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Brian Floca (S&S/Atheneum/Jackson)

In rhythmic prose and gorgeously crafted illustrations, Floca offers a tribute to the American railroad system that is simultaneously epic and personal. The author brings an almost cinematic sense of scope and scene to his meticulous paintings, while the free verse narrative captures the sights, sounds, and even smells that distinguished the early days of rail travel in the U.S.


Poems to Learn by Heart

Edited by Caroline Kennedy, illus. by Jon J Muth (Disney-Hyperion)

Kennedy and Muth encourage readers to commit poetry to memory in this gorgeously illustrated collection of verse, with Kennedy including selections from Nash, Dickinson, Milne, Prelutsky, and more. Muth’s watercolors show a fitting diversity of range and tone; poems on war, family, friendship, nature, and other themes speak to readers of every age and background.


Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Lucy Knisley (Roaring Brook/First Second)

Teenagers and their parents alike will devour Knisley’s comics-style memoir (and, very likely, some of the recipes included), in which she shares memories of her childhood, family, and adolescence, seen through the lens of food. Writing with candor, honesty, and wit, Knisley demonstrates the value in seizing the adventures (culinary and otherwise) that life has to offer.


Nelson Mandela

Kadir Nelson (HarperCollins/Tegen)

Nelson’s arresting paintings immediately captivate in this picture book biography of South Africa’s first black president. But the narrative has ample power of its own, as Nelson traces Mandela’s journey into adulthood, the fight against apartheid, imprisonment and other setbacks, and triumphant victories.


Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems

Jack Prelutsky, illus. by Carin Berger (Greenwillow)

Prelutsky and Berger follow 2006’s Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant with another highly entertaining collection of poems featuring a cast of hybrid creatures that, this time, include sobcats, jollyfish, magpipes, and slobsters. Berger’s eclectic dioramas are the perfect match for the cleverness and wit of Prelutsky’s creations.


Parrots over Puerto Rico

Susan L. Roth and Cathy Trumbore, illus. by Susan L. Roth (Lee & Low)

A sense of humanity’s ability to both help and hinder the natural world courses like a river through this study of the rise, decline, and resurgence of parrots on the island of Puerto Rico. Roth’s stunning collages have a vibrancy that underscores the majesty of these birds (and nature on the whole), as well as the need to protect them.


My Brother’s Book

Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins/di Capua)

The late Sendak leaves readers with a haunting, elegiac tribute to his deceased brother, Jack, in a poem rife with highbrow references to Blake, Dickinson, Milton, and others. While adult readers are mostly likely to discern those influences, the story’s longing, humor, and desire for connection speak to all.


Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

Steve Sheinkin (Scholastic Press)

Sheinkin follows his acclaimed Bomb with a fascinating historical caper about an 1876 plot to steal the body of the late President Lincoln. Beyond the book’s value in sharing this slice of history, it also illuminates a pervasive counterfeiting industry at the time, which factored into the scheme.


Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers

Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick)

Stone explores a little-known chapter of WWII history as she studies the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the first African-American paratroopers in the U.S. military. It’s a remarkable tale of trailblazing soldiers whose perseverance helped usher in the integration of both the armed forces and the country as a whole.


“The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

James L. Swanson (Scholastic Press)

On the 50th anniversary of the J.F.K. assassination, Swanson offers a riveting account of the days preceding and following the Dallas shooting, providing context to the actions of Lee Harvey Oswald, the tempestuous political climate of the 1960s, and the efforts to understand the assassination and the events surrounding it.


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