No one knows why, but 1 percent of all deaths are “departures.” With U.S. troops overseas on the brink of war, they are on the rise. After receiving a Death Letter from her Death, Hercule, 16-year-old Gabriela Rivera has one week to write her Wrap-Up List of things she hopes will happen in her final days and to prepare for her departure. While she wishes for a first kiss from the popular football starting receiver and a Pardon from her fate, she also selflessly hopes for first kisses for her three best friends. Despite the seemingly moribund subject matter, Gabriela’s first-person narration gushes with dark humor. Topping everything are the Deaths themselves. These skinny, 8-foot-tall, silvery figures, which seem to move by swimming in air, have to stand in line for coffee just like mortals when awaiting a departure. As the quick but thoughtful story chronicles each day before the Latina teen’s departure, the fulfillment of the Wrap-Up List leads to many surprises, including the real cause of her grandfather’s World War II–related death and the questioning of her long-standing religious faith. But if Gabriela wants that Pardon, she needs to find out Hercule’s Noble Weakness—and fast.
In an unabashedly adulatory bio of New York Giants and later San Francisco Giants and later still New York Mets center fielder, Winter drives his point home. With folksy pen in hand, he rounds the bases and scores in this life of a Negro League and National League star. Mays could run the bases, field his position, hit, win games and wow the crowds. In this companion to You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! (illustrated by André Carrilho, 2009), the author distills a career with great skill. Special attention is given to his legendary plays, the Throw and the Catch, and other spectacular feats, with Winter either paraphrasing or quoting from radio broadcasts. Additional facts are presented in ticket-shaped sidebars. Widener’s superb acrylic paintings on chipboard capture every glorious moment, more so than the grainy black-and-white cameras of the time. And the cover?! Mays’ powerful swing is reenacted in lenticular movement. Unlike Jackie Robinson, Mays never marched in civil rights protests. He believed that he proved his worth in the ballpark, and Winter’s presentation supports this.
Say hey! An all-star gem to share with grandparents, parents, children, baseball fans and anyone else.
(author’s note, career highlights, glossary of baseball terms, online resources)
(Picture book/biography. 4-8)
In a collective act of protest and heroism, an Ohio community successfully defied the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.
In 1856, John Price and two other Kentucky slaves crossed the Ohio River to freedom in Oberlin. Like many other runaways, Price stayed there. Two years later, when slave hunters tracked him down and captured him, the citizens of the town banded together to defend him. The Fradins recount the confrontation, known as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, with its manifold legal and moral repercussions in a minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour narration. Words and illustrations combine in a fast-paced, breathless, cinematic flurry that stars genuine action heroes armed with rifles and large doses of courage and principle. Velasquez uses mixed media and oil paints to portray his characters as living and acting, never posing. Many illustrations are framed by wood strips, an effective period touch. How wonderful, too, that a double-page photograph of the Rescuers, as the Oberlin citizens came to be known, concludes the saga. Judith Fradin and her late husband, Dennis, were frequent collaborators; his Bound for the North Star (2000) is also about runaway slaves.
History made immediate and meaningful.
(author’s note, bibliography, further reading, websites)
(Informational picture book. 8-12)
An inspirational ode to the life of the great South African leader by an award-winning author and illustrator.
Mandela’s has been a monumental life, a fact made clear on the front cover, which features an imposing, full-page portrait. The title is on the rear cover. His family gave him the Xhosa name Rolihlahla, but his schoolteacher called him Nelson. Later, he was sent to study with village elders who told him stories about his beautiful and fertile land, which was conquered by European settlers with more powerful weapons. Then came apartheid, and his protests, rallies and legal work for the cause of racial equality led to nearly 30 years of imprisonment followed at last by freedom for Mandela and for all South Africans. “The ancestors, / The people, / The world, / Celebrated.” Nelson’s writing is spare, poetic, and grounded in empathy and admiration. His oil paintings on birch plywood are muscular and powerful. Dramatic moments are captured in shifting perspectives; a whites-only beach is seen through a wide-angle lens, while faces behind bars and faces beaming in final victory are masterfully portrayed in close-up.
