Neighborhood Sharks

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands, written and illustrated by Katherine Roy, was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Neighborhood Sharks is a perfect fit for young (and not-so-young) shark enthusiasts. This book tells readers about the great white sharks that hunt just thirty miles from San Francisco.

Each fall, great whites circle the Farallon Islands, an area off-limits to all humans except the scientists who study these massive predators, and search for energy-rich elephant seals. The shark’s biology makes it uniquely suited to prey on these seals and continue the food chain that is so important to the ocean’s ecosystem.

Author/illustrator Katherine Roy depicts the sharks’ feeding cycle and biology in vivid, stunning paintings that make readers want to know more. Sources and suggestions for further reading at the end of the book provide readers with options to do just that.

Neighborhood Sharks is a great addition to studies of animals, the food chain, and the impact animals can have on the ecosystem. This book definitely has a place in school libraries, public libraries, and classrooms.

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

This wonderful book introduces young readers to the moving story of Ivan, a gorilla who was captured by poachers as a baby and sold to be an attraction in a shopping mall. Eventually, Ivan, with the help of concerned citizens and animal welfare activists, was moved to Zoo Atlanta where he lived out the rest of his days.

Those who’ve read Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan already know much of Ivan’s story. This picture book both gives a closer look at Ivan’s early years and serves as a springboard for reading more about Ivan and how gorillas and other animals are treated around the world.

Ivan is an excellent book for read-alouds with children who are learning about animals and those who are beginning to think about issues like animal rights and habitats.

Rags: Hero Dog of WWI

Rags: Hero Dog of WWI, written by Margot Theis Raven and illustrated by Petra Brown, is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Rags tells the true story of a small dog who made a big difference. Rags began his life as a mutt in the streets of Paris, but a chance encounter with an American soldier, Private James Donovan, during World War I changed this dog’s life.

Rags became a mascot of sorts for the Army’s First Division, and he and Donovan became inseparable. Rags assisted Donovan on missions and saved many lives in the process. He was a true hero who remained loyal to his best friend through good times and bad.

Any reader, young or old, who likes inspirational stories, especially those involving animals or wartime, will appreciate this story. It might be a difficult read-aloud given that it’s kind of hard to read through a veil of tears. Even so, Rags is an excellent book that will appeal to a wide audience.

A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent

A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent, written by Anne F. Rockwell and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, will be released on November 1st, 2016.

This picture book tells the story of James Armistead Lafayette, a slave who served under French General Lafayette during the American Revolution. He was a double agent, and he was instrumental in Lafayette’s defeat of British General Cornwallis. James, underestimated and overlooked because of his status and skin color, was privy to conversations and information that he then passed on to American troops, at great personal risk.

Following the war, James had another battle to face–the fight for his own freedom. Since he wasn’t technically a soldier, he was not granted his freedom for service during the war. He appealed to the government, and, after General Lafayette himself appealed on James’ behalf, his petition for freedom was granted.

This easy-to-understand picture book is a necessary addition to any elementary school library. It definitely fills a void when it comes to studies of the American Revolution. Each year, my 4th grade students complete biography projects about famous figures from the war. Each year, James Armistead Lafayette is one of their choices. Until now, there have been no books–or at least no books they can comprehend–on this figure. I am thrilled to add this wonderfully written and illustrated book to my library’s collection.

Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery

Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery, written by Margaret A. Weitekamp with David Devorkin and illustrated by Diane Kidd, was a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Pluto’s Secret is an entertaining, informative, accessible introduction to studies of Pluto, long-believed to be the ninth planet in our solar system. This book takes a look at Pluto’s initial discovery, as well as the circumstances that led to its “demotion” to dwarf planet status.

As someone who grew up thinking of Pluto as a planet, I found that Pluto’s Secret provided easy-to-understand details on its place in the Kuiper Belt and why the icy world was reclassified. I think that many older readers may feel the same way. This book definitely has an audience with young and older readers alike.

When paired with photo’s from the New Horizons journey to Pluto, I think Pluto’s Secret is a necessary addition to any young student’s study of astronomy. The “Who’s Who” section, glossary, and suggestions for further research make this a must-purchase for nearly any classroom, school, or public library serving children interested in learning more about Pluto.

What If You Had Animal Teeth!?

What If You Had Animal Teeth!?, written by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Howard McWilliam, was a nominee for the 2015-2016 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

What If You Had Animal Teeth!? is an excellent book that will engage even the youngest readers in animal research. Readers will learn interesting facts about some familiar–and not so familiar–animals and how their teeth help them to survive.

