The author of A Tale Dark and Grimm (2010) starts over—sending young Jack and Jill on a fresh quest for self-knowledge through trials and incidents drawn (stolen, according to the author) from a diverse array of European folk and fairy tales.
Foolishly pledging their lives to finding the long-lost Seeing Glass, cousins Jack and Jill, with a three-legged talking frog to serve as the now-requisite comical animal sidekick, set out from the kingdom of Märchen. They climb a beanstalk, visit a goblin market and descend into a fire-belching salamander’s lair (and then down its gullet). In a chamber of bones (“It gave new meaning to the term rib vaulting”), they turn the tables on a trio of tricksy child eaters. Injecting authorial warnings and commentary as he goes, Gidwitz ensures that each adventure involves at least severe embarrassment or, more commonly, sudden death, along with smacking great washes of gore, vomit and (where appropriate) stomach acid. Following hard tests of wit and courage, the two adventurers, successful in both ostensible and real quests, return to tell their tales to rapt children (including one named “Hans Christian,” and another “Joseph,” or “J.J.”) and even, in the end, mend relations with their formerly self-absorbed parents.
Not so much a set of retellings as a creative romp through traditional and tradition-based story-scapes, compulsively readable and just as read-out-loudable.
Twelve-year-old P.K. “Pinky” Pinkerton was born with a poker face—he can’t show or read emotion—but it’s not until he lands in Nevada Territory’s silver-mining country that he comes to terms with the hand he’s dealt.
This fast-paced and deadpan-funny Wild West adventure is Pinky’s first-person account, scrawled out as “last words” on ledger sheets in a mine shaft while three desperados hunt him down. These outlaws, seeking something valuable Pinky's Sioux ma had left behind, murdered his foster parents. Pinky narrowly escapes, jumping a stage to “Satan’s Playground,” or Virginia City of 1862, with its colorful mix of greedy gunslingers, “Celestials,” “Soiled Doves” and even Sam Clemens with the occasional jarring witticism. Best of all, he runs into Poker Face Jace who teaches him how to read people’s feet, “the most honest part of a man’s body.” Pinky is likable. A wannabe detective, he’s resourceful and smart, gutsy but not foolhardy…and partial to black coffee. Jace’s detailed lessons in human “tells” drag on a smidge, but readers will fully grasp how thirsty Pinky is for this information that’s more precious to him than silver. Wonderfully dry humor, vivid sensory descriptions of the mountain town and a genuinely appealing protagonist make this a standout.
A rich vein of wisdom runs through this highly entertaining, swashbuckling series debut.
(1862 map of Virginia City, glossary)
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
There couldn’t be a more likable family of thieves.
The tightknit, affable and affectionate Grimjinx clan is trouble in Vengekeep. They steal (not from anyone poor or weak) and nimbly avoid prosecution. Ma’s a master forger, Da an expert thief. Little sister Aubrin (terrific nickname: Jinxface) is an ace pickpocket. But 12-year-old Jaxter, the narrator, is clumsy. Lock-picking evades him. “Every year it became clearer: I really wasn’t a very good thief.” Jaxter excels at “beating magic with nonmagical means,” though: His carefully mixed plant/herb pastes dissolve magical protections on locks and loot. When a tapestry meant to predict Vengekeep’s future reveals, astonishingly, that the Grimjinxes are “saviors,” readers will giggle as the con emerges. And then the con becomes deadly. The (faked) tapestry’s fabric is “fateskein,” which means its ominous images will come true. Woe is Ma, who unknowingly used fateskein in the weaving; woe is Vengekeep, now truly destined for lethal plagues. Can Jaxter traverse enough land beyond his familiar town-state to gather the plants and spiderbat milk that might dissolve the fateskein? He’s no crackerjack thief, but he has heart and unflagging humor. This funny and serious series opener features action, twists and pleasingly original vocabulary, such as the swear “zoc” (as in “Zoc that”) and the expression “bangers,” which means, roughly, “awesome.” Immediate danger is averted, intriguing questions hover for next time, and Jaxter’s headed down a fresh path.
A motley assortment of human experimental subjects and faerie exiles take on a New Jersey cereal company run by eldritch management for nefarious purposes.
With an off-the-wall sensibility that fans of the author’s True Meaning of Smekday (2007) will recognize with delight, Rex kicks off a planned trilogy. He brings together sixth-grade outsider Scottish Play Doe (an actor’s son, surprise), young genius Erno Utz and his even brighter supposed twin Emily, a crusty old leprechaun and like unconventional allies to be hunted by agents of the huge Goodco Cereal Company—producers of Burlap Crisp™, Honey Frosted Snox™. These and similar products enjoy a wild popularity that can be ascribed to the literal truth of the company motto: “There’s a Little Bit of Magic in Every Box!” The author tucks in portrait illustrations and hilariously odd TV-commercial storyboards, along with a hooded Secret Society, figures from Arthurian legend, magical spells and potions, a certain amount of violence, many wonderful throwaway lines (“Yeh may have a tarnished glamour about yeh, sure. Like a celebrity’s daughter.”) and tests of character with often surprising outcomes. All in all, it’s a mad scramble that culminates in the revelation of a dastardly plot that will require sequels to foil.
A massive explosion at the end only sets that evil scheme back a bit; stay tuned for further strange and exhilarating developments.
Mom said there was magic in the woods…she probably didn’t mean anything like this.
Ten-year-old city boy Rufus is staying at his grandmother's house on the edge of a forest for a few days without his parents. Grammy's idea of fun is prune juice and soap operas, so Rufus decides to explore the woods. He meets a girl named Penny, but she's as friendly as a rock. Her older sister, Aurora, tells Rufus Penny's friendlier than she seems, so he doesn't give up on her. When looking for her in the woods, Rufus finds a glowing necklace in a tree. After reading the word on the back, he turns into Bigfoot! Not only is he big, red and hairy, but he can also talk to animals. Sidney the flying squirrel helps him get home. There's danger in the forest as well as magic, and when Penny disappears, Rufus (and Sidney) use the totem to effect a rescue. Canadian author Torres’ first in a new series of graphic novels has magic, humor and just a hint of menace. Easy-reading text, all in speech bubbles, will appeal to a wide range of readers. Hicks’ bright and glossy cinematic panels are full of action; readers will almost smell the green of the trees. This one gets everything just right.
Be prepared for young Sasquatch fans roaring for more.
(Graphic fantasy. 6-11)
An orphaned boy in Russia survives as a member of a pack of dogs.
Ivan is only 4 years old when he runs away to the streets of Moscow. At first, he is taken in by a scruffy group of children under one adult’s control. They live in the subway stations, begging and stealing food. He soon befriends and is adopted by a small group of dogs and becomes one of them. They survive on the trains in the winter and in the forest during the summer. Ivan keeps a button belonging to his (probably dead) mother as a talisman and remembers the fairy tales she read to him. Increasingly, his time with the dogs provides nourishment for both his hungry belly and his soul. Threats are ever present in the form of police, gangs of teens and wild animals in the forest. Two years later he is captured, and after months of care, he regains his humanness. Pyron has based her story on magazine articles about a Russian feral child, one of hundreds of thousands whose lives were disrupted by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. She presents Ivan’s story as a first-person narrative in beautifully composed writing enhanced by Ivan’s visual acuity and depth of emotion.
Terrifying, life-affirming and memorable.
(author’s note, bibliography)
A teenage boy becomes a spy in Nazi-occupied Norway.
After the Germans invade his country in 1940, Espen goes from a life of school, Scouts and soccer games to delivering underground newspapers. Gradually, he advances to transporting secret documents via bicycle or skis and spying on Gestapo locations for the intelligence branch of the Resistance. Along the way, he navigates relationships with a beloved best friend who has joined the Nazis, his younger sister and peers who share his passion for opposition, as well as a budding romance with Solveig, who wears a red stocking hat signaling displeasure with the new regime. Newbery Honor winner Preus (Heart of a Samurai, 2010) infuses the story with the good-natured humor of a largely unified, peace-loving people trying to keep their sanity in a world gone awry. Based on a true story, the narrative is woven with lively enough daily historical detail to inspire older middle-grade readers to want to learn more about the Resistance movement and imitate Espen’s adventures. A selectively omniscient narrator moves from sister Ingrid’s diaries to the inner thoughts of Espen’s nemesis, Aksel. Preus also incorporates a Norse myth about Odin to shed light on what it means to be wise, the possibility of knowing too much and how to resist shadowing the mountain of hope.
A middle-schooler writes a kids’ novel; an author writes an engaging, amiable read—and, presto, a tale about a boy nicknamed Houdini turns out magical.
When your name is John Smith, you need to have something going for you. What this 13-year-old—alas, no relation to the dude of Pocahontas fame—has is a fascination with the master escape artist. After an author’s visit to his classroom, John creates a novel, formed from the very novel kids are reading, and devises a series of lists to guide him. He also relies on adventures with his two best buds; a misunderstood Vietnam vet and his pit bull; and the neighborhood bully. By turns poignant and downright hilarious, Houdini’s story/novel is delivered in a voice that’s wonderfully authentic. Johnson expertly handles real male middle school friendships, issues and angst and doesn’t avoid some tough contemporary realities: Domestic troubles, the prospect of Dad losing his job and the pain arising from his older brother going missing in Iraq are handled realistically but sensitively.
In the end, Houdini realizes that writing has changed him and altered his perspective on people and life. Readers will feel the same way. And just try to get kids not to make their own lists or attempt their own novels. (Fiction. 9-12)
What do you get when you combine Because of Winn-Dixie’s heart with the mystery and action of Holes? You get an engaging, spirit-lifting and unforgettable debut for young readers.
Turnage introduces readers to the homey yet exotic world of Tupelo Landing, N.C., well-populated with one-of-a-kind characters. A stranger with justice on his mind has just arrived in town, and Hurricane Amy is on its way. Rising sixth-grader Mo LoBeau leads the cast through a series of clues as the whole town tries to figure out who among them might be a murderer. The novel’s opening lines reveal the unflappable Mo LoBeau as a latter-day Philip Marlowe: “Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt.” This is the first of many genius turns of phrases. Pairing the heartbreaking sadness of children who don’t get their fair share from parents with the hilarity of small-town life, Turnage achieves a wickedly awesome tale of an 11-year-old girl with more spirit and gumption than folks twice her age. Mo LoBeau is destined to become a standout character in children’s fiction.
Readers may find they never want to leave Tupelo Landing.
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)
Liza must venture Below to rescue her little brother's soul, stolen by evil, power-hungry spider people called spindlers, in this refreshingly creepy, intricately woven tale.
A concealed hole in the wall behind a narrow bookcase in her family's basement is her entry, and amid loud scratching noises, Liza trips, falling down into the darkness Below. Mirabella, a giant rat who wears newspaper for a skirt, becomes her trusted guide to the spindlers' nests, which Liza must reach before the Feast of the Souls. But things are never what they seem in Oliver's vividly imagined world....An arduous, dangerous and fantastical journey ensues. As in the author's first terrific book for middle-grade readers, Liesl & Po (2011), there is a smorgasbord of literary references, including strong echoes of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It is laced with humor and engaging wordplay, as well as riddles and death-defying tests and enchantments. Wholly original creatures populate the tale, some reassuring and wise, like the nocturni and lumer-lumpen, others wonderfully macabre (and ferocious), like the queen of the spindlers and the shape-shifting scawgs. In the course of her episodic quest, Liza discovers she is resourceful and brave; she sees things differently than before.
Richly detailed, at times poetic, ultimately moving; a book to be puzzled over, enjoyed and, ideally, read aloud.
(Final illustrations not seen.)
Deza Malone had a brief appearance in Curtis’ multiple–award-winning novel, Bud, Not Buddy (Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Author Award, 2000). Now, she is the dynamic and engaging heroine of her own story.
