This book of folktales has a message, and it may not be inspirational: Anyone can be a Chelmite.
Many people know the origin story of Chelm. As Kimmel puts it: “God called the angels and said to them, ‘Take these sacks and spread the souls [inside] throughout the world.’ ” But a sack of fools tore open in transit, and they all landed in the same village. Kimmel’s Chelmites are a very diverse group. He writes: “Some readers may be surprised to encounter a woman rabbi and people of color in a Chelm story. That would have been highly unusual in Eastern Europe of the time, and the original Chelm stories reflected their time. So should ours.” Brown’s drawings make the wide variety of characters instantly lovable in just a few lines. The author embellishes the stories in ways that might startle people familiar with more-traditional versions. These Chelmites tore the sack themselves, clamoring to see where they were going. Some passages appear to be brand new. The Chelmites say morning prayers at all times of day or night, in case they get snowed in at daybreak. This leads the rabbi to make a truly lovely speech: “God always hears our prayers, no matter when we say them. And the beautiful snow is a blessing from Heaven, so why not enjoy it?”
Purists may be puzzled at first, but readers will find themselves loving these Chelmites.
A child worriedly looks on as an older neighbor begins to exhibit signs of dementia in this British import.
Drawing both actual incidents and tender, loving tone from Martin Slevin’s memoir, Little Girl in the Radiator (2012), Bate views through the eyes of young Maisie a pattern of increasingly erratic behavior by her beloved friend Mrs Moon. The lapses begin with the kindly ex-nurse’s discombobulating appearance in a coat with ripped-off sleeves and escalate to a noisy assault with a hammer on a radiator in the belief that there is a child trapped inside. That last finally spurs Maisie’s parents to contact Mrs Moon’s daughter in Australia. The tale is a bit wordy, the text incorporating blocks of narrative, a list of common symptoms of dementia, and dialogue balloons. Nevertheless, the author leaves adequate space in her rounded panels for faces smiling and anxious, for memories of happier times, for hugs and tears—and for flashing lights in the scariest moment, when Mrs Moon causes a kitchen fire. In the wake of Maisie’s perceptive comment that “she’s trying so hard to make sense of the world, and she just doesn’t understand it any more,” Mrs Moon’s daughter tells the relieved child that she’ll be taking her mother back to Australia rather than leaving her in a senior home among strangers. Except in one crowd scene, faces are white throughout.
Poignant, loving, informative, and consoling alike for children in similar situations.
(Graphic fiction. 8-12)
A series debut with five screamworthy short stories.
Acquired from a strange box left at pseudo-author Mr. Shivers’ doorstep, the tales are initially introduced via a note to readers. Presented in a mix of first- and third-person narration, the tales run the gamut of eerie episodes. Classmates dare siblings John and Beth to visit a haunted house at night. A child feels a hair in the bottom of their stomach. A creepy statue draped with a tattered quilt haunts a living room. Oliver leaves his toys outside in the rain, but when he looks outside they’ve moved. Lucy hears scraping at the window at night, but mom and dad say it’s just a tree. Brallier’s (The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond, 2018, etc.) strong horror chops translate well into this Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark–lite package for early chapter-book readers. Rubegni mixes high-contrast spot and full-page illustrations, positioning sharply outlined characters against smudgy charcoal backgrounds. The atmospheric, full-color illustrations also aid in decoding. Each page contains fewer than 10 sentences; longer sentences are broken up in multiple lines with ample leading. Occasional words are set in boldface for emphasis and add a little extra thrill factor to the well-paced plots. The final page includes instructions on how to draw Oliver’s teddy bear as well as a few simple creative prompts.
Simplified spooks for the we-want-it-just-scary-enough crowd.
(Early reader/horror. 5-7)
A collection of curious incidents—13, naturally—for unsuspecting readers.
A friend mysteriously vanishes. A kid runs into the devil on the way to school. The figures on a street sign change places. A stain on the school cafeteria’s floor is more than just a stain—it has a mouth. A straight-laced teacher gets a creative form of discipline for her “problematic” classroom-management style. Paper-towel dispensers produce ominous messages. Someone’s missing marker is used to make art that brings to life a new invasive species. Even the shadows get bad ideas. For everything, there’s a price or a consequence. Which kids can beat the odds and figure out a way for their lives to go back to normal? Or, is normal the real myth in this wondrously eerie world? Allen’s debut is mostly plot-focused, a quick (but not too quick) relay race from story to story—the longest of which spans 15 pages. Mostly creepy instead of bone-chillingly terrifying, the collection’s overall tone is more Twilight Zone than Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark. It’s also a textbook example of how horror contextualizes social anxieties, particularly those relevant to school-aged youth. Coleman mixes hand lettering with scratchy, sketchy linework to create single- or double-page black-and-white illustrations that accentuate each story. With a lack of racial descriptors, the cast presumes a white default.
