Astro Girl

Written and Illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max

When a little girl, Astrid, is asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she insists that all she wants is to go into space. Papa is quick to point out the many difficulties with being an astronaut.

Lively illustrations help to show how the difficulties of space travel might affect an astronaut. Astronauts endure some extreme motion. Papa swings Astrid around to show how that might be. Astronauts must eat tubes of food, like a cereal bar. Astrid thinks she can handle that. Astronauts endure zero gravity, so Papa throws her up in the air. Astronauts must do experiments, such as making cookies. Can Astrid endure the isolation of space? Turns out Mama is an astronaut herself.

An added bonus lists five women who have been instrumental in space exploration. This is a great way to introduce space travel to younger readers.

  • Astro GirlTitle: Astro Girl
  • Author/Illustrator: Ken Wilson-Max
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Career aspirations
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0946-4


Written by Meg McKinlay
Illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom

Based on the double meaning of the word duck, – noun and interjection – the humor is a little predictable. But it’s the kind of clean humor young kids understand and enjoy. And the illustrations are also the silly kind that make a first grader laugh with the farm animals.

In a barnyard, a duck runs into the scene shouting, “Duck!” Naturally, each animal he encounters corrects him by saying they are not a duck. The horse points out that, while ducks are small and waddly, horses are noble and tall. The cow says ducks have funny webbed feet, and cows have fine cloven hooves. The pig is proud of his fine pig snout, as opposed to the duck’s poky little beak. And the sheep compares her fine woolly coat to the duck’s fluffy little feathers. Of course, none of them understands that the barn is about to collapse.

Whether for independent reading or for reading aloud, this is a fun book. It invites comparison of animal characteristics and well as being just plain funny.

  • Duck3Title: Duck!
  • Author: Meg McKinlay
  • Illustrator: Nathaniel Eckstrom
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 4
  • Genre: Humor, Animals
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0422-3


A Day for Skating

Written by Sarah Sullivan
Illustrated by Madeline Valentine

Fun rhymes are only a part of the highlights of this adorable, nostalgic, bedtime book. The lilt of the words is almost like the snow falling on a quiet, cold day. Or the scrape of the skate blades on the ice of the pond in the story.

The story is deceptively simple, yet it covers the entire day of skating in a small number of words, with the end papers providing the literal bookends. The first one shows the family on the way to the pond. The last one shows the scene after nightfall. Along with the family dog (on a leash), the skates go on and are laced. he pond is already busy. Slide and turn. Fall down. Get up with Dad’s – and the dog’s – help. Hot cocoa at the snack-bar and more gliding in a row. Hockey, figure skating, and a race with happy people. Then home to warm up and rest for another day. At night, the animals go for a skate. It’s all there.

The illustrations are so much a part of the action. Always, the dog is there to share in the fun. And there’s usually a bird or rabbit or raccoon to spot.

I can’t recommend this book enough, even for kids who’ve never seen snow or ice. Sure to be a classic.

  • A Day for SkatingTitle: A Day for Skating
  • Author: Sarah Sullivan
  • Illustrator: Madeline Valentine
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Skating, Family, Friends, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9686-3

Maya and the Lost Cat

Written and Illustrated by Caroline Magerl

In a delightful and somewhat melancholy story, Maya searches for the home of a cat that randomly shows up at her door. When Cat shows up, it’s raining buckets. Maya finds that Cat is not impressed by her feather boa or pom-pom on a stick. But Cat is very happy with a tin of fish. So, concerned about his welfare, Maya sets out to find Cat’s true home. The first house is filled with rabbits. The second house with dogs. Not good fits. The next house is overflowing with cats. Probably not. Finally, Maya and Cat locate a boat, where they know Cat. Maya is sad to see Cat go, but she comes home with Cat’s kitten. Everyone is happy.

There is a lot to learn in this sweet story about home and a place to belong. It would be great as a bedtime story.

The beautiful watercolor illustrations with an Impressionistic influence add tremendously, with cute little touches like a lost cat poster and animals watching them out of windows. The end papers are filled with cats.

  • Maya 2Title: Maya and the Lost Cat
  • Author/Illustrator: Caroline Magerl
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Home
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0423-0

My First Book of New York

Written and Illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius

A big, big book for a big city. Filled with colorful and recognizable images, this is the story of present day New York. Of course, any reader could argue that it’s incomplete, given the enormity of the subject. But it does give the flavor of the City for those just beginning to learn her secrets. Each two-page spread explores a neighborhood with iconic items in colorful illustrations. Even the end papers show the chaos that is New York City.

The author begins with Brooklyn – the Bridge, Coney Island, a dog walker, a brownstone, etc. Then there’s Rockefeller Center with ice skating, the Rockettes, and MOMA. Other areas similarly explored are Chinatown (dim sum, cannoli, mah jongg), the Empire State Building, Greenwich Village, Grand Central Terminal, Harlem, Museums, Queens, Central Park, Shopping, Statue of Liberty, the Bronx, Wall Street, and Times Square & Broadway.

Everything highlighted is something anyone, especially young readers, would notice when visiting New York. So this is a great place to start before any visit or when learning in depth about one of the most famous cities in the world.

  • My First Book of New YorkTitle: My First Book of New York
  • Author/Illustrator: Ingela P. Arrhenius
  • Published: Walker Books/Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Travel, Culture
  • ISBN: 978-0-5362-0990-7

Around the Table That Grandad Built

Written by Melanie Heuiser Hill
Illustrated by Jaime Kim

When the family gets together, they gather around the table that grandad built. All the items that go on the table have connections to family members. Cousins picked the flowers. Mom sewed the napkins. The glassware is from Mom & Dad’s wedding. The tableware is from a great grandmother. Squash from the garden. Gran-baked bread. Huckleberry jam made by Dad. Homemade pies. Love from all. And so on.

