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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

Barton, Chris.
Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion. Illustrated by Victo Ngai. Millbrook Press, 2017. 36 pages (978–1–5124–1014–3)

During World War I, more than 1,200 U.S. ships and twice as many British ships were camouflaged in dazzling geometric designs. The goal was to paint patterns that would create confusion regarding the direction in which ships were traveling when viewed by German submarines. The idea originated with Norman Wilkinson, a commander in the Royal Navy reserve. It was carried out in part by women artists in Britain and, when the United States began dazzling, the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps. Did the camouflage work? No one knows for sure. “But some insisted that at the very least, sailors on those ships just felt better knowing that something had been tried to keep them from getting torpedoed.” This fascinating bit of history is followed by an equally fascinating author’s note about his research and the decisions he made in crafting  the account. Likewise, bold, bedazzling mixed-media illustrations are followed by an intriguing illustrator’s note. A timeline with black-and-white photographs and suggestions for further reading complete the volume. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Florence, Debbi Michiko.
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen. Illustrated by Elizabet Vuković. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017. 115 pages (978–0–374–30410–2)

Ages 6-9

Eight-year-old Japanese American Jasmine Toguchi makes her debut in an engaging and lively book for newly independent readers. Jasmine is determined to help make mochi for the New Year, even though she’s only 8 and family tradition says girls start when they’re 10. Tradition also says girls and women form the rice into balls after it’s been pounded by the men and boys. When she can’t convince her mom or Obaachan to let her help form the mochi, Jasmine appeals to her dad to help pound it, only to discover it’s a lot harder than she realized. After everything will she fail?  Jasmine’s terrific first-person voice is so believably 8, and so is her behavior. Her reactions to others are rooted in her emotions of the moment, leaving room for her to be surprised when people behave in unexpected ways, and room for her to consider what that means. The book includes occasional black-and-white spot illustrations. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Barnes, Derrick. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. Illustrated by Gordon C. James. A Denene Millner Book / Bolden, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–57284–224–3)

Ages 6-10

A distinctive second-person narrative speaks directly to readers to honor an everyday experience—going to the barbershop for a haircut, a universal experience for boys, but specific here to African American boys. Barnes deftly uses hyperbole, exaggeration, and metaphor to instill the story with a sense of pride and a good deal of humor. It truly is an ode in the traditional sense, but so modern, too. Fresh and original turns of phrase appear on every page, celebrating an experience of joy and confidence, while the descriptions of other men (and their specific haircuts) in the shop place the boy firmly at the center of a community that pulls together as a strong extended family. Bold colors and broad brush strokes capture both the individuality of the men and boys in the shop, as well as the protagonist’s pride in his own fresh cut. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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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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