How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.
Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human—except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery. His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers’ passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.
Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates.
Two orphans, a witch and a girl who laughs at death: Each shares the lens of protagonist in Newbery winner Schlitz’s fully satisfying gothic novel.
Parsefall and Lizzie Rose assist a wicked puppeteer, Grisini, with his London street shows in exchange for board and crumbs in a Dickensian boardinghouse complete with quirky landlady and ill-behaved dogs. Clara Wintermute is a privileged girl living in the shadow of her siblings, who all died from eating diseased watercress (picky Clara made her twin eat hers). Clara demands the puppet show for her birthday, and shortly after the ominous performance, she becomes trapped in some form she can’t fathom. Grisini is suspected, and the orphans are drawn into a dangerous ploy orchestrated by a dying witch who needs a child to steal something precious from her. Each character is a little horrible: Parsefall is a selfish thief, but this neediness gives him a keen empathy and daring. Lizzie Rose is bossy, but her yearning for her lost family keeps them together. Clara is egotistical, but her steely will saves them all. The witch is more horrible than good, but she is a little bit good, like the chocolate in the box that only grown-ups like. The shifting perspective among these characters and cumulative narrative development (echoing Dickens’ serials) create a pleasingly unsettling tension.
Schlitz’s prose is perfect in every stitch, and readers will savor each word.
(Historical fantasy. 9-13)
Twelve-year-old Mary O’Hara is surrounded by good-humored women…her mum at home, her mum’s mum, who is dying in Dublin’s Sacred Heart Hospital, and her mum’s mum’s mum, who has just materialized as a ghost on her street.
That’s four generations of Irish women, all whirling about in some state of consciousness or another, and it’s enough to make Mary dizzy. Mary is a cheeky girl, like many almost-teenagers, but she’s levelheaded enough to embrace the ghostly visits from her great-grandmother Tansey, who looks young but “talks old” because she died at age 25 in 1928. Tansey’s spirit is sticking around for her dying daughter, Mary’s granny, to reassure her “it’ll all be grand” in the great beyond and, as it turns out, to join her family for one last tearful, mirthful midnight road trip. Doyle divides up the novel by character, giving readers first-hand glimpses into the nature of each woman through time. In a lovely, lilting Irish dialect, he deftly explores the common threads of their lives through story and memory, from family-owned racing greyhounds to the traumatic dropping of an egg. On the subject of mortality, Mary says, “…it just seems mean.” Her mother agrees. “It does seem mean. Especially when it’s someone you love.” Indeed.
A warm, witty, exquisitely nuanced multigenerational story. (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.
Nine creepy tales told by dead teens and positively tailor-made for reading—or reading aloud—by flashlight.
Fleming uses a version of “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” as a frame story and draws inspiration from several classic horror shorts, monster movies and actual locales and incidents. Within this frame, she sends a teenager into a remote cemetery where ghostly young people regale him with the ghastly circumstances of their demises. These range from being sucked into a magical mirror to being partially eaten by a mutant rubber ducky, from being brained by a falling stone gargoyle at an abandoned asylum to drowning in a car driven by a demonic hood ornament. Tasty elements include a malign monkey’s paw purchased at a flea market, a spider crawling out of a corpse’s mouth and a crazed florist who collects the heads of famous gangsters. Amid these, the author tucks in period details, offers one story written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe (“As I pondered the wallpaper, its patterns seemed to crawl deep inside me, revealing dark secrets… No!”) and caps the collection with perceptive comments on her themes and sources.
Light on explicit grue but well endowed with macabre detail and leavening dashes of humor.
(Horror/short stories. 10-13)
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.
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)
In this long-awaited finale to the Giver Quartet, a young mother from a dystopian community searches for her son and sacrifices everything to find him living in a more humane society with characters from The Giver (1993), Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004).
