“Nobody believed me when I said two skunks stole my old trike. But I’d seen those stinkers take it. Swear.”
Fourth grade brings its share of troubles for Mateo Martinez. His former best friend, Johnny Ramirez, starts to hang out with a couple of bike-riding bullies. Mateo finds a new best friend in Ashwin, an Indian-American boy with a streak of weird in him. Both he and Ashwin spend their lunchtimes at the library, checking out books on knights and medieval warfare. Meanwhile, Mateo must behave as a big brother should with his 5-year-old sister, Mila, a headstrong girl who wants his old tricycle. One night a pair of skunks steals the desired toy. Weird. Things get even weirder when Mateo hears these skunk thieves talk during a stakeout. Yardi packs a lot into such a slim novel, and it’s a testament to her skill that it never once feels like too much. Utilizing a gentle sense of humor and incisive insight, the author negotiates Mateo’s developing identity with aplomb, especially his Mexican-American heritage: “Trying to speak Spanish makes me feel like I’m doing it wrong, and I hate that.” Mateo finds no easy answers, and that’s OK.
A magnificent novel that defines what it is to be an older brother, a friend, and, yes, even a knight.
Abbie Wu, Chinese-American preteen and worrywart, is doomed.
She’s about to start Pointdexter Middle School, and “nothing good ever happens in the Middles.” Added to her doom is a family who doesn’t get her. Baby sister Clara is annoyingly cute. Big brother Peter is a legend for being good at everything. And Mom never worries about anything, while Abbie seems to have written the textbook on anxiety. At school, Abbie figures at least lunch will be an improvement, with “REAL food,” but instead, she comes face to face with the injustice of the eighth-grade–only lunch line. Worse, she must choose an elective, and her nerves explode because choosing one feels like declaring her Thing, which she does not have, unlike her best friends, Maxine and Logan, who sign up for drama and coding respectively and without any doubts. With no elective chosen, Abbie is assigned to study hall, a place with suck-ups, slackers, troublemakers, and loners. And the fun begins. Debut author Vivat writes and illustrates a funny, neurotic, and delightful girl with a heart as big as her worries. The extensively illustrated novel packs a punch with fresh, lively pencil-and-ink drawings and lettering that set each mood perfectly. The multicultural cast of characters, including kooky Aunt Lisa and scary Ms. Skelter, turns up the charm and humor scale.
A hilarious Asian-American heroine guaranteed to provoke laughs—not anxiety.
Male role models aren’t a scarce commodity for Archer Magill, but when two of them fall in love, what does that mean for his comprehension of the weird world of adults? Then there’s all that impending puberty stuff.
Bookending his tale with two weddings (one a YouTube'd pants-splitting disaster and one a heartfelt finale with a fabulous new suit), Archer recounts his traverse from first grade to sixth, navigating family ties, school, bullies, death, marriage, and au courant political hot topics. He has a dedicated father, endearing grandfather, doting uncle, and awesome male student teacher, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely sure-footed in following their confident strides. In fact, he’s pretty clueless in general, something his fiery best friend, Lynette, reminds him of perpetually. It’s this cluelessness that makes his journey so easy to empathize with. There’s another layer to this lighthearted coming-of-age book that makes it special in the current sociopolitical climate. Said doting uncle is in love with aforementioned student teacher: it’s Peck’s intent to spark a discussion for young readers about same-sex marriages, a topic that standardized testing and textbooks haven’t caught up with yet. Bravo. A middle-class white cast in the Midwest populates the pages, but the base of the story—navigating boyhood with positive reinforcement from friends, family, and faculty—is a broad one.
A nostalgic slice of Rockwell Americana with a contemporary filling. Delicious—take a bite.
Meet the Bolds: Fred, Amelia, and their children, Bobby and Betty; as nice a suburban family of hyenas posing as humans as one could ask for, they should rehabilitate the scavenger’s tattered, post–Lion King reputation among the younger set.
They move to an English suburb, Teddington, which has a comfortable climate; moreover, here, instead of engaging in the hyena dinnertime free-for-all on the savannah, humans line up politely. These pluses aside, the long learning curve tests Fred and Amelia, requiring the utmost ingenuity and adaptability, especially after the pups are born. They’re up to the challenge. Shocked to discover water and food aren’t free, Fred lands a job writing the silly jokes inserted in Christmas crackers. Hats make good disguises, but how are the pups to hide their tails at school? Certain cherished hyena habits are hard to break (laughing raucously in class, rummaging through garbage, gnawing on chairs). Misanthropic Mr. McNumpty next door becomes suspicious, especially after the family starts visiting the safari park and learns an elderly hyena’s in mortal danger. Published first in the U.K., the book’s hilarious plot and abundant illustrations make it a top choice for reluctant readers. The art brilliantly reflects the many twists and turns of plot and emotion, among them the Bolds’ (mostly) staid suburban home life, their sinister neighbor, and other wild animals—fox, hippo, gazelle—possibly living the human life incognito.
