A striking glimpse into Chinese girlhood during the 1970s and ’80s.
Beginning with a breathtaking dream of riding a golden crane over the city of Wuhan, China, Liu Na, recounts her subsequent waking only to discover that Chairman Mao has passed away. The 3-year-old finds this difficult to process and understand, although she is soon caught up in the somber mood of the event. From there, her life unfolds in short sketches. With this intimate look at her childhood memories, Liu skillfully weaves factual tidbits into the rich tapestry of her life. In the section titled “The Four Pests,” she explains about the four pests that plague China—the rat, the fly, the mosquito and the cockroach (with an additional explanation of how the sparrow once made this list, and why it is no longer on it)—and her stomach-turning school assignment to catch rats and deliver the severed tails to her teacher. In “Happy New Year! The Story of Nian the Monster,” she explains the origins of Chinese New Year, her favorite holiday, and her own vivid, visceral reflections of it: the sights, sounds and smells. Extraordinary and visually haunting, there will be easy comparisons to Allen Say’s Drawing from Memory (2011); think of this as the female counterpart to that work.
Beautifully drawn and quietly evocative. (glossary, timeline, author biography, translations of Chinese characters, maps)(Graphic memoir. 9-12)
Robbing the rich and punishing the privileged, Robin Hood and his band return in a series of nine episodes gracefully retold and beautifully designed to appeal to modern readers.
From the archery contest that sent Robin into life as an outlaw in Sherwood Forest to his probable deathbed, each chapter begins with a portion of a traditional ballad rendered in modern English. British poet and playwright Calcutt’s thoughtful selections from early accounts will introduce young readers to key events and familiar characters. His lively dialogue and fast-paced action will keep them engaged. For those curious to know more about Robin’s 13th-century world, helpful backmatter includes explanations of outlaws and their longbows, the role of women, sheriffs, and medieval jails, among other topics. The whole is impressively presented on pale-yellow or blue-green pages with a variety of underlying designs and gilt decoration; illustrations range from double-page spreads of battle to portraits and images of small animals cavorting below the text. This atmospheric artwork was painted and drawn in acrylic, watercolors and ink, then “combined, blended and composed in Photoshop with photography and scanned natural textures.” The flat effect, suggestive of anime and the work of Dave McKean, heightens the sense that readers are looking into a different, long-ago world.
Sure to attract new followers for a perennially popular hero.
(research and bibliography)
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.
Solid (sometimes writhing) proof that the scariest zombie flicks have nothing on Nature.
To demonstrate that there are indeed real zombies—“closer than you think”—Johnson (Journey into the Deep, 2010; iPad app, 2011) introduces a select set of fungi, worms, viruses and wasps that invade the bodies and take over the brains of their victims. Enhanced by large and often deliciously disturbing color photos, her descriptions of each parasite’s life cycle is both specific and astonishing; not only does the fungus O. unilateralis force a carpenter ant to clamp itself to a leaf (before sending a long reproductive stalk out of its head) for instance, it even somehow strengthens the ant’s mouth muscles. The author tracks similarly focused physical and behavioral changes not just in insects, but in other creatures too, including rabies-infected mammals. Lest human readers feel left out of the picture, she mentions the protozoan T. gondii, which causes rats to engage in reckless behavior and also has infected up to a quarter of all the adults and teens in this country. In each chapter, Johnson reports back on conversations with scientists engaged in relevant research, and she closes with a quick look at telling signs in the fossil record.
Science writing at its grossest and best, though as the title (not to mention the blood-spattered pages) warns, not for the squeamish.
(author's note, glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index)
When a troubled runaway arrives in an isolated Chinese village where the moon has disappeared, he initiates a quest to find the missing orb and resolve his past.
