The structure’s well-known, so the endpapers list myriad permutations, almost all crossed out: Goldilocks and the Three Clams? Three Ostriches? Three Glasses of Milk? Nope, it’s Dinosaurs: Papa, Mama and one Dinosaur "who happened to be visiting from Norway.” Details are tasty—chocolate pudding instead of porridge; a different furniture riff (“The first chair was too tall. The second chair was too tall. But the third chair— [page turn] —WAS TOO TALL”). Even funnier are the obviously fraudulent protestations. Child-friendly irony lets readers giggle knowingly as Mama Dinosaur muses, “I SURE HOPE NO INNOCENT LITTLE SUCCULENT CHILD HAPPENS BY OUR UNLOCKED HOME WHILE WE ARE…uhhh…SOMEPLACE ELSE!” They’re “definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid”; pudding sits unattended to enable the creation of “delicious chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbons (which, by the way, are totally not the favorite things in the whole world for hungry Dinosaurs).” Winking, the text places readers gleefully in the know—and Goldilocks is no patsy either. Willems’ trademark cartoon-style illustrations include sly eyebrows, sardonic glances and a fabulous picture of Goldilocks inside a pudding bowl. When she’s beyond satiated, her pupils dilate—enormous, then tiny—subtly nodding to the old tale’s “too big, too small” theme.
Top-notch for group storytime, for a project on revising classics or just for enjoyment; funniest for kids who know the original.
(Fractured fairy tale. 5-9)
We are made of earth and water and air and stardust, and we are more related to animals and plants than we ever imagined.
Everything about us is found in the natural world. Our atoms are from ancient stardust, and the water and salt that flow within us are part of the unchanging cycle that goes back to the beginning of time. We breathe pollen that, when released, may actually create a plant. We grow at night and seasonally shed and grow hair, in similar fashion to animals. We are also a living planet for millions of microorganisms. Kelsey doesn’t lecture or overcomplicate the information. She speaks directly to readers in a way that opens minds to big ideas and paves the way for thoughtful questions of their own. The litany of facts comes alive in vivid, descriptive language, lending a philosophical, elegant and mystical aura to current scientific findings. Kim’s incredibly unusual illustrations are sublime. Employing varied painting techniques, vivid colors, multidimensional cutouts, unexpected materials and unusual textures, she creates a view of nature that is at once real and otherworldly. This is a work that demands to be read and reread, studied and examined, and thoroughly digested. It is perfect for sparking adult and child conversations about our place in the universe.
In this splendid retelling of Aesop’s familiar fable, a country mouse leaves his bucolic existence to sample the glitz and glam of the city, only to discover there’s absolutely no place like home.
Country mouse “live[s] a quiet life among the seasons.” He is perfectly content until his “fine, sleek” town cousin comes to visit, criticizes the mud and dangerous wildlife (a sleeping fawn, in the illustration), and boasts about the city’s “rich, exotic foods.” Urging his cousin to see the wonders of the city for himself, town mouse departs, leaving country mouse discontent and with “a longing for new sights and sounds.” Country mouse hitches a ride to the city, where he discovers electric lights and towers of glass and stone. His cousin’s apartment is indeed luxurious and the food delicious, but country mouse soon yearns for the simple pleasures of home. The elegant, simple text contrasts the natural beauty of the countryside with the artificiality of the city. Sumptuous watercolor illustrations enhance the rural/urban juxtaposition with luminous close-ups of country mouse immersed in the seasonal flora and fauna of the English countryside and overwhelmed by the “noise and bustle and hum” of a 1930s-era city at Christmas. The richly detailed illustrations invite and reward close inspection.
A sweet, quiet coming-of-age story set in a Prohibition-era lakeside resort.
Middle-class Garnet, 16, has been sent from St. Paul to spend the summer with a distant, wealthy relative to give her shellshocked World War I–veteran father space to heal. She misses him terribly; before the war they went birding together, and he protected her from her mother's attempts to make her a lady. She has sublimated her love of the outdoors into an uncanny talent to cut the silhouettes of birds, which decorate and inform each chapter. Once in Excelsior, she finds herself bored by ladylike pursuits and both seeks employment with the milliner and falls in love with Isabella, a beautiful girl who performs in the forbidden dance hall. Race relations, class differences and "the love that dare not speak its name" intertwine thoughtfully in this meticulous novel. The Jazz Age resort-town setting and environs are beautifully evoked; the author's afterword attests to her research. Garnet’s narration reveals a girl on the cusp of modernity, one whose desire for something more and something else feels both alluring and terrifying. A subplot in which Garnet attempts to convince her employer not to use feathers in her hats is consistent but feels superfluous in this otherwise tight and purposeful, if slightly overdetermined, novel.