Tasty, bite-sized bizarreness for brave preteens.
A thrilling gallery of boojums drawn from the pages, scrolls, and clay tablets of literary classics.
Staying in the public domain aside from a few brief excursions, Johnson (Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, 2015) selects 25 monsters and arranges them alphabetically from “Apep” and “Beatrice Rappaccini” to “Zahhak” (a cursed king from Persian literature with brain-eating snakes growing on his shoulders, woohoo!). For each he supplies a two- or three-page plot summary that incorporates occasional quotes and a basic fact box. Each main entry gets a “Fear Factor” rating designated with screaming-skull symbols (Dracula and Guy de Maupassant’s invisible Horla join Zahhak to lead the pack with five; the Jabberwock rates just two). In an often fascinating aftersection dubbed “Beyond the Book,” Johnson lays out literary or historical background, grants nods to similar tales (such as Rabelais’ Gargantua, “a philosophical work and a collection of toilet jokes”), or just takes up fascinating tangential topics. His range of interests and informal style (“ ‘Don’t worry, I got this,’ said Beowulf”) make him a particularly engaging tour guide, and at the end he not only lists more monsters that did not make the cut, but also conscientiously cites and discusses his classic sources and translations. Sievert goes for lurid effects in his illustrations, depicting menacing figures with glowing eyes, half-rotten undead, and toothy, slavering monsters.
Readers on the lookout for something wicked this way coming will be terrified, grossed out, delighted.
(timeline, further reading)
“Sharon, I cannot promise you that the passage of any law will eliminate hate. But the laws will give Negroes full citizenship and bring us closer to equality.”
Legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson—most famously known for breaking baseball’s racial barrier when he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947—gave this nuanced benediction to his only daughter, 13-year-old Sharon, as the family heard the disheartening news of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. What the memoirist also beautifully and accessibly conveys is how her parents succeeded—and, by their admission, sometimes failed—in rooting her and her two brothers, 10-year-old David and 16-year-old Jackie Jr., in the realities of pater Robinson’s renown, Connecticut’s 1960s-style racial microaggressions, and the seismic social and political shifts augured by the emerging civil rights movement. Thanks to the author’s deft and down-to-earth style, readers understand how the personal and political converge: When her brother runs away from home in order to get away from his father’s shadow, she muses on the social pressures of a school dance in the midst of midcentury U.S. racism; it is at a jazz fundraiser her parents coordinate for the Southern Christian Leadership conference that she finally meets Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A lovingly honest memoir of a racial—and social activist—past that really hasn’t passed
. (Memoir. 8-14)
While Addie’s close-knit family and rural Vermont community grieve her twin’s accidental drowning in Maple Lake last winter, only Addie knows why Amos ventured onto the ice that night.
Addie, a future aquatic biologist, scoffed when Amos insisted a large creature lived in the lake. Joining a scientific team investigating Maple Lake for the summer allows her to revisit what she regrets dismissing. Her parents and extended family cherish the pristine lake too, but Addie’s eagerness to explore it troubles them and limits the time she can devote to raising a 4-H calf with her cousin, Liza. (Their fathers grew up on the dairy farm Liza’s family runs). All are reluctant to believe Maple Lake’s in trouble, but there’s no denying the evidence Addie produces with the Chinese American lead scientist’s son, Tai. Also 12, Tai’s a likable city kid who reminds her of Amos. Addie shares her brother’s theory with Tai, and this—with the water samples they’ve collected—points to an unexpected source for the lake’s problems. Tai shares her concern; he’s seen pollution’s impact when in China. Addie’s close-knit, homogenous (presumably white) community wants to blame superstore construction and overdevelopment for the pollution, but not all problems come from outside. Baughman convincingly portrays the varied reactions to the findings as well as everybody’s desire for the lake to thrive. Without a villain to blame or superhero offering easy solutions, the book offers appealing characters whose opposing interests embody what’s at stake.
Compassionately told, this compelling debut brings to life conservation issues and choices young readers will confront as adults
. (Fiction. 8-12)
A young girl goes on an epic journey across the sea.