Escaping from home in a merchant’s cart, Rendi’s abandoned in the Village of Clear Sky, where the innkeeper hires him as chore boy. Bad-tempered and insolent, Rendi hates Clear Sky, but he has no way of leaving the sad village where every night the sky moans and the moon has vanished. The innkeeper’s bossy daughter irritates Rendi. He wonders about the innkeeper’s son who’s disappeared and about peculiar old Mr. Shan, who confuses toads with rabbits. When mysterious Madame Chang arrives at the inn, her storytelling transports Rendi. She challenges him to contribute his own stories, in which he gradually reveals his identity as son of a wealthy magistrate. Realizing there’s a connection between Madame Chang’s stories and the missing moon, Rendi assumes the hero’s mantle, transforming himself from a selfish, self-focused boy into a thoughtful young man who learns the meaning of home, harmony and forgiveness. Lin artfully wraps her hero’s story in alternating layers of Chinese folklore, providing rich cultural context. Detailed, jewel-toned illustrations and spot art reminiscent of Chinese painting highlight key scenes and themes and serve as the focus of an overall exquisite design.
A worthy companion to Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2009).
(author's note, bibliography of Chinese folk tales)
An orphaned boy in Russia survives as a member of a pack of dogs.
Ivan is only 4 years old when he runs away to the streets of Moscow. At first, he is taken in by a scruffy group of children under one adult’s control. They live in the subway stations, begging and stealing food. He soon befriends and is adopted by a small group of dogs and becomes one of them. They survive on the trains in the winter and in the forest during the summer. Ivan keeps a button belonging to his (probably dead) mother as a talisman and remembers the fairy tales she read to him. Increasingly, his time with the dogs provides nourishment for both his hungry belly and his soul. Threats are ever present in the form of police, gangs of teens and wild animals in the forest. Two years later he is captured, and after months of care, he regains his humanness. Pyron has based her story on magazine articles about a Russian feral child, one of hundreds of thousands whose lives were disrupted by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. She presents Ivan’s story as a first-person narrative in beautifully composed writing enhanced by Ivan’s visual acuity and depth of emotion.
Terrifying, life-affirming and memorable.
(author’s note, bibliography)
Left in a Minnesota cabin when their grandfather is hospitalized with encephalitis, 13-year-old Pride and her younger siblings struggle to be self-reliant, but after a bus trip to Duluth to see him, they realize they will have to seek and accept help.
When their grandfather went off to see the doctor, the orphaned Star family—Pride, Nightingale and Baby—had just become accustomed to life with reclusive Old Finn, so different from their commune in New Mexico. They knew he wouldn’t want anyone to learn they were on their own. To make money for food, they sell crafts and pony rides to tourists, attracting unwanted attention. Against the backdrop of the last few days of Nixon’s administration in 1974, narrator Pride compares her own need to lie to Nixon’s self-justification even as Nightingale insists on honesty. Unusually, this family survival story is also a story of love between two older adults. Through letters Pride reads, readers learn that before he became a surrogate parent, her grandfather loved someone named Justine. Courageous and resourceful, the children track her down. More realistic than many children-on-their-own adventures, the resolution may strain adult credulity. Compelling character development (in adults as well as children) and authentic language fitting the setting add to the strength of this story.
Family loyalty, stubbornness and love in an implausible but totally satisfying blend.
(Historical fiction. 10-14)
When a stone giant is found on a farm in upstate New York, William Newell sees the chance to get rich quickly.
On October 16, 1869, in Cardiff, N.Y., Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols went to William Newell’s farm to dig a well. After a few hours of hard digging, they hit stone and eventually unearthed a 10-foot stone man, so anatomically detailed that examiners suggested a fig leaf in case the “unclothed giant might provoke the village women to have sinful thoughts.” Was it an “old Indian”? A Stone Giant of Onondaga legend? A petrified man? Farmer Newell capitalized on the “discovery,” and before long, lines of people were paying good money for the chance to see the marvel, demonstrating that Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff were not the first to make money on people’s will to believe. Murphy effectively recreates the place and times that made the Cardiff Giant famous, building on solid and well-documented research. A generous mix of newspaper illustrations, carnival posters and photographs lend a period feeling to the thoroughly engaging volume.
After reading this fascinating story, young people will appreciate the old expression, spawned by this very hoax, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (research notes, source notes, bibliography, photo credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
An intelligent examination of food that probes how it is produced, procured and delivered to consumers—or not.