Deza takes great pride in being the best student in school and the champion of her musically gifted but challenged older brother. Although the Malones are barely surviving the Depression in Gary, Ind., Deza has a strong sense of self and hope for a better life. As she writes in her school essay, “We are the only family in the world, in my ken, that has a motto of our own! That motto is ‘We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.’ I can’t wait until we get there!” Despite severe economic and racial restrictions, the strength of their familial bond remains strong, but even that connection is sorely tested when Mr. Malone returns to his hometown of Flint, Mich., seeking work. Deza, her brother Jimmie and their mother set out to find him as their situation becomes dire. With his distinctive style of storytelling that seamlessly presents the hardships and finds the humor in tough circumstances, Curtis forges the link between characters and readers. The fluidity of the writing, the strong sense of place and time combined with well-drawn characters will captivate and delight.
Deza is one great heroine in her own right, a fitting literary companion to Bud Caldwell.
(Historical fiction. 9-12)
Sandler brings to life an extraordinary true adventure tale set on the treacherous Arctic terrain.
In September 1897, eight whaling vessels became icebound near Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in America, and 265 men faced starvation. Acting on orders from President McKinley, Secretary of the Treasury Lyman Gage sent Capt. Francis Tuttle and his ship, the Bear, on a rescue mission. He would take the Bear as far north as possible, put three officers ashore and send them over 1,500 miles overland to aid the men. Using a combination of dog-powered and reindeer-drawn sleds, herding 400 reindeer and living off the land along the way, the three-man rescue team, with immense help from indigenous people, succeeded in their journey through the Arctic winter, arriving 103 days after leaving the Bear. Remarkable photographs, many taken by one of the rescuing officers, grace just about every spread, and even the captions are fascinating. The narrative’s excitement is heightened by the words of the participants, drawn from their actual letters, diaries, journals and other personal reminiscences. Maps are well-drawn, documentation is meticulous, and the backmatter includes a section on what happened to the key players and a useful timeline.
Outstanding nonfiction writing that makes history come alive.
(source notes, bibliography, photography credits, index)
(Nonfiction. 10 & up)
Though dealing with the recent death of his mother, Cam and his father are trying to make the best of a difficult time. Currently unemployed and virtually penniless, Cam’s father buys him the only birthday present he can afford: a cardboard box. From the get-go, it is apparent that this is no ordinary cardboard: It comes with a list of rules, which Cam’s father casually dismisses. In an attempt to make the bland box more exciting, his father fashions a cardboard man, a boxer he names Bill, who undergoes a Pinocchio-like transformation and becomes a loyal friend. The animated man catches the interest of menacing Marcus, a well-off, wide-eyed, fish-lipped bully, who steals the cardboard for his own malicious intent. When Marcus’ plans go horribly, terribly awry, he discovers that he needs one thing that money can’t buy: a friend to help him. TenNapel’s story is edge-of-your-seat exciting, but what really drives home this clever outing are the added complexities and thought-provoking questions it asks of its reader, specifically examining what constitutes “good” and “bad,” and how to change how one is labeled. The result? An exceptionally seamless blend of action and philosophy, two elements that usually do not mix easily; TenNapel handles this masterfully.
A merchant stops to free a tiger stuck in a hole by lowering a tree trunk to it, and what does he get for his trouble? A growl and a show of sharp teeth from the hungry tiger, who is planning to make a meal of him! Taken aback, the merchant protests that this is not fair. At first, the tiger says, “I don’t want to be fair. I only want to be full!” But he finally agrees to a test, if only to quiet the merchant down so he can be eaten up. Colorful, energetic acrylics work together with the carefully selected vocabulary, lucid text and generous repetition to make this Korean folk tale a strong choice for early readers. In the end, the deciding vote is left to a hare, who seems confused by the quandary and asks that the two show him what happened, so the tiger gets back in the hole. The hare advises the merchant to leave immediately, and as to whether a good deed should follow a good deed, the hare says, “That all depends on who you help!” Young readers will be drawn in by the measured suspense and leave with a chuckle.
An excellent addition to both the folk tale genre and the early-reader shelf.
(Folk tale/early reader. 4-7)