Twelve-year-old Lalani Sarita lives on the fictional island of Sanlagita, where people say benedictions to the foreboding Mount Kahna and dream of sailing to paradise on Mount Isa. But sailors who journey to Isa never return. When a strange creature on Mount Kahna grants Lalani a wish, she discovers magic comes with a price. After her mother falls ill, the villagers turn on her, and with everything in ruins, she runs away in search of Isa and the flower that might save everyone. Along the way, she encounters creatures and plants, some friendly and some deadly. Lalani must overcome many hardships and challenges to create her own path. Inspired by Filipino folktales, Newbery Medalist Kelly (Hello, Universe, 2017) writes a heroic fantasy about making choices, going on a quest, and conquering evil. Though the tale is told primarily in the third person, characters develop deeply through revealed thoughts and actions. Each character adds another layer to the story, all facing their own issues, such as finding courage, patriarchy, and gender roles. Scattered throughout the novel are short, beautifully illustrated second-person vignettes allowing readers to imagine they are the mythical creatures Lalani encounters, adding yet another layer of depth and fantasy to the story.
Fast-paced and full of wonder, this is a powerful, gripping must-read.
Four sisters in a Muslim, Pakistani American family star in Khan’s (Amina’s Voice, 2017) 21st-century update to a beloved classic of American literature.
The narrator is Jam (short for Jameela), a seventh grader bent on becoming a journalist. Her family newsletter, Mirza Memos, is all hers, but on the school newspaper she fights to make her voice heard about publishing important subjects. Her older sister, Maryam, is in high school. Maryam’s beauty is what people notice, but she is also studious, responsible, and caring. The youngest, Aleeza, brings out the worst of Jam’s temper, while gentle Bisma brings out Jam’s protective, loving instincts. Exit Baba (their father) for an international work contract; enter Ali, a cute British Pakistani boy who befriends all the girls, but especially Jam. Add money problems and the sudden discovery of a serious illness for Bisma, and you have a carbon copy of Little Women that feels comfortingly familiar yet also entirely new, like an old friend given a makeover. The characters are believable and endearing, and their problems are emotionally weighty. The ways they find to support each other through difficulties, to fight, and to forgive highlight the reasons why Little Women still finds adoring fans. Cultural content such as Jam’s article on microaggressions and the Mirza family’s no-dating rule (despite Ali’s flirtation) add interest as well.
A delightful concept well executed, this volume is sure to find many fans.
On a birthday trip to New York City, a girl learns about her roots, Harlem, and how to stay true to herself.
Eleven-year-old sneakerhead Amara is struggling to feel seen and heard. A new baby sister is on the way, her mom still wants to put her in dresses, and that birthday trip from the Portland, Oregon, suburbs to New York City that she so desperately wants feels out of reach. When Amara gets a family-history assignment, she is finally able to convince her mom to say yes to the trip, since it will allow Amara to meet her dad’s side of the family in person. In addition to the school project, her mom gives Amara a secret mission: get her dad and grandpa to spend time alone together to repair old wounds. Harlem proves unlike any place Amara has ever been, and as she explores where her father grew up she experiences black history on every street. Watson is a master at character development, with New York City and especially Harlem playing central roles. Through her all-black cast she seamlessly explores issues of identity, self, and family acceptance. Although the ending feels rushed, with no resolution between Amara and her mom, Amara’s concluding poem is powerful.
A moving exploration of the places we come from and the people who shape us—not to be missed.
Friendships can be complicated—sometimes in the best way possible.
Following The Prince and the Dressmaker (2018), Wang takes bits of inspiration from her own life in her new graphic novel. Christine is a Chinese American girl living in an Asian suburb who’s focused on her music and grade school work. Change comes when her parents offer the in-law apartment her grandpa used to live in to a struggling Chinese American mother and child from church, encouraging Christine to befriend Moon, the daughter. The only thing is, they are complete opposites. Moon is vegetarian, rumored not afraid to use her fists, does not attend Chinese class, and certainly is “not Asian” according to Christine’s standards. Despite all that, the two become fast friends, stretching each other’s interests with K-pop, art, and the like. Moon later shares a deep secret with Christine: She receives visions from celestial beings that tell her she belongs with them. Trouble soon follows, with struggles with jealousy, social expectations, and devastating medical news for Moon. Wang is a master storyteller, knowing when to quietly place panels between each moment to sharpen the emotional impact or to fill it with life. It is so very rare and refreshing to see diversity within the Asian American community authentically portrayed; Wang allows each character complete ownership of their identity, freeing their truths and, in the process, allowing readers to do the same.
A shining gem of a book.
(Graphic novel. 8-12)
A spectral great-great-grandmother and a secret sauerkraut recipe trigger an exploration of family, identity, and community.