While many Americans and citizens of other wealthy nations take food for granted because of its abundance and availability in seemingly endless variety year-round, millions elsewhere, even in the United States, fare terribly. Gay explores the topic of food as a commodity in a way young readers have perhaps never encountered. Writing with skill, clarity and a finely tuned sense of fairness on all sides of issues, she conveys what a complicated business getting food to the table is. The word business is not to be underestimated, as today’s food culture involves multinational corporations in addition to governments and politics, science and technology, and the environment and global warming. Excellent color photographs and illuminating, easy-to-understand charts and diagrams enhance readers’ comprehension. Some of this may be difficult to digest: Descriptions of the treatment of food animals before and after slaughter and the handling of industrial waste might turn some stomachs; photos of starving youngsters are heart-wrenching. Yet the outlook isn’t completely dire. Gay points to optimistic news, such as the sustainable-agriculture movement, for example. Documentation is sound, though the bibliography offers few child-friendly titles—which perhaps speaks to this book’s singularity.
A sobering, thought-provoking discussion that provides, yes, much food for thought.
(glossary, source notes, bibliography, websites, index)
(Nonfiction. 12 & up)
Addressing the appetites of readers “hungry for role models,” this presents compellingly oratorical pictures of the lives and characters of 10 African-American men who exemplify a “birthright of excellence.”
Each of the chronologically arranged chapters opens with a tone-setting praise song and a commanding close-up portrait. From Benjamin Banneker, whose accusatory letter to slaveholder Thomas Jefferson “socked it straight / to the secretary of state,” to Barack Obama, who “turned Yes, we can! into a celebration call,” the gallery is composed of familiar names. Instead of rehashing well-chewed biographical fodder, though, the author dishes up incidents that shaped and tested her subjects’ moral and intellectual fiber along with achievements that make her chosen few worth knowing and emulating. Carping critics may quibble about the occasional arguable fact and an implication that Rosa Parks’ protest was spontaneous, but like Malcolm X, Pinkney has such “a hot-buttered way with words” that her arguments are as convincing as they are forceful, and her prose, rich as it is in rolling cadences and internal rhymes, never waxes mannered or preachy.
A feast for readers whose eyes are (or should be) on the prize, in a volume as well-turned-out as the dapper W.E.B. Dubois, who was “more handsome than a fresh-cut paycheck.” (timeline, index, lists of recommended reading and viewing) (Collective biography. 10-15)
A noted Native American artist interprets the early life of Buffalo Bird Woman, Waheenee-wea, one of the last of the Hidatsa to live according to old traditions.
Using material from his subject’s own reminiscences, published by an anthropologist in the early 20th century, Lakota painter and biographer Nelson describes Buffalo Bird’s village childhood. Each section begins with a quote from her own story. Born around 1840, “three years after the smallpox winter,” the girl grew up in Like-a-Fishhook Village high over the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota. There, for nine months of each year, she lived with her family in an earth-mound lodge. She describes helping her aunts and grandmother with traditional household and garden tasks, visiting a trading center, playing with other children and her dog, and a Lakota attack. During winter’s worst weather, villagers retreated to temporary lodges in the woodlands, where they ate stored food. The extraordinary illustration of this handsome volume begins with the endpaper maps and features acrylic paintings of the Hidatsa world reminiscent of traditional Plains Indian art. Pencil drawings and relevant, carefully labeled photographs round out the exquisite design. All the artwork both supports and adds to the text. An extensive author’s note and timeline supplement this beautiful tribute.
Pair with Nelson’s Gift Horse (1999) for a broad vision of Plains Indian childhood.
(notes, bibliography, index)
(Informational picture book. 7-12)
Time travel, an Arctic ice shelf and frivolous elves converge in this second installment of The Books of Beginning.
