Elem. – Captain Cat Goes to Mars

Virjan, Emma J. Captain Cat Goes to Mars. Simon Spotlight, 2022. 978-5-344-9574-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1. 

Captain Cat (last seen in Captain Cat and the Pirate Lunch) is back for a new adventure. This time he is working with Pilot Matt (a dog) to build a spaceship with the goal of traveling to Mars. When their ship is built, they put on their spacesuits and blast off, heading straight for the Red Planet. After landing, they encounter Zoof, Zeff, and Zatt, three green aliens who reside on the planet. Together, they explore the planet, make angels in the dust of Mars, and explore craters and more. When a storm moves in, the spaceship is damaged when it is blown over. Will Cat and Matt become permanently stranded? Perhaps with some help from their new friends, they will be able to find a way home.

THOUGHTS: Part of the Ready to Read series, this volume is designed for beginning readers. The text features simple words in rhyming couplets written in large font. The title is sure to hold appeal for early readers, especially those who enjoy humor, animals, and/or aliens. Recommended for libraries serving primary age students.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Only One

Hopkinson, Deborah. Only One. Anne Schwartz Books, 2022. 978-0-399-55703-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

A young narrator takes readers on a walk through the woods as she explains how, with a big bang, one tiny speck turned into a universe full of stars, planets, galaxies, and more. Situated in this universe is our Earth, which is surrounded by a layer called the atmosphere and contains continents, oceans, and millions of species. Ultimately, the narrator finishes the same way she began–with one. She declares that even though there are more than seven billion human beings, all of us unique, we all are still part of one human family responsible for preserving our one and only planet, Earth. 

THOUGHTS: Through an informational monologue and soft, beautiful illustrations, the narrator manages to educate while simultaneously relaying an important message about protecting our planet. Also, at the end of the story, the author provides a list of resources for additional information about climate change and how we can help the Earth. This is an excellent resource for earth science, space science, and environmental science collections.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Stella, Star Explorer

Miller, Kelly Leigh. Stella, Star Explorer. Simon & Schuster, 2022. Unpaged. $18.99. 978-1-534-49767-2. Grades PK-2.

Stella is fascinated with space and sick of Earth. She builds a rocket and takes her dog Luna on a voyage of discovery. They meet two aliens who need help finding the planet just right for them. Stella the expert steps right in, acting as a real estate agent of space. She shows the two aliens each planet (skipping Earth), noting a special feature of each (Neptune is more than five times colder than the North Pole; Jupiter has seventy-nine moons; Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system; although Mercury is closest to the sun). When the only planet left is Earth, Stella grudgingly introduces them. The aliens ask Stella to show them everything about Earth, and in doing so, she realizes that if every planet is special, why wouldn’t Earth be? Seeing her planet through the aliens’ eyes gives Stella a new appreciation for Earth, so that it becomes her favorite planet.

THOUGHTS: This is a clever way to learn about the planets and, like Stella, learn to appreciate Earth. This could be a great opener for learning about the planets and for caring for the Earth.  

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Jennifer Chan is Not Alone

Keller, Tae. Jennifer Chan is Not Alone. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-31053-3. 277 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

When Jennifer Chan goes missing, the entire community of Norwell, Florida is worried. But no one is more worried than her Korean-American classmate Mallory Moss, who knows of two possible reasons why Jennifer ran away. One of those reasons involves aliens. When Jennifer moved across the street from Mallory before school started, she confided in Mallory about her space research. According to Jennifer, aliens exist and they are trying to make contact with humans on earth. Jennifer knows that she has the code needed to help these aliens make contact, and she wrote all of her research down in her notebooks, which she lets Mallory take home to read. Unfortunately, Mallory knows that her friends Reagan and Tess will think Jennifer is absolutely crazy, so she distances herself from Jennifer as soon as school starts. But Reagan and Tess immediately start teasing Jennifer, and Mallory has no choice but to join in or she will lose her hard-earned popular status at school. This leads to reason number two of why Jennifer is missing: The Incident. Mallory believes that aliens may have taken Jennifer and realizes that Jennifer’s notebooks might hold the clues for how to reach her. However, Mallory knows that if she searches for Jennifer, her part in The Incident might be revealed and make her the most hated girl in school. Mallory must figure out what is more important: what other people think about her or finding Jennifer before it’s too late.

THOUGHTS: This is the first novel for Tae Keller since winning the Newbery Award for When You Trap a Tiger, and it does not disappoint. Keller tackles serious issues tweens and teens face in a compelling and gentle way, the most prominent being the cost of being popular at the expense of others. This book is a must-read and a must-buy for middle grade students.

Realistic Fiction            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – The Last Cuentista

Higuera, Donna Barba. The Last Cuentista. Levine Querido, 978-1-646-14089-3. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

In the year 2061, a comet has been knocked off course and is hurtling to planet Earth. While the majority of earth’s citizens will die as the comet collides with the planet, a small group of citizens are selected to travel to space and prepare to make a new home on planet Sagan. Petra, her brother Javier, and her scientist parents make the cut, but her beloved grandmother Lita does not. Petra and her grandmother have a special relationship, strengthened by the cuentos, or stories, that Lita tells her. Petra lives for these moments with her grandmother and vows that she will remember every single one of her grandmother’s cuentos so she always has a piece of her to share with others. After boarding the ship that takes them away from Earth, Petra and her family are frozen for 380 years inside stasis pods until they reach Sagan. While frozen, each person receives a brain download that inputs all kinds of knowledge so they are fully educated and ready to colonize a new planet when they arrive at their destination. Hundreds of years later, as Petra is taken out of her stasis, she realizes very quickly that she is the only one that remembers anything about Earth – and the plan for colonization has changed. A group called The Collective has taken over the ship and has plans to erase everything relating to Earth and its human inhabitants. According to them, the humans of Earth have made a lot of mistakes, and they do not intend on repeating (or remembering) those mistakes on their new planet. Petra realizes that if she wants Earth’s cuentos to live on, she must fight The Collective from the inside.

