Debut author Roman pens a picture book about an imaginative boy who transforms his bed and stuffed animals into props for a marvelous pirate adventure.
Roman draws the reader in from the first page with illustrations that are cheerful and clever. The story showcases a young pirate and his menagerie: cousin Hallie, a first mate who sports a purple bandanna and ruffled pirate shirt; Linus, the loudmouthed but scaredy-cat lion with a braided goatee; Fribbet, the floppy frog with an audacious red pirate hat; and Mongo, the mast-climbing monkey who charms with an eye patch and endearingly oversized lips. Roman deftly creates an appealing visual experience with engaging, bright illustrations that will appeal to young readers. The characters are rich with animated expressions and personalities that showcase the creative and warmhearted ways the characters have fun. Well-drafted secondary characters also include the “mermaid” who appears with a plate of golden doubloons (in the form of cookies) and orders the pirate not to get crumbs on the bed when eating them. The text has a lovely intonation when read aloud, and the simple, understandable story also carries a more complex, clever subtext that will allow for educational discussions. The captain’s constant good-natured lament that “being a captain is hard work”—as he watches his crew do all the actual labor—is hilarious and a pleasant opportunity to teach children about the nuances of words and their layers of meaning. The author’s adept use of genuine pirate terms—“swab the decks,” “pump the bilges” and “me hearties”—adds flavor and authenticity to the story, too. The captain and his crew sit down with a dictionary to figure out what “shiver me timbers” means, and then they take great delight upon using the phrase correctly; children will, too.
Roman charms with an imaginative, whimsical picture book that will entertain even the oldest pirates.
Magnusson’s debut YA fantasy follows a young boy’s flight from the wrath of bullies, taking him to another world from which there may be no escape.
On the run from bullies, new kid at school Stewart seeks refuge down a storm drain. He winds up lost in a maze of pipes until he steps out into a lush forest and the drain pipe entrance disappears. He encounters Cora, a young girl who takes him to a city hidden behind a great wall. Inside are only children, guided by a book written by the Forebears—the previous inhabitants—and fearing the tall, vicious Venators outside. The venerated book prophesizes a devastating final battle, but Stewart only wants a look at its pages in hopes of finding a way home. Magnusson’s novel is an allegory: The Venators, who merely beat their prey in lieu of killing them, are equated with bullies, while the children, who never age, are the perpetual embodiment of innocence. But Magnusson infuses the narrative with stunning imagery that wallops the senses—the cacophony of a construction site as Stewart passes by or the multitude of colors in the forest. Some of the descriptions are made all the more authentic through the impressionable eyes of a child: Stewart likens the landscape to emerald green ice cream covered with candy. Ample action and suspense, including the predicted conflict between the city and its skeletal enemies, help the plot retain a steady speed. The best moments involve Cora and Stewart running through the forest, dodging the Venators; the book even opens with Stewart midsprint. Despite a theme geared for younger readers and the unmistakable moral lesson of facing one’s fears head-on, the author surprises with somber, mature dialogue, as when the Princeps, the city’s female leader, states bluntly, “[W]e are fairly confident that we are no longer on the planet Earth.” For good measure, there are also talking animals, a protagonist who’s more than deserving of a cheering audience and a bittersweet ending, with a slightly greater emphasis on the sweet.
All the fun of a children’s book, coupled with the razor-sharp wit and potent insight that seasoned readers crave.
In the first book of debut author Copus’ planned series, a boy and his grandmother travel back in time to hobnob with marauding pirates in search of hidden treasure.