A beautifully designed book that will resonate with children and the adults who wisely share it with them.
(author’s note, bibliography)
(Picture book/biography. 5-8)
Scanlon delivers a sweet, rhyming text to tell the story of a little bunny’s birthday in Graegin’s debut picture book.
The succinct phrasing from page to page marks this as a text for very young children just learning about birthdays and birthday parties. The text takes a natural question-and-answer format as the birthday girl asks about each activity, and her mother offers loving replies. Scenes devoted to getting dressed up, greeting guests, celebrating with music and play, blowing out birthday-cake candles, opening gifts, taking pictures and looking back at past years provide an overview of the festivities. Perhaps taking a cue from the closing line’s reference to the girl as “sweet honey bun,” Graegin casts the unnamed central characters as a family of anthropomorphic bunnies, introducing a veritable peaceable kingdom of relatives and friends who come to celebrate on the special day. Graegin’s illustrations employ pencil-and-ink washes that are then digitally assembled and colored, and they mark her as an up-and-coming artist to watch, as they evoke a style akin to that of Peter McCarty, Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Polly Dunbar.
Happy birthday to a splendid book for new birthday boys and girls.
(Picture book. 1-4)
This outstanding portrait of African-American artist Horace Pippin (1888-1946) allows Pippin’s work to shine—and his heart too.
“The colors are simple, such as brown, amber, yellow, black, white and green,” says pencil-lettered text on the front endpapers. These are Pippin’s own humble words. His art and life aren’t really simple at all, but here, they’re eminently accessible. On that spread, brush and pencil lie on overlapping off-white papers—lined, gridded, plain—decorated in pencil hatchings and a painted progression of hues between each primary color and its complement. From Pippin’s young childhood (working for pay to help his family; sketching with charcoal and paper scraps until he wins his first real art supplies in a contest), to his Army service in World War I, to the well-deserved fame that arrived only late in his life, he “couldn’t stop drawing.” When a military injury threatens Pippin’s painting ability, he tries wood burning—“[u]sing his good arm to move the hurt one”—and works his way back to painting. Sweet’s sophisticated mixed media (watercolor, gouache and collage), compositional framing, and both subdued and glowing colors pay homage to Pippin’s artistic style and sometimes re-create his pieces. Bryant’s text is understated, letting Pippin’s frequent quotations glimmer along with the art. Backmatter provides exceptional resources, including artwork locations.
A splash of vibrancy about a self-taught master.
(historical note, author’s note, illustrator’s note, references)
(Picture book/biography. 5-11)
Returning to themes she explored so affectingly in Moon Over Manifest (2011), Newbery Medalist Vanderpool delivers another winning picaresque about memories, personal journeys, interconnectedness—and the power of stories.
Thirteen-year-old Jack enters boarding school in Maine after his mother’s death at the end of World War II. He quickly befriends Early Auden, a savant whose extraordinary facility with numbers allows him to “read” a story about “Pi” from the infinite series of digits that follow 3.14. Jack accompanies Early in one of the school crew team’s rowing boats on what Jack believes is his friend’s fruitless quest to find a great bear allegedly roaming the wilderness—and Early’s brother, a legendary figure reportedly killed in battle. En route, Early spins out Pi’s evolving saga, and the boys encounter memorable individuals and adventures that uncannily parallel those in the stories. Vanderpool ties all these details, characters, and Jack’s growing maturity and self-awareness together masterfully and poignantly, though humor and excitement leaven the weighty issues the author and Jack frequently pose. Some exploits may strain credulity; Jack’s self-awareness often seems beyond his years, and there are coincidences that may seem too convenient. It’s all of a piece with Vanderpool’s craftsmanship. Her tapestry is woven and finished off seamlessly. The ending is very moving, and there’s a lovely, last-page surprise that Jack doesn’t know but that readers will have been tipped off about.
Navigating this stunning novel requires thought and concentration, but it’s well worth the effort.
(author’s note, with questions and answers, list of resources)
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
Cheng follows on the Caldecott Honor–winning Dave the Potter, by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier (2010), to further open up the fascinating life of the enslaved potter named Dave for children.
