We all have our TBRs. I’ve got an impressive or terrifying one, depending on how you look at it. I have such wonderful folx sending me their books, and even if it takes me a while, I do want to talk these books up; hence, the Tales from the TBR feature I’ve been running. There are some truly outstanding books here, and deserve some more face time. When you’re freshening up your backlist, consider adding some of these to your carts, or, if you already have them, put them up. Let’s rock.
I Am Smoke, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Mercè López, (Sept. 2021, Tilbury House Publishers), $18.95, ISBN: 9780884487883
Henry Herz has been putting out some great stories over the years, but his 2021 book, I Am Smoke, is in a class by itself. Written in verse from the point of view of smoke, the story is part anthropological study, part scientific study. Smoke begins with a declaration: “I am Smoke. / I twirl in dark dance from every campfire”, alongside early Native Americans dancing by firelight. The thoughtful verse wanders through time, imparting wisdom and caution in equal amounts: “Even fearless firefighters dare not breathe me when battling flames”; “I cannot touch, but I can help ease pain”. Mercè López’s illustration is breathtaking; created by smoke, watercolor, and Photoshop to create haunting and ethereal images. Copious back matter provides deeper context and resources for further reading. A brilliant book on every level: if you haven’t added this one to your collections yet, you may want to look again.
I Am Smoke has a starred review from Kirkus and has been named to Evanston Public Library’s Blueberry List: Kids’ Book that Inspire Love of Nature and Action for Planet Earth; it was named to the ALA Children’s Notable Children’s Books of 2022 list, and selected for Notable Social Studies 2022 booklist. It also made Kirkus’s List of 150 Most Anticipated Fall 2021 Books.
It’s time for the latest board book bonanza! These books are great for collections and for stocking stuffers: let’s take a look.
The Pop-Up Guide: Animals, by Maud Poulain/Illustrated by Peggy Nille, (Sept. 2022, Twirl Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9791036345166
Twirl’s Pop-Up Guides are so much fun for toddlers and preschoolers. The fourth in this series is all about animals and their environments, with spotlights on nine areas: the African Savanna, the forest, the Far North, the rain forest, the backyard, the ocean, the desert, the river and the mountains. A brief factual paragraph gives kids introductory information to each area, and each spread folds out into a 3-D landscape. Animals are clearly labeled, as are environmental objects like pine cones, ice floes, and water lilies. The Pop-Up Guide are great ways to introduce new vocabulary and new ideas, with colorful illustration and sturdy pages that hold up to multiple reads. If you’re putting these into circulation, keep a reference copy on hand for storytimes. Great for a STEM storytime!
Pop-Up Topics: Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures, by Arnaud Roi, (Oct. 2022, Twirl Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9782408037512
Twirl has another pop-up series for young learners now! Pop-Up Topics has slightly more informational text and a more refined topic range for growing minds, while keeping the same exciting and eye-catching 3-D pop-ups that exploring fingers enjoy. Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric features includes 10 pop-up spreads on dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures with a short, informational paragraph on each, and at-a-glance statistics like region, size and weight, and time period. Fan favorites like Tyrannosaurus Rex Stegosaurus are here alongside the lesser-known Sarcosuchus, a prehistoric relative to the modern-day crocodile, and flying reptile Quetzalcoatlus. If your budget permits, pick up a back-up copy or two, or keep this in storytime reference; while sturdy, the flaps may not hold up to the beating that dino books take (at least, in my library!).
Happy Little Pets: I Take Care of My Puppy, Illustrated by Michael Slack, (Jan. 2023, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781797205267
Happy Little Pets is an adorable new board book series from Chronicle! Combining pet care with learning, the books are a sweet introduction to having a pet. I Take Care of My Puppy has 15 interactive elements that let kids fill the puppy’s bowl, brush their fur, and trace their finger through a walk around the block. Moving parts, bold fonts, and a cheery, expressive puppy will appeal to readers. The final spread invites readers to take care of their own puppy for a week, with sliding panels to check off every day after they feed, walk, play, and take their puppy out for a potty run. It’s a great way to introduce responsibility into a conversation, and for preschoolers who may not have a pet, a chance to try a puppy on for size – accompany with a stuffed animal for a test run! Sliding panels can be a little fiddly with new books, but the pages are sturdy and will hold up.