This slim tale is a positive breath of fresh air in a market bloated with opportunistic dystopian and paranormal romances
. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)
Lovable Zita returns in a charmingly dashing interplanetary adventure to save yet another doomed planet from impending peril.
After saving both a planet and her best friend, Zita has achieved renown as an intergalactic hero and is greeted with adulation wherever she travels. In the midst of her fame, a lone, archaic Imprint-o-Tron—a robot that was built for companionship but took its "imprinting" too far—spies a Zita poster and immediately takes on her likeness. The bot’s mimicry is so exact that it quickly becomes difficult to tell the real Zita from the impostor. A sudden turn of events leads to the real Zita making a felonious—although necessary—decision, instantly transforming her public image from that of hero to outlaw. Faced with saving another planet, the real and fake Zitas must find a middle ground and work together, redefining what it really means to be a hero when they set out to rescue the Lumponians from the cutely named but very deadly Star Hearts, villainous parasites capable of destroying entire planets. Hatke’s arrestingly vibrant art commands instant adoration of its reader. Zita’s moxie is positively contagious, and her adventures are un-put-downable. Readers would be hard-pressed to not find something to like in these tales; they’re a winning formula of eye-catching aesthetics and plot and creativity, adeptly executed.
Imaginative and utterly bewitching.
(Graphic science fiction. 9-12)
A medical thriller offers a twist that will have readers questioning reality alongside its narrator.
A young man wakes up strapped to a hospital bed, unable to speak or, initially, to move. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, the details of his former life are revealed in flashbacks, dreams and conversations (he blinks and writes on a board to communicate) with a fellow patient, Olivia. His name is West, and at age 17 he was a talented dirt-bike racer until an accident left him paralyzed. Through the excruciatingly long days of his recovery, West falls in love with the knowing, sarcastic Olivia even as he acknowledges the depths of her dark side and its root cause—her irreversible ill health. As West considers whether to participate in an experimental surgery that could either kill him or let him walk again, he finds himself at odds with Olivia, who has mysteriously strong feelings of her own about the risks. Although the first-person narration lags a bit in the middle, the last third of the novel is both briskly paced and increasingly eerie as West begins to realize that things are not as they seem.
This outing is a marked departure from Busby’s Date Him or Dump Him series; the twists and turns of West’s relationship with Olivia provide a cloudier and more satisfying kind of suspense.
Birds of a feather (along with a cantankerous gentleman and his pesky squirrels) flock together at this tropical destination.
Old Man Fookwire dips into a depression when his beloved feathered companions fly south. His impish squirrels take to the sky in makeshift machines (utilizing, in part, a pine cone and soda bottle) and follow the birds. After the squirrels call collect, Fookwire putters down the highway (at 12 mph) to join the birds and the pests. Once in Santa Vaca, he discovers the fiery coco, kiki and caramba birds and starts to paint them. Forgetting sunscreen and forgoing water, Mr. Fookwire turns tomato-red and suffers from heatstroke. The squirrels perform triage, fanning him with palm branches and dumping fluids into his parched mouth, before piling him into his sports car and driving him back north at record speeds. Fookwire's “Thooooooose daaaaaaarn squirrrrrels!” says it all about their love-hate relationship. Visual slapstick and a deadpan text combine with trademark Fookwire expressions (“great googly-moogly!”) to make this third Darn Squirrels outing a winner. Watercolor, gouache and colored-pencil spreads pepper the beach with individual grains of sand. The birds' flamboyance (one a bird-sized replica of the ornery old man) is the perfect complement to the sweltering heat.
One of a trio of books that present the topic of bullying from three perspectives: the bullied, the bystander and the bully.
No matter what Luisa does, from wearing her favorite polka-dot boots to telling jokes at lunch, Sam declares that she is Weird! Luisa gradually stops being herself, until her mother and friends help her realize that she is wonderful the way she is. Jayla’s fear of becoming the target governs her actions as she alternately stands by and does nothing and takes Sam’s Dare! to participate. She eventually realizes that she has lost too much to feeling scared and befriends Luisa. From glimpses of her home life, it is not hard to see why Sam acts as Tough! as she does. But her attempts at keeping things cool are not winning her any friends, and the fact that no one is playing by her rules anymore gets her to start thinking about her behavior. While the series is slightly didactic, the well-drawn characters have real problems with (mostly) credible resolutions. Extensive backmatter, with separate sections for children and adults, in each book summarizes the lessons learned and provides activities to help change ingrained behaviors. Heaphy’s pen-and-ink illustrations are dotted with highlights of color that spotlight the main characters. She is a master of facial expression and body language; Sam’s hoodie sweatshirt speaks volumes all on its own.