Records indicate Dave, who was born in the United States in 1801, was most likely purchased at a slave auction at age 17 by Harvey Drake, who, with his uncles, held the Pottersville Stoneware Manufactory in South Carolina. Dave took to the wheel within weeks and went on to become one of the most accomplished potters in the region. Cheng’s spare free-verse poems masterfully highlight the repeated hardships Dave endured: being relocated no fewer than four times when loaned or sold to a new owner; losing two wives when their owners forced them to move to different states; losing his leg after being hit by a train; and, in the face of severe anti-literacy laws designed to keep slaves down, bravely creating art that “etched in clay” his ability to read and write. Says Dave: “I am not afraid / to write on a jar / and fire it hot / so my word / can never be erased.” Combining visual art with poetry as Dave did, Cheng includes her own striking woodcuts, illustrating both Dave’s experiences and his artistry.
At once intimate and universal; the riveting story of an unforgettable life lived during an unbelievable time. (Verse biography. 9 & up)
Weaving legacy and myth into science and magic, old into new and enemies into friends, Blakemore creates an exquisite mystery.
Crystal Springs, Maine, “isn’t on the map,” but it’s still where Price, Ephraim and Brynn’s mother brings their family when their father has a stroke. The “looming stone house” with hidden floors and impossible rooms, owned by their family (the Appledores) for over a century, was once a resort that claimed its spring water had healing properties—possibly a fountain of youth. Ephraim struggles to fit in at Crystal Springs’ peculiarly overachieving school; his classmate Mallory steels herself against her mother’s recent departure and her teacher’s assignment to study Matthew Henson (“He just assumed she would want to do him, because Henson was black too”). While Mallory, Ephraim and another sixth-grader named Will unravel the castle’s secrets (each for different reasons, all serious) and confront age-old hostility among their families, a 1908 storyline unfolds: Young Nora Darling (Mallory’s relative) assists old Orlando Appledore in feverish scientific research. Peary and Henson’s Arctic expedition features in both timelines; science, history and literature references glow; Nikola Tesla visits Nora and Orlando. With keen intelligence and bits of humor, the prose slips calmly between narrative perspectives, trusting readers to pick up a revelation that Ephraim and Mallory don’t see—and it’s a doozy.
Making unusually entertaining use of well-worn elements, this series opener plops a dense but promising young wizard-in-training between a pair of obnoxious rival mages.
Left by his stepparents to die in the dangerous Urwald, Jinx is rescued by Simon Magus, a “possibly evil” forest-dwelling wizard whose obsession with magical research is matched only by a truly profound lack of people skills. Several years later, having learned a little magic but also injured by one of Simon’s spells, Jinx stomps off in a rage to seek help. But hardly has he fallen in with a couple of ensorcelled fellow travelers, than all three fall into the clutches of the genial but rightly feared Bonemaster. Along with setting this adventuresome outing in a sentient forest populated by trolls, werewolves and giddy witches who bound about in butter churns, the pseudonymous Blackwood spins out lively dialogue threaded with comical rudeness and teasing. Trotting out a supporting cast whose inner characters are often at thought-provoking odds with their outer seeming, she also puts her central three through a string of suspenseful, scary situations before delivering a properly balanced closing set of resolutions, revelations and road signs to future episodes.
Unsurprisingly, Jinx displays hints of developing powers beyond the ordinary. Astonishingly, he and his world still seem fresh, for all that they echo familiar tropes.
Bean sets aside the urban setting of his Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner, At Night (2007), in this homage to his back-to-the-land parents, who built his childhood home in the 1970s.
Told from the perspective of Bean’s older sister, the story revels in the practical work of house-building, demystifying the stages of construction in a matter-of-fact, engaging tone. The oversized, portrait format echoes the height of the house the family builds, but front endpapers first show a vast, rural landscape in the foreground of which lies the “weedy field Dad and Mom bought from a farmer.” Frontmatter depicts them packing and leaving the city. Ensuing spreads detail how they live in a trailer on their new property while slowly building the house: setting the corners of the foundation; digging out the basement; gathering rocks and using them in the foundation; measuring, marking and cutting timber for the frame; and so on. The scene depicting a frame-raising party situates the little homesteading family in a loving community of relatives and friends who gather to help; then, right after they all move in, the family grows when both Mom and the pet cat have babies. Throughout, the watercolor-and-ink illustrations invite close examination for narrative details such as these while also providing ample visual information about construction.