Hans Dieter “HD” Schenk is a maker, creating everything from a goat obstacle course to a computer of his own design to enter into a tech contest at the county fair. HD navigates the world as a biracial, bicultural black German American who loves Wakanda and who can converse in polite, formal German. When, one day, he comes across an old sauerkraut pickling crock inhabited by the ghost of his great-great-grandmother, he and his family find themselves enlisted in Oma’s project to win the fair’s pickle prize with her famous sauerkraut. While Oma and the ghost-story vehicle are an ingenious storytelling device, the adults seem to accept the ghost almost too readily. However, they also do so without shaming or infantilizing HD, his little brother, or his friend. The book foregrounds race, culture, and identity, but they are not the entirety of the plot. Being black and German American is an ongoing negotiation for HD, but Jones presents this as a feature and not a bug; as HD says, “I’ve had a lot of practice explaining why I don’t look like my dad.” Nuanced conversations about aging, disability, language, sexual orientation, mental health, race, and culture are hidden in the nooks and crannies of every chapter. Davey’s spot illustrations enliven the proceedings.
A ghost story full of nuance and depth.
(Paranormal adventure. 8-12)
Science and silliness intersect when four animal friends research a planet.
The Not the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (also known as NNASA) has sent its four superpowered AstroNuts—bubblegum-pink fearless leader AlphaWolf, sunny tangerine SmartHawk, cool blue LaserShark, and lively lime-green StinkBug—into outer space to explore faraway planets. In their top-secret ship, which doubles as Thomas Jefferson’s nose on Mount Rushmore, they snot-rocket their way 39 light-years to the Plant Planet. Brimming with verdant vegetation, it looks like an ideal place to relocate Earth’s population due to climate change. But upon further investigation, they discover that the sentient, vegetal inhabitants have their own nefarious plans for the AstroNuts. Narrated by Earth, the tale treats middle-grade readers to a hearty dose of science facts that blend seamlessly with a hilarious narrative propelled by booger and fart jokes, making this a fun read-alike for fans of Aaron Blabey’s Bad Guys series. Climate change is presented accessibly, as is information about plant cell structure and basic chemistry, making this a must-have for those looking to boost STEM-related titles. The graphic-hybrid design is lively, blending varied typefaces and vivid colors alongside collage illustrations that incorporate images from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
A winning mix of fun and fact—readers will be eager for the next mission.
(Graphic/science fiction hybrid. 7-11)
A “Snow White” parody—substituting smelling grossest for fairest—about taking down a tyrant.
The seven districts of Rancidia once existed in harmony, the people enjoying the blend of everyone’s individual odors and governed by democracy. This putrid peace was shattered when ogre Fiddlefart conquered Rancidia and declared himself both king and Grossest Smelling in the Land. When Fiddlefart’s magical Burping Bullfrog sees a new challenger for stinkiest—the humble Hobgoblin, a bean farmer from the neighboring Unincorporated Mucklands—the outraged ogre sends his top scent-assassin, Huntress, to scrub Hobgoblin so clean he’ll never stink again. Instead of de-odorizing Hobgoblin, Huntress whiffs him into hiding with the Seven Stinkers, the ousted elected former government of Rancidia, who invite him into the resistance. Amiable but essentially an isolationist who tries “to stay out of politics,” Hobgoblin initially takes action only for self-preservation (while Huntress warns: “Anytime a creature is treated unjustly—no matter who they are or where they’re from—it’s everyone’s business”), but the fairy-tale plot trajectory pulls him in so he can join the effort to liberate Rancidia. The bodily functions and other stinky-things–based humor amp the kid-friendliness, frequently put the “pun” in pungent, and occasionally dip into parody musical numbers and sly self-awareness. Happy, rounded, nonthreatening cartoon illustrations make Hobgoblin’s delighted tooting downright charming. Some of the Seven Stinkers are female, and one has two mothers.
As the stench-loving Rancidians would say: It stinks! (Fantasy. 7-12)
In the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), Aven Green confronts her biggest challenge yet: surviving high school without arms.
Fourteen-year-old Aven has just settled into life at Stagecoach Pass with her adoptive parents when everything changes again. She’s entering high school, which means that 2,300 new kids will stare at her missing arms—and her feet, which do almost everything hands can (except, alas, air quotes). Aven resolves to be “blasé” and field her classmates’ pranks with aplomb, but a humiliating betrayal shakes her self-confidence. Even her friendships feel unsteady. Her friend Connor’s moved away and made a new friend who, like him, has Tourette’s syndrome: a girl. And is Lando, her friend Zion’s popular older brother, being sweet to Aven out of pity—or something more? Bowling keenly depicts the universal awkwardness of adolescence and the particular self-consciousness of navigating a disability. Aven’s “armless-girl problems” realistically grow thornier in this outing, touching on such tough topics as death and aging, but warm, quirky secondary characters lend support. A few preachy epiphanies notwithstanding, Aven’s honest, witty voice shines—whether out-of-reach vending-machine snacks are “taunting” her or she’s nursing heartaches. A subplot exploring Aven’s curiosity about her biological father resolves with a touching twist. Most characters, including Aven, appear white; Zion and Lando are black.
Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read.
Both an introduction to Darwinian concepts and an exploration of the Earth’s life.
Even before explanations of natural selection and species origin, there is a helpful “Geological Time Chart” that explains eon, era, period, and epoch. Following these, double-page spreads show examples of animals, plants, and protists (which are neither) both extant and extinct on the branches of a tree that begins with one-celled organisms and moves into and beyond the category called “Skillful Mammals.” The illustrations and layout are spectacular. Stylized animals and plants are solid blocks of color against gradated blue backgrounds. Each spread is headed in sinuous display type; a vibrantly hued tree branch snakes across the page, creating spaces for flora and fauna and fascinating facts about them. Who knew that tardigrades can live for 30 years without eating? And how sly to note that both rats and humans have conquered the world with their generalized diets. The graceful, accessible text respects its readers. Early on, it asserts that “the first living things were simple cells, which were different from non-living things because they could make copies of themselves.” Words not defined within the text are captured in an appropriate glossary. There are several references to climate change, the first noting how green plants cooled the planet about 450 million years ago. The text strikes an excellent balance between upholding scientific research and noting its limits as well as its ongoing, self-correcting, nature.
Darwin would approve.
(Informational picture book. 8-12)
Harvey, a curious little white West Highland terrier, roams away when his dogsitter forgets to latch the gate.
Although his getting lost is frightening and heartbreaking for both Harvey and Maggie, his bereft young owner, it’s providential for Mr. Walter Pickering, a very elderly resident of a continuing-care facility, and for Austin, who volunteers there—kind of. His service is actually payback his grandfather is exacting for a big mistake involving firecrackers that the lonely 11-year-old made in school. Pickering has always been gruff and reclusive. But after friendly Harvey turns up at the facility (and remains there because Austin, desperately wanting the dog, fails to look for his owner), the man begins to tell Austin—and Harvey—his vividly realized, sometimes brutal tales of growing up on the Saskatchewan prairie during the Dust Bowl. In these short episodes, readers learn how young Pickering befriended impoverished Bertie, who was abused, then abandoned by her drunken father but, being a young girl of rare spirit and determination, survived. Accompanied by his own beloved dog, Pickering and Bertie navigated the immense challenges of the era, their woeful experiences almost subsuming the primary plot in which Austin and Maggie both persevere in their own difficult situations. Affecting, riveting, and evocative, this character-driven tale within a tale, with narrative perspective alternating among Harvey, Austin, and Maggie, believably reveals the best and sometimes the worst of human nature. The cast defaults to white.
This graphic-novel adaptation of Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Medal winner offers powerful visuals to an already-cherished narrative of teenage black boys navigating the game of life.
The tale follows a year in the life of the Bell family, with Chuck “Da Man” Bell at the helm as he teaches his twin sons, Josh and Jordan, how to follow in his star-studded footsteps. Josh “Filthy McNasty” Bell takes the lead in narration, providing readers with in-depth court play-by-play as he deals with the growing pains of adolescence, balancing brotherhood and his own becoming. Myriad poetic forms appear throughout. A portion embrace rhyme, with a hint of old-school flow recalling hip-hop’s golden era. Veteran comics illustrator Anyabwile brings an expansive range of black-boy emotional expressiveness to the page, accompanied by a striking attention to detail and pop-cultural reference. Just check the fresh barber lines on display or the true-to-life illustrations of beloved athletes and musicians such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, and more. Eschewing the traditional paneled look of the graphic-novel form creates a dynamic flow between the scenes. These are sectioned out into basketball-appropriate quarters and dotted with Chuck’s inspirational Basketball Rules, such as this excerpt of No. 3: “The sky is your limit, sons. Always shoot for the sun and you will SHINE.” These messages grow ever more resonant as readers approach the climax of this heartwarming story.
Flashy and engaging with emotional depth—a slam-dunk thrill.
(Graphic fiction. 10-12)
A collection of creepy cryptids for the courageous connoisseur.
This alphabetic encyclopedia of 50 creatures rates each from one to six stars, where one is a confirmed hoax (Australia’s Drop Bear, a killer koala conceived to scare tourists) and six is a creature once known as a cryptid that is now accepted as real (Peru’s Isothrix barbarabrownae, an elusive tree squirrel). In addition, Halls classifies each by type: aerial, aquatic, humanoid, etc., and offers a comparison to a familiar real-world animal (e.g. the Dingonek from Kenya is “cat-like”). Along with the date and location of the first putative sighting, each entry offers a “factoid,” a summary of eyewitness accounts, and usually three black-and-white pencil illustrations: the adult beast, its skull, and a baby or juvenile version. Factoids are tidbits not included in the eyewitness accounts that usually relate the beast’s history. Here and there throughout the text are single-page “Cryptid Extras,” including a rundown of cryptid appearances in cartoons and video games and the address of the International Museum of Cryptozoology in Portland, Maine. A list of cryptids by type, many more than are in this volume, a further reading list of books and online articles, and a glossary close this fantastical field guide.
Just enough info to whet the appetites of budding cryptozoologists.
A quiet but stirring historical novel about the awkward, thrilling, and often painful moments that make middle school a pivotal time.
It’s 1971, and best friends Jamila, Josie, and Francesca are excited to start seventh grade. But when their school district decides to bus the students in their northern Queens neighborhood to a middle school in predominantly black southern Queens in an attempt to desegregate New York City schools, their trio threatens to fall apart. Though their multicultural identities in a predominantly white neighborhood have united them in the past—Jamila is white and Bajan, Josie is Latinx and Jamaican, Francesca is black and white—their families’ and community’s divisions over the new policy chip away at their camaraderie. Along with all of the usual adolescent milestones, including first love, juggling old friendships and new, and moments of burgeoning independence from parents, Budhos deftly explores the tensions that pulled at the seams of the fraught and divided city during this time. Jamila’s narration is thoughtful, capturing the growing pains of seventh grade and the injustices, big and small, that young adolescents face. She portrays with nuance the ways multiracial identities, socio-economic status, microaggressions, and interracial relationships can impact and shape identity.
Readers will find a powerful window into the past and, unfortunately, a way-too-accurate mirror of the present.
(Historical fiction. 9-12)
A 12-year-old whose dreams of musicianship are shattered discovers a passion for code.
Emmy’s lonely at her new San Francisco school. When her pianist dad got a dream job at the symphony, the family moved from Wisconsin—her mom’s opera career is portable—but Emmy’s miserable. Devastated she doesn’t have the talent to follow in her parents’ footsteps, she ends up in computer club instead of choir. And it’s there, learning Java, that Emmy makes friends with Abigail—and discovers that coding gives her a joy she’d believed came only from music. Free-verse chapters are conventional at first, drawing poetic structures from musical metaphors. But as Emmy learns Java, the language and structure of programming seep into her poems. Music and code interweave (one poem presents Emmy and Abigail’s pair-programming as a musical duet). Typeface changes have myriad effects: showcasing software and musical terms, mirroring the way formatting helps programmers understand software, and reflecting Emmy’s emotional state. As she becomes more comfortable in her own skin, she grows aware of the many traumas that affect her family, classmates, and teachers, and readers will cheer to see them work collectively—like an orchestra or like software developers—to create something beautiful. Characters’ races are unspecified, but on the cover Emmy presents white and Abigail (whose braids are referred to repeatedly) as black.
Never didactic, these poems interweave music, programming, family drama, and middle school as interconnected parts of Emmy’s life.
(Verse fiction. 9-13)
A stream of information about saliva’s host of forms and functions.
Why think about spit? For one thing, the biodiversity of oceans and rainforests may get plenty of notice, but as Batten writes, “you have a diverse natural ecosystem right inside your mouth.” For another, “whether your food is going down (when you’re eating) or up (when you’re barfing), there are five kinds of salivation.” Along with dipping into the biota and biology of spit, venom, and related substances, the author introduces relevant scientists and others, from Ivan Pavlov to baseball spitballer Elwin Charles “Preacher” Roe, as well as a host of animal spitters, including snakes, mosquitoes (“the only creatures that can suck and spit at the same time”), and venomous shrews. Saliva’s roles in both healing and in spreading disease also come in for look overs, and a final chapter gathers up competitive spitting events involving not just watermelon seeds, but also crickets and kudu poop. The lively color stock photos and crudely drawn pen-and-ink figures make an ill-fitting mix but do catch the tang of the narrative. Still, in comparison to Dawn Cusick’s blatantly titillating Get the Scoop on Animal Snot, Spit and Slime! (2016), Batten goes for a more-measured blend of gross and intellectual grist. Human figures are rare, but there is some diversity in the cast.
A lot to digest—but easy to chew, swallow, and regurgitate.
A child-friendly version of the popular adult title The Hidden Life of Trees (2016).
There is irony in the idea of revising for children an adult book that boldly challenges the conventional science that keeps humanity strongly detached from the plant kingdom. Indeed, many books for children already deliberately and effectively use terminology of human activities to introduce the vocabulary and rudiments of photosynthesis, and so does this text. The latter word never occurs here, although it states: “Leaves mix water with certain parts of the air to make sugar,” and notes the need for light to produce energy. It goes on to describe tree leaves as having thousands of tiny mouths for breathing and later notes that trees don’t drink in winter because “you can’t drink ice cubes.” Intense anthropomorphism continues throughout, with chapters discussing such topics as tree classrooms, mother trees, and how an “annoyed” birch tree will use the wind to whip its branches against an encroaching tree. Occasionally, readers will notice apparent contradictions, unlikely assumptions, and odd duplication, perhaps a result of the reduction. Nevertheless, the book is full of pertinent information, including the importance of fungi to roots and of trees to one another. The author transmits both wonder and fun, even adding tree-themed activities for children to try with willing adults. A forest’s worth of appealing sidebars, pop-up quizzes with fascinating statistics, and colorful photographs add to a strong subtext: Forest preservation is not just important, but imperative.
