Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond

Written by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Stephen Biesty

Don’t let the small number of pages fool you, this great new book is loaded with information.  Comprehensive text is accompanied by no less than eight huge and detailed pencil drawings of telescopes, space suits, and other equipment plus smaller depictions of rockets, planets, and more.

Human fascination with the stars goes back as far as humans do. Each time a little progress toward understanding is achieved, the focus and goals change. Originally, people struggled with what was the center of the universe and what made the stars move at night. After that, it was a matter or getting off the ground. Then traveling into space  and returning safely after brief periods. Now, there’s a quest to discover life outside the earth’s atmosphere, to understand the origins of the universe, to use satellites wisely, and to safely travel and colonize at great distances.

This book provides a great jumping off place for anyone already captivated by space exploration. It is also a must have for any classroom studying space, Galileo, technology, or the planets.

And of course the more we find out about other worlds, the more we might come to appreciate how unique and precious our planet that we call home really is.

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  • Exploring SpaceTitle: Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond
  • Author: Martin Jenkins
  • Illustrator: Stephen Biesty
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Space exploration
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8931-5
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Index, Timeline, Glossary, Selected Sources

Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War

Written by Paul B. Janeczko

Warfare has always relied heavily on two things: the confidence of the fighters and the people at home and fooling the enemy. This book is about fooling the enemy and many of the ways that’s been accomplished.

Beginning with ancient times and the story of Gideon in the Bible. Using torches and the element of surprise, they convinced the enemy they had much larger numbers. That helped them win the battle. The author shows how deception during the Trojan War helped armed forces gain the upper hand. After a long siege, the forces were evenly matched, so the Trojan Horse provided the means to end the siege. During the Battle of Hastings, the Normans used a faked retreat to overwhelm the English. The author discusses deception during the French and Indian War and World War I, then he goes into great detail about the many techniques used during World War II. The final chapter is about modern times, including Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.

 Well-researched and loaded with information, the text is nevertheless very exciting and wonderfully readable for a history book. Boys, in particular, will love it, but girls with an interest in puzzles will also want to keep reading. Great resource for the classroom.

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  • Title:  Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War
  • Author:  Paul B. Janeczko
  • Publisher:  Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format:  Hardcover, 256 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-6042-0
  • Genre: Upper Middle Grade Nonfiction
  • Grade level: 5 to 9
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Source Notes, Bibliography, Image Credits, Index, Numerous maps and photos

Beyond the Bright Sea

Written by Lauren Wolk

A brand-new baby, alone in a skiff, washed up on your island. What would you do?

Osh, or maybe his name is Daniel, took the baby in, called her, Crow, because that’s what her squawking sounded like, and raised her.  Their only real neighbor, Miss Maggie, lives on the next island. They must wade through part of the ocean to even get between her place and theirs. Theirs, being only a shack.

What brought Osh, or Miss Maggie to the Elizabeth’s Islands is never discovered, but the mystery of baby Crow is unraveled by the twelve-year-old girl herself. She just wants to know where she came from and why she was put to sea in a tiny boat, all alone. Osh is afraid the truth will change her, them, and their lives.

Filled with metaphors drawn from the island life of tending sheep and mucking out chicken coops, meaning as well as humor leaps from the pages turned rapidly by grade five and well above readers, anxious to see what could possibly happen next.

Long buried treasure, threats, storms, leprosy, sinking ships, and finally finding out she was right where she belonged all kept Crow grounded in what is important in life.

Each character is so well developed and real, the reader is left missing them just after closing the cover of the book. Many things worth thinking about are gently presented, like how we treat our neighbors. But no preaching is done, well, sometimes a little scolding by Miss Maggie, but then, everyone will recognize her commonsense way of living and loving.

Teachers and librarians will remember, Wolf Hollow, and will order this work from Lauren Wolk immediately in order to read it before book club time. This will be gobbled up by the students.

This book is sure to be an award winner for years to come.

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  • Beyond the Bright SeaTitle:  Beyond the Bright Sea
  • Author:  Lauren Wolk
  • Publisher:  Dutton Children’s Books, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 299 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-101-99485-6
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 Up

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Written by Kelly Barnhill

Well-written and fascinating, this tale will leave you wanting to read more about the characters and their realm.