Raise the roof for this picture book. It’s something special.
(Picture book. 3-8)
The fascinating untold story of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, America’s first black paratroopers.
While white American soldiers battled Hitler’s tyranny overseas, African-Americans who enlisted to fight for their country faced the tyranny of racial discrimination on the homefront. Segregated from white soldiers and relegated to service duties and menial tasks, enlisted black men faced what Ashley Bryan calls in the foreword “the racism that was our daily fare at the time.” When 1st Sgt. Walter Morris, whose men served as guards at The Parachute School at Fort Benning, saw white soldiers training to be paratroopers, he knew his men would have to train and act like them to be treated like soldiers. Daring initiative and leadership led to the creation of the “Triple Nickles.” Defying the deeply ingrained stereotypes of the time, the Triple Nickles proved themselves as capable and tough as any white soldiers, but they were never used in combat, serving instead as smoke jumpers extinguishing Japanese-ignited forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. Stone’s richly layered narrative explores the cultural and institutional prejudices of the time as well as the history of African-Americans in the military. Her interviews with veterans of the unit provide groundbreaking insight. Among the archival illustrations in this handsomely designed book are drawings Bryan created while he served in World War II.
An exceptionally well-researched, lovingly crafted and important tribute to unsung American heroes.
(photographs, chronology, sources note, bibliography)
(Nonfiction. 10 & up)
In a taut, unusual fable, narrator Rudy's family has moved to a remote island where a rare species of fish has magical healing properties when eaten.
Rudy is glad to see his brother Dylan's cystic fibrosis symptoms clear up, but he finds the island stifling. Then he discovers that there are two other teenagers on the island: Diana Delaney, who rarely leaves her home, and the fishboy. Human from the waist up and sporting a bedraggled fish tail below, Teeth describes himself wryly as “their dirty secret.” Whose? The islanders'? The Delaneys'? The cruel, miserly fishermen's? As Rudy becomes closer to the fishboy, he not only learns disturbing truths about the island's history, but also becomes embroiled in a fundamental conflict: To the islanders, the fish are salvation; to Teeth, the fish are family. Short paragraphs, evocative imagery, and simple, sometimes curse-laden sentences give the story a breathless feel. Rudy's choices are impulsive but believable, and the consequences for both betraying Dylan and betraying Teeth are immediate and physically brutal. Throughout, the book leaves unanswered the question of what Rudy ought, morally, to do, and the nature of Rudy's intense emotional attachment to the fishboy is similarly ambiguous.
Provocative, unsettling, complex and multilayered.
In the adultless land of Hokey Pokey, a dry, sandy environment reminiscent of the Southwest, children arrive when they’ve outgrown diapers and receive a ticklish tattoo of an eye on their abdomens. At midday they line up for a serving of hokey pokey, an ice treat in any flavor imaginable. The rest of their day is spent playing, watching a giant television with nonstop cartoons or riding bicycles, which are horselike creatures that roll in herds and can buck their owners off at will. In this inventive, modern fable, Jack awakens with a bad feeling that’s realized when his legendary Scramjet bike is stolen by Jubilee, a girl no less, and his tattoo has started to fade. As he searches for his bike and the reason why “[t]he world is rushing at him, confusing him, alarming him,” he recalls The Story about The Kid who grew up and hinted at tomorrow, an unrecognizable place to children. With nods to J.M. Barrie, Dr. Seuss and Philip Pullman, Newbery Medalist Spinelli crafts stunning turns of phrase as Jack “unfunks” and tries to “dehappen” the day’s events. While reluctantly accepting his growing up, Jack brings Hokey Pokey’s bully to justice, suddenly finds Jubilee an interesting companion and prepares his Amigos for his imminent departure.