While the series would benefit from a boy’s version, the message is still loud and clear; this should find a home in every school library.
(Picture book/bibliotherapy. 6-12)
Solid (sometimes writhing) proof that the scariest zombie flicks have nothing on Nature.
To demonstrate that there are indeed real zombies—“closer than you think”—Johnson (Journey into the Deep, 2010; iPad app, 2011) introduces a select set of fungi, worms, viruses and wasps that invade the bodies and take over the brains of their victims. Enhanced by large and often deliciously disturbing color photos, her descriptions of each parasite’s life cycle is both specific and astonishing; not only does the fungus O. unilateralis force a carpenter ant to clamp itself to a leaf (before sending a long reproductive stalk out of its head) for instance, it even somehow strengthens the ant’s mouth muscles. The author tracks similarly focused physical and behavioral changes not just in insects, but in other creatures too, including rabies-infected mammals. Lest human readers feel left out of the picture, she mentions the protozoan T. gondii, which causes rats to engage in reckless behavior and also has infected up to a quarter of all the adults and teens in this country. In each chapter, Johnson reports back on conversations with scientists engaged in relevant research, and she closes with a quick look at telling signs in the fossil record.
Science writing at its grossest and best, though as the title (not to mention the blood-spattered pages) warns, not for the squeamish.
(author's note, glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index)
In late December 1938, German chemist Otto Hahn discovered that uranium atoms could be split, and just a few months later the race to build an atomic bomb was on.
The story unfolds in three parts, covering American attempts to build the bomb, how the Soviets tried to steal American designs and how the Americans tried to keep the Germans from building a bomb. It was the eve of World War II, and the fate of the world was at stake, “[b]ut how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?” It’s a true spy thriller, ranging from the football stadium at the University of Chicago to the mountains of Norway, from the deserts of New Mexico to laboratories in East Tennessee, and all along the way spies in the United States were feeding sensitive information to the KGB. Groups of photographs are sprinkled throughout the volume, offering just enough visual support for the splendid character development in the writing, and thorough documentation is provided in the backmatter. It takes a lot of work to make a complicated subject clear and exciting, and from his prodigious research and storytelling skill, Sheinkin has created a nonfiction story young people will want to read.
A superb tale of an era and an effort that forever changed our world.
(source notes, quotation notes, acknowledgments, photo credits, index)
(Nonfiction. 10 & up)
Ostrich and Lark, two bosom buddies, travel through the Kalahari Desert, interacting with the birds, insects and animals of the southern African veld. Each one makes its individual sound, together singing “their rain-shower jazz.” That is, everyone except Ostrich. But as the minimal story ends, Ostrich finally booms out a “TWOO-WOO-WOOOT.” It is a sound “part lion’s roar, / part foghorn, / part old man trumpeting into his handkerchief.” The language is spare, like the land it describes. It has the flavor of folklore, but this is an original story that Nelson has created to complement the paintings made by !Kung San people participating in the Kuru Art Project of Botswana. The San people were traditional hunter-gatherers, but development has forced them into the modern economy. The author’s royalties will go to the Project, part of an income-generating group of programs. The cause is worthy, and the vibrantly colored, naive oil paintings, bordered uniformly with a broad stripe with a zigzag line in a contrasting hue, are bold and attractive. The message is clear: Ostrich finds “his voice at last, / his own beauty, / his big, terrific self.” However, there is no precipitating reason for this change. Does his voice come to him as a matter of maturity? While the story is not fully satisfying, the book deserves an audience for its successful portrayal of the natural world of the Kalahari.
When Bear loses his beloved teddy bear, he will stop at nothing to get him back in this wordless romp.