Clearly familiar with what should constitute the building blocks of a kid-friendly adventure story, Copus begins the book with a seemingly foolproof plan gone disastrously awry. Alistair and Kathryn (Grammy) Sinclair—12-year-old Jon’s grandparents and full-time guardians following the mysterious deaths of his parents in a plane crash—are gearing up to send Jon to 1776 Philadelphia to witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While retired NASA employee Alistair won’t be joining them in the silver time-travel capsule Carousel this time around, Grammy goes along for the ride to prevent any mishaps. But with a loud whirl and a classic sci-fi jolt, the ship’s malfunctioning navigation device instead sends them crashing to the shores of 1692 Port Royal, Jamaica, kicking their journey into high gear. Soon, Jon is kidnapped by the crew of the Black Opal, led by the notorious Captain BlackHeart. Grammy—disguised as a boy named Gramm—gains passage as a cook on the ship of BlackHeart’s conniving rival, Shark Scar, in hopes of somehow crossing paths with Jon. As the novel picks up speed, so too do the cleverly hidden surprises. BlackHeart isn’t as nasty as he initially seems; it’s easy to root for him and his devoted crew during treasure dives and explosive battles with warring buccaneers, especially since he’s taken the ever-trusting Jon under his wing. Gramm’s grandmotherly resourcefulness in winning over Shark Scar’s mutinous, scurvy-inflicted crew never feels unbelievable, and one character’s just-in-the-knick-of-time appearance adds an element of urgency to an already deliciously thrilling finale. The cliffhanger ending foreshadows an exciting voyage to the lost city of Atlantis.
Gray’s (A Delightful Arrangement, 2011, etc.) young-adult novel offers a unique twist on a classic.
Lizzie Egmont has her entire life planned out. A junior at the Jane Austen Academy, she plans to become managing editor of the school’s paper, graduate at the top of her class and receive an acceptance letter from Georgetown University—until her school goes coed, that is. When the first male student steps on campus, Lizzie’s dream scuttles off trajectory. Her classmates succumb to boisterous flirtations with the opposite sex, but Lizzie sees trouble. The academy has been sold and the owner’s identity carefully concealed by the new trustees and headmistress. When Lizzie overhears a conversation about plans to change the name of the school, she leaps into action. In the process, she discovers that the truth may cost her friendships and love. As expected from a “modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice,” the book retains the essence of its original cast: Lizzie is bold and beautiful beyond her own good; her love interest, Dante, is stunningly attractive and irresistibly brooding. Fans of Bingley, Jane and Wickham will not be disappointed since the author has taken great care to not only preserve their essences, but also relay them as believable, lovable and flawed teenagers. Dialogue is contemporary, hilarious and honest to Austen’s original characters—just reincarnated in 21st century California. Action and exposition fiercely move readers through a landscape of wealth and ambition, where literature comes to life as readers face contemporary YA issues of conformity, loyalty and identity. Despite its brevity, the novel presents a world just as resonating as those created in some novels triple the size.
A young girl builds self-esteem in Dahnke’s debut children’s book.
One day, young Carol comes home from school in tears; she’s upset that she struck out during a softball game. Her confidence and self-esteem are low because she feels she’s the worst in her class, as she’s invariably chosen last for her classmates’ teams. Sensitive to her daughter’s plight, Carol’s mother gives her a hug and then reminds her that her value as a person is completely unrelated to her ability to hit a softball. Wisely, her mother advises Carol to instead focus on the things she can do well: ballet, piano, art; after all, she won first place in the county fair. As her mother’s words gradually sink in, Carol realizes that although she may not be the best softball batter in class, she’s still an important, valuable part of the team: She can catch, run fast and help keep score thanks to her math skills. While Carol goes through life, she frequently considers her mother’s words; they help her mature into a strong, successful woman with a child of her own. When her own son returns home one day in tears after forgetting his lines in a play, Carol recalls her mother’s words of wisdom. She uses them to remind her son of all his talents. Soon, forgetting a few lines isn’t such a big deal, and he can finally conclude, “I’m not perfect. So what?” Written in rhyming couplets, Dahnke’s story will be fun to read aloud to your child or together. The enjoyable verse is a great technique for maintaining the movement of the story and for helping young children follow along. Parents will appreciate the heartwarming nudge toward valuable self-esteem for children who may not fit in. Young readers will hopefully understand that they’re special, even though they can’t be good at everything.