Even within the world of witches and dragons, not everything is as it seems. The Protectorate fears the Witch (Xan) in the woods so much that they sacrifice their youngest citizen to her each year. Meanwhile, she is the most benevolent of old ladies. Even the Elders are convinced there is no witch and the babies die in the woods. Meanwhile, Xan is caring for the babies and finding them homes in the surrounding villages, where they are honored and called Star Children. One mother is so distraught, she instantly goes mad. Meanwhile, her daughter becomes enmagicked by the Moon and is cared for by Xan herself. Her name is Luna. Add a kindly young man of the Protectorate, a sleeping volcano, a tiny motherless dragon, and an ageless Bog monster and you have a lot of excitement. Naturally, all these characters eventually collide, setting the universe right. But how?

There are many reasons this book won the Newbery Medal. It has a lot to say about the world today and the role perception plays in our actions. Luna transforms into a woman before our very eyes. Worth the read.

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  • Girl Who Drank the MoonTitle: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
  • Author: Kelly Barnhill
  • Published: Algonquin Young Readers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-1-61620-567-6

Lucky Broken Girl

Written by Ruth Behar

Set in the 1960’s in New York City, this tale based on real life experiences is one of an immigrant’s own experience. Life is filled with diversity as well as poverty but then disrupted by a car accident. Ruthie is put in a body cast and stuck in bed for months.

Trials between her and her mother are real and expected but tend to slow the pace of the story. While the experiences are true to life, the plot will seem weak to today’s readers and may cause more readers to begin the book than will finish it. Part of the problem may be due to readers not being aware of the time period of the story. Aside from the usage of Chiclets and GoGo Boots, there is little to announce it is taking place in the 1960’s. This lack of clear setting is a problem.

Teachers and librarians can help get the book into the hands of readers by explaining it is historical fiction. It is a “quiet” read but has much to offer to individuals, especially those in a healing mode.

The writing is lyrical and beautifully done. Character development is strong and dialogue is realistic. The beauty of the story comes in finding healing through the wonderful people, books and stories brought to Ruthie. There is always hope, even in what could look like dire circumstances.

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  • Lucky Broken GirlTitle:  Lucky Broken Girl
  • Author:  Ruth Behar
  • Publisher:  Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 250 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-399-54644-0
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 up
  • Extras: Author Note

Atlantis Lost

Written by T.A. Barron

Featuring the battle between good and evil and offering an explanation for the disappearance of the island of Atlantis, the last volume of Barron’s trilogy is exciting and action packed.

This tale begins with the island being well-established and her residents living idyllic lives. Immortals traverse the Universal Bridge, between light and dark, and discuss their existence. Meanwhile, the evil Narkazan plots to increase his power and take over the world. He wants to retrieve the Starstone, a sort of magical amplifier from the mortal love, Atlanta, of one immortal, Promi. Narkazan unleashes his minions, including dark mistwraiths and a horrible monster that destroys the City of Great Powers, devours her residents, and produces terrible offspring. Many characters have pure motives. They help wherever they can. Many characters are complicit and devious. A fierce battle ensues, involving wind lions, good and bad dragons, giants, and many other mythical creatures. In order to save the world, Atlantis must die. Hope survives.

As with many of Barron’s books, this is a great introduction to or addition to mythical sagas and the literature surrounding them. It is riveting and worth the read. 

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  • atlantis-lostTitle: Atlantis Lost                                                
  • Author: T.A. Barron
  • Published: Philomel Books/Penguin Random House, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Fiction, Mythology
  • ISBN: 978-0-399-16805-5

 

The Dog, Ray

Written by Linda Coggin

In the first sentence, the main character dies. Funny stuff.

Daisy (the girl who dies) goes through a sort of employment office and becomes a puppy. The thing is, she passes through the wrong door and retains all her knowledge of being a girl. She also retains her heterochromia, having two different colors of eyes. Some think of that as a spirit dog. When she’s adopted by a not-very-kindly family, she spends all her time tied to a doghouse plotting her escape. Eventually, she does escape and attaches herself to a homeless boy and a kindly old man. The boy, Pip, treats her well and renames her Ray. Ray, in turn, helps Pip find his family and get a good start in life. They find both good and bad people along the way. Pip and Ray form a strong bond.

The author presents a lot of philosophy and a lot about the nature of death and transmigration of the soul. If desired, this could start a great discussion about death and religion in general. Do dogs have souls? Do they dream about the things the author claims? Are other animals really afraid of spirit dogs?

Whether or not dogs really think like the author says, they should.

I can see a piece of toast someone must have dropped under the next table and has escaped Maisie’s sharp eye. I begin, very slowly, to inch myself toward it. Elbow. Elbow. Foot. Foot. Body. Mmmm.