When Wolf runs off with his beloved sleeping companion, Bear sets out in furious pursuit. Wolf flings Teddy away, and angry Bear swallows him whole. The scenario is repeated as Bear confronts Lion, who tosses Teddy off a cliff, and Eagle swoops down to claim him. Lion joins Wolf in Bear’s stomach. Bear, still in hot pursuit, climbs up to Eagle’s aerie. Eagle flies off, and Bear swallows two eggs. Still in dogged pursuit, he encounters Elephant. Same scenario. At long last, Octopus finally hands over Teddy. The enstomached animals and eggs escape, and Bear happily—and finally—goes back to sleep. In this wordless tale, the French illustrator uses a storyboard format of large and small encircled scenes on a white page to tell an energetic and emotional tale. Bear resembles the titular character from "I Know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly" as his tummy grows larger and larger, comfortably fitting all, who are often seen in cutaway views sitting and chatting with one another. Colorful drawings with overlays of swirling lines sweep by at a fast pace as the action grows increasingly frantic, mirroring Bear’s growing anxiety. A lesson to be learned: don’t mess with the teddy.
An imaginative and well-designed chase.
(Picture book. 2-6)
An ancient Welsh king may be buried in the Virginia countryside; three privileged boys hope to disinter him.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Blue Sargent, daughter of a small-town psychic, has lived her whole life under a prophecy: If she kisses her true love, he will die. Not that she plans on kissing anyone. Blue isn't psychic, but she enhances the extrasensory power of anyone she's near; while helping her aunt visualize the souls of people soon to die, she sees a vision of a dying Raven boy named Gansey. The Raven Boys—students at Aglionby, a nearby prep school, so-called because of the ravens on their school crest—soon encounter Blue in person. From then on, the point of view shifts among Blue; Gansey, a trust-fund kid obsessed with finding King Glendower buried on a ley-line in Virginia; and Adam, a scholarship student obsessed with his own self-sufficiency. Add Ronan, whose violent insouciance comes from seeing his father die, and Noah, whose first words in the book are, "I've been dead for seven years," and you've got a story very few writers could dream up and only Stiefvater could make so palpably real. Simultaneously complex and simple, compulsively readable, marvelously wrought. The only flaw is that this is Book 1; it may be months yet before Book 2 comes out.
The magic is entirely pragmatic; the impossible, extraordinarily true.
(Fantasy. 13 & up)
An old favorite—the adventures of a wooden puppet whose good heart earns him the right to be a real boy—in a newly illustrated edition of a relatively new translation.
First published in Italian in the late 19th century, this childhood classic has had numerous interpretations. Today, however, most American children who know the story at all will know it from the 1939 Disney cartoon, which distorts its plot and mood and makes Pinocchio far more appealing than the original. Translator Brock gives readers Collodi's Pinocchio: a lazy troublemaker, self-centered and distractible, who remains a wooden puppet right up until the end of his adventures. In the first 30 pages, short-tempered Geppetto has had two scratching-and-biting fights, the Talking Cricket has been smashed dead with a hammer, and Pinocchio has burned off his own feet. The violence may well not faze today’s video game–hardened readers, who will appreciate the sprightly translation. Testa’s pen, ink and watercolor illustrations appear opposite the text, filling the oversized pages. More cheerful in palette and tone than that of Roberto Innocenti’s versions (1988; 2005), this cartoonlike art lightens the overall effect. Chapter headings, repurposed as a table of contents for an unillustrated version of this translation published in 2008, have vanished, but the narrative is otherwise complete.
Parents and libraries should welcome this edition, appealing and accessible for 21st-century children.
This gem about canine siblings goes from peaceful routine to funny mayhem to erroneous bereavement—and relief.
Littermates Boot and Shoe are small, white dogs with black tails and fur flopping over their eyes. Only their leg coloring differs, giving rise to their names. Boot spends daytime on the back porch, Shoe the front, a habit “perfect for both of them”; they share supper bowl, dog bed and a specific tree for peeing on. Gouache and black pencil create warm vignettes and sturdy spreads with a vibe both lively and mellow. Creamy, speckled paper matches organic, hand-lettered text. One day, a chattering squirrel gets “all up in [their] business,” and the dogs go berserk. To symbolize two dogs and one squirrel in a mad dash, upward of 80 squirrel figures race around the yard and over the roof with a similar number of dog figures in hot pursuit. Post-chase, exhausted, each dog finds himself on the wrong porch. Tragically in sync, they circle the house simultaneously to find each other, preventing their own success. Each progresses from patience—hunger, rain, waiting overnight—to true grief, sure the other’s gone. Dog posture, value and composition create poignant pangs—and stunned joy as the dogs reunite when (and where) nature calls. Frazee conveys painful and soothing depth with ease, which is especially impressive given that Boot and Shoe’s eyes can't be seen.
Read unhurried, in a lap, again and again.
(Picture book. 4-7)
Some say the white deer’s a star, and others say she's made of spilled milk. Could she be real?