Siblings Kate, Michael and Emma were lauded for successfully battling evil in The Emerald Atlas (2011), but soon afterward, their trusted confidant, Dr. Pym, redeposited them in a decrepit orphanage without explanation. After several months, a foreboding black cloud rolls in, catapulting the children into action. Kate escapes to 1899 Manhattan via the previous book’s titular atlas, while Michael and Emma are miraculously plucked from danger by Pym. So sets the stage for Kate’s mission to rejoin her siblings and for Michael and Emma’s journey to a secreted, lush valley in Antarctica to seek a second magic book, the Chronicle. The children aren’t strangers to magic, but their awe of magical places, allies and enemies does anything but wane here (it’s hard to be ho-hum when entranced by elves, pursued by a dragon and combatting trolls). A third-person-omniscient narration alternates between Kate and Michael, but Michael, the meekest child (and destined keeper of the Chronicle), is the primary focus as he struggles to find a fiery strength within himself. With no rest for the children, the ending is anything but a fading ember as Emma is kidnapped, separating the trio once again and setting the stage for Book 3.
Irreverent humor and swashbuckling adventure collide in a fetching fantasy.
A haunting fable inflected with mythological and fairy-tale motifs finds two sisters abandoned by their parents in conflict with each other.
Summer, 12, and Bird, 9, live an idyllic life with their ornithologist father, their mother and their cat. When they wake one morning to find parents and cat gone, there is just an enigmatic "picture letter" from their mother left behind. Into the woods they go to find them, their fright exacerbating the resentments that normally exist between sisters. Bird finds the way into Down, a place of magic, and Summer follows, but soon they are tragically separated, and each must blunder along on her own. Their mother, it turns out, is queen of the birds, in human form since their father stole her swan robe. The evil Puppeteer craves her power, to have bird language and wings, and she cozens Bird into her service, White Witch–like. The girls’ physical journeys are metaphors for their emotional ones, the helpers and adversaries they meet as strange and as complicated as their psyches. The author balances this meticulous, symbol-rich narrative with a light, storyteller's voice, posing questions that readers must answer for themselves. At its heart, it is a story of love and imperfection, and of the necessity of embracing both.
"The way a story is told has power," the narrator asserts; Catmull’s languorously beautiful telling is puissant indeed.
Young Mr. Snicket seems to always ask the wrong questions.
In the basin of a bay drained of seawater, where giant needles extract ink from octopi underground, sits Stain’d-by-the-Sea, the mostly deserted town where 12-year-old Lemony Snicket takes his first case as apprentice to chaperone S. Theodora Markson. They have been hired by Mrs. Murphy Sallis to retrieve a vastly valuable statue of the local legend, the Bombinating Beast, from her neighbors and frenemies the Mallahans. Nothing’s what it seems…well, the adults are mostly nitwits…and Snicket is usually preoccupied with someone he left in the city doing something he should be helping her do. With the help and/or hindrance of girls Moxie and Ellington, can Snicket keep his promises and come close to solving a mystery? Author Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) returns with a tale of fictional-character Snicket’s early years, between his unconventional education and his chronicling of the woes of the Baudelaires. Intact from his earlier series are the gothic wackiness, linguistic play and literary allusions. This first in a series of four is less grim and cynical and more noir and pragmatic than Snicket’s earlier works, but just as much fun.
Fans of the Series of Unfortunate Events will be in heaven picking out tidbit references to the tridecalogy, but readers who’ve yet to delve into that well of sadness will have no problem enjoying this weird and witty yarn
. (Mystery. 8-12)
A surprisingly thorough and accessible journey into the possibilities of life outside of planet Earth.
It must be a marketing strategy, for both the title and the cover of Brake’s book lead one to think this will be a jokester-ish foray into intergalactic bioweirdness. And the design—with its hot colors and snippets of text housed in tons of boxes and drawings of aliens with eyes on stalks or eyes like licorice Necco wafers—suggests whimsy or frivolity. But no, this is actually a fairly serious grounding in just what we understand it means to be alive—"life," after all, hasn’t exactly been nailed down—and what that means when contemplating life in the great beyond. The information comes in bite-sized nuggets that can’t go very deep, but it is arresting and runs between biology and astronomy. Each two-page topic tackles the importance of microbeasts or thoughts on the evolution of language or the composition of planets—some made of diamonds, others gas or rock or fire or ocean. There is a bit on the role of wobbly stars and the critical juncture of the Goldilocks Zone and the promising environment of red dwarfs. There is just a whole lot here on biology both terrestrial and astral, in language that is upbeat and concise and with artwork that is good fun.
Sharp extraterrestrial inquiry—and a lesson in not judging a book by its cover.