The first part of the story is written as a cumulative like the House that Jack Built. The ending, though, is written in poetic form. Very appealing and very fun and easy to follow. The striking acrylic illustrations draw readers in and let them know how fun a family can be.

This is a very diverse family – evidenced in part by the samosas and tamales served. But the author and illustrator show how everyone loves each other. A very tight family worth embracing.

  • Around the TableTitle: Around the Table That Grandad Built
  • Author: Melanie Heuiser Hill
  • Illustrator: Jaime Kim
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Family
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9784-6

Caterpillar and Bean

Written by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Hannah Tolson

This simple but effective story tells about exactly what the title implies – a caterpillar and a bean. A bean is lying in a crack in the ground. Gradually, it expands and its seed coat splits to reveal plant parts. They grow into a tall plant. At some point, an egg appears on a leaf. The egg also splits open to reveal a living creature – a caterpillar. It grows, feeding on bean plant leaves. Eventually, the caterpillar forms a chrysalis and the plant matures to produce actual beans. The chrysalis reveals a butterfly, looking for a place to lay eggs, and the new beans prepare to grow.

The story may seem simple, but there are very important concepts in learning about the cycle of life and also in the interdependence of plants and animals. Keeping with the theme of simplicity, the wonderful illustrations show exactly what is in the text, but give subtle clues such as the presence of a shovel and watering can. Other plants and insects are shown to avoid isolating the caterpillar and bean.

This could become a valuable resource for a kindergarten or first grade classroom.

  • Caterpillar and BeanTitle: Caterpillar and Bean
  • Author: Martin Jenkins
  • Illustrator: Hannah Tolson
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 1
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biology, Life cycle
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0170-3

If You Played Hide-and-Seek With a Chameleon

Written Bill Wise
Illustrated by Rebecca Evans

Fun and witty, this adorable book highlights some facts about animals that set them apart from humans. Set up like a carnival with a game for each animal, it shows how the animal would always win the chosen game. The author chooses a pie eting contest for the hippopotamus, hide-and-seek for a chameleon, basketball for a giraffe, a long jump for a kangaroo, weight-lifting for an elephant, wrestling for an anaconda, a 100-meter dash for a cheetah, Twister for an octopus, tag for a porcupine, a staring contest for a shark, and a blind potato race for a bat. Then there’s a snail, which wins at laying a slime trail.

Wonderfully amusing illustrations complete the joy while kids learn. Each spread includes the blue-ribboned prior winner of the games and foreshadowing of the next animal contestant. Five kids compete with the animals and obviously have fun doing it.

The Explore More pages have lots of ideas for further learning. For teachers and parents, the lessons available are divided into science, technology, engineering, and math.

  • If You PlayedTitle: If You Played Hide-and-Seek With a Chameleon
  • Author: Bill Wise
  • Illustrator: Rebecca Evans
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 4
  • Genre: Animals, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-651-3
  • Extras: Explore More for Kids, Explore More for Teachers and Parents

Let Me Sleep, Sheep!

Written by Meg McKinley
Illustrated by Leila Rudge

Bedtime stories may be everywhere, but this absurd yet adorable addition is worthy of the title and worth the time. In preparation for slumber, Amos begins counting sheep. He barely gets past “Two” before the sheep he’s counting materialize in his bedroom. The sheep don’t see a fence to jump over. So Felix, aka sheep number one, gives Amos a hard time about staying until he has a fence. And the fence needs to be the perfect height with the perfect landing. And the sheep need a glass of water before proceeding. Of course, Amos falls asleep on the floor while several more sheep show up and lounge on the furniture.

The illustrations include wonderful details about a kid’s bedroom – stuffed animals, musical instruments, vehicles of all sorts, clothing, and furniture.

The story hilariously begs the question of whether the sheep are real or whether they only exist in that mysterious world between wake and sleep. Families will have tons of fun reading their own Amos into slumberland.

  • Let Me Sleep SheepTitle: Let Me Sleep, Sheep!
  • Author: Meg McKinley
  • Illustrator: Leila Rudge
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Picture book, Humor, Bedtime
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0547-3

Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist

Written by Mike Allegra
Illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel

This wonderful new book has more layers than the onions growing in the nearby garden. For that reason alone, it would make a great addition to any library. But it’s also a lot of fun to read.

As a field mouse, Scampers faces daily dangers, like predators and finding enough to eat. Seeing a large owl in the garden, he devises experiments to determine just how much of a threat the owl really is. First, he notices the owl doesn’t move. He tries testing the owl’s hearing by shouting and playing loud music. He tries testing the owl’s sensitivity by throwing rocks at it. He tries testing the owl’s eyesight by waving a fake mouse above the weeds. He tries insulting the owl.

The scientific method is at the forefront of the story. The careful way Scampers confronts the owl without getting eaten is nothing short of brilliant. Scampers has to devise a catapult to throw the rocks and a fake mouse to avoid putting himself in danger.

Gorgeous illustrations demonstrate what Scampers is doing and tell a story very well by themselves. The Explore More sections are filled with information about owls and field mice and suggest many ways to learn more.  

  • TScampersitle: Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist
  • Author: Mike Allegra
  • Illustrator: Elizabeth Zechel
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 2
  • Genre: Nature, Problem solving
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-643-8
  • Extras: Explore More for Kids, Explore More for Teachers and Parents
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