What do you do when the school bully is also the principal’s son?
For fifth grader Bell Kirby, the answer involves devising many systems and routes to help him avoid crossing paths with the bully, Parker Hellickson. He keeps them all in the notebook that’s never far from his arms. And he’s had plenty of time to work these systems out—Parker has been bullying him since the beginning of fourth grade, ever since Bell accidentally broke Parker’s toe and kept him out of a soccer tournament. Bell’s systems mostly work—until Daelynn Gower, a former home-schooler with multicolored hair, moves to town. Daelynn refuses to change herself to avoid trouble, and she soon becomes a target. But when Parker expects Bell to join in on the torment, Bell has a choice to make. Does he play it safe, or does he join with his real friends in standing up to Parker and proving to everyone, even the principal, that Parker is a bully? Gracefully folded into this tale are themes of friendship, accountability, engineering, and cooperation, and there is even a discussion on what life was like for Leonardo da Vinci. Even with a wide range of topics, Burt keeps the plot lively and focused as the very believable kids work to solve their own problems through both empathy and logic. The book adheres to the white default, with one of Bell’s friends described as having dark skin and another with an Asian name.
A satisfying tale of bullying redemption with a STEM twist.
An anthology of diverse tales that stray away from the norm.
This collection of 13 lesser-known fairy tales from Europe and Asia begins with the Japanese tale of a boy who continually draws cats, emphasizing a hero who finds his artistic ability and the life it creates. From Germany, the tale of six brothers who turn into swans and their sister who saves them by not speaking for years presents a different kind of heroine, with patience and quiet strength. “The One-Handed Murderer,” from Italy, is a tale of a strong, independent woman who saves herself from the titular villain. The words of these tales create enthralling images, transporting readers to earlier times and enchanted worlds. Editor Funke introduces the collection, explaining her attraction to the darker, unorthodox stories. Refreshingly, many of these tales differ from the more famous ones that follow a patriarchal, middle-class view. Each story has its rebellious hero or heroine and an atypical happy ending. After each tale, Funke explains why she loves it or how it shaped her novels. Giving context to the periods and countries of the tales, she critically analyzes and reflects on their conveyed social values.
Denouncing past social norms, these tales are bewitching.
An Indian American boy struggles with his sexuality and mental health while finding a place for himself in seventh grade.
Rahul Kapoor may not be sure about his sexuality, but he is sure of one thing: This year, he wants to make an impression. Inspired by a story his grandfather tells him, Rahul decides that the best way to impress his classmates—and, in the process, to protect himself from bullies—is to pick something and be the best at it. With the help of his fiery best friend, Chelsea, a white girl who wisely, consistently steers Rahul toward being himself and doing what he loves, Rahul tries a number of activities before settling on Mathletes, where he soon becomes a star. But when Japanese American Jenny asks him to the Sadie Hawkins dance, and when his Mathletes career doesn’t go as planned, Rahul spirals into an anxious depression with symptoms of OCD that force him to confront and eventually accept exactly who he is. In his author’s note, Pancholy notes that Rahul’s story is semiautobiographical, and it shows. Every character in the story is nuanced and sympathetically rendered, and the book does not shy away from racism, sexism, ableism, or homophobia. The protagonist’s devastatingly honest voice pulls readers deeply into a fast-paced journey riddled with heartbreakingly authentic moments of anxiety, confusion, and triumph.
This coming-of-age story about diverse characters coming to grips with their layered identities rings true.
If every dish on your table was poisoned, would you be so quick to jump at the call to dinner?
In posing this question via an extended opening scene, Jarrow vivaciously draws readers into a world of horrors hiding in plain taste. The first half of the book plunges into the story of U.S. Department of Agriculture chemist Harvey Wiley, who devoted the majority of his working life to combating food adulteration. After he conducted a series of studies designed to illustrate the “highly poisonous and injurious” nature of preservatives, his subjects, dubbed the “Poison Squad,” gained national fame. A nearly Dickensian display of Congressional stalling was subverted when renowned magazines corroborated Wiley’s findings, and the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle finally pushed into effect the ineffectual but seminal Food and Drugs Act of 1906, which marked the first tangible progress toward improved food safety. The book’s second half traces a thorny path to the workings of the modern FDA, and Jarrow doesn’t hesitate to point out ongoing limitations alongside advances. Maintaining a matter-of-fact, conversational tone throughout, she presents a tantalizing flood of anecdotes and facts, text peppered with old magazine adverts, photographs, and gory details aplenty; extensive backmatter encourages further research into a subject more than fascinating enough to warrant it. Revolting and riveting in turns, Jarrow’s masterfully crafted narrative will fundamentally alter how readers view their food.