The animals featured in this book (beavers, sharks, narwhals, elephants, rattlesnakes, naked mole rats, vampire bats, hippos, tigers, crocodiles, and camels) all have very different teeth, and students will enjoy comparing the animals and thinking about what it might be like to have the chompers they see on the pages.

If you’re a librarian planning on using What If You Had Animal Teeth!? as a read-aloud, be prepared for lots of questions. It’s also a good idea to have some easy-reading nonfiction titles on each of the featured animals available for checkout immediately after presenting this book to the class/group.

Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball

Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball, written by John Coy and illustrated by Joe Morse, was a nominee for the 2015-2016 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Hoop Genius introduces readers young and old to James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. This young teacher, eager to find a way to keep an energetic group of boys engaged (and injury-free), used a soccer ball and a couple of peach baskets to create a fun new game. This game would eventually be spread far and wide and become one of the most popular sports in the world, all thanks to one teacher who wanted to make his students happy.

This informative picture book is great for read-alouds, particularly in physical education classes introducing the sport of basketball. This book could encourage young readers to do further research on the origin of this sport (and others) and could even inspire them to create their own new games to play.

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle was a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees is a good book for introducing elementary and middle grade students to the topic of Colony Collapse Disorder. They may have heard that honeybees are disappearing, but, like many adults, they may not know why or what the potential impact could be. This book attempts to provide possible reasons for CCD, but it also lets readers know that even the scientific community still doesn’t fully understand all of the reasons for CCD. A number of factors may be at work, but all can agree that this is a serious problem that could have catastrophic consequences.

This informative book offers a detailed look at honeybees, their life cycles, roles in the hive and larger environment, as well as what could be leading to CCD and how readers can help honeybees to thrive once again.

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees would be a great addition to upper elementary classrooms that are studying animal behavior and/or human impact on animals and the environment.

My two cents: As I was reading this book, I found it to be rather complicated. The writing, in my opinion, may be too complex for some young readers to comprehend. It was somewhat dry, and I have my doubts that it will hold students’ interest. I’m on the lookout for similar books that cover the same content in a more kid-friendly, entertaining way.

Clara and Davie

Clara and Davie by Patricia Polacco is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award. This moving book tells readers of the early life of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.

Clara, the youngest of five children, had a very special bond with her brother, Davie. Davie encouraged Clara to be herself, he listened to her troubles, and he was always there for her. Even when others called Clara lazy or stupid because of her lisp, Davie looked for ways to make his little sister happy.

As Clara grew into a young woman, it became clear to all that she had a way with nature and healing. She loved working with flowers and spending time with animals, but her true gift was healing. She tended to animals and humans alike…and she was soon tasked with caring for her beloved brother, Davie.

Just as Davie supported her through difficult times, Clara was determined to help him during his troubles. She did everything she could to nurse him back to health, and her care worked wonders.

Clara Barton not only helped her brother to walk again, but, with his support and her own desire to help others, she also went on to become one of the greatest and most beloved medical practitioners in history.

Clara and Davie is a great addition to elementary library and classroom collections. This book would be a wonderful selection for women’s history studies, and it may even be an excellent gift for school nurses.

I also think Clara and Davie is a must-read for students who may struggle with speech (or any other) issues. This book demonstrates that those obstacles (for lack of a better word) don’t have to get in the way of doing something that truly makes a difference.

Kali’s Story: An Orphaned Polar Bear Rescue

Kali’s Story: An Orphaned Polar Bear Rescue, written by Jennifer Keats Curtis with photography by John Gomes, is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Kali’s Story presents young readers with the tale of Kali (pronounced Cully), a young polar bear rescued after the death of his mother. This informative picture book takes readers through Kali’s namesake village, to the Alaska Zoo that served as his foster home, and finally to the Buffalo Zoo (where it appears he remains today with his companion Luna).

Readers young and old will be charmed by Kali and his adventures with eating, playing, practicing his hunting skills, and even napping. They may even relate Kali’s development to their own. (How is a growing polar bear different from or similar to a growing human?)

This book is great for read-alouds, and each page will produce “Awwws” from the audience. It’s also a great addition to animal studies and a good springboard for discussions on polar bear habitats and how to preserve them.

Further reading at the back of the book provides information on things like adaptations for life in the arctic, “Polar Bear Math,” and life cycle.