A wonderful confidence-booster for kids at home and school.
Nine-year-old author Ricketts (Where Are the Animals, 2010) returns with the adventure of Lyla Lyte, a young girl who rescues books from obscurity.
Lyla is desperate to use her imagination, but she doesn’t know how. Several attempts end in failure before Lyla’s mother reveals that, before Lyla was born, there were objects called books that helped people learn how to use their imaginations. But the Mayor banned all books and ordered them to be buried. Despite promising to keep this newfound information secret, Lyla tells all her friends. They join her in a quest to find the buried books, but their search instead turns up a seed. Lyla plants the seed, and an unusual tree sprouts—one that grows books. The kids take to referring to the books as “li’berry fruits” to disguise their true identity, but soon, everyone in Lyla’s class knows. Eventually, the li’berry fruits spread across town through a series of sweetly hopeful book exchanges and strategic drops around the community. The children’s increasing engagement with these illegal books—and, as a result, with the world around them—ratchets up the suspense in an already fast-paced and well-written novel. In a fresh and frank way, never betraying the youthful naïveté of a child, Ricketts addresses sophisticated issues of personal freedom and the longing for change. Why a town of readers would willingly surrender their books and not fight back may be a question that strains readers’ credulity, but Lyla’s mission is noble nonetheless. Although the characters remain single-minded and often seem a bit flat, Ricketts' tale has much to teach about the redemptive power of reading and imagination.
An impressive story about a girl whose courage transforms a town.
Not your standard children’s poetry book, this illustrated collection offers sounds and scenes to savor for ages 3 and up.
Held (After Shakespeare: Selected Sonnets, 2011, etc.) and Kim (Hen Hears Gossip, 2010, etc.) team up for the first in a series that portrays the wild animals that a child might see close to home. The 13 poems each feature an animal typically found near urban, suburban or rural settings—squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, bats, earthworms—and at least one digital collage or drawn image of the critter. The work invites discussion and reflection that can broaden the experience for children and avoid boredom for parents rereading for the umpteenth time. In language choices, Held offers material not usually considered the territory of youngsters—portmanteau words (“racku” for a raccoon haiku), near puns (“squirreling dervishes”), upper-level vocabulary (demise, omnivore) and literary references (Brer Rabbit’s race with Brer Terrapin). Although he has shortened lines from his adult verse, Held refuses to be held to simple rhymes for kiddies, providing readers and listeners with an assortment of sounds and sound patterns, including eye rhyme, alliteration and homophones. The ideas of the poems also engage; Held presents the metaphor of a deer as a weed, “diminished to a pest” by its proximity to lawns and yards, but not all of the content is this insightful or engaging. Kim keeps up: beyond the single, easily recognized animal, the supersized images invite readers to explore. Such exploration may lead to discoveries of partially hidden animals, interesting combinations of drawing and collage, or surprising choices of collage materials.
Charming critters in collage and poetry for people of all ages.
A boy’s summer with his grumpy grandfather turns into a fun adventure on an island in the Pacific Northwest in this contemporary middle-grade novel.
In his fiction debut, third-grade teacher Holtzen captures the attention of young readers with a tale inspired in part by a historical event: the Pig War, an 1859 boundary dispute between the U.S. and Great Britain. Kell and his younger sister, Grace, must spend their summer with a grandfather they’ve never met on Mobray Island in the San Juan Islands, an archipelago in the state of Washington, after political unrest abroad disrupts their parents’ travel plans. The boy takes one look at his grandfather and his primitive cabin and decides his summer is going to be terrible; but he soon finds an old pistol and a 19th-century diary. While trying to keep an eye on the rambunctious Grace, Kell becomes absorbed in solving the mystery of the artifacts. Life on Mobray Island turns out to be more fun than he first expected, and when he reunites with his parents, he’s sorry to say goodbye to the island and his grandfather. Kell is a likable character, and many young readers will identify with his frustrations about life on the isolated island. Children may also relate to his early disappointment about having to visit an older relative, which emerges when Kell becomes annoyed with his grandfather and thinks, “All you do is make weird sounds with your mouth.” The mystery of the journal and gun, as well as Grandad’s mysterious “fishing” trips, will keep readers turning the pages to find out what happens next. Readers in the Pacific Northwest will especially appreciate this novel, while a dash of suspense and adventure give it a broader appeal.
