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Yang, Gene Luen. Prime Baby. Illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim. Roaring Brook Press, 2010. 64 pages 
( 9781596436121)

Age 9 and older

Eight-year-old Thaddeus is jealous of his new baby sister, Maddie, and wants nothing to do with her until he realizes she’s a gateway for an alien invasion. His first clue: her single syllable babble (“ga”) is always vocalized in strings of prime numbers. When the aliens finally emerge—from small pods Maddie throws up–they turn out to be “missionaries of smiles and happy feelings.” This is a disappointment to Thaddeus, while the government locks Maddie away regardless. Thaddeus is more than willing to exploit his parent’s resulting distress for personal gain. But then he recognizes the look on his sister’s face in her isolation room as one all too familiar to him: loneliness. First published in the New York Times Magazine, Gene Luen Yang’s smart, funny graphic novel is hilarious from its first page (“my mother’s womb is a Trojan horse”) to its last. Smiles and happy feelings indeed.  ©2010 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Love
Ann and Jane Drake. The Kids’ Book of the Night Sky. Illustrated by Heather Collins. Kids Can Press, 2004. 144 pages (0-55337-357-X)

Ages 7 – 12

This compendium of facts, folklore, and hands-on activities will delight young stargazers and provide them with a wealth of information about astronomy. Chapters on the moon, the stars, the planets, and the sky in each season all suggest something to make, from a planisphere to a star clock, and/or do, from a celestial scavenger hunt to a game of Night Sky “I Spy.” (Younger children will need help with some of the activities, but there is enough variety to offer something for children of many ages.) The authors’ fresh, lively narrative offers up plenty of science along with brief, breezy versions of traditional lore from peoples around the world. The clear, concise information is never confused by its juxtaposition with folklore or by the humorous contexts in which it is sometimes presented (such as the interview with an aging star). The two-color artwork in blue and black is often unremarkable, but works well when it matters here – diagramming a project, or showing specific information about aspects of the night sky. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Losure, Mary.
Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d. Candlewick Press, 2017. 163 pages (978–0–7636–7063–4)

How do you recount the life of a 17th-century scientist in a way that is captivating for youth? One way is to make it magical. Isaac Newton grew up at a time when there was little or no distinction between magic and science. His mathematical discoveries are what helped firmly distinguish between the two; even so, he never gave up his belief in alchemy. Here, Newton is profiled from childhood on as a singular intelligence. He didn’t often relate well to people, but he was brilliant and passionate in pursuit of his interests, from alchemy to math to mechanics. Although details about his childhood in particular are not abundantly known, Losure creates a vivid sense of the time and place in which he grew up, including ample information about alchemy, which so fascinated Newton. Near volume’s end, after recounting how Newton’s discoveries transformed understanding in physics and astronomy in particular, Losure writes, “This magician, this last sorcerer—the greatest of all alchemists—was the same man who banished magic from the scientific world.” End matter in this highly readable volume includes glimpses of Isaac’s notebooks, and excerpts from some of the alchemy books of his time, as well as source notes and bibliography.  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Hale, Shannon. Real Friends. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. First Second, 2017. 211 pages (pbk.  978–1–62672–785–4)

Ages 8-12

The middle child in a family of five children, Shannon is nervous to start kindergarten and to be away from her mother. It’s not long, though, before she meets Adrienne, her first best friend, who shares Shannon’s love of imaginative play. Adrienne is the first in a long succession of friends who are sometimes true, sometimes flaky, and other times downright mean. Mostly, though, they are like Shannon, just learning to navigate the world of elementary school– age friendships. In this graphic memoir, Shannon Hale frankly recounts her struggle to fit in with “the group,” the bullying she suffered from her classmate Jenny, and her desire to find, as her mother says, “one good friend.” She also recalls with at-times uncomfortable honesty the abuse she faced at the hands of her oldest sister, Wendy, whose own loneliness transformed Wendy into a frightening bear in Shannon’s eyes. LeUyen Pham’s bright, clear illustrations are well suited to the large cast of characters, who grow from kindergarteners to sixth-graders in this ultimately hopeful memoir about friendship and sister relationships that will be relatable to many girls today. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Miller, Darcy. Roll. Harper, 2017. 206 pages (978–0–06–246122–3)

