Of course, Ben-Barak rightly notes, so is everything else—from your socks to the top of Mount Everest. Just to demonstrate, he invites readers to undertake an exploratory adventure (only partly imaginary): First touch a certain seemingly blank spot on the page to pick up a microbe named Min, then in turn touch teeth, shirt, and navel to pick up Rae, Dennis, and Jake. In the process, readers watch crews of other microbes digging cavities (“Hey kid, brush your teeth less”), spreading “lovely filth,” and chowing down on huge rafts of dead skin. For the illustrations, Frost places dialogue balloons and small googly-eyed cartoon blobs of diverse shape and color onto Rundgren’s photographs, taken using a scanning electron microscope, of the fantastically rugged surfaces of seemingly smooth paper, a tooth, textile fibers, and the jumbled crevasses in a belly button. The tour concludes with more formal introductions and profiles for Min and the others: E. coli, Streptococcus, Aspergillus niger, and Corynebacteria. “Where will you take Min tomorrow?” the author asks teasingly. Maybe the nearest bar of soap.
Science at its best: informative and gross.
(Informational picture book. 6-9)
A child’s world appears in black and white—body indoors and face fixed to a screen—until another child zips by with an invitation to join in a barefoot ramble through the untamed outdoors.
To rhythmic, clipped verse, the pair runs, jumps, and swims through forest and water scenes. They pause to play, to pretend, and to savor. But it’s not all sunshine. A pop-up storm serves as a metaphor for life’s mixed weather patterns. “Rain dumps. / There’ll be slippery slumps. / Bruises. Bumps… / and ROTTEN STUMPS!” The storm passes and the sun returns, so the adventure continues. Covell’s illustrations are exuberant, projecting to readers the raw joy and wonder of exploring the natural world. Thick strokes of what looks like watercolor bleed past bold crayon outlines, creating a delightfully messy sense of movement. This pace matches the staccato rhythm of the fast-flowing rhyming text. The skin tones of the children shift through various shades of beige and brown. Though Covell’s intention for the racial ambiguity is unclear, this inclusion of brown-skinned children encouraged to run “wild” in green spaces is a hugely welcome one given their historic exclusion from same.
This sweetly unruly book is destined for mud-stained and ripped pages, as it is sure to accompany many a child on wild adventures in their own parks, playgrounds, and backyards.
(Picture book. 3-7)
Tank is a 2,580-pound rhinoceros living in the city zoo.
Unfortunately, his domicile is just on the other side of the right-field fence at the park where 12-year-old Nick Spirakis and his friends play their own variation of baseball. When Nick misses a ball that his nemesis, Pete, drives into Tank’s territory, Nick jumps in, grabs the ball, and makes it out just in time to avoid Tank’s charge. Nick narrates the tale, set in 1948 in a Midwestern city patterned after Milwaukee, describing his friends and activities as if he is in direct conversation with readers. Every Saturday is spent working in his father’s shop, wishing he could be playing ball instead. His father, a Greek immigrant, prizes hard work and ambition and is determined that Nick will own the shop someday. Everything changes when the new owner of the city’s minor league baseball team shakes everything up. There are promotions to lure everyone into the ballpark. Nick and his pals join a batboy-for-a-day contest that takes place on Saturdays, causing him to invent some rather convoluted lies to explain his absences from the shop. Themes (rivalries, family dynamics, feminism) and historical details (radio announcers, frozen custard) combine with lots of mishaps and misadventures, including another very public encounter with Tank. The story assumes a white default.
Laugh-out-loud fun with a wonderful cast of characters. A winner in every way.
(acknowledgments, author’s note)
(Historical fiction. 8-12)
In casual rhyme, this picture book extols the values of stillness and observation.
Speaking directly to readers, author/illustrator Hale delivers a passionate, can-you-believe-how-good-it-is-to-be-alive homage to living. Focusing on the natural world, she describes the possibilities of what can be experienced with the senses when readers become still: seeing the shadow of “a small snail snoozing” growing long as time passes, feeling “the sun’s light,” hearing the “tapping of tiny mice feet,” and, whimsically, the song of fruit in a bowl: “you might hear the hum / of a crisp summer’s apple.” The narrative’s heartfelt exhortation to, and inclusion of, its readers (“you are also a part of the wonderfulness of life!”) saves it from the tired sanctimony that can bog down themes of this type. The rambunctiously designed illustrations of bugs, plants, fruit, snails, and other aspects of the natural world are done in simple, warm, unshaded colors and black crayonlike outlines that echo and support the narrative’s ingenuousness, as does the hand-lettered text. It doesn’t take itself too seriously—some segments are endearingly silly, especially the asides of some of the critters voicing their opinions.
