Book review: Tin, by Padraig Kenny

Kenny, Padraig. Tin. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2019. 275 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9781338277555. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8

An orphan, Christopher lives and works in Mr. Absalom’s mechanical shop, helping fix and build robotic children.  Christopher’s robotic friends are fashioned outside the norms of the human form: small, often grotesque, readiliy identifiable as mechanical beings instead of illegal replicas of human beings.  Yet, when Christopher is revealed as a perfect robotic replica of a human child and confiscated by government agents, his mechanical friends set out to find and rescue him.

Verdict: Tin crosses genres into science fantasy with a steampunk atmosphere and will intrigue young readers who are ready to advance to more dystopian young adult fiction.  The book is a first novel by an Irish author, originally published in England, now released by Chicken House, an imprint of Scholastic.  American children may find the language more involved than in novels generally published for this age group in this country, but the story is worth the effort.  Highly recommended for middle school and public library collections.

December 2019 review by Jane Cothron.


Book review: Pluto Gets the Call, by Adam Rex, illustrations by Laurie Keller

Rex, Adam. Pluto Gets the Call. Illustrations by Laurie Keller. Beach Lane Books, 2019. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN: 9781534414532. Ages 4-7. P8 Q8

Pluto is taking a visitor on a tour of the solar system when he gets a call from an Earth scientist letting him know that he is no longer a planet.  Pluto, understandably upset, politely continues with the tour, but as further calls emphasize the change in status, the icy ex-planet becomes first embarrassed and then angry.  The other planets offer comforting words, but only the Sun can put things into perspective.

Verdict:  The naïve illustrations and hilarious text make this creative nonfiction picture book one that both adults and children can enjoy over and over again.  The story begins on the front cover and continues on the title page with three astronomers deciding who among them must call and give Pluto the bad news.  There is still debate among the scientific community about whether Pluto will again be classed as a planet, but as of now, it remains classified as a dwarf planet.  That may change in the future, but in the meantime, enjoy this pleasant story.  Highly recommended for kindergarten, elementary, and public library collections. This is one of my favorite books of the year.

December 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Fly!, by Mark Teague

Teague, Mark. Fly! Beach Lane Books, 2019. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9781534451285. Ages 3-6. P7 Q8

A small, round fledgling robin has grown too big for the nest, but no matter how the mother robin cajoles and describes the delights of flight, the baby robin refuses.  Even when the very hungry baby falls out of the nest in a tantrum, it refuses to fly.  Only as night approaches and the mother describes the dangers of dogs, cats, and owls, does the baby finally take the leap into flight.

Verdict:  I am not sure how Mark Teague manages to convey such a wide range of emotions on the faces of the mother and baby birds.  His use of space and color is simple, yet entirely effective in telling this wordless story of the baby bird leaving the nest.  Highly recommended for kindergarten through elementary and public library collections. Also, consider it as a possible graduation gift for students leaving high school or college.

December 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Hats Are Not for Cats!, by Jacqueline K. Rayner

Rayner, Jacqueline K. Hats Are Not for Cats! Clarion Books, 2019. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9781328967190. Ages 3-6. P8 Q8

A smudge gray cat finds a brilliant red fez , but the shaggy dog in the checkered top hat claims that “Hats are not for cats,” and launches into a long lecture on the various kinds of hats cats should not wear.  Finally the cat has heard enough and knocks the dog’s hat off his head, then leads a torrent, a river, a parade of cats, each wearing a different kind of hat.  Faced with the dog’s sadness, the many cats in hats then declare that “hats are for everyone”!

Verdict: Simple, realistic illustrations of dogs and cats wearing many, many styles of hats accompany a litany of hat styles that make this a pleasant read-aloud book, one for sharing over and over.  Recommended for preschool- through kindergarten-aged children and their adults as well as for public library collections.

December 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Rhythm of the Rain, by Grahame Baker-Smith

Baker-Smith, Grahame. The Rhythm of the Rain. Templar Books/Candlewick Press, 2018. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9781536205756. Ages 4-7. P6 Q8

Gorgeous illustrations emphasizing the intricate play of light and shadow carry the story of a young boy who follows the raindrops that fall on a mountainside, pour into a pool, tumble down a stream, carry a boat along a river, flow through a city out to the sea, only to be lifted back into the clouds to fall once again as rain.

Verdict:  This gorgeous book reviews the water cycle.  The magic begins on the front cover with subtle metallic streaks illuminating the falling rain. The story otherwise is spare, but the water cycle is something that is a perennial need for basic science learning.  Recommended as an additional purchase for preschool through elementary and public library collections.