Clarity, engaging characters, and a surprise or two make for a delightful tale for young readers.
An outstanding debut novel for young people by retired amateur steeplechase jockey Hambleton, who uses her knowledge of horses and the equestrian world to tell of the tragedies and triumphs that befall a thoroughbred racehorse—from the horse’s point of view.
Reminiscent of Anna Sewell’s 19th-century classic, Black Beauty, in its deeply felt narrative as voiced by a thoroughbred racehorse, this first-time novel for ages 11 and up is written with empathy and a vivid sense of drama by Hambleton, a lifelong equestrian and former amateur steeplechase jockey. Raja, a promising foal of distinguished lineage, bears the “Mark of the Chieftain” on his forehead. Bedouin legend has it that such a mark predicts either “great glory” or “great despair” for a horse, and Raja assumes that his road to glory is assured after triumphs on the track as a 2-year-old lead to early Kentucky Derby buzz. But the world of racing has a dark side. An injury, sparked by Raja’s fear of thunderstorms, drops the sensitive horse into obscurity and worse. What follows is a colorful succession of owners and riders (good and bad), a brush with horse drugging and the ugly reality of “kill buyers,” who purchase former racehorses for their meat. Friends and enemies, both human and equine, appear and reappear in Raja’s life as fate takes him far from his pampered youth. Along the way, the elegant horse learns dressage, Cossack trick riding, the exhilarating art of steeplechase—and the depth of his own courage. Hambleton’s compelling prose—deftly interwoven with technical realities and the emotional investment inherent in horse training, racing, care and ridership—is accompanied by a glossary of horse-world terms and evocative pencil drawings by Margaret Kauffman, a professional sculptor and horsewoman.
Lifelong equestrian Hambleton makes an impressive outing as a first-time author of juvenile fiction, weaving her knowledge and love of horses, horsemanship and the world of competitive racing into a moving narrative that will keep fellow horse-loving readers of any age enthralled.
A 17-year-old pilot with a history of crashing her craft holds a planet’s fate in her hands when a human settlement on Mars runs low on food.
Flight-obsessed Jessamyn Jaarda faces the biggest mission of her life in the fourth YA sci-fi novel from Swanson (Unfurl, 2012, etc.). Fired from pilot training for crashing one craft and praised for doing the same to another, Jess inspires unpredictable reactions in people. Maybe that’s because Jess lives, as she flies, by pure instinct, and no one knows whether that trait will enable her to save her planet when, because of potential starvation for a human settlement on Mars, she must fly to Earth on a food raid. Along with her brother, however, the red-haired teenager has the courage to attempt the mission and stick with it when it goes terribly wrong. Swanson paces this story beautifully, weaving exposition tightly into the plot as disaster interrupts everyday routines. Despite the strangeness of the Martian environment, the novel quickly establishes the humanity of Jess and other characters, as when Jess tries and fails to help her brother resist a bout of claustrophobia or when she first locks eyes with her planet’s only dog and feels something sweep through her: “A something that reminded her of taking her craft toward breaking day or of watching Phobos as the swift moon zipped across the night sky. The dog was...wondrous.” At first, Jess sees everything through the lens of her obsession with flight, but she becomes far too multifaceted, distractible and passionate to be mistaken for an archetype. Watching her grow and struggle to survive makes this book hard to put down.
