Elem. – Mars Is: Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises

Slade, Suzanne. Mars Is: Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises. Peachtree Atlanta. 978-1-682-63188-1. 51 p. $19.99. Grades K-3. 

Sand dunes, craters, volcanoes, canyons, lava flows, cliffs, and ice are only some of the amazing landforms covering the surface of Mars. In this oversize book, each double page spread consists of a full-page landform photo that is complemented by large-scale descriptive text and a smaller, more detailed caption. One spread features “sandy, windswept dunes” and describes how Mars’s winds blow the sand into mesmerizing ripple and wave patterns. Another highlights the “stark slopes” of an impact crater formed by an asteroid or meteorite collision. The full-color images in the book were taken with NASA’s HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera. The camera was launched into space in 2005 and has been sending images back to Earth ever since. Detailed backmatter include sections titled “Launching the Mission to Mars,” “HiRISE: The Spectacular Space Camera,” “More About Mars,” and “Highlights of the Exploration of Mars.” 

THOUGHTS: This title is reminiscent of April Pulley Sayre’s books which present brief and poetic nonfiction tidbits complemented by beautiful full-page photographs. Although there is not enough information in this title to support research reports, students will be drawn in by the breathtaking photos of the Red Planet. It also will be useful as an introduction to science units about the solar system and outer space. 

523.43 Planets          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – Long Distance

Gardner, Whitney. Long Distance. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-45566-5. 315 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.

Author and illustrator Whitney Gardner’s latest, Long Distance, is a charming middle grade graphic novel with something for almost every reader to love. When 10-year old Vega’s family relocates from Portland to Seattle, she has to leave her best (and only) friend Halley behind. To help her make new friends, Vega’s dads send her to a remote camp in the Washington woods called Very Best Friend. Vega is skeptical; she has Halley, after all, although her bestie hasn’t returned her last few texts. And the camp itself is unusual, with nonstop overcast skies, zero cell reception, and awkward counselors. Vega and her fellow campers discover surveillance gear hidden inside a pinecone, fake rocks scattered in the forest, and other clues that something is amiss. Vega, twins Gemma and Isaac, and chatty Qwerty join forces to gather more information in some of the book’s most entertaining sequences. Whitney Gardner’s illustrations are digitally rendered, with camp scenes depicting the natural world in earthy tones of green, rust, and slate blue. Bright, otherworldly colors cue the graphic novel’s big reveals.

THOUGHTS: This fish-out-of-water story blossoms into a science fiction-infused mystery, all while delivering some heartfelt lessons about how to make (and be) a real friend, no matter the distance.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – World of Wonder (Series NF)

Barnham, Kay. World of Wonder (series of 4). Illustrated by Maddie Frost. Crabtree, 2021. 32 p. $20.75 ea. $83.00 Set of 4. Grades K-2.

Amazing Animal Babies. 978-0-778-78247-6.
The Awesome Night Sky. 978-0-778-78276-6.
Incredible Rain Forests. 978-0-778-78248-3.
A Wonderful World of Weather. 978-0-778-78246-9.

Barnham and Frost team up wonderfully with text and pictures suitable for the K-2 crowd. Each book focuses on one aspect of nature or science, acting as a pleasant introduction to the topic for beginners. Each book keeps a positive tone about ecology, learning and exploring, offering two-page spreads with a paragraph of text on each page. It’s just enough information, and may leave curious readers questioning; be prepared with answers to “what’s that animal?,” “where does the sky end?,” “why do some babies stay with their moms and some don’t?,” or “how many constellations are there?”  Two friendly children (one white, one slightly darker-skinned) and a black dog appear throughout the books, learning with the reader. The books close with Things To Do (three ideas such as inventing your own animal, creating a word cloud (each book), or designing a weather board game), Learning More (book and online resources), and Glossary (7-9 words used in text).

THOUGHTS: A solid choice for introducing astronomy, weather, rain forest and animal babies to young readers.

Science (520, 551, 577, 591)            Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Your Place in the Universe

Chin, Jason. Your Place in the Universe. Holiday House, 2020. 978-0-9234-4623-0. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 1-3.

At eight years old, some kids might feel like the center of the universe, or like everything revolves around them! It may seem true, until you change the perspective and compare some sizes of things earthly and extraterrestrial leading all the way out beyond the Milky Way! Jason Chin does an excellent job of casting some comparative scale in his newest nonfiction narrative text with stunning visuals which continuously expand to show the vastness of the universe. Then he pulls it back to those children to help them realize the universal truth that they too will make their own way and keep a sense of wonder along the way.

THOUGHTS: There are other titles that could partner with this book to show “our place in space” and lead to size and distance lessons galore. Curious minds will also read the endnotes and captions to go further and wonder more. Recommended.

530 Space          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

MG – Quintessence

Redman, Jess. Quintessence. Farrar, Straus, Giroux,  2020. 978-0-374-30976-3. $16.99. 384 p. Grades 3-6.

Twelve year old Alma, a once curious girl, hasn’t felt like herself since moving to the town of Four Points. Shortly after moving, Alma began having panic attacks, and though she’s managed to convince her parents that they stopped, they really haven’t. Instead of going out to explore like she used to love doing, Alma spends afternoons after school in her parents’ new law office. When she meets the reclusive shopkeeper of the Fifth Point, a local junk store with a legendary lookout on its roof, he gives Alma a quintescope. It seems like a sign when – while running out of school – Alma spots an astronomy club flyer on the door. Her curiosity piqued, Alma decides to stop by to see what the club is like. There she meets Hugo, a brilliant young mind who lacks some awareness of himself socially; Shirin, a girl who seems to be part of the popular crowd but doesn’t feel like she fits there; and Dustin, a boy who has more to himself than the bully like he seems. With a shared interest of helping the Starling, this group of misfits learns about each other while learning about more themselves.

THOUGHTS: With a lovable cast of characters, each with his or her own insecurities, Quintessence captures what it means to find oneself at a time in life where many struggle. Give this book to fans of the inexplicable, those who recently moved or are looking for a new friend, or those who need a little magic in their lives. This book deserves a place in all middle school library collections.

Fantasy          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD