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)
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.
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)
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.
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.)
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.
A warmhearted beginning to a new chapter-book series delights from the first few sentences.
“Lulu was famous for animals. Her famousness for animals was known throughout the whole neighborhood.” So it begins, revealing its bouncy language and its theme, illustrated by a cheery image of Lulu with bunnies at her feet, a parrot on her shoulder and a mouse in her hair. Lulu’s best friend is her cousin Mellie, who is famous for several things but most notably losing sweaters, pencils and everything else. Her teacher in Class Three is Mrs. Holiday, who endures the class guinea pig but does not think it needs animal companions, not even Lulu's dog. When the class goes to Tuesday swimming at the pool by the park, however, and Lulu finds a duck egg, which she takes back to class—that is not an animal, right? Well, not yet. What Lulu and Mellie do to protect the egg, get through class and not outrage Mrs. Holiday is told so simply and rhythmically, and so true to the girls’ perfectly-logical-for-third-graders’ thinking, that it will beguile young readers completely. The inclusion of the kid who always gets a bloody nose and a math lesson on perimeter only adds to the verisimilitude and the fun. Lulu’s classroom is full of children of all colors, and Lulu and Mellie are the color of strong tea with cream, judging from the cover.
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)
A young girl tackles a learning disability and the uncertainty of daily life in early-20th-century Cuba.
Ten years old at the tale’s opening, Josefa “Fefa” de la Caridad Uría Peña lives with her parents and 10 siblings on their farm, Goatzacoalco. Diagnosed with “word blindness” (a misnomer for dyslexia), Fefa struggles at school and in a home rich with words, including the writings of Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. Discounting a doctor’s opinion that “Fefa will never be able / to read, or write, / or be happy / in school,” her mother gives her a blank diary: “Let the words sprout / like seedlings, / then relax and watch / as your wild diary / grows.” Basing her tale on the life of her maternal grandmother, Engle captures the frustrations, setbacks and triumphs of Fefa’s language development in this often lyrical free-verse novel. Her reading difficulties are heightened when bandits begin roving the countryside, kidnapping local children for ransom: “All I can think of / is learning how / to read / terrifying / ransom notes.” The author gives readers a portrait of a tumultuous period in Cuban history and skillfully integrates island flora, fauna and mythology into Fefa’s first-person tale. This canvas heightens Fefa’s determination to rise above the expectations of her siblings, peers and society.
A beautiful tale of perseverance.
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
Set in 1969, Manzano’s first novel offers a realistically mercurial protagonist struggling with her identity in Spanish Harlem.
Fourteen-year-old Rosa María Evelyn del Carmen Serrano is frustrated with life in El Barrio. Tired of working for her mother and stepfather in their bodega, she takes a job at a five-and-dime and hopes to trudge through the rest of the summer. Everything changes when her abuela arrives, taking over Evelyn’s bedroom and bearing secrets of the family’s involvement in Puerto Rico’s tumultuous history. When a group called the Young Lords begins working to bring positive changes to the neighborhood, some residents are resistant, including Evelyn’s mother. Led by her grandmother’s example, Evelyn begins to take an interest in the efforts of the activist group. As the months pass, the three generations of women begin to see one another’s perspectives, and Evelyn realizes the importance of her Puerto Rican heritage. Like most real-world teens, she changes subtly, rather than through one earth-shattering epiphany. The author effectively captures this shifting perception in the dialogue and Evelyn’s first-person narration. Secondary characters of surprising dimension round out the plot and add to the novel’s cultural authenticity, as do the Spanish and Spanglish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the text so seamlessly that a glossary would be moot.
Once and Then (2010, 2011) blend into Now in today's Australia as Dr. Felix Salinger, 80, relates his childhood and shows his present to his 11-year-old granddaughter, narrator Zelda.