A modern farm boy sees a white deer in their field. His brother says it’s only legend, but the boy sees the deer again. This time he walks into the fields and leaps into the Aurora-lit sky with his mysterious white companion. The boy feels the magic of the flight, and they encounter deer of several species and widely varying colors at play in the fields of night. The boy contemplates a trip through the solar system, but his deer takes him home. When the boy tells his family of his journey, his brother’s certain it was a dream. Left alone with his father, the boy learns his dad had a similar adventure as a child…and Dad wants to go along should the white deer return. Bushnell's fourth is an original tale told as a quasi-folk tale. Unlike traditional tales though, no mystery of nature is explained, caution offered or quest fulfilled. A traditional-feeling tale from no tradition and with no specific moral is rather like a chicken without bones. That said, it’s a pleasant-enough fable, and newcomer Co’s bright and burnished illustrations enhance both magical and natural aspects, bringing to mind the works of David Diaz.
A slight magical tale whose illustrations can't quite compensate for the weak story.
(Picture book. 3-6)
Atmospheric illustrations—lush, dark and mysterious—will lure daring readers into this retelling of a classic tale.
Done in acrylic, Chauffrey's images hint at the ominous through small details that play with the mind. In her sinister forest, thorn-shaped leaves that resemble wolves’ teeth are juxtaposed with tear-shaped ones that mimic Red Riding Hood’s eyes. Thus the forest becomes an extension of the Wolf, hungry and watchful. Tiny brush strokes create luxurious fur for the “handsome wolf,” and the stems of the meadow flowers are as delicate as the girl’s innocence and trust. The detailed landscapes, with their intricate patterns, are evocative of classic Russian illustrations, yet Red herself suggests the pop art of Yoshitomo Nara, whose subjects are both seemingly innocuous and seductively dangerous. Interesting compositions play with space and depth in intriguing ways, as Red delves deeper into the forest, and the Wolf gulps Granny down. The latter is explicitly visible, Granny’s legs kicking the air, while the rest of her is hidden within the smug Wolf. Don’s text, true to earlier versions with a hunter rescuing Red and stones sewn into the wolf’s belly, is clearly moralist, as the hunter receives cakes for his good deed, Granny learns to lock her door, and Red no longer talks to strangers.
Gorgeously designed and packaged with a CD narrated by Imelda Staunton, this provocative telling is for young lovers of the gothic.
(Picture book/fairy tale. 4-8)
Marsalis and Rogers, who collaborated on the scintillating Jazz ABZ (2005), reunite for this sonic celebration for the younger crowd.
Marsalis contributes 10 three-line verses that crackle with invented sound words. Most verses link a couple of everyday sounds with one made by a musical instrument: “Big trucks on the highway RRRRUMBLE. / Hunger makes my tummy GRrruMBle. / The big bass drum goes “Bum! Brrrum! BRRRUMBLE!!!!” Rogers’ digitally colored ink drawings depict a New Orleans setting. The narrator, an African-American boy in white high-tops, exudes curiosity and cool (and plays trumpet). Those onomatopoeic words, elegantly red-dressed in Caslon 540 Italic, will challenge readers and delight listeners. Marsalis’ choices seem just right: “Chrrrick chrrrick chrrrick chrrrick—buttering my toast.” An upright bass emits “Doom, Doom, Doom, Blap! Doom, Doom, Slap!” Rogers’ hip, playfully cartoonish spreads pop with clever visual allusions to jazz tunes and players. Hand-lettered lyrics to a popular funeral song blow out of a church band’s instruments; indeed, the tuba’s bell forms the “O” for “O[h] didn’t he ramble.” An ambulance’s side reads “U.M.M.G. Ambulance,” a brilliant reference to the Billy Strayhorn tune whose titular acronym means “Upper Manhattan Medical Group.” The final spread rounds up a cacophony of sounds, from “Squeak” and “Schuk-chuk” to “BAP!”
Loud and clear, the creators show how tuning into everyday sounds can inspire music. Clap, clap, CLAP! (Picture Book. 3-7)
Seventeen-year-old DJ attempts to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in fulfillment of his grandfather’s final wish to have his ashes spread at the summit.