Happy Little Pets: I Take Care of My Kitten, Illustrated by Michael Stack, (Jan. 2023, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781797205274
I Take Care of My Kitten is the companion to I Take Care of My Puppy, with an adorable black and white kitten that readers can name, feed, brush, and pet. There are 15 interactive elements for toddlers and preschoolers to explore, and they can spend a week caring for their own kitten (Can be a toy! Get creative!) and marking off their progress at the end of the book. Kids can learn about the responsibility involved in having a kitten, including cleaning the litter box and helping them find a scratching post to sharpen their claws. Kid-friendly artwork and sturdy panels engage readers from the get-go.
Hello, Opportunity: The Story of Our Friend on Mars, by Shaelyn McDaniel/Illustrated by Cornelia Li, (Sept. 2022, Page Street Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781645674696
The true story of Opportunity, the Mars rover who captivated watchers on Earth, is the star of this picture book biography. Author Shaelyn McDaniel begins with a story of how humans set and achieved exploration goals: humans wanted to go to the sky, so we did. We wanted to go to the moon, so we did. But when we wanted to go to Mars, it was a little too far away, “so we sent a friend instead”. Opportunity , built by scientists, went into space and spent 15 years on what was originally 3 month mission, but a storm hit the planet, draining the rover’s batteries and shutting her down. McDaniel humanizes Opportunity with phrases like “Oppy called home often” and “she sent selfies so we would know she was okay”; as Opportunity shuts down, scientists sent a lullaby – “a kiss from her friends on Earth”. It’s an emotional moment, made more poignant by Cornelia Li’s digital illustration of a satellite broadcasting colorful musical notes into space. Much of the illustration is orange-red tinged, with and there are genuinely breathtaking moments as Opportunity roves the Red planet, groves digging into the ground and layered dunes. Endpapers show Mars from the Earth’s point of view and Earth from Mars’s point of view, and back matter includes more information about Opportunity. A bibliography is available via QR code. Hello, Opportunity will endear the rover to a new generation of sky-watchers who may be inspired to find her on Mars one day. A sweet storytime addition to your space collections. A downloadable activity kit includes games and the opportunity to send a postcard to Opportunity.
If you have tinkerers or a robotics league in your community, you may already be familiar with No Starch Press and their solid LEGO Mindstorms catalog. I’m a No Starch fan and regularly buy their computing books for both my kids and adult collections, but their Mindstorms books really are worthy of their own shout-out. I’ve used them in my own library when I had a robotics league, and they were a tremendous help to me and my team as we navigated getting the machines built and running. There are two new Mindstorms books coming out that are worth a look for your shelves.
Getting Started with LEGO® MINDSTORMS: Learn the Basics of Building and Programming Robots, by Barbara Bratzel & Rob Torok, (Oct. 2022, No Starch Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781718502420
Anyone embarking on LEGO Mindstorms robotics will find Getting Started with LEGO Mindstorms an essential reference to have on hand. Written with a friendly, easy-to-follow voice, the book provides information you and your readers will need to build your first robot, work with the Mindstorms app, and troubleshoot and refine your robots as you go. The book covers sensors, remote control, sound, light, and movement. Are you new to programming? The book introduces readers to Word Blocks, a visual programming language based on Scratch and is very user-friendly. If you’ve never delved into robotics, DON’T PANIC: this is a supremely intuitive guide that’s meant to foster an interest in programming, building, and working with LEGO Mindstorms robots. You and your readers are safe in Barbara Bratzel’s and Rob Torok’s capable hands.
Mastering LEGO® MINDSTORMS: Build Better Robots with Python and Word Blocks, by Barbara Bratzel & Rob Torok, (Oct. 2022, No Starch Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781718503144
You want your readers to expand their expertise on LEGO Mindstorms. Mastering LEGO Mindstorms will get them there. Moving up from basic Word Blocks programming, Mastering LEGO Mindstorms expands robotics builders’ skills by introducing Python language programming, letting users write text-based code. There’s still how-tos on designing and building, with expanded programming techniques to encourage the casual builder to grow their schools and move toward more sophisticated robotics engineering. There are chapters on gears and mechanisms, moving gyro sensors, and games and “Ultimate Challenges” to test your engineers’ mettle. Photos are incredibly helpful and the informative text is as supportive as it is educational. Bratzel is an elementary school STEM educator and Torok is a secondary STEM educator; both are Mindstorms educators who explain robotics in a way that respects the reader while challenging them.
Getting Started with LEGO® MINDSTORMS and Mastering LEGO® MINDSTORMS are excellent additions to your STEM/STEAM collections. If you have robotics leagues or maker labs in your community, they are essential.