December 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Picture Book Reviews by NHS Education for Community Employment and Life (ECEL, Special Needs) Students


Mahin, Michael. When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana. Illustrated by Jose Ramirez.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 978-1534404137. 48p. Gr. PK-4

This book gives the reader a glimpse into Carlos Santana’s life.  He grew up poor in Mexico, where his family loved and supported him in finding his heart through music.  He eventually found himself in San Francisco, and through hard work found out the guitar was his heart music.  He knew the angels would love the music.  His life story is inspiring!  I liked the book, it was easy to read, beautifully written, and has gorgeous illustrations.

Steinberg, D.J. King Louie’s Shoes. Illustrated by Robert Neubecker.  Beach Lane Books, 2007. $17.99. ISBN 978-1481426572. 48p. Gr. PK-3.

This story about King Louis XIV was easy to understand and follow.  The characters were the king, hairdresser, shoemaker, carpenter and other royal subjects.  The people liked Louie, even though he was not tall, he was a great leader.  The drawings were colorful and fun.






Smith, Hope Anita. My Daddy Rules the World: Poems about Dads. Henry Holt and Co., 2017. $17.99. ISBN 978-0805091892. 32p. Gr. PK-2. 

This book was great!  The poems were written so that you could relate to them easily, even if you weren’t a little kid.  The illustrations were good, and with no faces drawn in, you could easily imagine your own dad.  The poems were written about different kinds of dads, and it was very believable and real to me.




Larsen, Andrew. Me, Toma, and the Concrete Garden. Illustrated by Anne Villeneuve.  Kids Can Press, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 978-1771389174. 32p. Gr. PK-2.

While his mom heals from surgery, A young boy, Vincent, stays at his Aunt Mimi’s house in the city.  He meet a new friend, Toma, and learns that dirt balls filled with seeds can create a garden.  The garden was a slice of heaven in the concrete city.  This story reminds me of how our class is making our school courtyard beautiful by gardening.



Ruzziers, Sergio. The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories. (Fox and Chick series.) Chronicle Books, 2019. $14.99. ISBN 978-1452152899. 56p. Gr. K-3. 

The story is about a fox who liked adventures and a chick who joined him, but doesn’t always understand what the fox is doing.  The chick doesn’t like to do things without organization and planning, and has a hard time just enjoying the activities.  The illustrations were cute, appropriate for younger children.  I found it easy to identify with the chick, because I always over-think everything, too.




Woodson, Jacqueline. The Day You Begin. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018. $18.99. ISBN 978-0399246531. 32p. Gr. K-2. 

Sometimes it is hard to try new things, and go to new places. We all feel like we don’t belong somewhere from time to time, but this book helps us know it’s important to take those first steps outside of our comfort zone.  This book is well illustrated with subtle colors that make the reader feel welcome.





Slade, Suzanne. Astronaut Annie. Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell.  Tilbury House Publishers, 2018. $17.99 ISBN 978-0884485230. 36p. Gr. PK-4.

This story is about Annie and her career day announcement.  Her family gives her all kinds of ideas, but Annie has her own dreams, and this story is about dreaming big.  The story flowed along easily and the illustrations were bright and clear. It was easy to read and enjoy.





Laperla, Artur. The Epic Origin of Super Potato: Book 1. Graphic Universe TM, 2018. $8.99. ISBN 978-1541526457. 56p. Gr. 1-5.

This isn’t so much a picture book as it is a graphic novel.  It’s the story of a villain (Dr. Malevolent) and a hero (Super Max.)  Dr. Malevolent turns Super Max into a potato but that doesn’t stop Super Max, even though he finds out he can’t be turned back into a human.  There are a lot of funny jokes in the story line, which makes it good for a lot of kids AND adults!




Yang, Belle. Angel in Beijing. Candlewick, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 978-0763692704. 32p. Gr.PK-2. 

During fireworks in Beijing, a stray cat gets scared and runs away from home into the yard of a young girl.  They become good friends and have lots of adventures.  It was fun to read about new places and the book was colorful and pleasing to the eye.



November 2019 book reviews by ECEL students, assisted by Newport High School library staff, Liz Fox.

Book reviews by Newport High School Students


Bertie, Alex. Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 978-0316529037. 304p. Contains: glossary of terms, list of resources. Grades 8+.

This book is really good and would be helpful to middle and high school kids who would want to know more about transsexuality.  While I don’t think it will be popular outside of the LGBTQ crowd, it’s got a lot of hints on how to deal with everything from bullies to hormone treatments and surgery.  It helped me realize, as a trans, that we can make it out alive and healthy, even though the going is rough sometimes.   Every high school library should have this book!



