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The Great Chicken Escape by Nikki McClure

Nikki McClure works her magic again in her newest picture book, The Great Chicken Escape. If you don't know anything about McClure's books, know that the natural world plays a powerful part in all of her work, often, specifically that natural world of the Pacific Northwest coastline. Also know that McClure creates her illustrations through the art of the papercut, saying, "I cut my images from black paper with an X-Acto knife. Everything is connected. It is all once piece of paper, yet now it holds a story."  With only four lines of text in the book, the illustrations, as well as an introductory note from the author, the pictures tell the story of four chickens and their escape from their coop. One is caught, but two black and one white chicken make their way through the berry brambles, past grazing cows, and down a path to the coastline, where the chickens explore. Returning home in the evening to the ringing of the bells, the white chicken drags a rope of kelp with …
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The Gumazing Gum Girl! Popped Star by Rhode Montijo with Luke Reynolds,

The Gumazing Gum Girl! Popped Star by Rhode Montijo with Luke Reynolds is here! And it smells like gum, sugar-free sour apple, to be exact! The Gumazing Gum Girl, aka Gabby Gomez, still hasn't revealed her secret identity to her parents, she has a cavity from all her gum chewing AND there is a new superhero in town!

Last year, I reviewed the first two books in The Gumazing Gum Girl trilogy, noting that these books are PERFECT for my students, the majority of whom are Latinx, and many of them English language learners reading below grade level. It is fantastic for them to read a book with a Latina main character and Spanish words and phrases peppered throughout. And, as I also noted, what I love most about Gabby is her conscience. In the first two books, she struggles with the fact that, to become the Gumazing Gum Girl, she has to chew gum, which her mother has (wisely, after Gabby fell asleep with gum in her mouth and woke up covered in it) banned her from chewing gum. And, since h…

With My Hands: Poems About Making Things by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson

With My Hands: Poems About Making Things by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater with pictures by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson is a marvelous book of poems about making things that is sure to inspire readers to to make a few things of their own! Beginning with a poem titled, "Maker," readers are taken on a first person creative caravan that embraces and celebrates the joys of creative expression, starting with these words, "I am a maker. / I am making / something new / with my hands / my head / my heart. /  That's what makers do."  With My Hands encompasses artistic creations as well as more STEM-related endeavors, as in the poem, "Parachute," where the maker cuts a, "parachute from plastic," and ties on a toy guy, throwing him from a window and watching him drift to earth while also playfully rhyming the words plastic, elastic, drastic and fantastic! The poems, "Knot," and "Fort," also pay tribute to creative feats of engineering whil…

Wizardmatch by Lauren Magaziner, 304 pp, RL 4

While Natalie Andrewson's cover art is the first thing that drew me to Wizardmatch by Lauren Magaziner, the plot that focused on a magical family and the passing on of power, along with a biracial girl's struggles against favoritism and sexism, I was hooked. And, while this description sounds pretty weighty, Magaziner's magical world is bursting with playful craziness and eccentric characters.
The protagonist of Wizardmatch is Lennie Mercado is twelve years old, the daughter of a Filipino father and a magical mother. In her mom's family, magical abilities are genetic although severely limited. Lennie and her ten-year-old brother Michael are both able to go invisible - but only for a matter of seconds. But Lennie is working on this, convinced she can improve upon her powers, which she will need when she, her brother and mother are summoned to Netherly for a Wizardmatch. Netherly is the magicians-only world where Poppop, also known as Mortimer de Pomporromp, is the acting…

Peter & Ernesto: a Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable, 119 pp, RL 2

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable is absolutely FANTASTIC! Opposites make for great kid's book characters, especially those for younger readers (think Frog & Toad or Elephant & Piggie) and Peter and Ernesto are definitely opposites. While they share a fondness for munching on hibiscus flowers while spotting cloud animals from the top of their tree, presumably in a rain forest, Ernesto decides that he wants to see all of the sky, not just their small piece, shaking Peter to his core. And boy, does Ernesto see all of the sky. He embraces his journey with joy and verve - his delight and curiosity is palpable and readers are sure to fall in love with him. From the sea to the desert to the Arctic, where he sees the Northern lights, Ernesto experiences and explores and makes friends along the way, like the whale named Louie and a camel with a solid grasp of the constellations. Meanwhile, Peter's fears for Ernesto spur him to leave the comfort of their…

Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin, 192 pp, RL 1

Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin is hilarious, brilliant and a true gift to beginning readers and anyone who loves an illustrated book. At 192 pages, with an index and a (tongue-in-cheek) bibliography as well as a key to the illustrations, Baby Monkey, Private Eye is completely entertaining and endearing. 
I HAD to know how this book came to be and, after reading a few less than interesting reviews and interviews in industry publications, I stumbled across an interview in my (and Selznick and Serlin's part-time) hometown newspaper, the San Diego Union Tribune. Selznick revealed that, while talking with his editor at Scholastic, Tracy Mack, about his next project after The Marvels, she gently suggested that his readers (and she) might like a break from another giant novel. This is when Selznick dropped Baby Monkey, Private Eye on his editor. As Selznick says in the interview, "David (Serlin, his husband, and a professor of communication at UCSD) and I…

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

They Say Blue is the first picture book by Caldecott Honor winner and graphic novelist and artist Jillian Tamaki. More of a stream of consciousness meditation that a traditional narrative, They Say Blue follows a girl as she wanders through thoughts and feelings about colors and seasons. Gorgeously, joyfully illustrated, They Say Blue is also a beautifully designed book, printed on thick pages that make the perfect noise as you turn them, housed in a weighty book case that feels important in your hands. They Say Blue begins, "They say blue is the color of the sky. Which is true today!" Thinking about the blue sky and the blue sea and the way it is like glass when you hold it in your hands, the girl's imagination wanders through the colors and the seasons, as she wanders across the pages of the book. Tamaki's illustrations are filled with movement and the girl frequently has her arms raised, reaching, growing, living. Tamaki's writing is sparse and poetic, as when t…