Accustomed to succeeding at everything he does, DJ mistakenly believes that he can travel to Africa, climb the mountain and be home in a matter of days. Tricked into taking on the first female porter, he finds himself set to climb with a 67-year-old woman; nevertheless, DJ believes that his fitness and youth will be enough to get him to the top. However, if pride comes before the fall, then perhaps humility comes before the ascent. He learns that to travel quickly, one must travel alone, but to travel far, one must go with others. The rich setting and the thrilling details of the climb will make readers yearn for their own adventure. However, graphic descriptions of altitude sickness and stomach-twisting trail food leave no false illusions that the journey will be an easy one. This exciting adventure is only slightly marred by obvious foreshadowing and a predictable ending. DJ’s tale is the first of seven books in this series, all publishing simultaneously. Each, written by a different author, will focus on one of the six other grandsons following their grandfather’s will.
Richly detailed and satisfying
. (Adventure. 10-16)
Art and design take center stage in this carefully crafted, elegant, artisanal book.
This stunning autobiographical art book recounts self-taught artist Tejubehan’s journey from an impoverished childhood in rural India, through her family’s efforts to improve their lot in a tent city in Mumbai, and into her adulthood, when she lived as a singer and artist with her husband. The direct, unadorned text has an immediacy that reveals its roots as an orally narrated life story, which was then recorded in Tamil and translated into English. Hand–screen-printed illustrations comprised of intricate linework and patterns of dots underscore elements of the text without being strictly tied to delivering straightforward narrative. In this way, the book emerges more as an illustrated memoir than it does a traditional picture book with interdependent art and text. As a physical artifact, it draws attention to its creation with stiff pages and fragrant, tactile inks. The illustrations themselves are black and white, while the text is set in a sans-serif typeface in colors that change subtly from spread to spread.
A unique offering that presents readers with arresting artwork and a compelling life story.
(Art book. 8-14)
In a follow-up that turns the Breadwinner Trilogy into a quartet, 15-year-old Parvana is imprisoned and interrogated as a suspected terrorist in Afghanistan.
When her father’s shoulder bag is searched, Parvana’s captors find little of apparent value—a notebook, pens and a chewed-up copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Parvana refuses to talk; her interrogator doesn’t even know if she can speak. The interrogator reads aloud the words in her notebook to decide if the angry written sentiments of a teenage girl can be evidence of guilt. Parvana is stoic, her keen mind ever alert as she has to “stand and listen to her life being spouted back at her,” a life in a land where warplanes are as “common as crows,” where someone was always “tasting dirt, having their eardrums explode and seeing their world torn apart.” The interrogation, the words of the notebook and the effective third-person narration combine for a thoroughly tense and engaging portrait of a girl and her country. This passionate volume stands on its own, though readers new to the series and to Ellis’ overall body of work will want to read every one of her fine, important novels.
Readers will learn much about the war in Afghanistan even as they cheer on this feisty protagonist.
(Fiction. 11 & up)
Winston, a boy in Trinidad, wishes that he could play in a band and win free rotis, the delicious island specialty prepared by the Roti King and presented to the best performers at Carnival.
In the weeks before Carnival, the people of the Caribbean island are busy sewing costumes, and bands are busy rehearsing with their gourds, bamboo sticks, bottles-and-spoons and drums. Winston hears the sounds that his mango pit makes when he chucks it into a junkyard. Inspired, he tries out different cans and tins, listening carefully to their different notes. More experimentation follows, and soon, he is performing for his neighbors. Friends join him to form a band made up of “pots and pans, tins and cans in a rainbow of colors.” The sounds are winningly irresistible, and Winston and his fellow musicians soon enjoy their “folded pancakes filled with chicken and secret herbs and spices.” Greenwood’s story is based on the childhood of Winston Simon, the 20th-century musician credited with the invention of the steel drum. The text is filled with a cacophony of musical words that are fun and challenging to read aloud. Lessac’s gouache paintings pulsate with sun-drenched island colors and often resemble a folk-art quilt.
A joy to read. Play calypso music and celebrate! (author’s note, glossary and pronunciation guide, author’s sources) (Picture book/biography. 3-8)
Her mother’s mysterious absence, a perplexing postcard and a unique family ability sends Mira on a race through time.
A trip to France with her father and brother in search of her mother becomes a fateful odyssey for Mira when she is abruptly transported to Paris circa 1881. Mira is shocked to find out she can travel through time, a talent she has inherited from her mother. She also discovers that her mother has travelled into the past on a quest for justice for Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish military officer wrongly accused of a crime, and needs Mira’s help. A series of letters from her mother guides Mira as she visits various moments in time between 1881 and 1899. Mira’s encounters with anti-Semitism during her investigation further compel her to seek out the truth. While striving to unravel the secrets surrounding Dreyfus’ trial, Mira becomes involved in the lives of several impressionist artists and, of course, writer Émile Zola. With vividly detailed descriptions, Moss deftly recounts Mira’s journey among the backdrop of historical events and people. Moss’ thought-provoking tale examines the devastating effects of prejudice and intolerance; in her author’s note, she gives more background on the Dreyfus Affair and Zola's “J’Accuse.”