What occurs in their todays smoothly links the old story of Felix's horrific childhood in Nazi-controlled Poland with sometimes-happy, sometimes-unpleasant events in a small bush town. The girl is staying with Felix because her physician parents are in Darfur to help its people through a modern genocidal catastrophe. Local girls bully Zelda in the opening scene, and readers should be shocked and frightened by this experience. When Felix meets the bullies, in his anger he says, "Don't you know anything?"—a sharp echo of the very young Zelda of decades ago. Today's Zelda is named for her, but it is a weight, since the girl of the present feels she cannot live up to that other, long-dead girl, hanged by the Germans for an act of defiance that allowed Felix to escape the noose. A bush fire of horrendous size, fury and speed tests the mettle of the two, and Gleitzman's description of it is brilliant in its realism. Readers of the first two books will recognize a great deal, and those who have not should read them to gain a fuller picture of the years before and those in which we live.
A fine, taut novel full of understanding.
(Historical fiction. 9-12)
Sadie and Ratz, Hannah’s menacing hands, help her to handle her sibling rivalry in this piercingly intelligent foray into chapter books by much-awarded teen author Hartnett.
Hannah lives with her parents and her stick insect, Pin. She would like to have a real pet, but all she has is the disappointing Baby Boy, who is the object of Sadie and Ratz’s anger. When he does the things little brothers do (going into her room, changing the channel or using markers), Sadie and Ratz wake up, jump onto Baby Boy’s head and rub his ears off. One day, the game is changed when Baby Boy starts acting like a crafty 4-year-old. He spills milk, writes on the wall and breaks a valuable timepiece but blames everything on his sister’s naughty hands. When Pin is found missing a leg after Hannah sends her hands on vacation, the parents start to see the truth. The tale is accompanied by warm, expressive gestural charcoal drawings on every page that add much to the story, drawing readers' eyes to the characters' real feelings. Ending on the hopeful note that Baby Boy’s hands and Hannah’s hands are going to be friends, this is one story of sibling rivalry that seems realistic. The kids might not be friends, but their naughty hands can be! For big sisters and Baby Boys adjusting to each other.
A real slice of family life, the sweet with the bitter. (Fiction. 5-8)
After being home-schooled for years, Auggie Pullman is about to start fifth grade, but he’s worried: How will he fit into middle school life when he looks so different from everyone else?
Auggie has had 27 surgeries to correct facial anomalies he was born with, but he still has a face that has earned him such cruel nicknames as Freak, Freddy Krueger, Gross-out and Lizard face. Though “his features look like they’ve been melted, like the drippings on a candle” and he’s used to people averting their eyes when they see him, he’s an engaging boy who feels pretty ordinary inside. He’s smart, funny, kind and brave, but his father says that having Auggie attend Beecher Prep would be like sending “a lamb to the slaughter.” Palacio divides the novel into eight parts, interspersing Auggie’s first-person narrative with the voices of family members and classmates, wisely expanding the story beyond Auggie’s viewpoint and demonstrating that Auggie’s arrival at school doesn’t test only him, it affects everyone in the community. Auggie may be finding his place in the world, but that world must find a way to make room for him, too.
A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.
Desperate times call for desperate measures indeed when, one summer afternoon on Cape Cod, 11-year-old Stella finds her sole caretaker, her great-aunt Louise, dead in her chair.
Stella, who’s been abandoned by her mom, and Louise's 12-year-old foster child Angel know the second they call 911 they’ll be hauled off by the authorities… and the thought of having to leave a good home for who knows where is too much to bear. So they bury Louise in the garden. The suspense escalates. How long will Stella and Angel be able to keep Louise’s death a secret in a small community? Will dogs dig up the body? Will the girls be able to pull off the task of assuming Louise’s duties as manager of the Linger Longer Cottage Colony? How long can they survive eating relish, stale croutons and “Froot Loop dust”? The unfolding story is both deliciously intense and entertaining. Stella, an order-seeking girl whose oracle is Heloise (of hint fame), not only knows how to keep a corpse from smelling (Febreze), she employs old pantyhose and Crisco to keep the gypsy moths off Louise’s beloved blueberry bushes. Stella's poetic, philosophical observations of the world are often genuinely moving, and tough-on-the-outside Angel is her perfect foil.
A suspenseful, surprising novel of friendship and family from the creator of the popular Clementine series. (Fiction. 9-12)