Ages 8-12

Ren’s family recently moved to his late grandmother’s house outside the small Minnesota community where he’s grown up. He misses spending time every day with his best friend, Aiden, who comes over sometimes but also seems to be having a pretty good time in town without him. Ren has made his athletic dad happy by agreeing to go out for track, but a summer spent trying to run has only convinced him of how much he hates it. In the final weeks of summer break, Ren meets Sutton, a new neighbor down the road. She and her family recently moved from the D.C. area, although her dad is currently at Mayo Clinic recovering from an accident. Sutton raises Birmingham Roller pigeons. Ren knows absolutely nothing about the birds when he and Sutton meet, but he’s intrigued. Soon Sutton is teaching him all about them. In some ways, he feels closer to her than to Aiden, whom he’s known since kindergarten. And it hurts. An understated story about new and changing friendships, and families, is written with grace and fine touches of humor as quiet Ren learns how to speak up for himself, and also for friendship. Terrific characterizations are one of the things that make this story stand out. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Engle, Margarita.
Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics. Illustrated by Rafael López. Godwin Books / Henry Holt, 2017. 48 pages (978–0–8050–9876–1)

Ages 8-12

“Flight! / I’m the first woman pilot, but I won’t be the last— / every little girl who sees me up here in blue sky / will surely grow up with dreams / of flying too!” (from “The World’s First Woman Pilot,” Aída de Acosta, 1884–1962, Cuba). Biographical poems introduce 18 Hispanics whose lives, notes author Margarita Engle, range from “some who were celebrated in their lifetimes but have been forgotten by history,” to others who “achieved lasting fame.” Even the shortest poems provide a brief but intriguing sense of their subjects’ lives and accomplishments while nurturing readers’ desire to learn more. Brief biographical “Notes about the Lives” at volume’s end are a starting point for doing just that, while a concluding poem, “More and More Amazing Latinos,” is a treasure trove of additional names—and lives—to learn about. The men and women profiled come from across Latin America and were accomplished in many fields. Gorgeous full-page portraits of each subject incorporate elements of the work for which they were known, while inspired spot illustrations add to the volume’s beauty. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Kelly, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe. Greenwillow, 2017. 313 pages (978–0–06–241415–1)

Ages 8-12

Shy Virgil feels like a failure for not finding the courage to say hello to Valencia before the end of the school year. But his friend Kaori, who believes in fate and fortunes and is an aspiring astrologer, is sure it’s fated for Virgil and Valencia to be friends, so as summer starts she’s offering him counsel. On his way to Kaori’s one day, Virgil encounters bullying Chet in the woods. True to form, Chet steals Virgil’s backpack. Then he drops it down an old well and takes off. Inside the backpack, nestled in fleece, is Virgil’s beloved guinea pig. Chet was unaware, but would it have mattered? Virgil attempts a rescue on his own but gets stuck at the bottom of the well. Meanwhile, Valencia is out exploring the woods nearby, on her way to her own appointment with Kaori, but she can’t hear Virgil calling out from the bottom of the well because she is deaf. The strands of fate and friendship intertwine in surprising ways in this riveting story alternating among the perspectives of Virgil, Kaori, Valencia (all wonderfully developed, singular characters), and Chet. Filipino American Virgil, who feels overshadowed even in his own boisterous family, finds that his grandmother’s (Lola) stories help sustain him in the well, and maybe, just maybe, their magic extends to real life. If friendship is magic, they surely do.  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Mahin, Michael.
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy  Waters. Illustrated by Evan Turk. Atheneum, 2017. 48 pages (978–1–4814–4349–4)

Ages 7-10

Born into an area rife with poverty and racism in the Mississippi Delta, Muddy Waters could count on two things in his life: his Grandma Della, and music. Muddy loved the music he heard in church on Sundays, but his favorite was “fish-fry music,” “shake off the dust / and wring out your worries / and laugh and cry and feel alive music.” Muddy loved the blues. After leaving his “back- busting, soul-breaking” job as a sharecropper, Muddy moved to Chicago to make music. He was told he needed to incorporate more jazz into his style, but he stuck with what he knew and brought “the sound of the Delta” to the big city. As it turned out, people in Chicago couldn’t get enough of Muddy’s blues. After a few false starts in the recording business, a record producer gave Muddy a chance to record his own music, his own way, and it was a hit. Muddy was on his way to becoming one of the greatest blues musicians the world has ever known. Bright, bold illustrations against a black background, and an inventive, evocative choice of descriptive words, set the tone and conjure up the sound of the blues in this picture book biography.  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Martin,
Jacqueline Briggs, and June Jo Lee. Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix. Illustrated by Man One. Readers to Eaters, 2017. 32 pages (978–0–9836615–9–7)

