Body Battles – by Rita Golden Gelman (1992)

Body Battles a

This is a great little science book for elementary-age kids. It explains some of the inner workings of our bodies. Stuff like viruses and bacteria, earwax, mucous, stomach acid, and the immune system. The book is written with humor and colorful illustrations, so kids won’t find it boring.

Body Battles c

It isn’t overly long, and parents will find this book to be a good introduction to the science of the human body.

The Relatives Came – by Cynthia Rylant (1985)

The Relatives Came

It’s summertime, and that means it’s time to be visited by the relatives! Aunts, uncles, cousins, and piles of suitcases arrive. Every foot of the house is filled with people, but no one seems to mind the overcrowding. After a few weeks, the relatives and their belongings are stuffed into their car again, and off they go. The house now seems too quiet and empty.

For me, this book brought back memories of long road trips to relatives’ homes (although we never stayed for weeks). The illustrations in the book exude the joy and craziness of family gatherings. This is a great book to read aloud to the whole family, as it is certain to bring out many of your own “I remember-when” stories.

 

Shooting The Moon – by Frances O’Roark Dowell (2008)

Shooting The Moon

Jamie Dexter is a 12-year-old girl living on a military base with her father (the Colonel), mother, and older brother T.J. During summer break from school, she volunteers at the base’s rec center in the morning, when there’s not much happening. Private Hollister, who works there, plays endless card games with Jamie, and they become good friends.

The Dexters have always been a patriotic family. But when T.J. breaks the news to the family that he has enlisted in the army, the Colonel does everything he can to convince him to change his mind in the 30 days before boot camp. But T.J. insists on going, and is quickly shipped out to Vietnam, taking his trusty camera with him.

Letters to the family come from T.J., but they don’t really seem to say much about the war. T.J. also starts sending his sister Jamie rolls of black-and-white camera film to be developed. Instead of taking it to the store to be developed, Private Hollister shows her how to use the darkroom to develop the prints. Jamie soon becomes quite expert at film printing. In each batch of pictures, there is always one of the moon. It is a reminder to Jamie that even though they are on opposite sides of the world, they are still looking at the same moon. The other pictures T.J. takes give Jamie a more realistic understanding of what the war is like. And it’s not a pretty picture.

This novel does a good job of showing what it was like to be the younger sibling of a soldier during the Vietnam War. It shows the love, patriotism, and pride that so many families felt, but also the fear that their loved one might not come home. This novel is suitable for anyone 5th grade or older, and is a good summer read, as the book covers Jamie’s summer.

 

When The Soldiers Were Gone – by Vera W. Propp (1999)

When The Soldiers Were Gone

For most people, the end of World War II in 1945 was a tremendous relief. They no longer needed to fear arrest, abide by curfews, put black shades over their windows at night, or worry about their town being bombed. They could return to a normal life, or at least something closer to normal.

But in many ways, the war continued on. Relatives, friends, and neighbors were missing. There was a serious housing shortage, since so many homes had been burned or bombed. Unemployment was high.  Many had what we would call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Nightmares plagued adults and children alike.

At the beginning of this book, World War II has just ended, and 8-year-old Henk is beginning to feel safe. He no longer has to hide, and he is surrounded by a loving family. Imagine his shock and horror when a couple knocks on their farmhouse door one day, says they are his parents, and they want him back.

So Henk loses what he believed was his family – papa, mama, and older brother and sister. He even loses his little kitten. Instead of following the Christian faith, he is told that he needs to put away the little cross he has worn around his neck during the war, and begin learning about the Jewish religion. His real parents call him by his birth name, Benjamin.

This story is based on an actual child who went through this experience. The author did a fantastic job of letting the reader see the post-war world through the eyes of a young boy. This book is suitable for anyone about 3rd grade or older.

Danny And The Dinosaur – by Syd Hoff (1958)

Danny And The Dinosaur

This children’s book is like a happy dream. What kid wouldn’t want to spend a day wandering around town with a friendly dinosaur? Mr. Hoff wrote this story in the late 1950s, but new generations of kids and their families continue to love it. The main character Danny is wandering around a museum, wishing he could see a live dinosaur, when one of the dinosaur models on display talks to him. At first Danny can’t believe his ears – a live dinosaur?! The dinosaur wants to leave the museum and explore the big world outside. So Danny shows him around town, and introduces him to all his friends. Surprisingly, no one is frightened by this gigantic creature. He proves to be quite helpful, becoming a walkway for pedestrians over busy streets, and carrying packages for ladies. In the end, the adventure must end, and the dinosaur returns to the museum.

This book is pure genius. It’s like looking inside a kid’s brain, and seeing the adventures he or she would go on in a world with peaceful animals, polite humans, and no crime. It makes a nice break from books that show the world as it is. Sometimes we all need to retreat into the world of Danny And The Dinosaur.

I Broke My Trunk! – by Mo Willems (2011)

i broke mytrunk

This delightful children’s book is part of Mo Willem’s “Elephant & Piggie” collection. The books in this series feature the unusual friendship of an elephant and a pig. Most of the stories are about getting along with others, dealing with emotions, and other things that young children are learning.