Wildly original and very funny.
(Animal fantasy. 8-12)
Wordplay has its day in this extra-usual compilation of lexicographical delights drawn from Dahl’s works.
“ONLY REALLY INTERESTING WORDS are allowed in this dictionary,” writes compiler Rennie, and the contents cleave to that stricture with a wacksey (“splendidly huge”) mix of those conventional but nonetheless gloriumptious locutions (like “aardvark” or “sneeze,” printed in black) and wondercrump original coinages (in blue) with which the master’s prose is laced. Every entry comes with a brief definition and one or more sentences from a specified work quoted to demonstrate usage. Each also includes part of speech, alternate forms, and, very often, either cross references (“Another mushious fruit is the snozzberry”) or a linguistic excursion into grammar, the history of words, real-world cognates, or derivations. One frequently recurring extra feature challenges would-be versifiers to find “Ringbelling Rhymes,” and another offers examples and guidelines for making any writing zippfizz along by “Gobblefunking with Words.” Major characters, creatures, and candies also earn diddly (“individual or distinct”) slots in the alphabet. That the pages are positively festooned with Blake’s color cartoon illustrations, all drawn from the novels, just puts the golden ticket into the Wonka bar.
Snapperwhippers aren’t the only readers who will find this equally delumptious as a dictionary, a source of inspiration, and a way of revisiting a shelf of phizz-whizzing classics.
A sophisticated robot—with the capacity to use senses of sight, hearing, and smell—is washed to shore on an island, the only robot survivor of a cargo of 500.
When otters play with her protective packaging, the robot is accidently activated. Roz, though without emotions, is intelligent and versatile. She can observe and learn in service of both her survival and her principle function: to help. Brown links these basic functions to the kind of evolution Roz undergoes as she figures out how to stay dry and intact in her wild environment—not easy, with pine cones and poop dropping from above, stormy weather, and a family of cranky bears. She learns to understand and eventually speak the language of the wild creatures (each species with its different “accent”). An accident leaves her the sole protector of a baby goose, and Roz must ask other creatures for help to shelter and feed the gosling. Roz’s growing connection with her environment is sweetly funny, reminiscent of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family. At every moment Roz’s actions seem plausible and logical yet surprisingly full of something like feeling. Robot hunters with guns figure into the climax of the story as the outside world intrudes. While the end to Roz’s benign and wild life is startling and violent, Brown leaves Roz and her companions—and readers—with hope.
Thought-provoking and charming.
(Science fiction/fantasy. 7-11)
Vanguard Middle School’s no place for breaking rules; computerized Vice Principal Barbara sees to that.
Sixth-grader Maxine “Max” Zelaster and her friends struggle to pass the Federal School Board’s nonstop tests in the newly instituted Constant UpGrade program. The kids think they are doing well, but their grades don’t reflect their work. Their cumulative scores are dragged even lower by discipline tags and citizenship infractions, all noted by Barbara’s all-seeing electronic eyes. Enter Fuzzy, the government’s attempt to create a robot that will program itself. Scientists in the Robot Integration Program ask Max to show Fuzzy around because of her interest in robots, but this leads to further trouble for Max at school and at home; Barbara just seems to have it in for her. Fuzzy uncovers irregularities with test scoring and begins to suspect something’s wrong with the vice principal, but can he save his new friend Max while evading corporate spies and his creators’ plans for his future? Origami Yoda creator Angleberger teams up with science-fiction writer Dellinger for this funny, thrilling, and thought-provoking page-turner. Riffing on some of the same issues as Origami Yoda’s second trilogy—individuality and the dangers of standardized testing—the duo have crafted a day-after-tomorrow cautionary tale of friendship with a fuzzy, robotic heart.
Provocative issues that never overwhelm storytelling make this a winner.
(Science fiction. 8-12)
Allen deftly explores the evolving friendships of Mya Tibbs as she and her Spirit Week partner compete for VIP tickets to the Fall Festival.
Nine-year-old Mya loves cowgirls, the rodeo, and jewelry. The Fall Festival has all her favorite things! She and her new best friend, Naomi, are determined to win the tickets together, but to Mya’s dismay, she draws Mean Connie as her Spirit Week partner. Mya is stuck. Can she keep her promise to help Naomi and be a good partner? Even as she writes a very funny story, Allen neither flatters nor vilifies any characters, instead letting each one grow and make mistakes. As Mya tries to make the best of the situation, she learns that Connie isn’t so mean, that Naomi isn’t so nice, and that she herself can be a better friend. The author showcases different types of friendship throughout the story: as Mya and Naomi fall out, Mya and Connie grow closer; Mya’s brother, Nugget, tries to make friends with a jock, taking his nerdy best friend for granted in the process; and twins Starr and Skye find their sisterly bond tested when their loyalties are torn between Mya and Naomi.
Nuanced depictions of friendship coupled with larger-than-life and fully three-dimensional characters make this delightful book at once thoughtful and a riot to read.