What sets this book apart from so many others with the same theme of the nourishment derived from connecting with life is its infectious joy, delivered simply and sincerely.
(Picture book. 3-9)
The fate of amnesiac magical exiles and their adopted xenophobic hometown depends on a girl, some chalk, and her singular power.
Rook makes doors, but she’s not a carpenter. She uses chalk and the magic that courses through her to open portals. She and a boatload of magical kids were shipped parentless from the world of Vora into the harbor of Regara minutes before an explosion closed the portal between worlds, erased the memories of the Voran children, and made Regarans instantly distrust magic. Voran orphans have been corralled and a wall built (sound familiar?) to dam up magic residue from the Great Catastrophe. In the aftermath, Rook has joined forces with Drift (who can “fly” by manipulating air) to make a home, sell black-market doors, and avoid authorities. Regara’s inability to endure the strain of leftover magic makes Rook desperate to get Drift and herself to Vora (not the mysterious forest that keeps appearing when she draws doors). This need accelerates when their income is compromised and the twosome adds another: a shape-shifting boy aptly named Fox. The exquisite worldbuilding will please steadfast fans of Johnson’s other Solace books. The Voran magic isn’t a gimmick, as it causes complications, unpredictability, and danger. Rook, Drift, and Fox are white, and there are some supporting olive and brown characters. Apropos themes of refugees and found families are addressed in a way that retains fantasy flavor while realistically presenting the brutality of ignorance and beauty of humanity.
Your new favorite fantasy.
Summer adventures begin when Bina accidentally locks herself out of her house in Larson’s newest middle-grade graphic novel.
The summer before eighth grade is a season of self-discovery for many 13-year-olds, including Bina, when her best friend heads off to soccer camp and leaves her alone to navigate a SoCal summer. Without athletic Austin around to steer the ship, Bina must pursue her own passions, such as discovering new bands and rocking out on her electric guitar. Unexpected friendships bloom, and new members are welcomed into her family. Though her sphere grows over the summer, friendship with Austin is strained when he returns, and Bina must learn to embrace the proverb to make new friends but keep the old. As her mother wisely observes, “you’re more you every day,” and by the end of summer Bina is more comfortable in her own skin and ready to rock eighth grade. Larson’s panels are superb at revealing emotional conflict, subtext, and humor within the deceptively simple third-person limited plot, allowing characters to grow and develop emotionally over only a few spreads. She also does a laudable job of depicting a diverse community for Bina to call home. Though Bina’s ethnicity is never overtly identified, her racial ambiguity lends greater universality to her story. (In the two-toned apricot, black, and white panels, Bina and her mother have the same black hair and gold skin, while her dad is white, as is Austin.)
A coming-of-age story as tender and sweet as a summer evening breeze
. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)
Monkey + banana = recipe for delicious cake…or delicious comedy?
In this first installment of a new series, the answer comes in two courses. Balancing cooking and banana-eating, bipedal primate Mr. Monkey clumsily bakes his entry for the upcoming cake show. But the route to the show contains many obstacles—and some are hungry for Mr. Monkey’s precious prizewinner-to-be. Pratfall after pratfall, readers will laugh and wonder if the cake will make it to the competition in one piece. The simultaneously published companion title, Mr. Monkey Visits a School, follows the same vaudeville formula: Mr. Monkey masters a new juggling trick and shares it at a school but only after lengthy, treacherous travels. In both stories, the narrator interacts with Mr. Monkey and provides running commentary of his antics. Characters’ speech is smartly confined only to interjections—“ooh,” “oops,” “eek,” “yum,” etc.—that play off the narrator’s matter-of-fact delivery with expert comedic timing. Though without chapters to separate parts of the story, the text’s economy of language (fewer than 90 vocabulary words and their variants) and repetition provide ample support for emergent readers. The slapstick humor is driven by Mack’s bold and colorful cartoon illustrations. The humans in Mr. Monkey’s neighborhood are diverse in skin tone. The cast also notably includes a tattooed, bearded bicyclist.
