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“Are We Still Friends?”

By Ruth Horowitz

Illustrated by Blanca Gomez

Best For: Ages 4 – 8

Friendship has its ups and downs. Horowitz explores how a simple misunderstanding can turn into a big falling out between even the best of friends. Beatrice raises bees. Abel grows apples. They do everything together and love it. Then one spring Abel gets stung by a bee and a misunderstanding leads to a fight. It's not until another incident occurs that Beatrice and Abel discover how to make up and say that they are sorry.

Horowitz creates a believable friendship that helps children learn to overcome disagreements. She has fun entertaining readers with tame, but creative insults and onomatopoeic words. The illustrations offer a nice complement to the text creating a warm approachable world for Beatrice, Abel and young readers. "Are we Still Friends" is a good read-aloud story for early elementary classrooms.

What’s good: Warm and inviting illustrations.

What’s bad: The text could be a little long for some antsy young readers.

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“Play with Me!”

By Michelle Lee

Best For: Ages 4 – 8

Do you and your friends always enjoy the same stuff? Probably not. Michelle Lee explores how two friends with different ideas of playing come together in the end for a perfect playtime. Pip is a high-energy pig that likes to pretend, play tag and jump rope. Nico likes to play his cello. When Pip invites Nico to play there is a little confusion about what to play and Pip gets angry. Not to worry, once Nico understands that Pip is not having fun he comes up with the perfect way for them to play together.

With an economy of words and simple watercolor illustrations, Lee creates two wonderful personalities and allows readers to quickly invest in the characters and their playtime. This is a good for read-aloud story time in preschool and early elementary classrooms to help teach cooperation and empathy.

What’s good: Expressive illustrations draw readers into the story.

What’s bad: Not much.

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“Flash the Fish"

By Paul Kor

Best For: Ages 3 – 7

Little Flash travels with his family in a silver shimmering mass. But he has no fear of the unknown and wants to strike out and explore on his own. One day Flash slips away from his family and greets every fish he meets. When he comes upon a very large black mass he thinks it may be a mountain. Then he sees an eye, a mouth and much more a whale. And even though it is huge it Flash learns that the whale is a young child like him. The baby is lost and afraid so Flash gathers his shimmering family together to help.

Bold colors and the use of foil may remind readers of Rainbow Fish, but this sweet tale is more soundly constructed. This will make a good story for children with the first day of school fears. It highlights empathy, exploration and making new friends.

What’s good: Strong message of empathy for early elementary readers.

What’s bad: Overly simplistic illustrations may lose the attention very young readers.

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And two for older children...

“The Secret Keepers”

By Trenton Lee Stewart

Best For: Ages 10 – 13

What would you do if you found a magic watch that made you invisible? All Reuben Pedley wants is a better life for himself and his mom. So when he finds a watch that gives him the power of invisibility he thinks his dreams are about to come true. Then he realizes that with the watch comes a lot of questions, a nefarious baddie who also wants it, new friends and a big, dangerous mystery. Like Stewart's "Benedict Society" series, "The Secret Keepers" is full of twists, turns, and magic.

What’s good: Interesting mystery that keeps you guessing.

What’s bad: The pacing is uneven with the beginning being very slow.

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“Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine”

By Caroline Star Rose

Best For: Ages 10 – 14

It's 1897 and gold has been discovered in the Yukon. Sixteen-ear-old Mel and his younger brother Jasper escape their alcoholic father and strike out for Alaska hoping to strike it rich. It's not that easy, of course. Jasper stows away on a steamer to keep up with his brother. While aboard the ship Jasper hears a rumor about One-Eyed Riley's lost mine. If Jasper and Mel can solve the mysterious clues they could stake claim to the mine and riches beyond their dreams. First, they have to survive villains, the Yukon wilderness. Full of mystery, danger, and action this tale will enthrall anyone who dreams of striking it rich.

What’s good: Warm characters make it easy to get emotionally invested.

What’s bad: A little too much melodrama to action ratio for younger readers.

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