Thursday, Jul 19, 2018
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Children’s books have an eye on the sky

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This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by teachers of children’s literature. Today's reviews are by Alexa Sandmann, professor of literacy at Kent State University.

The sky, including stars — like the sun — and the moon, have intrigued humans since time began. We have considered both light and darkness and pondered our place on Earth and beyond. Each of the books this month relates to stars (of some kind) or tells a story of “reaching for the stars” or actually traveling to and among stars in universes beyond our current knowledge base. Genre vary — from classic picture books (including a memoir in picture book format) to a graphic novel to fantasy and science fiction. Best wishes for traveling among these “stars” of the literary world. Who knows what new world might be discovered?

WE’RE ALL WONDERS. Written and Illustrated by R. J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf. All ages. $18.99.

Written by the author of Wonder, a novel for middle graders soon to be released as a feature film, this picture book focuses on key character, Auggie, who is not an ordinary kid. Because of a facial deformity, he has been homeschooled until the fifth grade when he goes to school for the first time. His classmates sometimes stare or point or laugh or even say mean things, which of course hurts his feelings. When that happens, he puts on his space helmet and “blasts off” to Pluto. Looking at Earth from that perspective, Auggie knows that the Earth has people who are all quite different from one another, and he longs for them to see him differently — as a “wonder.” A perfect book to share in homes and classrooms as we strive for a world which is not only more peaceful but also more kind.

THE DARKEST DARK. Written by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion. Illustrated by the Fan Brothers. Little, Brown and Co. Ages 4 to 8. $17.99.

Inspired by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s real-life fear of the dark as a child, this picture book biography highlights his revelation of outer space as being the “darkest dark ever” as he and his friends and family witnessed America’s historic walk on the moon in 1969. That night, “For the first time, Chris could see the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark.” A dream was born. A brief biographical sketch, as well as a note from Chris and photographs of his accomplishments end the book. Truly inspirational.

SHINE! Story by Patrick McDonnell. Art by Naoko Stoop. Little, Brown and Co. Ages 4 to 8. $16.99.

Sea star Little Hoshi wishes she could be a twinkling star instead of one stuck in the sea. She aspires to meet friends in the sky, to expand her possibilities for learning, and to see magnificent things. She wants to “shine,” and an anglerfish teaches her the key: happiness, which comes from the heart. With her new appreciation, she finds happiness and truly shines. And isn’t that what we all seek to do? Charming.

CATSTRONAUTS MISSION MOON. By Drew Brockington. Little, Brown and Co. Ages 6-10. $16.99.

Ready for lift-off? The Catstronauts head to the moon to set up a solar power plant to avert a global energy crisis. In a graphic novel format, early readers will enjoy the illustrations, the humor, and the creative problem-solving. Teamwork is critical and these dedicated “professionals” have what it takes to fulfill their mission. It’s hard to keep a good astronaut, I mean, catstronaut, on Earth. Check out the next book in the series. These catstronauts are now “Ready for Mars.”

THE STAR THIEF. By Lindsey Becker. Little Brown and Co. Ages 10-14. $16.99.

Honorine has only known life as a maid in Lord Vidalia’s home, but as she has dutifully dusted the artifacts of his world-wide travels she has longed to see the world beyond the estate. One night she gets her chance as she follows a winged creature and finds herself in the middle of a battle between an incredible steamship (which flies) and a group of mythical constellations. Resolving the conflict becomes her challenge, with multiple significant discoveries along the way — including meeting her parents for the first time. For readers who love fantastical adventures, this book is for you.

DEFY THE STARS. By Claudia Gray. Little Brown and Co. Ages 14 and up. $17.99.

Noemi Vidal, a 17-year-old resident of the planet Genesis and a part of its military, is focused on one goal: Save Genesis from Earth. Genesis, which has protected itself from the ills of the Earth — disease, global warming, and consequences of war — is a pristine world and Noemi and others from Genesis plan to keep it that way. Earth is fighting this Liberty War with mechs, robot-like creations of various abilities, models B to Z. But in the battle, Noemi finds model A, Abel, and comes to believe he is far more than the most advanced “mode”; this mech has seemed to evolve into a more than a robot. How can that be? A compelling story about what it means to be human.

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