Encore, encore for kid lit’s ap-peel-ing new primate.
(Early reader. 4-8)
Talented prankster Maciek “Chub” Trzebiatowski vows to go straight in seventh grade…with predictable results.
Chub’s resolve to keep his nose clean doesn’t last past the second day as he finds himself, along with nemesis/ex-friend Archer, pre-placed at the top of draconian new principal Gunborg Lockhart’s hit list due to their extensive records of past misdeeds. The prospect of instant expulsion on the slightest pretext forces the two into reluctant alliance when Lockhart’s prized artwork Electric Kangaroo—by renowned one-armed glass artist Wahoolie but so resembling a pile of purple snot that Chub dubs it Electric Boogerloo—is stolen by parties unknown. Bald since second grade due to a misguided chemistry experiment and glib as all get out, the ever enterprising Chub makes a memorable narrator as he dishes up a lively account of the ensuing desperate search for clues to the culprit. He also heads a posse of classmates who likewise display as many human quirks as comedic ones, such as Levi “Moby” Dick, who is intestinally hyperactive and so the (literal) butt of many gags but, with no motive beyond altruism, impulsively surprises Chub with a rare and coveted comic. Aside from comics-loving Japanese-American newcomer Megumi, the Seattle cast presents as white.
Another crowd pleaser: funny, intelligent, and richly spiced with gross bits.
Observations and fancy take flight in Oguma’s collection of musings from Manmaru Street, Tokyo.
Oguma’s doodles take on a life of their own in this nonlinear tale. Magic pockets produce snakes and crocodiles; a soup’s seaweed chats away; and hats made of cream or cheese and slides made of candy seem unremarkable. Each spread contains an idiosyncratic slice of life. From the imaginative, droll text (rendered in English by Wolf) to the collection’s layout, readers may draw parallels to Shel Silverstein; however, Oguma’s vignettes are told in a stream-of-consciousness style, matching the spontaneity of his art. The playful illustrations blend a loose figurative style with abstract patterning. Pencil and watercolors in a pastel palette showcase Oguma’s expressive style. A young woman loves mushrooms so much that her boyfriend appears in a mushroom costume and bearing a giant mushroom, prompting the question, “So what does Mr. Kiyota’s girlfriend like better?” Studying the picture of the two, readers see his mushroom-patterned garb, which blends with the enormous mushroom he holds; his girlfriend’s speech bubble, full of nothing but mushrooms, hovers over his head, making it look itself like a giant mushroom. As with Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, readers may enjoy one or many spreads at a time—the treasures within beckon repeat visits and offer inspiration for the classroom or artist.
Funny, eccentric, and unique, this exceptionally designed work has universal appeal.
(Picture book. 5-adult)
An ugly monster sets out on a wonderfully strange journey of self-discovery.
The translated text ambles along smoothly enough, but Ponti’s illustrations—equally rich in warm feeling and surreal, precisely drawn figures and details—give the tale wings. Considered so hideous (one member of the comically appalled family gathered around his hatched egg has turned away to throw up) that everyone’s first response becomes his given name, Hiznobyuti eventually runs away from his comfy, cluttered refuge beneath the kitchen sink. He adventures, slaying a much-larger monster with one colossal sneeze, temporarily transforming himself into a tree, “communophoning” with the stars, and saving a dead planet by waking its sun (and a princess on a nearby satellite), among other heroic feats. Home he goes, to find it in ruins and his family in tears since his departure: “Words said the opposite of what they meant, hands did whatever they wanted, and meals were not tasty at all.” Following a joyful reunion featuring “fourteen ordinary desserts and twenty-eight extraordinary ones,” though, everyone dances and sets about rebuilding. Hiznobyuti is left at the end thinking of one last exploit…to see if the princess might want to marry him. Human readers could hardly be repulsed by his looks as, aside from a short trunk, he resembles, like the rest of his clan, an anthropomorphic golden meerkat with wide, batlike ears.
Comics creator and illustrator Sell teams up with 10 different authors to create an extraordinary linked anthology, seamlessly interweaving stories of unabashed joy and friendship.
In a suburban neighborhood, an ebulliently diverse group of children gathers with glee to create a vibrant world of pretend play, find themselves, and support one another. In the story written by Katie Schenkel, Sophie feels terrible that people say she’s too loud until she crafts a Hulk-like play identity known as “The Big Banshee.” Manuel Betancourt’s Miguel loves fairy tales and is thrilled when Nate asks him to play in “The Prince”—only to discover he’s actually been cast as the “magical pea” and not the romantic role he’d been dreaming of. Seth pretends to be a superhero to try to protect himself from his dad in Michael Cole’s “The Gargoyle,” while in Sell’s sole authored tale, “The Army of Evil,” Jack identifies as the Sorceress because “She’s what I want to be… / Magical. And powerful. And amazing.” Some neighborhood kids prefer STEM to fantasy while others build businesses; some have trouble making friends while others choose roles on the sidelines. Sell’s cheerful, friendly artistic style, with bold borders and bright colors that unite all the stories, will appeal to fans of Victoria Jamieson. Thoughtful representation provides a true diversity of body shapes and sizes, races and ethnicities (the majority of the cast is kids of color), gender identities and expressions, sexualities, and family structures. Bios of all 11 contributors conclude the book.
A breath of fresh air, this tender and dynamic collection is a must-have for any graphic-novel collection.
(Graphic fantasy. 9-13)
A clever use of reverse vocabulary tells a story of the cohabitation and uneasy friendship of Dog and Cat.
Cat is comfortably “Asleep” on top of a ball of yarn when suddenly Dog loudly leaps through an open window, startling Cat “Awake.” As Dog jumps “Over” the chair Cat had been dozing on, Cat immediately retreats “Under” it. Contrasting single words, the sole text, are presented in, mostly, double-page illustrations that extend the story effortlessly through expressive black-outlined cartoon scenes. A happy, frolicking, lovable Dog wants to play but seems only to succeed in bothering housemate Cat, who becomes increasingly annoyed, clearly wishing to be left alone. As beleaguered Cat runs “Outside” and then back “Inside” to hide, an enthusiastic Dog pursues, first deeming Cat “Lost” and then “Found” after espying a large lump under the rug. (Readers old enough to recognize the lump as Cat will be in stitches at Dog’s puzzlement.) In the end, while Cat wishes to be hidden and “Apart,” Dog insists that they be “Together”; the final illustration finds smiling Dog with a leg wrapped around a reluctant Cat, whose eyes are rolled upward. Twohy’s amusing, animated drawings perfectly reflect the divergent personalities of his characters and deliver a well-developed tale in just 28 words.
Kids will snort at the antics of the simultaneously exasperating and endearing Dog while feeling sympathetic to Cat.
(Picture book. 3-5)
A sibling pair experiences their world through words with a double O.
Two pajama-clad kids stretch as the sun rises over farmland, the yellow orb simultaneously creating an “o” in the title “LOOK,” setting the stage for Woodcock’s graphic play on the double O. Sunny-side-up eggs make “FOOD” for breakfast before the family car’s tires “ZOOM” them to the zoo. The search for the double Os continues with more park fun, as kangaroos, cockatoos, baboons, and balloons delight the siblings. After heading home, bath bubbles result from their “shampoo” before the two curl up with a good “BOOK.” The children, with their blue-black hair and peach complexions, “snooze” under a starlit sky, the full “moon” high above. The illustrations, done in a primary palette, have a simplicity that makes each shape immediately identifiable. Through the use of hand-cut rubber stamps and stencils, airbrush-like pens, and pencil linework that’s then digitally composited, Woodcock creates art that feels hand-crafted, warm, and extremely appealing. Much like Ed Emberley’s Drawing Books series, there is an overall theme with interesting images from page to page—each spread creating its own tableau within a loose narrative structure. But upon repeat visits, readers may find a more intentional rhythm to the tale, one that takes readers on a journey from morning excitement to evening sleep.
A delightful exploration of a thematic concept, exceptionally designed and thoroughly charming. (Picture book. 4-7)