Over and Under the Waves, by Kate Messner/Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, (Sept. 2022, Chronicle Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781797203478
Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal’s latest Over and Under story explores the ocean ecosystem. Narrated in the first person by a child while out rowing with their family, we encounter sea lions sunning on the rocks, birds soaring overhead, and a mother and baby otter cuddling among the kelp. A glimpse below the water reveals an entirely different, bustling world: shimmering fish and bristly urchins; lurking eels and drifting jellies, and a giant surprise! There’s a sense of wonder in Messner’s storytelling, beautifully translated by Neal, who creates spread after spread of mixed media realistic ocean life. The family is present only to help place the reader in the story; nature takes center stage, with the human characters occasionally appearing from the side of the spread, or from far above to provide perspective. Endpapers show sea stars, fish, and shells in white silhouette across a field of deep blue. An author’s note describes Messner’s inspiration for the tale, and an “About the Animals” section provides a brief informational paragraph on each animal in the story. Recommended books and websites direct readers to further reading. A thoughtful meditation on the ocean, and an excellent addition to both this series and STEM/STEAM and nature collections.
Jo Bright and the Seven Bots, by Deborah Underwood/Illustrated by Meg Hunt, (Sept. 2022, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452171302
The creators of fun flipped fairy tales Interstellar Cinderella and Reading Beauty are back with a fun tinkering tale that will be popular in STEM/STEAM storytimes, fairy tale storytimes, and any time. Jo Bright is a tinkerer with a talent for building bots despite the selfish queen not sharing her supplies. Even Mirror-bot knows the score, telling the queen that “your bots are great, ’tis true, / but Jo Bright has become / a better bot-builder than you”, sending the queen into a tizzy and getting Jo dropped off by a dragon’s lair. Turns out, the vegetarian dragon took to the woods to escape the queen, too, and bonds with Jo, who creates seven bots to keep the lonely dragon company. When the queen discovers that Jo is still the superior bot-maker, she takes things even further! Mixed media illustrations are just plain fun, with adorable robots, diverse and interesting background characters, and a likable blue-haired heroine with a talent for creating. Endpapers add a little extra fun to the story. The rhyming verse is easy to read and makes for a lively readaloud. Pair this one with Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing (2014) for a fun STEAM story, and leave out some LEGOs for post-storytime play.
Bling! 100 Fun Facts About Rocks and Gems, by Emma Carlson Berne, (Jan. 2022, National Geographic Kids), $4.99, ISBN: 9781426338908
Bling!, Nat Geo’s Level 3 Reader on rocks and gems is chock-full of fun facts and incredible photos. The 100 Fun Facts series is another one of those NatGeo Kids home runs for my library shelves; the Easy Reader format is familiar to kids, and the layout that pairs photos with quick, easy-to-digest information attracts my library kids to these books. These are great for booktalking trivia, too: Did you know that silver is used in medical bandages to prevent infection? Or that you could buy a jelly bean-sized bar of gold for about $50? Little facts like that while I’m booktalking grab kids’ attention, and NatGeo Kids makes it easy for me to grab those fast facts. Bling! makes the STEM connection with facts about the Egyptian pyramids, erosion and rock formations, and a section on plate tectonics. Phonetic spelling throughout helps readers with new vocabulary words. All 100 facts get a roundup at the end of the book, and there is an index. Display this with NatGeo’s The Book of Bling (2019) and some callout facts for an eye-catching display.
I’m a Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe, by Dr. Eve M. Vavagiakis/Illustrated by Ilze Lemesis, (March 2022, MIT Kids Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536222074
If you enjoy Chris Ferrie’s Baby University books, and Ruth Spiro and Irene Chan’s Baby Loves Science board books, you’re going to flip for I’m a Neutrino, a rhyming science tale by a Cornell physicist and her illustrator mother. I’m a Neutrino introduces burgeoning young scientists to the neutrino: “I am a particle, like electrons and light / I can pass through you without stopping my flight!” The neutrinos, depicted as bright, colorful, spiky-headed little beings, adventure throughout the story, dancing and playing across the cosmos as a diverse group of kids and adults try to unlock their mysteries. The rhyming text informs with a playful tone, and the accompanying illustrations make science exciting and fun while adding new science terms to readers’ vocabularies. A “Know Your Neutrinos” section in the back matter identifies and gives a little more factual information about the neutrinos we encounter in the story.
There isn’t a glossary of new words in this volume, so consider making some flash cards to hand out, to help readers navigate these new words. You can find more about neutrinos at Kiddle and Academic Kids.