Though laced with toxins, this is anything but toxic.
(Chemical descriptions, glossary, timeline, info links, author’s note, source notes, bibliography, index)
With their big brother Artemis off to Mars, 11-year-old twins Myles and Beckett are swept up in a brangle with murderous humans and even more dangerous magical creatures.
Unsurprisingly, the fraternal Irish twins ultimately prove equal to the challenge—albeit with help from, Colfer as omniscient narrator admits early on, a “hugely improbable finale.” Following the coincidental arrival on their island estate of two denizens of the subterranean fairy realm in the persons of a tiny but fearsome troll and a “hybrid” pixie-elf, or “pixel,” police trainee, the youngest Fowls immediately find themselves in the sights of both Lord Teddy Bleedham-Drye, a ruthless aristocrat out to bag said troll for its immorality-conferring venom, and Sister Jeronima Gonzalez-Ramos de Zárate, black-ops “nunterrogation” and knife specialist for ACRONYM, an intergovernmental fairy-monitoring organization. Amid the ensuing whirl of captures, escapes, trickery, treachery, and gunfire (none of which proves fatal…or at least not permanently), the twins leverage their complementary differences to foil and exasperate both foes: Myles being an Artemis mini-me who has dressed in black suits since infancy and loves coming up with and then “Fowlsplaining” his genius-level schemes; and Beckett, ever eager to plunge into reckless action and nearly nonverbal in English but with an extraordinary gift for nonhuman tongues. In the end they emerge triumphant, though threatened with mind wipe if they ever interfere in fairy affairs again. Yeah, right. Human characters seem to be default white; “hybrid” is used to describe nonhuman characters of mixed heritage.
Like its bestselling progenitors, a nonstop spinoff afroth with high tech, spectacular magic, and silly business.
A narcissistic Wolf King insists that rabbits don’t exist in this allegory.
Originally published in England in 2001 and in North America for the first time with this edition, author/playwright/poet/essayist Dorfman’s story speaks clearly today. The book’s small trim and the abundant, adroit black-and-white illustrations throughout point to an audience of children. But the story, that of a ruthless, ignorant, vain Wolf King, who, after conquering the “land of the rabbits,” announces that rabbits have ceased to exist (even though they haven’t), works on a second level as well. On the surface, the story is amusing. Despite the King’s insistence that there are no rabbits, the photographs that he has hired an elderly monkey photographer to take in order to record “each important act in my life” (“and all my acts…are supremely important,” he states) turn out to have rabbits peeking slyly from the margins. Even as the Wolf King goes to ever crueler lengths to assert his kingly authority and to have grander and tougher-appearing photos of himself circulated, the rabbits in the photos become more numerous and bolder. The exhausted monkey, bullied by the King’s counsellor, tries vainly to erase all the rabbits. The adults in the story obey in fear, but the daughter of the elderly monkey speaks the truth about rabbits: “Everybody knows they exist.”
A wickedly funny allegory for today’s post-truth era.
Cosmo has the soul of a dancer. There’s just one problem—dogs can’t dance…can they?
Ever since Mom and Dad picked him out of the litter 13 years ago, Cosmo has vowed to protect the Walker family, whom he loves more than anything, until his dying day. Trouble lurks, however, behind the household’s closed doors. Mom and Dad are fighting more and more, leaving 12-year-old Max, his younger sister, Emmaline, and Cosmo scared and confused, wary of the dreaded d-word, divorce, hounding their heels. When Mom’s brother, Reggie, returns from Afghanistan and brings Max and Cosmo to a special club for dogs, the inseparable pair discovers that dancing may be the only way to try and hold the family together. Cosmo must battle shyness, the pains of age, and demonic neighborhood sheepdogs (both real and imagined) to try and save what he and Max love most. Cosmo’s narration combines wit, heart, stubbornness, and a grouchy dignity, all ably tugging at funny bones and heartstrings alike. Sorosiak’s author’s note is a joyful celebration of dogs’ hidden humanity, one that’s reflected in her joyfully and painfully realistic tale of a struggling family and doggedly persistent canine companion. The family itself is biracial (white dad, black mom), and both kids have brown skin and curly black hair.
Love might not last forever, but it can certainly teach an old dog new tricks.