Book review: Dragon vs. Unicorns, by Dr. Kate Biberdorf with Hillary Homzie

Biberdorf, Kate, with Hillary Homzie. Dragon vs. Unicorns. (Kate the Chemist, book 1). Philomel Books, 2020. $12.99. ISBN 9780593116555. 133 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q7

Kate, who is obsessed with science, can breathe fire and her friends are impressed. When she joins a musical with her friends, things start to go wrong and she wonders if she is absent minded or if she is being sabotaged. Everything Kate does, from baking brownies to making glue, involves science.  Includes a table of contents, twenty-three chapters and a unicorn glue experiment. Each chapter provides the definition of a scientific word that is a noun, such as pressure, chemical reaction, exothermic reaction, etc. The author, Dr. Kate Biberdorf, “Kate the Chemist” is a science professor at UT-Austin and teaches chemistry classes. She also performs explosive science experiments on national television. She wrote Kate the Chemist: The Big Book of Experiments, which is a companion book to this one.

Verdict: This STEM book not only brings science into every activities, it teaches readers how to solve problems,  compromise, talk things through and to forgive others. The experiment for unicorn glue is a bonus and youth will have fun making it. I recommend this book along with Kate’s book about experiments.

April 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Most Important Thing: Stories about Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers, by Avi

Avi. The Most Important Thing: Stories about Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers. Candlewick Press, 2019. $8.99.  ISBN 978 1 5362 0883 2. 215 pages. Ages 10+. P7Q8.

In seven short stories, award-winning author Avi displays the troubled, sensitive, heart-warming, fractured, and treasured relationships of seven different young men and their male family members. One son begins to understand his distant father after an unusual weekend with his estranged grandfather. Another story tells the paranormal experience of a dead father seeking one last moment with his mourning son.  These stories suggest that no father-son relationship is the same and that the best for your son is to hope that an adult is able to provide the tools to shape our youngsters into adults who will love and understand others.

Verdict: While this book certainly is written for boys and fathers, it connects with family dynamics in general.

April 2020 review by Penny McDermott.

Book review: Nixie Ness: Cooking Star, by Claudia Mills, illustrated by Grace Zong

Mills, Claudia. Nixie Ness: Cooking Star. Illustrated Grace Zong. (After-School Superstars, book 1). Margaret Ferguson Books, 2019. $15.99. ISBN 9780823440931. 117 pages. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7

What happens when your best friend suddenly becomes someone else’s best friend? Nixie and Grace are best friends. When Nixie’s mother starts working and Nixie has to attend the After-School Superstars program, she is not able to hang out with Grace as often so Grace starts hanging out with Elyse. Nixie wants to get her friend back, so she comes up with a plan. When Nixie meets new friends at the afterschool program, she has a hard time embracing them since she does not want to betray her best friend Grace. The plot includes current technology such as looking up recipes on her mom’s tablet and filming episodes for an online video series. Illustrations are in black and white and show Nixie and her racially diverse friends. Includes a recipe for morning glory muffins. The paperback edition is scheduled to come out March 2020.

Verdict: Readers who are trying to figure out how they can manage more than one friend will learn how to balance friendships. They will also learn that it is okay to have more than one friend. There is a lot of cooking in the book, so readers who enjoy cooking will enjoy this book.

May 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Strike Zone, by Mike Lupica

Lupica, Mike. Strike Zone. Philomel Books, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9780525514886. 249 pages. Ages 10+. P7 Q7

Nick’s life is consumed with baseball and he is working towards earning the MPV award this season. His hero is Michael Arroyo, the main character in Lupica’s previous novel, Heat. Many aspects of Nick’s life match Michael’s, which gives him hope that he can achieve his dreams. Nick and his sister Amelia, who has lupus, are American citizens. His parents, however, are illegal immigrants. They stayed in the country after their tourist visas expired. Nick watches as his neighbor’s dads are detained by ICE and he is concerned that his parents will be taken away also. The majority of the novel centers around Nick playing baseball, watching his hero, Michael Arroyo, the pitcher for the Yankees, and fearing his parents will be deported by ICE. This novel allows readers to understand the impact that fear of deportation has on immigrant families. Lupica is a prominent sports journalist and author of more than 40 books, both fiction and non-fiction. This is the follow up to Heat, a best seller, but can stand-alone.

Verdict: Readers who love baseball will enjoy this action-packed novel following the life of Nick Garcia. We may not all fear ICE and deportation, but we all have fears that consume us. Readers will learn to look beyond the stereotypes and how to stand up for others. If you like baseball, you will find this book interesting since the majority of the book is filled with baseball content. I think this book will appeal to sports fans.