This is the first collaboration between Dr. Vavagiakis and MIT Kids and a natural progression for readers who started reading science board books like Chris Ferrie’s and Ruth Spiro and Irene Chan’s series as toddlers and preschoolers. Great for a science storytime, Junior Discovery Club, or STEM class.
Visit Eve Vavagiakis’s webpage for more about her research and mentoring.
I’ve got a bunch of great animal books, courtesy of NatGeo Kids, to talk up today, so sit back and start your program and collection planning!
Can’t Get Enough Shark Stuff: Fun Facts, Awesome Info, Cool Games, Silly Jokes, and More!, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2022, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9781426372582
The latest NatGeo Kids offering fits perfectly with the CSLP “Oceans of Possibilities” Summer Reading theme
, and it’s a good add to your collections and programming. Filled with fun spreads and facts, quizzes, and experiments, this is part workbook (remind kids that we don’t write in library books!), part STEM/Discovery Club handbook, and part primer on sharks for shark fans. A glossary “Catch and Match” game challenges readers to match terms with their definitions and a “Find Out More” section offers resources for further reading and a list of scientists and researchers who contributed to this volume. Over 250 color photographs show a variety of sharks, many labeled with names. A great resource to create shark-related scavenger hunts, trivia programs, and science projects for the summer and beyond.
Critter Chat, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2022, National Geographic Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9781426371707
If animals used social media, it would probably look like this amusing digest from NatGeo Kids. Using imagined screenshots, webpages, and social media accounts like “Llamazon”, “Dolphinstagram”, and “Yowl”, Desert_long-eared_bat reviews the Algerian Desert (5 stars – “…everything I could ever want in a dining establishment! It’s hot, it’s dry, it’s sandy, and it’s packed with scorpions”) and Upside_down_jellyfish posts selfies from the Caribbean Sea. Animals chat to one another via “Critter Chat”, and Animal Influencers spotlight famous animals like Fiona the Hippo, Punxsutawney Phil, and Brigadier Sir Nils Olav, the only penguin who’s also a knight. Hashtags and selfies communicate fun facts about animals, habitats, and more. It’s a fun way to learn little tidbits about animals, and perfect for middle graders to relax with and enjoy. Great for trivia and a side project – ask readers what they think animals would post to social media!
TeachersPayTeachers has fun social media templates that your kids can customize to make their own Critter Chats: here’s one from ZippaDeeZazz, and The Cute Teacher has phone screen layouts.
Little Kids First Nature Guide: Bugs, by National Geographic Kids, (May 2022, National Geographic Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9781426371493
Great for younger nature fans, the Little Kids First Nature Guide: Bugs introduces little learners to all sorts of bugs. Full-color photos are labeled and accompanied by easy-to-read and understand facts, scientific terms, and diagrams. Spreads on insect life cycles of demonstrate a photo-by-photo, step-by-step explanation, using photos of different bugs. Profiles on ants, bees, beetles, and other bugs give readers a close-up look at different insects, with facts and related (but not the same!) bugs. Fun activities like Hide-and-Seek and Move Like a Bug! encourage readers with extension activities, and a glossary of terms keeps all that new vocabulary on hand. The flexible binding is made of sturdy cardboard and will hold up to many, many nature walks. Fully indexed for easy reference. A fun, informative guide for preschoolers and early school-age kids.
Education.com has fantastic butterfly activities you can download and print for free; ditto for sheets on bugs in general. There are some adorable activities on Pocket of Preschool that you can do on a budget.
Little Kids First Big Book of Baby Animals, by National Geographic Kids, (March 2022, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9781426371462
The Little Kids NatGeo Kids books are adorable, aren’t they? I’ve got a bunch here at my library, and my now 10-year-old loved them when he was in Pre-K and Kindergarten. (As he’s 10, he is no longer a “little kid”, as he tells me. Often.) The Little Kids First Big Book of Baby Animals contains over 120 pages of squeal-worthy color photos of baby animals with their families. You pull this out and show it to your kids – library or otherwise – and you will have a roomful of little ones in the palm of your hand. And when you tell them things like a panda cub’s cry sounds like a human baby’s cry? Or that a hippo can’t swim yet, so it gallops underwater? They will tell you ALL about their favorite animals, and the cute things that the animals in their lives do, so get ready to have the best, cutest conversations about baby animals. Fun facts and thought-provoking questions run throughout the book, and text is larger in size, making it easier and less dense for younger kids and emerging readers. A map of the world at the end of the book is color coded to show where animals referenced in the book live, and parent tips help caregivers extend the knowledge from the book into the real world. There is a glossary of terms, a list of additional resources, and a full index. Add this book to your animals collections.