A masterful, bittersweet recognition of coming-of-age. (Fiction. 10-13, adult)
A teen girl grapples movingly with maternal abandonment, sexuality and identity.
Anna is the center of her young mother’s world: “Now I have everything,” she tells wee Anna repeatedly. Eventually, her devotion to single motherhood proves insufficient to address her own abandonment issues. Anna’s mom begins to date, marry and divorce a series of faceless men in a depressing and self-defeating cycle that leaves her pre-pubescent daughter totally unmoored. Now middle school–aged, Anna is alone for days at a time in an empty suburban house, and she drifts into a series of precociously sexual encounters that she thinks will give her the “everything” she wants so badly. As much a user of boys as she is used by them, Anna is often sad but rarely self-pitying, finding ways to cope with loneliness and the self-sufficiency her neglectful mother has thrust upon her: stretching the grocery money, keeping the television on for company, building an enviable thrift-shop wardrobe. Friendship with Toy, a similarly wounded connoisseur of fashion and boys, leads Anna to look for something bigger and better in her relationships. The final third of the story moves a bit fast, but it works, and Anna is so compellingly flawed and quietly winning that readers won’t quibble.
Haunting, frank and un-put-downable.
Giff is one of few writers who can entwine an odd lot of characters, set them in Brooklyn during World War II, flavor the story with soup recipes, add a ghost and infuse the plot with a longing for family—and make it all believable.
When Jayna’s brother leaves for submarine duty, she’s left to stay with their cranky landlady (their parents died in a car accident). She remembers an old, blue recipe book inscribed with a name and address in Brooklyn and becomes convinced the woman in a photo standing in front of a bakery named Gingersnap (her nickname) is her grandmother. With her pet box turtle, Theresa, in a cat carrier and the recipe book in her suitcase, she takes a bus into New York City and the subway to Brooklyn. Through a series of misfortunes, she finds the bakery and its owner, Elise. Is Elise her grandmother? Will Rob return from the war? Who is the ghost wearing Jayna’s toenail polish with only her hands and feet visible, and can she connect with Rob? Will Theresa survive? Jayna’s eight tasty soup recipes befit the circumstances as they unfold: Don’t-Think-About-It Soup, Hope Soup, Waiting Soup and so forth. The author’s note to readers refers to her own childhood war memories, lending dimension to the characters and plot. Unfortunately, the cover image of a girl with a suitcase walking by brownstone houses won’t entice readers, though the story itself is riveting.
While the outcome is foreseeable, Jayna’s journey is a memorable one
. (Historical fiction. 9-12)
In 1871, in the small town of Placid, Wis., a sister goes missing and a great adventure begins.
Disconsolate over the end of a promising courtship, Agatha Burkhardt runs off without so much as a goodbye to her younger sister, Georgie. When the sheriff attempts to locate and retrieve Agatha, he brings home not the vibrant sister that Georgie adores, but an unidentifiable body wearing Agatha’s ball gown. Alone in her belief that the body is not her sister’s, Georgie sneaks away in the dead of night, determined to retrace Agatha’s steps in order to solve the mystery of her disappearance and, she hopes, to bring her home. To Georgie's surprise, she’s joined on the journey by her sister’s former flame. And what a journey it is, fraught with mountain lions, counterfeiters and marriage proposals. The truly memorable characters and setting—particularly descriptions of the incredible phenomenon of passenger-pigeon nesting and migration—and the gradual unraveling of the mystery of Agatha’s disappearance make this one hard to put down. The icing on the cake, though, is Georgie’s narration, which is fresh, laugh-out-loud funny and an absolute delight to read.
Georgie's story will capture readers' imaginations with the very first sentences and then hold them hostage until the final page is turned.
(Historical fiction. 9-12)
Little Sophie gleefully makes mischief until Granny cleverly responds in this soon-to-be favorite about the joys of raising (and being) a toddler.