A sci-fi novel that soars along with a teenage heroine whose imperfections help make her believable and endearing.
After squandering almost all of his time, 10-year-old Alto Quack sets off on a desperate journey to find the Emperor of Time and beg for some more in this inventive children’s story.
Alto, “the biggest time-waster in the 463-year history of the village of Nonesuch,” receives a painful wake-up call one morning when a mysterious old man informs him that he only has three hours left to live. The man, who introduces himself as the Keeper of Time, tells Alto that since he has “squandered millions of seconds, hundreds of thousands of hours, and untold moments on foolish trifles and frivolous vanities,” his time will soon run out and he will be given no more. When Alto tries to put some of the blame onto his parents, he’s reminded that they warned him repeatedly of the dangers of time wasted. Forced to accept responsibility for his mistakes, Alto leaves home in search of the Emperor of Time, who is the only one capable of giving Alto more time. With each second ticking away, Alto enters the Forbidden Forest where he meets an odd assortment of characters, including a dying man who tries to trade gold for time and a crowd of ghosts who teach Alto that the real cost of material things isn’t money, but time. Alto’s guide through the forest, a young girl named Tallulah, explains the origins of the piranhalike creatures that inhabit the area. The creatures are “minute munchers” and “hour devourers” that feed on wasted time. “To my little darlings,” Tallulah says, “wasted time smells like toasted marshmallows.” King’s well-thought-out story is filled with memorable characters and clever dialogue. Wood’s detailed illustrations nicely complement the story, especially when Tallulah describes the River Un; the river, she explains, is made up of “millions of things undone, because the time in which to do them was wasted.” Wood’s illustration shows a foreboding stream of achievements unachieved and memories unlived. Gloom and sadness permeate the story, fittingly, given the seriousness of the subject, but never overwhelm it thanks to Alto’s hopefulness and the unconditional love that his parents show him up until the story’s ambiguous ending.
One of life’s most important lessons is at the heart of this refreshingly original story; adults as well as elementary-age children will benefit from Alto’s journey to find time.
Author and artist Dunn turns an everyday object—a yellow umbrella—into a touching tale about the joy of giving selflessly and how small acts of compassion can transcend cultural boundaries.
Illustrated with charming simplicity, this unusual “city fable” begins with Dunn’s early memories of the real people who inspired his flowering curiosity. One of them was Lina, a little girl who wrote stories and treasured beautiful things and, as the fable begins, is the first owner of the Yellow Umbrella. He—the Yellow Umbrella—had “forgotten the rain because he had been asleep so long,” until one day he expands “into a great, flower-like circle” to protect Lina with his outstretched “arms.” Curious about the world and his purpose in it, the Yellow Umbrella talks with other worldly umbrellas stored in the hall in a Chinese Vase, who “dreams all day of the past, when she lived far away in a big house hung with silks.” After the wise Hall Mirror accurately predicts that a journey of discovery awaits the Yellow Umbrella, he’s then lost on a bus and found by Mr. Klein, a lonely watchmaker. One rainy day in the park, Mr. Klein kindly gives the umbrella to “the Lady with the Rose Hat.” And the Yellow Umbrella’s adventures continue: “a Lady from Persia" adopts the umbrella; then he finds his way to a sick young boy, who reads and sleeps under the Yellow Umbrella’s comforting canopy. The frail boy dreams that the umbrella shaded him “as he rode on his golden elephant like a Boy-King from long ago.” Throughout this gentle fairy tale, the author gives young readers a compassionate glimpse into each of the lives touched by the humble yellow traveler. When a gust of wind carries the Yellow Umbrella up into the starry night sky, he sees the city for its vastness—but also for the men, women and children whose lives he helped make better. Among the shooting stars shines the Yellow Umbrella’s remarkably rare message—aspire to kindness in the service of others.
The bighearted Yellow Umbrella discovers unexpected poignancy at a depth deeper than that of most children’s books.