The pointlessness of war, powerfully told despite having no words.
Two squat soldiers, one dressed in electric blue, the other in fluorescent orange, spy on each other from across a field by peering through their spyglasses. (Clever circle die cuts in the cover show readers exactly what each soldier sees through his lens.) The dumpy, little men sit, watch and wait. An incident involving a small snail escalates into a huge argument, but even then, they don’t attack. They just yell and shake their fists (black cartoon scribbles enliven the fury). Seasons pass, and snow and rain pour down, but still, the men watch and wait. Until one day a bird, half blue and half orange, finally forces them to come face to face. The two soldiers, Waterloo and Trafalgar, realize they are not as different as they thought. In an added twist, when the perspective pans out to show the full surroundings, readers gain a delightful, surprising insight. Tallec excels in expression; every movement, from scrunched-up anger to an exuberant grin, is meticulously planned, and these funny little soldiers show a wide range of emotion.
It is a truism that children represent the future—engaging stories about conflict resolution are necessary, and this one stands out.
(Picture book. 5-10)
An absorbing introduction to anthropological facial reconstruction.
Deem introduces five particular individuals and four other specific burial sites in North America where remains and archaeological contexts offer clues to the identities of the dead. He explores how people who were poor or enslaved or at war lost their lives in ways that left them forgotten or unknown. Seeing their faces reconstructed from the skull remains is compelling and moving in and of itself and provides a vehicle for us to understand more deeply who they might have been when alive. From the remains of Nevada’s Spirit Cave Man, discovered in the 1940s (and in the 1990s realized to be 10,500 years old) to the burial grounds of poor and enslaved people in New York and immigrant Chinese miners in Wyoming, Deem’s straightforward prose and consistently precise and respectful approach make this exceptionally readable as history as well as science. The photos, especially of the skulls, casts, masks and diagrams used in the work of reconstruction, are clear and sharp. Diagrams and archival photos are also provided. Sidebars offer additional information and sometimes serve as segues to historical accounts that expand on the narratives, though the book’s design means that readers must occasionally jump past this supplementary material over a page turn in order to follow the narrative. Extensive, comprehensive backmatter includes detailed acknowledgments as well as footnotes and sources for further inquiry.
The tenderness a child feels for his new puppy seeps from the pages of a book sure to be instantly beloved.
“I carried him in my old baby blanket, which was soft and midnight blue, and we were new together and I was very, very careful not to slip in the snow and I thought about his name.” Charley Korn is the puppy; the young narrator is Henry Korn. Hest’s stream-of-consciousness sentences are interspersed with short, declarative statements and bits of dialogue, creating a dreamy, lyrical cadence. Oxenbury’s pencil-and-watercolor illustrations are infused with softness and warmth, depicting the loving bond between boy and dog. Even the design of the book, with text and pictures set within wide borders on each page, inspires a feeling of intimacy. Once home, Henry shows Charley around ("This is home, Charley") and recounts his parents’ expectations, including the one where Charley will sleep in the kitchen—alone—forever. Henry dutifully arranges Charley’s bed, but the nighttime crying begins. After the second rescue, Henry shows Charley his room, where Charley wants to be put on Henry’s bed—or so Henry interprets. Thus the two spend the night, predictably the first of many, cuddled together.
Be forewarned: Youngsters will find Charley as irresistible as Henry does and will no doubt beg for puppies of their own.
(Picture book. 4-8)
The small owl with big eyes and equally outsized heart makes new friends on a nocturnal outing.
Discovering that their view of the sky has been blocked by tree leaves, Owly and his little vermiform housemate march out to set up their new telescope on a woodland hilltop. When heavy rains drive them into a cave that night, and eerie “Clickety skreeeeeeeee” noises send them scrambling back out, the telescope goes missing. This prompts Owly to screw his courage to the sticking place, leave his shivering buddy behind and set off on a search. As in Owly’s previous picture-book (Friends All Aflutter, 2011) and graphic-novel appearances, the tale is told in big, easy-to-grasp sequential cartoons, with wordless pictures and signs in balloons creating a nonverbal language that serves just fine in place of narration or dialogue. Owly returns in triumph with not only the telescope, but a set of friendly bats to explain the scary sound effects. In a final bit of both plot and emotional resolution, Wormy’s fear of the dark is transformed to delight as the camp’s candle is blown out, and the seemingly empty skies overhead suddenly blaze with stars.