A surprise ending will leave readers anticipating Mira’s next mission as she follows her mother through time and history.
Twice before, Dickinson teamed up with his wife, Robin McKinley, to create short story collections centered on elemental themes; now he concludes the elemental quartet with this solo collection of earth and air stories.
The elements are not the only thing holding these six stories together; thematic territory here is concerned primarily with the meanings of humanity and love. Divinity and magic also weave throughout, from the earthy, lonely troll of “Troll Blood” to the small magics of an almost forgotten goddess in “Scops.” Aside from science-fiction gem “The Fifth Element,” these are all firmly fantasy, half set approximately now and two set in a somewhat indeterminate past. Opening tale “Troll Blood” is perhaps the weakest in the collection, with imaginary academics and exposition-heavy chunks; “Ridiki,” a version of Eurydice about a boy and his beloved dog, and “The Fifth Element” round out earth, while air is covered by the peculiar “Wizand” (witches as hosts to a parasite that lives in their broomsticks, with the burning of witches part of the wizand’s life cycle) and the haunting, ancient-world–based “Talaria” and “Scops.” None of the stories focus particularly on childhood or adolescence, making it hard to pin down the ideal audience.
These strange, sometimes beautiful tales might find their best readership among those who think they have moved beyond YA.
(Fantasy and science fiction short stories. 14 & up)
A dog searches for his lost ball and finds friends in this pedestrian tale.
Scout is a Scottie dog who lives on the top floor of a high-rise. To find his toy, he explores the building and encounters a feline, fish and hamster who each boast that their attributes are better than the ball’s. When the toy is found with a confused mouse (it thinks the ball is cheese), comparisons are made, play ensues and friendships form. The closing gag demonstrates that a bouncy ball continues to be a magnet that serves to bring animals together. It's a good idea, yet uninspired in its telling. The animals’ alliterated names feel trite, and the skills they vaunt seem unrelated to their species (the cat can bounce higher, the fish's bowl is rounder, and the hamster can run faster, for instance). McMillan’s digital illustrations have a simple, graphic style done in an almost monochromatic palette. There are moments of impact, especially in his exterior shots of the building. One shows a lone Scout looking out a top-floor window during the day, and another shows all the animals on their respective floors, looking out their windows at night—a road map to Scout’s adventure and newfound friends. Unfortunately, these moments don’t outweigh the mundane spreads filled with characters that feel stamped out, with only scale or location changed.
An enthusiastic effort, but with lackluster results.
(Picture book. 3-5)
The forces of good have lost Dwight and Origami Yoda to Tippett Academy. McQuarrie Middle School is suddenly as boring as linoleum flooring. On the second day of the post-Dwight era, Sara, Tommy’s sorta girlfriend and Dwight’s neighbor, arrives at school with a fortune Wookiee (a cootie catcher shaped like Chewbacca) and says Dwight has sent Chewie to help in Origami Yoda’s absence. Kids ask advice. Sara counts off their favorite movie, spells the name of their favorite Star Wars character, lifts a flap and: “Mmmrrrgggggg!”—Chewie offers sage advice. Thankfully, Han Foldo’s there to interpret, usually offering a Han Solo quote from the movies. Chewie solves several student problems as Tommy compiles a case file with stories from each, but Tommy’s also concerned that Tippett Academy seems to have drained the weird from Dwight. Will Harvey expose the fortune Wookiee as a fraud? Will Dwight return to McQuarrie? Will principal Rabbski outlaw origami and destroy what little fun there is to be had at school? Angleberger’s third in the series continues the fun but relies on knowledge of its predecessors, but unlike the movies, going back to the prequels is no hardship. A chorus of spot-on middle school voices and plenty of laughs are wrapped around this tale of friendship and seasoned with Star Wars references.
The end is foreboding…all young Jedi rejoice! There will be a sequel.