 

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  • the-dog-rayTitle: The Dog, Ray
  • Author: Linda Coggin
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Fiction, philosophy
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7938-5

 

 

Still a Work in Progress

Written by Jo Knowles

Eighth graders Noah, Sam, and Ryan are just beginning to figure out the intricacies of the world – intricacies involving girls, their own talents, how to act like a decent human being, and what makes each of us unique. Their school has a suggestion box, otherwise known as the Complaint Box, which produces such useful suggestions as “Don’t stand on the toilet seats.” The boys spend a lot of time trying to figure out which girls they like and which girls like them. Meanwhile, Noah’s sister, Emma, still remembers all the things that happened to her when she was a student at Noah’s school, including how everyone reacted when it was discovered she made a list of which students would follow the Beast a la Lord of the Flies. The school also has a resident cat ironically named Curly. Many at the school love Curly, but hate her role as killer of the mice. Sam and Ryan begin bickering when Sam gets a girlfriend. When Emma’s eating disorder relapses, Noah has a tough time accepting the actions of anyone around him. He does find some solace in realizing his talents in art, particularly sculpture.

This heartwarming peek at adolescence and how complicated it can get is highly recommended for all. The author weaves in many parallels: between the Lord of the Flies and the Beast in all of us, between A Separate Peace and Noah’s tough times with his friends, and so on. She stays true to the adolescent theme by not knowing too much. The boys have some confusion over second base regarding dating. She never names the eating disorder, just the results of it. And the boys often recognize a bad situation without knowing what to do about it.

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  • Still a Work in ProgressTitle: Still a Work in Progress
  • Illustrator: Amy June Bates
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Friendship, eating disorders, coming of age
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7217-1

 

 

The Song of Orpheus: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard

Written by Tracy Barrett

Aside from the fact that so much Western thought originated in and around Greece, making it important to explore as many Greek stories as possible, it’s just plain fun to tell stories that may have been forgotten. Then there’s the popularity of Percy Jackson, 300, and other related stories. Those who enjoy these ancient tales inevitably want more, and here they are.

Barrett cleverly approaches the multitude of myths by introducing a narrator who must tell a number of previously unheard tales to be reunited with his love after 3,000 years. The narrator, Orpheus, was turned into a rock and thus separated from Eurydice.

He begins with his own background, then quickly moves on to sixteen other stories about a variety of subjects. First is the Greek version of the big bang. How does Zeus reward two brothers for being amusing? Gods granting wishes, but in unexpected ways. Statues without feet. The life of the first bee-keeper, cheese maker, and olive oil maker. Gods tricking people out of love. People casting spells for love. Fixed chariot races. And so on.

Well-researched and well-organized, this is a great supplement for social studies or literature.

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  • Song of OrpheusTitle: The Song of Orpheus: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard
  • Author: Tracy Barrett
  • Published: Tracy Barrett, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: eBook, 140 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 7
  • Genre: Folk tales, Culture
  • ISBN: 978-1535144506
  • Extras: A Note About Spelling, A Note About Pronunciation, Extensive glossary of Greek terms: Immortals, Other Mythological Creatures, and Places

 

Child of Spring

Written by Farhana Zia

Bastana is a typical child. The only difference between her and the kids reading about her is, she lives in an Indian busti (small community) during the 1960s. In this, Zia’s second novel, the reader explores the lives of the poor in a culture very different from our own.

Bastana and her mother (Amma) cook and clean for a rich family. Bastana has reached the age where she is jealous of her young mistress’ (Little Bibi) wealth. For a time, she even feels justified not returning a lost-then-found ring. Meanwhile, Bastana is dealing with the troubles of her best friend, Lali, and of another friend, who among the poorest in the basti. Bastana is also confronted daily by two very mischievous boys. In addition, she wants to see an older girl pick the right life mate. Through it all, Bastana grows and learns the ways of the world. There is some hope for the characters to rise out of poverty. Little Bibi promises to help Bastana learn to read, and she promises to do the same for Lali. And Bastana learns that generosity is a much better approach than selfishness.

As with Zia’s previous novel, the reader learns a lot about the culture in which the story is set. Indian terms are sprinkled liberally throughout the text, enhancing the feel of being right in Bastana’s world and expanding literacy skills. This would be an excellent book to include in studies of India or Hinduism.

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  • Child of SpringTitle: Child of Spring
  • Author: Farhana Zia
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 176 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Culture, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-904-9
  • Extras: Extensive glossary of Indian terms
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