Young readers and pre-readers alike will respond strongly to the tale’s elemental drama and clearly defined emotional arc.
(Graphic picture book. 2-5)
Hollywood headliner Ross, who shepherded to the big screen blockbusters such as Big, Seabiscuit, Pleasantville and, most recently, The Hunger Games, here takes flight with his first poetic venture involving a bedsheet, a boy and a whole lot of imagination.
When a magical “Grandaddy of Winds” blows through the town of Fairview, 10-year-old Bartholomew Biddle grabs the sheet off his bed and thrillingly lofts into the night sky. The wind first spirits Bart to a tropical island, where he befriends some gnarly-looking pirates, who turn out to be sweet and generous, and learns appearances aren’t necessarily what they seem. “You’d have to be daft,” admonishes one of the pirates, “to go through this life / judging books by their covers. / If you jump to conclusions, / what’s left to discover?” On his next flight, Bart makes the acquaintance of one Densmore Horatio Pool, a boy of similar age who longs to fly but initially lacks Bart’s courage to “dare to be daring / when no one will dare you.” Densy eventually defies convention, using a school banner to fly to meet Bart, whose third adventure has landed him in a windless canyon where the formerly fearless inhabitants are now literally “stuck in the doldrums.” Throughout this witty verse novella, themes of self-reliance, kindness and a belief in all things in moderation resound, and Myers’ enchanting, richly textured oils heighten the serious fun spurring the lighthearted didacticism.
With a seductively Seuss-ean cadence, Ross’ verse adventure delightfully dares young and old to seize the day.
(Verse fantasy. 6-11)
Winter on a Maine farm offers the joys of ice in all its forms.
Icy childhood memories glisten in this magical series of nostalgic vignettes. From the first skim on a pail to the soft, splotchy rink surface at the end of the season, Obed recalls the delights of what others might have found a dreary season. The best thing about ice is skating: in fields, on a creek or frozen lake and, especially, on the garden rink. In a series of short scenes presented chronologically, the author describes each ice stage in vivid detail, adding suspense with a surprising midwinter thaw and peaking with an ice show. Her language shimmers and sparkles; it reads like poetry. Readers will have no trouble visualizing the mirror of black ice on a lake where their “blades spit out silver,” or the “long black snake” of a garden hose used to spray the water for their homemade rink. McClintock’s numerous line drawings add to the delight. They show children testing the ice in a pail, a father waltzing with a broom, joyous children gliding down a hill in a neighbor’s frozen field. One double-page spread shows the narrator and her sister figure skating at night, imagining an admiring crowd. The perfect ice—and skating—of dreams concludes her catalog.
Matisse’s genius was that he never stopped exploring, even as he honored his intense childhood dreams of creativity, color and art.
Parker’s text is a pitch-perfect and appealing narrative, but the real star here is Berry’s art. She first offers careful, almost tight, school-notebooklike drawings of French cities and interiors that effectively convey the gray and noncreative aspects of Matisse’s childhood, relieved only by his colorful daydreams. After leaving his small town and working as a law clerk in Paris, Henri was freed from the prison of social convention through his mother’s simple gift of a paint box (to pass the time while convalescing from a serious illness). He then exuberantly embraced his life as an artist. Berry seamlessly infuses each successive spread with waves of the characteristically intense, almost excessively vivid, explosive color of the Fauves’ palette. She ingeniously incorporates much of Matisse’s now-iconic imagery (goldfish, Mediterranean rugs, busy fabrics, Tahitian jungle palm fronds, lemons, leaves, strong geometric shapes, stars and much more). Parker and Berry finally combine to movingly present the methods, meaning and passion that propelled Matisse’s later work—simple cutouts in bright monochromatic papers.