Price, Planaria and Helen Reichmann West. Claiming my Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9780374305291. 250p. Gr. 8-12.

We are all familiar with biographies of Jews who went into hiding during the Holocaust, but this book is a bit different: it tells the story of a young Polish Jew who “became” Catholic to escape persecution.  It also brings to light the difficulties she faced as a displaced Polish Jew after the war.  It’s interesting, and the photos in the middle of the book help make it more real.



Pham, Tiffany. Girl Mogul: Dream it. Do It. Change the World. Macmillan Publishing Group, 2019. $19.99. ISBN 9781250298966.  219p. Gr 9-12.

I am interested in starting my own business, so snapped this book up to read, right away.  While I found it to be a fun read, I didn’t find it all that relatable or useful.  It’s about a girl who works hard and becomes a media mogul, but it’s hardly a rags-to-riches story, as she has a supportive family, goes to Yale and Harvard, and is gorgeous.  She gives some useful tips on how to present confidently and enlist support for goals, but it seems like she’s writing for Glamour, not for real girls.  She also plugs her website where others can view her (expensive) online courses.  I wish she would’ve talked more about her career in coding and how she navigated a largely male-dominated field, and less about skin care and beauty.




Lee, Fonda. Cross Fire. (Exo series, book 2). Scholastic Press, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781338139099. 376p.  Gr. 9+. 

I am glad I read the first one in this series (Exo) because I would’ve been lost if I hadn’t, there are just too many terms and settings that wouldn’t have made sense to me. It’s just complicated enough to be interesting, but it doesn’t get bogged down in detail and moves fast.  The book centers on Earth soldier Donovan, who has an exocell implant that makes him smarter and stronger than other humans.  There are a lot of ethical conundrums here, mostly centered on genetic manipulation, propaganda, immigration and enslavement.  There’s also a little love story going, just enough to spice things up and make the characters more “human.”




Mafi, Tahereh.  Defy Me. (Shatter Me series, book 5). HarperCollins, 2019.  ISBN 978-0062676399. 368p. Gr. 9-12. 

I didn’t understand this book at all, I think you have to read all the other ones in the series, it’s too confusing.  I tried to check out the first one but it’s really popular and there’s a waiting line for it, so I guess it’s good.  I just wish authors would do a little to explain things, but this one was just too complicated and told from too many different viewpoints and flashbacks.






Grainger, A.J. The Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 978-1481429061. 304p. Gr. 9-10. 

I liked this book. Even though it focuses on the supernatural, the characters deal with topics teens deal with often: abuse, abandonment, loss, and dysfunction.  The ironic twists in the story make it more interesting and almost funny, though at times the plot moves too slowly and the writing is awkward.





Wilson, Kip. White Rose. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781328594433. 368p. Gr. 9+.  

This historic novel, written entirely in free verse, tells a story of a young girl who actively protests the rise of Nazism, through the activities of the White Rose, a group she and her brother founded.  The book is easy and fast to read and it really gives you a sense of how brave these students were.  It’s important that other students understand this period of time and how we need to be aware of the rise of fascism; I think this is a book that should be in every library.





Bardugo, Leigh.  King of Scars. (Nikolai Duology, book 1). Imprint, 2019. $19.99.  ISBN 9781250142283. 527p. Gr. 9-12. 

I hadn’t read any of Bardugo’s earlier books, so I didn’t know what the Grishaverse was all about and it’s pretty complicated.  Despite that, I muddled through reading this and enjoyed it. I think it has a solid story line and is fast paced enough that the length of the book wouldn’t put kids off.  It reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones.  I do plan on going back and reading the rest of her books now!






Lochner, Caitlin. A Soldier and a Liar. Swoon Reads, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781250168252. 352p.  Gr. 9+.

This book has got everything: superheroes, science fiction, complicated characters, a little romance, and great dialog.  Even though the superheroes are amazing, they are so human and their character traits make them very relatable.  There is a lot of violence in the book, but not too much for high school students to handle.  There are also themes in the book (equality, freedom) that make this story more than just another dystopian fantasy.






Carter, T.E. All We Could Have Been. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. ISBN 9781250172969. 291p.  Gr. 9 – 12.  

Carter’s book talks about how we all judge each other, sometimes without knowing anything about what others may be going through.  The main character in this book is suffering from a very traumatic event and dealing with PTSD and severe depression.  She is judged unfairly by her shallow-minded classmates and has a hard time making any real friends.  No one is perfect in this book, and there’s no happy ending, though the main character does overcome a lot and finds someone who truly cares.  I think this book might be really helpful to students who are going through trauma.



November 2019 reviews by Newport High students and Liz Fox, Newport High School Library staff.