May 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Digging Deep, by Elena Delle Donne

Donne, Elena Delle. Digging Deep. (Hoops series, book 4). Simon & Schuster (BYR), 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781534441248. 136 pages. Ages 8-12. 7P Q7 

Trying a new sport is not always easy, especially when it involves leaving one group of friends and making new friends. Elle, who is twelve and in the seventh grade, quits basketball because her coach expected too much from her and it was too stressful. When a friend suggests she join the volleyball team, she agrees. She didn’t realize that it would pull her away from her current group of friends and she would have to choose between them and her new friends. Her middle school has an anti-bully club called Buddy Club, which she is part of. She shares how some people make fun of her sister, Beth, who is deaf and blind. Beth also has cerebral palsy and autism and is in a wheelchair. Students discuss different ways that bullying occurs and ways they can be a buddy. Even though this is book four in the Hoops series, it can stand alone.

Elena Donne is a professional women’s basketball player who won the 2015 WNBA MVP and a gold medal with the USA’s women’s basketball team in the 2016 Olympics. She currently plays for the Washington Mystics. Donne is the global ambassador for the Special Olympics and became the first national ambassador for the Global Lyme Alliance.

Verdict: If you want a short, easy to read book with a content level that is interesting to middle schoolers, this is the book for you. The struggles Elle has to go through with her friends are ones that readers will relate to. Elle’s sister Beth was mentioned casually and it fit into the story seamlessly. I think this is important for children who have siblings with disabilities. The themes of courage, problem solving, growth mindset, self-esteem are present. This is a good story for teachers to read to their classes.

May 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Parked, by Danielle Svetcov

Svetcov, Danielle. Parked. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. $17.99. ISBN 9780399539039 (hardcover). 383 pages. Middle-grade. P7 Q8

Jeanne Ann has moved to San Francisco from Chicago with her mother in an orange van only to find that the job and housing expected are not available.  Cal and his mother live in a very large house across from the park and street that Jeanne Ann now finds is her home. This is a debut novel by Danielle Svetcov about an unlikely friendship that includes common bonds (such as cooking and books) in an unusual situation.  This story takes on a big topic that is a critical problem. In the Author’s Note, Svetcov sums it up with “there are not enough affordable homes for the people who need them.  The result is a lot of displacement—families living in cars, vans, shelters, and on the street.”  As Cal deals with his need to help Jeanne Ann and the other people living in vans across from his house, Jeanne Ann finds her world coming apart a little more each day.  But, with committed friends, a determined mom, skills, and some surprises, the outcome is good. A nice segue in this story as it goes between Jeanne Ann’s perspective and Cal’s, is unreceived letters from Jeanne Ann’s librarian friends in Chicago.  The cover of this book at first glance makes it seem lighthearted—and parts of it are very funny—but overall Parked is a good chance for fifth through middle school age readers to look at a growing problem–a problem that some of their classmates might be experiencing. This would be a good, current-events book to be read as a classroom or on an individual basis.

March 2020 review by Sharon McCrum.

Book review: Judy Mood: Book Quiz Whiz, by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

McDonald, Megan. Judy Mood: Book Quiz Whiz. Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. (Judy Moody series).  Candlewick Press, 2019. $15.99. ISBN 9781536204841. 164 pages. Ages 6-9. P8 Q8

Judy Moody is at it again! This time she and her brother, Stink, are participating in the First Ever Book Quiz Blowout for Virginia Dare School. The team they are up against is really smart. Judy and Stink read, read, and read some more. They come up with strategies to remember what they are reading and to read faster. Some strategies work well, some do not. All is going well until their team, the Bookworms, hear that the other team has a fourth grader on it! The bookworms are discouraged and feel defeated. Judy encourages them saying, “We have the courage of Wilbur and the imagination of Pippi Longstocking. Pippi would say that to win, we have to first be able to imagine winning.”  Black and white illustrations match the text. The first page shows Who’s who, which gives the reader an idea of the characters in the story. The end has a section listing the books referenced in Judy Moody: Book Quiz Whiz, spoiler alert..there are 70! There is also a section listing books referenced by chapter. This is book 15 in the Judy Moody series.