THOUGHTS: This book has received a slew of awards, including this year’s Newbery Medal. The Mexican-American main character is a strong female hero that readers will root for. It is a beautiful story filled with loss and hope, which makes it a perfect cuento. A must-purchase for middle grade libraries.

Science Fiction            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – The Stars: A Gazillion Suns

Perdew, Laura. The Stars: A Gazillion Suns (Picture Book Science). Nomad Press, 2021. 29 p. 978-1-619-30992-0. $9.95. Grades K-3.

This nonfiction picture book introduces the reader to the basic principles about the galaxy and the stars. The book goes over information about the sun in our solar system, how stars are created, why they twinkle, as well as how they end. Throughout the book, there are two extraterrestrial commentators who have silly commentary to the reader, and at the end of the book there is an activity for the reader to complete related to the constellations. There is also a glossary in the back of the book; however, there is no table of contents.

THOUGHTS: This is a great introduction to space and the constellations for a young reader. The addition of the two extraterrestrial commentators is a great choice by the author, and the illustrations add to the charm of the whole book. Highly recommended for an elementary collection. 

523.8 Constellations          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

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

Elem. – Fascinating Facts (Series NF)

Fascinating Facts. The Child’s World, 2021. $19.95 ea. $239.40 set of 12. 24 p. Grades 2-5. 

Kruesi, Liz. Inventions. 978-1503844698.
—. Space. 978-1503844636.
Lassieur, Allison. Natural Disasters. 978-1503844681.
—. Scary Stuff. 978-1503844704.
Pearson, Marie. Dogs. 978-1503844629.
Peterson, Sheryl. U.S. Presidents. 978-1503844599.
Smibert, Angie. Engineering. 978-1503844612.
—. Math. 978-1503844643.
York, M.J. Dinosaurs. 978-11503844667.
. Earth. 978-1503844650.
—. History. 978-1503844605.
—. Human Body. 978-1503844674.

Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt had a photographic memory? Or that Chester Arthur was a clotheshorse who owned 80 pairs of shoes? These are just some of the presidential tidbits shared in the U.S. Presidents volume of the Fascinating Facts series. Each volume explores unusual and unique facts and stories on a given subject. Facts are grouped together by chapter (for example, the U.S. Presidents book chapters included “Life in the White House,” “First Families,” and “Strange but True Tales.”) The text is accompanied by numerous sidebars as well as photos on each page. A glossary as well as links to web resources are also included.

THOUGHTS: Perfect for aficionados of fact-style books, this series is a worthwhile additional purchase for elementary collections.

363.34-973.09 Science, Math, Animals, History          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD  

The world is a mysterious place, filled with lots of unique and bizarre stories! This series focuses on some of the most odd stories of the world, including stories about the human body, space, natural disasters, and scary stuff. The Reviewer read Natural Disasters and Scary Stuff. Natural Disasters showcases some of the most iconic types of natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunamis, volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Each section of this book describes what the natural disaster is, in addition to presenting unique stories about each. Scary Stuff displays some of the most iconic scary items found throughout the world, such as vampires and werewolves! Scary Stuff shares some legends of these scary items, in addition to ways to prevent and/or save yourself from the monsters that go bump in the night.

THOUGHTS: This series is very well done. It includes a lot of information that is presented with colorful visuals and pictures, both photographs and illustrations.

363.34-973.09                    Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer

Sorell, Traci. Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer. Millbrook Press, 2021. 978-1-541-57914-9. 32p. $19.99. Grades K-3. 

Mary Golda Ross’s work as an aerospace engineer on several classified projects broke barriers not only for women but also for Native Americans. Many of the projects she worked on at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation remain a secret even today. Mary’s love of math, her motivation to pursue a well-rounded education, and her courage to secure a career in a male-dominated field earned her the respect of people around the world. During World War II, she worked on a team that improved the safety of the P-38 Lightning fighter plane. As Lockheed’s first female engineer, she recruited other women to the field. In the 1950s, while the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union raged, Mary was one of 40 engineers recruited to work on top-secret aerospace projects. Additionally, her research about satellites and space travel ultimately contributed to the Apollo mission to the moon. Although her work drew national and worldwide attention, Mary never sought the spotlight. Her humble nature and quiet leadership blazed a trail, and throughout her lifetime, she never stopped encouraging young women and Native Americans to study math, science, and engineering. A note at the beginning of the book outlines several Cherokee values Mary’s family instilled in her, including gaining skills in all areas of life, cooperating and working well with others, humility, and helping ensure equal education and opportunities for everyone. Backmatter includes a timeline of major events in Mary’s life, an author’s note, and more information about the Cherokee values highlighted in the text.

THOUGHTS: This title is well-suited to STEM units as well as to units about female trailblazers. The backmatter spotlighting Cherokee values mirrors many of the soft skills schools emphasize today, so there are opportunities for discussion and connections. Pair with Margot Lee Shettterly’s Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race.

Picture Book Biography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County 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