(Graphic hybrid fiction. 9-14)
Alice Bell has never been an ordinary girl—she’s never been allowed outside after dark courtesy of her paranoid father and the monsters he sees everywhere. But after a terrible car accident kills Alice’s family, she begins to see the undead, too. Now living with her grandparents and starting a new school, Ali—she eschews her old name due to memories, grief and survivor’s guilt—can’t build a new life while being followed by her father’s demons. As if being chased by slobbering, decaying dead things wasn’t enough, Ali also navigates well-meaning if out-of-touch grandparents and the tension between her new social group and the rough crowd (more specifically, Ali’s interested in its leader, Cole Holland). The obligatory love triangle never threatens the main love story, but at least Ali’s friendships with other characters, especially her quirky new best friend Kat, are interesting. While using an Alice in Wonderland motif and established survival/horror video game staples (such as a gradually revealed journal written in code), Showalter creates an original zombie mythology and a completely new set of rules for the monsters to follow, as covered by the sometimes-clunky exposition. The climax is rushed, especially when compared to the pacing of the first act of the story, but action-packed.
Showalter has created a promising playground for future story installments.
(playlist, author Q&A)
(Horror/paranormal romance. 12-17)
Time travel, an Arctic ice shelf and frivolous elves converge in this second installment of The Books of Beginning.
Siblings Kate, Michael and Emma were lauded for successfully battling evil in The Emerald Atlas (2011), but soon afterward, their trusted confidant, Dr. Pym, redeposited them in a decrepit orphanage without explanation. After several months, a foreboding black cloud rolls in, catapulting the children into action. Kate escapes to 1899 Manhattan via the previous book’s titular atlas, while Michael and Emma are miraculously plucked from danger by Pym. So sets the stage for Kate’s mission to rejoin her siblings and for Michael and Emma’s journey to a secreted, lush valley in Antarctica to seek a second magic book, the Chronicle. The children aren’t strangers to magic, but their awe of magical places, allies and enemies does anything but wane here (it’s hard to be ho-hum when entranced by elves, pursued by a dragon and combatting trolls). A third-person-omniscient narration alternates between Kate and Michael, but Michael, the meekest child (and destined keeper of the Chronicle), is the primary focus as he struggles to find a fiery strength within himself. With no rest for the children, the ending is anything but a fading ember as Emma is kidnapped, separating the trio once again and setting the stage for Book 3.
Irreverent humor and swashbuckling adventure collide in a fetching fantasy.
Giulia is bright, curious and a gifted artist, born to a noble father and his humble mistress in 15th-century Renaissance Italy. Now her fate rests with her father’s widow, who’s sending Giulia to a Padua convent.
Desperate to avoid a cloistered life, Giulia obtains a talisman that’s promised to deliver her heart’s desire: marriage to a good man and a home of her own. Convent life is hard. Highborn nuns enjoy freedom; others, like Giulia, labor at menial tasks. When her artistic talent’s discovered, she’s invited to join the close-knit group of artist nuns whose renowned work helps support the convent. Guided by Maestra Humilità, daughter of a famous artist, Giulia begins to learn this exacting craft with tasks like mixing egg tempera. Artists create their own colors, their recipes closely guarded secrets. Humilità’s precious passion blue is one; its beauty draws Giulia like a flame. So do visions of love and freedom beyond convent walls. But stealing away to meet handsome Ormanno, another talented artist, is risky. Fantasy elements and a historical setting rich with sensuous detail are satisfying, but it’s Giulia’s achingly real search for her heart’s desire that resonates most today, when millions of girls still have limited choices.
A rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion.
(Historical fantasy. 12 & up)
Torture and treasure, treason and trust, and the triumph of true love: All come to fruition in the stirring conclusion to this epic fantasy series.
Raisa ana'Marianna has claimed the Gray Wolf throne, but her grip is tenuous: Every faction—clans, wizards, army, flatlanders—both within and without the Fells hates all the others, and each pushes Raisa to accept its preferred candidate for consort. Meanwhile, Han Alister has taken his seat on the Wizard Council at the queen's command, but every other member secretly wants to use him or kill him. Furthermore, there are the mysterious murders of wizards, marked with Han's old streetlord sign; all this disarray signals a weakness that encourages invading armies from the South. Together, Han and Raisa seek the long-lost Armory of the Gifted Kings as the only way to avoid re-enacting a 1,000-year-old tragedy; but to wield such a weapon may well trigger an even greater catastrophe. Chima manages to resolve this impossibly tangled skein of politics, intrigue, history, prejudice and passion with style and grace. Grim scenes of shocking violence alternate with moments of tenderness and humor, and the high body count is balanced by the almost fairy-tale–romantic conclusion. While some of the depth and complexities of the supporting characters—along with the nuanced subtleties of their conflicting worldviews—are sacrificed to help demonize (or valorize) their respective positions, nothing can overshadow the cathartic satisfaction for those caught up in this sweeping saga.