Verdict: I was very pleased with this Judy Moody book. I love to read and the reference to all the books and characters was delightful. Our school has an OBOB (Oregon Battle of the Books) team where students read books and compete, similar to the Book Quiz Blowout in the book. Students will be able to relate to Judy Moody and find her adventure inspiring. I work as a librarian and will be adding this book to my collection of Judy Moody books. I already have a fifth grader who wants to check it out. I highly recommend this book for elementary and public libraries.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: I, Cosmo, by Carlie Sorosiak

Sorosiak, Carlie. I, Cosmo. Walker Books, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781536207699. 273 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q7

What happens to pets when parents get divorced? Do they get to stay with the children or will they be separated from them? These are questions that Max and Cosmo have to figure out. Narrated from Cosmo, a golden retriever’s, point of view as he figures out how to support his owner, Max. Cosmo’s insight into the family is just what one would imagine a dog’s to be. Full of Cosmo’s antics from letting what he thought was a cat into the house, rolling in stinky stuff, to throwing up and being there for his humans. Max thinks that if they win a dance competition, his parents will realize that he and Cosmo need to stay together. However, Cosmo is getting older and not able to move as well as when he was younger. Will he mess up and ruin Max’s chances of winning the competition? When parents start fighting and may end up in a divorce, children may have questions, feel angry, or are uncertain about how the family will function. This story is realistic and can give children hope that even if their parents get divorced, they are still loved.

Verdict: While I find some books told from an animal’s point of view not worth reading, this one was very well written. Cosmo had insight into his family and saw things that humans miss. Children who have a dog will enjoy this thoughtful journey that Max and Cosmo go through. Children whose parents have divorced will be able to relate to this story.

January 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Startup Squad, by Brian Weisfeld and Nicole C. Kear

Weisfeld, Brian and Nicole C. Kear. The Startup Squad. (Startup Squad series, book 1). Imprint, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781250180407. 172 pages. Ages 8-11. P7 Q7

Resa’s teacher, Ms. Davis, explains to the class about the sixth-grade trip and fund raiser. The class is going to Adventure Central and they will be selling lemonade for the fundraiser. The class is divided up into teams and each team will have their own lemonade stand. Resa’s best friend, Didi, is on her team, along with Harriet and Amelia. Harriet is energetic, colorful, optimistic, enthusiastic and full of ideas. Amelia is the new girl, who is quiet and logical. As the team works towards making their lemonade and selling it, Resa is very judgmental towards the others on her team and always wants things done her way. However, by doing things her way, they do not turn out as she expects. Resa learns that when working in a team, she cannot always have her way. Meanwhile, Val and her team of overachievers seem to be selling the most lemonade. Can Resa and her team regroup and win the contest? Will Resa learn the value of compromise? Resa can be a bit annoying since she goes too fast, does not have patience for others and focuses on their faults. The team members take time to talk to Resa and help her see how she is treating them. The illustrations on the cover show four girls of different races, showing diversity.

Verdict: Relationships are complex, especially when friends have different temperaments and strengths. The author did a good job of representing a wide variety of races and personality types. The overall message of compromise and seeing the strengths of others make this short chapter book one that will make the reader more open minded for having read it. I recommend it for public and school libraries.

February 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Music for Tigers, by Michelle Kadarusman

Kadarusman, Michelle. Music for Tigers. “Prepublication advance reading copy.” Pajama Press, publication date April 28, 2020. [192 pages.] $17.95. ISBN 97817280543. Ages 8-12. P7Q9

Thylacines–Tasmanian tigers–are large, extinct, dog-like marsupial predators, once found across Australia, last seen on the island of Tasmania almost a century ago.  Like the North American Sasquatch, there are occasional sightings, with grainy video or photographs, but no credible evidence of living specimens has been found.  With Louisa’s scientist parents off to study endangered amphibians in the Ontario wetlands for the summer, middle-school violinist Louisa has to  has to spend her summer with her uncle in the Tasmanian rainforest.  Bush conditions—scary spiders and venemous snakes, kerosene lamps and inconsistent electricity, lack of internet—mean that Louisa cannot concentrate solely on practicing her violin for the upcoming auditions and the camp’s isolation throws her into the company of Colin, a boy on the autism spectrum.  Then there is the mystery of the large animal that seems to be stalking the camp, especially once Louisa begins practicing violin.  Her grandmother’s journal gives her the clue that the large animal might be a thylacine, descended from animals brought to the camp to protect them from encroaching loggers and miners at the turn of the 20th century.

Verdict: Students who enjoy  nature stories, especially those who are interested in cryptid species, will enjoy this book.  The idea that a large extinct predator species might actually be found is exciting.  I really liked the ways that Louisa and Colin interacted with each other, Colin sharing his knowledge of the bush and Louisa finding a way to demonstrate facial cues  to help Colin identify emotions.  This character and setting driven plot appeals on many levels and introduces a setting not well represented in children’s books in the United States.  I recommend it for middle school and public libraries.

February 2020 review by Jane Cothron.