’re made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Abuela comes to the rescue when she gives Lucía her own luchadora mask and tells her all about the Mexican tradition of lucha libre. Lucía assumes the luchadora persona and—now disguised—impresses all the boys on the playground by doing the exact same things she had done as a superhero. The difference is that no one knows she’s a girl until she reveals herself, surprising all the doubters. A playful, well-told story with spirited illustrations delivers a strong feminist message. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Pinkney, Jerry.
The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Little, Brown, 2017. 32 pages (978–0–316–34157–8)

Ages 3-6

This mostly faithful retelling of the traditional tale stars the familiar trio of goats crossing a bridge guarded by a terrible troll to reach a lush pasture. After the smallest and mid-size goats successfully outwit the troll and cross the bridge, the largest billy goat Gruff butts the creature into the river. There, in a moment of satisfying reciprocity, the troll narrowly escapes a close encounter with a huge and hungry fish. Jerry Pinkney’s trademark pencil and watercolor illustrations masterfully capture his subjects, from charming goats to a deliciously menacing troll. Observant readers who follow the story into the endpapers will see hints of a new community where goats and troll live cooperatively. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

book coverStewart, Melissa. Can an Aardvark Bark? Illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Beach Lane, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–4814–5852–8)

Ages 5-9

A primary narrative strings together questions and answers about the sounds animals do and don’t make (“Can an aardvark bark? No, but it can grunt … Can a seal squeal? No, but it can bark … Can a wild boar roar? No, but it can squeal.”). Each question-and-answer pair is followed by a page spread that provides examples of other animals that make the same sound. (e.g, “Lots of other animals grunt too.”) For all of the animals named—and shown in Steve Jenkins’s striking collage portraits set against white pages—there is a brief description relating to the sound it makes: how it makes that sound, or under what circumstances. (“A European hedgehog snorts when it’s angry and purrs when it’s happy. When the prickly critter senses danger, it squeals and rolls up in a tight ball.”) There is playfulness in the rhymes and the occasional disruption of the patterned primary text, while the brief information about each animal is also offered in the spirit of both fact-finding and fun. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Heder, Thyra. Alfie. Abrams, 2017. 40 pages (978–1–4197–2529–6)

Ages 4-8

On her sixth birthday, Nia welcomes her new pet turtle, Alfie, into her home. She introduces him to her stuffed animals, sings songs she wrote just for him, and tells him stories each night about her school day. Alfie, though, is not the most enthusiastic companion, and Nia gradually loses interest in him— until he disappears as her seventh birthday approaches. A switch in perspective offers Alfie’s side of the story: despite his demure personality, he adores Nia and deeply appreciates everything she does for him. In search of a present for her birthday, he explores the nooks and crannies of their apartment before venturing outdoors. Tired after his long journey, he slips into the backyard pond for a nap. Beautifully detailed ink-and-watercolor illustrations show both Alfie’s perspective (scavenging behind the couch, crossing the sandbox “desert”) and African American Nia’s (building a snow turtle in the winter, planting seeds beside the pond in the spring unaware of Alfie’s presence nearby). Alfie’s obliviousness to the passage of time makes the ending all the more delightful when he emerges triumphantly from the pond, gift in hand (or rather, on shell), ready for Nia’s seventh birthday, never realizing that she is now celebrating her eighth. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Going, K. L.
The Shape of the World: A Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright. Illustrated by Lauren Stringer. Beach Lane Books, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–4424–7821–3)

Ages 5-9

“When the baby grew into a boy, his mother gave him gifts: cubes, spheres, cones, pyramids, cylinders. The boy loved the smooth shapes.” Young Frank Lloyd Wright builds with his blocks as a child, and, during summers on his uncle’s farm (near Spring Green, Wisconsin), “He saw shapes everywhere he looked. He found an arch inside the pathway of a frog, a cone inside the petals of a flower … ” This picture book look at Wright emphasizes the fascination with geometric shapes and love for the natural world that permeated his singular, brilliant career as an architect. “When other architects chose walls, he chose windows. … He built a house like a honeycomb, a museum like a shell … ” It is Wright’s work, rather than the sometimes difficult aspects of his personality, that takes center stage in this appreciative, accessible, gracefully illustrated account. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Raczka, Bob.
Niko Draws a Feeling. Illustrated by Simone Shin. Carolrhoda, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–4677–9843–3)

Ages 4-8

Niko loves to draw. His pictures, inspired by what he observes, are abstract images of the in between—the feeling or action or intent—of a situation. He draws the “ring-a-ling” of the ice cream truck, not the truck or the ice cream; the hard work of a mother bird building her nest, not the bird or nest. Friends and family don’t understand his pictures. Believing that no one will ever understand his art, Niko expresses how he feels in a picture he tapes to his door. When new neighbor Iris learns Niko draws, she asks to see his pictures. Looking carefully at each one, she doesn’t ask what they are. When she gets to the one on his door she says, “It looks like how I feel. You know, sad because I had to move.” Niko knows he’s found someone who understands him: a new friend. A straightforward yet thoughtful narrative touches on abstract art, the complex experience of creative inspiration, and the emotions of being misunderstood. Mixed-media illustrations provide a winning accompaniment, conveying the concrete of Niko’s world, including his mixed-race family, and his abstract art. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Cordell, Matthew. Wolf in the Snow. Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 48 pages (978–1–250–07636–6)

Ages 4-9

Snow is falling lightly as a red-hooded girl leaves her home and heads to school, walking across a winter-brown landscape. Elsewhere, there are wolves howling as the first flakes descend. When school lets out, the girl, in her pointy, slightly comical red parka, heads home in the thickening white, moving left to right across the landscape of the page. Elsewhere, the wolves are on the move, ominous and wild, moving right to left. But one small wolf pup falls behind. Girl (“huff huff”). Wolf pup (“whine whine”). When the two meet, the girl picks up the small pup and bravely carries him toward the howling as the snow deepens. She comes face to face with a yellow-eyed adult wolf (!), reuniting the pup with its pack. The girl trudges on until she falls and can go no farther. Will she be eaten by those wild wolves heading back her way? The drama is genuine, and breathtaking, and unexpectedly moving in this magical story brilliantly told. Masterful pacing, a mix of expansive page spreads and spot images, and the blending of stylized (the girl in her triangular jacket) and realistic (those sinuous wolves) pen-and-ink and watercolor images make for an exceptional (almost) wordless story. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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