A designated Birthmother, 14-year-old Claire has no contact with her baby Gabe until she surreptitiously bonds with him in the community Nurturing Center. From detailed descriptions of the sterile, emotionally repressed community, it’s clear Lowry has returned to the time and place of The Giver, and Claire is Jonas’ contemporary. When Jonas flees with Gabe, Claire follows. She later surfaces with amnesia in a remote village beneath a cliff. After living for years with Alys, a childless healer, Claire’s memory returns. Intent on finding Gabe, she single-mindedly scales the cliff, encounters the sinister Trademaster and exchanges her youth for his help in finding her child, now living in the same village as middle-aged Jonas and his wife Kira. Elderly and failing, Claire reveals her identity to Gabe, who must use his unique talent to save the village. Written with powerful, moving simplicity, Claire’s story stands on its own, but as the final volume in this iconic quartet, it holistically reunites characters, reprises provocative sociopolitical themes, and offers a transcending message of tolerance and hope.
It’s hard not to like a main character who brings a lab coat and briefcase to elementary school.
In one panel of this third outing for Mal and his talking dog, Chad, a boy is wearing a hat shaped like a giraffe. This is never explained, except that he’s auditioning for the talent show. The real reason for the hat, of course, is that McCranie likes to draw giraffes. It’s the same reason there’s a giant bust of Albert Einstein on the lawn of Mal’s school. Mal is a boy inventor, which gives the artist a chance to draw a clock with a robot hand popping out of it. “Why not invent an alarm clock that wakes you up gently…?” Mal asks rhetorically. The hand, he notes, “tenderly pats you on the head until you wake up.” Kid inventors are not popular at Einstein Elementary. Mal’s crush, Megan, won’t even invite him to her birthday party. Sometimes Mal will glance at her across the room, and she doesn’t look back. These scenes are drawn with as much skill as the giraffes and robots, and they are heartbreaking. In another panel, Mal sees Megan and skips into the air with joy. He’s a foot off the ground, and the tiny picture shows exactly how it feels to be in elementary school and in love.
This emotional honesty alone is a reason to buy this book; the giraffe and Einstein are the icing on McCranie’s cake. (Graphic fiction. 8-11)
A tempestuous mother-daughter relationship makes up the centerpiece of O’Connor’s latest carefully researched and simultaneously fresh and funny Olympian portrait.
Snatched down to the Underworld in the wake of a screaming fight with her mother Demeter (“Butt out of my life!!” “You ungrateful brat”), raging adolescent Kore (meaning, generically “The Maiden”) initially gives her quiet, gloomy captor Hades a hard time too. After grabbing the opportunity to give herself a thorough makeover and changing her name to Persephone (“Bringer of Destruction”), though, she takes charge of her life—so surely that, when offered the opportunity to return to her remorseful mom, she lies about having eaten those pomegranate seeds so she can spend half of each year as Queen of the Dead. O'Connor expertly captures both the dramatic action and each character’s distinct personality—Demeter in particular, with her big hair and temper to match, is a real piece of work—in easy-to-follow graphic panels. Effortlessly folding in other familiar and not-so-familiar tales of figures associated with his title character, he opens with an eerie guided tour of Hades’ realm, closes with fact boxes about each of the major players and in between ingeniously preserves the old tale’s archetypal quality without ever losing sight of its human dimension.
An outstanding addition to a first-rate series.
(notes, study questions, resource lists)
(Graphic mythology. 8-14)
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.)
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.
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.
Like her main character, Trinket, Thomas clearly loves storytelling, and she has a real talent for it, too.
Seven interlinked episodes follow a brief exposition. The distinctness of these episodes keeps the text from seeming overlong, particularly since the smooth flow and intriguing elements will easily capture readers’ interest. Unusual characters (a gypsy princess, fairy queen and ghostly highwayman, among others) add excitement and suspense, while the overarching tale, which effectively connects the disparate characters and individual events, features a quest of sorts. Eleven-year-old Trinket recently lost her mother to a fever. Her father, a wandering bard, abandoned the family five years ago when he failed to return as promised from a storytelling sojourn. With no one to care for her, Trinket sets out with a friend to discover what became of her father—and to collect some stories to tell. Hardships abound, and the two often go hungry, but they persevere in their search. Readers familiar with Celtic folklore will recognize the outlines of some of the sections. But even those for whom selkies and banshees are brand-new will appreciate the clever way Thomas weaves together traditional elements and her fictional creations.
Though it’s filled with incident, emotion, magic and adventure, what stands out most is Trinket’s clear voice and loving heart, both of which will endear her to readers.
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)