Ages 6-9

From the endpaper photograph of tightly packed, wavy ramen noodles to the mouthwatering descriptions of food, this account of Chef Roy Choi’s fusion of fine dining and street food and cultures will whet appetites, but for more than just something to eat. Born in Seoul, Roy Choi grew up in Los Angeles, eating his mom’s Korean cooking at their family restaurant and exploring the city. Looking for where and how he fit in, he found the answer in cooking, attending culinary school and then working as an elite chef until “he couldn’t cook fast enough for all those diners. He forgot recipes. Lost his job.” He opened a Korean barbecue taco truck, Kogi Tacos, with a friend. But he didn’t just want to make food; he wanted to feed people. Roy opened cafés in “worn- out neighborhoods” and encouraged other chefs to open fast-food restaurants in challenged areas of town. He also taught kids to make and sell their own food. For Roy Choi, cooking is activism and community as well as good eating as he strives to “remix neighborhoods everywhere with hope, mad cooking skills, and fresh ingredients.” Street artist Man One’s spray paint and digital ink illustrations further energize a vibrant work full of optimism.  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Dairman, Tara. The Great Hibernation. Illustrated by Rebecca Green. Wendy Lamb Books / Random House, 2017. 260 pages (978–1–5247–1785–8)

Ages 7-10

During St. Polonius-on-the-Fjord’s annual Founder’s Day event, everyone over 12 years, 4 months, 6 days old must eat a slice of bear liver in honor of the North Sea village’s long-ago founders, who survived a cold winter after eating bear liver and falling asleep until spring. Twelve-year-old Jean, participating for the first time, spits her piece out when no one is looking. Hours later, every adult and teenager in town falls into a sleep from which no one can wake them—not a typical Founder’s Day occurrence despite the long-ago miracle. The town charter says children must do their parents’ jobs if the adults are incapacitated, so the kids step up. Jean is convinced the mayor’s son, Magnus, is up to no good when he announces plans to carry out the election to decide whether the town will build a thistleberry processing plant—something sure to change St. Polonius forever. Along with her younger brother, Micah, best friend Katrin (giving cutting edge haircuts at her mom’s salon), 8-year-old Axel (operating his dad’s snowplow), and Isara, who’s keeping everyone fed at his immigrant parents’ Thai restaurant, she investigates. Magnus, in turn, passes restrictive laws and deputizes other kids to keep Jean and her friends in check. The silliness is not without substance in this novel that takes political machinations to a not-unrecognizable extreme, but it’s the story’s over-the-top charm that wins the day.  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Williams-Garcia,
Rita. Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. Amistad, 2017. 166  pages (978–0–06–221591–8)

Ages 8-12

Clayton Byrd loves playing the blues harp (harmonica) with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and other blues musicians in the park. Clayton is eagerly looking forward to the day he’ll finally get the nod from his grandfather to take a solo during one of their performances. When his grandfather dies suddenly, Clayton’s mother is too wrapped up in her own complicated feelings to be sensitive to her son’s grief and sells Cool Papa’s belongings. Struggling in the days that follow—he keeps falling asleep in class—Clayton finally skips school to go in search of the bluesmen in the park. On the subway, he’s mesmerized by a group of kids who beatbox and dance for money. Clayton can’t help but join in on his harmonica, and the boys net their biggest take of the day when they pass the hat. While Clayton likes the younger kids in the group, the oldest teen snatches the hat Clayton is wearing, the last thing Clayton has left from Cool Papa. Determined to get it back, Clayton sticks with the group, bending notes to create a melody matched to their hip-hop beat. A marvelous author’s note on the musical origins of blues and hip-hip and her appreciation for both concludes a story about love and grief and music and family and the importance of being heard. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Bing, Xu.
Look! What Do You See? An Art Puzzle Book of American & Chinese Songs. Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. Viking, 2017. 38 pages (978–0–451–47377–6)

Ages 8-12

Xu Bing has invented a writing system (called a “code” here) called Square Word Calligraphy that uses Roman letters and makes them look like Chinese calligraphy. This unusual and inventive book showcases his transliterated lyrics of several popular American folk songs (e.g., “Skip to My Lou,” “This Land Is Your Land”) and five popular Chinese children’s songs into Square Word Calligraphy. Each is accompanied by a detailed illustration that offers a subtle picture clue, and the challenge for readers is to use the picture clue to decode the song. Once you see the words, you can really begin to read the lines, even of the Chinese songs. The pleasure of decoding is addictive in this volume that features exceptional book-making. For children who love puzzles and decoding, it’ll be a rewarding challenge, and Chinese American children may have double the fun. In fact, in an introduction, the author addresses Chinese children directly, saying, “If you are from China, you might know these from camp or school sing-alongs.”  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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