But this book has a slightly different twist. It shows what happens when you try too hard to please everyone. While it’s a good thing to share and try to make your friends happy, sometimes you can overdo a good thing. That’s when you end up hurting yourself – like Elephant and his broken trunk. This story will make everyone in your family laugh, but behind the humor is some really good advise about not allowing people to push you too far.

Running On The Roof Of The World – by Jess Butterworth (2018)

Running On The Roof Of The World

Tash and her friend Sam live in a small village in Tibet, a peaceful and good place until the Chinese army invades and occupies their country. Many of their freedoms disappear including the right to practice their Buddhist religion.  Tash’s father runs a newspaper, and is being told what he must print. As you might suspect, a resistance group springs up to try to regain control of their village, and Tash’s father secretly prints pamphlets.

One night the Chinese police bang on their door, and arrest both parents. Tash escapes only because her mother shoves her out the back window with a backpack, and an important resistance message. She hides in a neighbor’s barn by their yak overnight. In the morning her friend Sam finds her. Together they flee toward the mountains on yaks, and journey toward India. There they hope to speak with the Dalai Lama and deliver the message from the resistance group. The journey is nearly impossible as they battle snow and ice, steep mountain trails, and nomads that are informants to the Chinese.

This historic novel is probably set in the early 1950s, although the book really does not give a point in time. This is an unusual setting for a children’s book, but anyone who is looking for something with a world history twist might enjoy it. Stories like this remind us how fortunate we are to live in a country that gives us the right to worship  as we wish, speak freely, and write journalistic articles that challenge the government in power.

Smile – by Raina Telgemeier (2010)

Smile

When you see a goofy picture like this on the front cover, you assume it’s a silly story.   Although the book does have some humorous moments, it is basically an autobiographical slice of the author’s life. Like the main character Raina, the author Raina had a mishap that seriously damaged several teeth in the front of her mouth when she was in middle school. After an emergency visit to her pediatric dentist, she is sent to an orthodontist, then an endodentist. It takes years of treatment before her mouth looks normal again.

Throughout the book, Raina is very self-conscious about her damaged mouth. She has to put up with more than the average person with braces. For awhile, she has temporary teeth, headgear, and long rubber bands to try to correct her jaw bite. Her friends tease her, only meaning to be funny, but it makes her sad. To make things worse, she meets a really cool guy who she would like to spend time with, but she thinks he is repulsed by her mouth. Although not everything works out perfectly, Raina is able to make a new set of friends at school, keep things civil with her old friends, and finally work her way to a normal mouthful of teeth.

I think this book is most fitting for middle school kids. Raina is in 6th grade at the beginning of the story, right at that time in life when friends are ultra-important and boys are starting to look good. She experiences her first kiss, which is a milestone in life. By the end of the story, she is an eighth-grader, and ready to move on to high school.

But those younger and older than middle school can also enjoy the book. Elementary-age kids with braces will relate to how Raina feels every time she has to go to the orthodontist, or how it feels to be teased by friends. Many adults may identify with the story as well, especially those who have been in a bike or car accident that left them with dental damage. I’m not much of a graphic novel reader, but even I loved this story!

The Boxcar Children #2: Surprise Island – by Gertrude Chandler Warner (1949)

surprise island

“Surprise Island” is the second book in the much-loved series about the Boxcar Children. The author wrote the first book back in 1924, then lay aside writing to become a dedicated 1st grade teacher. In 1942 she decided to write a follow-up story about the Alden children. Although it had been eighteen years since the original Boxcar Children book, none of the children had aged a day!

“In Surprise Island”, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny are allowed to spend their summer vacation on their grandfather’s island. While they have some supplies, they mostly live off the land, and they sleep in a barn. The children spend many happy days exploring and catching seafood to eat. The thing that struck me most was the lack of supervision. Their grandfather brought them to the island, but the only adults that stayed with them were Captain Daniel and his mysterious handyman, Joe. Nowadays, no parent in their right mind would let their kids stay by themselves on an island for a day, let alone an entire summer. We would call it child neglect. At one point the kids explore a cave along the edge of the beach, and are nearly drowned when the tide comes in.

Despite the unrealistic storyline, this was still an endearing story about children following their curiosities, enjoying nature, exploring the island, and being cheerful while working. If you do read it out loud to a young child, as I did, have a dialogue about not going off by yourself, how easy it is to get lost in caves, how to avoid drowning, and not to be alone with an adult you don’t know. As long as you add your comments about safety, this book is still a great summer read.

Pig The Pug – by Aaron Blabey (2016)

Pig The Pug

This is the first of six books by the Mr. Blabey that feature the pug dog called “Pig”. Each book has a humorous story of Pig acting like the average young child who hasn’t yet learned the art of getting along well with other people. There is another dog in the household – an older dog named Trevor, who patiently bears with Pig.

In this tale, Pig has hogged all the toys. He collects them in a big pile, and refuses to share any of them, despite Trevor’s suggestion that it might be more fun if they can both play. Pig actually ends up hurting himself trying to protect his stash of toys. In the end, he makes the wise decision to share with his friend Trevor.

The storyline is nothing new, but the combination of excellent illustrations with rhyming story-lines makes this a great book to read aloud. Kids from about 3 years old through kindergarten will love having this read to them, and 1st graders can use this as an “easy reader” book.