Sophie greets readers on the title page, a bibbed mouse awaiting a meal. With this seemingly innocuous image, Wells makes readers Sophie’s accomplices—the bib suggests innocence, while her impish expression forebodes trouble of the hilarious kind. Tonight, Sophie happily throws her dinner on the floor. Gently but firmly, Mama chides her and makes more. The throwing becomes exuberant, and it’s time-out for Sophie. Daddy fares no better when his adorable daughter wants to help with laundry. Folded clothes are tipped; on the second try they’re flying, leading to another time-out. But when Sophie asks for a book and then takes Grandma’s glasses repeatedly, it’s Granny who goes into time-out. With the tables turned on the puckish toddler, Sophie re-evaluates. Wells’ signature mixed-media illustrations are at their best: playful, fresh, deceptively simple yet intricately rendered and absolutely revealing. A bespectacled Sophie’s self-satisfaction while Granny extends a gentle and patient hand; the loving tenderness Sophie shows when placing the glasses on Granny’s nose; the cuddly deliciousness of the two reading together—all affirm Wells’ skill at depicting family relationships and their attendant challenges and joys.
Readers will clamor for more of the irrepressible Sophie, while parents will secretly smile—sheer delight.
(Picture book. 2-5)
Hooray, this companion to Polar Bear Night (2004) is as charming and attractive as its predecessor.
With the same spare textual sensibility, limited palette and blocky linocut prints, the story picks up where the first ended, with a new day and the freshness of morning. When a polar-bear cub awakens and peeks out at the snow, ice and blue sky, she hears the faraway call of sea gulls and clambers out into the day. She sets off across the snow and ice and meets a snow cub, nose-to-nose (literally). This is dramatically illustrated with a profile view of their heads and noses covering a full double-page spread. The pair frolic, climb, tumble and jump into the sea together—new friends. The deceptive simplicity of the playful graphic design masks great sophistication. Clever composition conveys the rambunctiousness of the cubs, while the many hues of blue showcase the background (even an underwater scene); two dawn-pink spreads surprise readers pleasantly.
It’s crystal clear, this is another winner.
(Picture book. 3-5)
Can an oft-rejected orphan settle into the stable, loving home of a pair of gentle sisters who are retired missionaries to Africa?
Twelve-year-old Wilma Sue’s been bounced from home to home in her short life. Now it’s hard for her to believe she even deserves a real home. In a winsomely attractive first-person narration, she relates her growing wonder with Ruth, a social activist, and Naomi, who bakes cakes that are somehow infused with magic. Naomi brings the cakes to deserving members of their tightknit community, each confection perfectly matched to its needy recipient. The sisters also keep chickens that move from being Wilma Sue’s responsibility to her calling. Penny, a girl who lives just down the street seems like the only obstruction to happiness. In many ways, she is more damaged than Wilma Sue, struggling to satisfy her widowed mother’s unmet needs, an impossible task. Magnin maintains a delicate balance between a fablelike fantasy and reality fiction as Wilma Sue gradually discovers that not only is she eminently worthy of love, but that she can also help the people around her by loving them. Wilma’s captivating, clever language and short declarative sentences perfectly exemplify her wary but reverential view of the world.
Although the message is sometimes spelled out instead of implied, it’s a minor flaw in this worthy, heartwarming effort. (Fantasy. 10-15)
A vivid depiction of the issues and tensions surrounding abolition and the development of Lincoln’s responses to them as the United States plunged into the Civil War.
From the first, Bolden adopts a personal voice that infuses her narrative with urgency—“Over the years, we rejoiced when a Northern state abolished the abomination. We agonized when a slave state entered the union.” The account opens with scenes of hushed abolitionist vigils as the hour that the proclamation would officially go into effect approaches; it closes with glimpses of the joyous celebrations that followed. In between, the author tracks rising tides of both rhetoric and violence, as well as the evolution of President Abraham Lincoln’s determined efforts to forge a policy that would serve military, political and moral necessities alike. Along with relevant sections of the Constitution and the final proclamation’s full text (both with glosses), the author adds to her narrative a heavy infusion of impassioned rhetoric from contemporary writers and orators. These, plus a spectacular set of big, sharply reproduced prints, photos and paintings, offer cogent insights into major events and the overall tenor of the public discourse.
A convincing, handsomely produced argument that the proclamation, for all its acknowledged limitations, remains a watershed document.
(endnotes, bibliography, extensive timeline)