123Homeschool4me has some free printables where kids can match baby and adult animals and learn the terms for different baby animals.
Little Kids First Board Book: Birds, by National Geographic Kids, (March 2022, National Geographic Kids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781426371448
I love NatGeo Kids’s First Board books! They’re so bright and cheery, and the photos and activities are perfect for engaging littles during a lapsit storytime. The latest is Birds, and contains 12 spreads with color photos of different birds. Each spread has a simple, one-sentence factual statement and a colorful callout fact about birds, and each picture is labeled with the name of the bird in a colorful box with bold black lettering. Names of birds and key phrases get a nice, colorful font that sets them off from the rest of the text. A final spread invites readers to try different activities to identify six featured birds: “Tap the toucan’s beak. / Flap your arms like the eagle.”
This is the seventh Little Kids First Board Book. It’s a great series for beginning learners, with sturdy cardboard to hold up to many circs and readings. NatGeo Kids has a birds website where learners can watch videos, see maps, and learn facts about 24 different birds, presented in alphabetical order. Also check out their Strange Birds website for photos of more feathered friends.
Happy Hooligans has a great list of 25 bird crafts for little ones that are easy on easily done on a budget.
National Geographic Readers: Mythical Beasts: 100 Fun Facts About Real Animals and the Myths They Inspire, by National Geographic Kids, (Jan. 2022, National Geographics Kids), $4.99, ISBN: 9781426338939
Unicorns, dragons, and krakens all have one thing in common: they’re mythical creatures with origins in very real history. NatGeo Kids’s Mythical Beasts is a Level 3 Reader, good for most readers ages 7-10, that provides 100 facts on real animals and the myths they’ve inspired or are named for. A helpful key to NatGeoKids’s leveling system is right on the back cover, and I like using the 5-finger rule for choosing a book when I do my Readers Advisory. The book is organized into 3 chapters and two 25 Facts spreads that give readers the roundup on history’s mysteries: mermaids were most likely manatees, who have fishy tales but can turn their heads from side to side like humans; the giant Kraken was most likely a giant squid. Using research and the fossil record, color photos and illustrations, NatGeo Kids author Stephanie Warren Drimmer takes kids through the process of figuring out why ancient people mistook a distant ancestor of the elephant was mistaken for a cyclops, and how dinosaur fossils led folks to believe that they discovered proof of dragons. We get some modern-day mythical behavior, too: the basilisk lizard can run across water, and adult jellyfish can age in reverse and regrow into adults again, like the phoenix’s power to be reborn (sans ashes, though). The back matter rounds up all 100 facts across a spread (and makes for great trivia questions).
Fun for a STEM/Discovery Club, fun for collections. And you can extend the activity with mythical creature-inspired crafts. Give kids a manatee coloring page and let them create mermaid friends. They can create a giant squid of their own, or try their hands at this fun paper roll squid craft. Make a handprint unicorn and give it a narwhal friend.
Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero, by Valerie Tripp/Illustrated by Geneva Bowers, (Oct. 2021, National Geographic Kids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781426373039
Izzy Newton, Allie Einstein, and Charlie Darwin are best friends starting Atom Middle School together, when they discover that a friend of theirs who moved away is back! Marie Curie doesn’t seem as friendly as she was when the girls were besties, and she’s got a new friend, Gina Carver, who seems equally standoffish. When the air conditioner in their middle school shows no signs of letting up, the group have to put their science-loving brains to work to figure out how to keep themselves, and the rest of the school, out of deep freeze. Izzy and her friends are all named after scientific icons (you’ll learn more about them in the back matter), and each girl has an interest in an area of science similar to their namesakes. Middle-grade subjects like friendship and working out differences are familiar for readers, and the story examines how misunderstandings arise when people assume and don’t speak to one another. The air conditioning mystery is a science problem that needs to be solved; something the girls do through the scientific method, detailed throughout the story. The pace and dialogue are light and smart, and black and white illustrations run throughout. Back matter includes explanations of scientific terms and profiles of women scientists mentioned in the novel. Absolute Hero – a play on the scientific term “absolute zero” – is the first book in the Smart Squad series, with an additional novel, Newton’s Flaw, available now, and another, The Law of Cavities, coming in October. Visit the Smart Squad webpage for free, downloadable Readers and Educators Guides. Absolute Hero was originally published in hardcover in September 2020.
The S.M.A.R.T. Squad series is shaping up to be a fun STEM-related series for middle graders. Pair with Kate Biberdorf’s Kate the Chemist series.