This inspiring and accessible picture book serves as a brilliant introduction to one artist’s vitality. The message? Like Matisse, we must never stop creating and experimenting.
(author’s note, list of museums with Matisse artwork)
(Picture book/biography. 3-5)
Hooray! The charmingly imperfect Mirka returns to battle a miming meteorite (How Mirka Got Her Sword, 2010).
Still grounded after her last adventure, Mirka wriggles her way out of her house arrest after an important game of chess with her stepmother, receiving from her a message of things to come: "[W]hen you have to make a decision, imagine the person you want to become someday. Ask yourself, what would that person do?" After another encounter with the witch and the multilimbed troll of the first book, Mirka finds herself stuck with a sapient meteorite that has assumed her appearance. What seems like a great idea (just think: They can split chores!) quickly sours when she finds herself missing meals and time with her family. When Mirka decides she’s had enough, she challenges Meteorite Mirka (known as Metty) to an epic battle that will take brains—not brawn—to win. Watching Mirka fight the seemingly perfect version of herself is riveting. Deutsch has created a wonderful world in Mirka's insulated Orthodox village and continues to capture it adroitly—though he has left himself enough room to blast Mirka out to space without readers batting an eye. Mirka is unflinchingly likable because she is so tempestuous and inexact, and really, who can’t relate to that?
This truly clever series is lots of fun. (Graphic fantasy. 8-13)
A young girl’s first-person narration brings a New England sled ride to life.
But this isn’t just any sled ride. Inspired by ice-crusted snow, Grampa Bud’s yarns of his childhood and a giant homemade double-runner sled, seven friends set out to conquer the “highest, mightiest, iciest sledding hill.” Rule lengthens out one sled run into an entire book, but its pace is not slow and clunky, nor does it drag. Instead, she marvels in the details along the way, building up the suspense. Comically, the children attempt to get themselves and the sled to the top of the hill, taking each other out like dominoes as they relentlessly and repeatedly slide down to form a pig pile at the bottom. When they finally manage it, Thermes beautifully conveys the awesomeness of the hill they have chosen to tackle; none of the kids will speak their fears aloud, though their faces say volumes. The trip down is accomplished in just a few spreads, a ride so fast that tears, fears, screams and laughter all get whipped, “like a beautiful scarf trailing wildly behind.” The watercolors give a wonderful array of viewpoints, showing the path of the sled run as well as close-ups of the children: fresh-faced and having the time of their lives.
Parents beware: Children are likely to scout out the highest hill to try to replicate this amazing run.
(Picture book. 4-8)
Some familiar tales and some that are less so make up this elegantly designed and produced collection with Scottish roots and branches.
The volume sits nice and flat when opened, the type is large and clear, and the soft, evocative pictures range from full double-page spreads to tiny, exquisite images around the page numbers (a tuft of grass, a sprig of berries and a turnip, among other designs). Each of the 11 stories opens with a page of muted color on the left on which some lines from the coming tale are inscribed in a paler version of the hue. On the right, the name of the tale and a brief description of its source are framed in an image that carries and echoes through the pages. “The Wee Bannock” recalls “The Gingerbread Man,” and “Whuppity Stourie” brings to mind “Rumpelstiltskin,” but the rhythms and much of the detail reflect their Scottish sources. There’s a lovely, brief story from Sir Walter Scott, “The Goshawk and the Brave Lady,” that touches on the enmity between England and Scotland and in which the heroine rescues herself for her own true love. Breslin supplies a selkie story. Most of the Scots words are clear in context, but there is a strikingly informative glossary as well.
A genuinely beautiful collection that begs to be read aloud—or told—again and again.
(Folk tales. 7-12)
Over years of observation and experimentation on Western ranges and an Atlantic barrier island, scientists have found and implemented a successful method to stabilize wild horse populations.
This latest title in the consistently interesting Scientists in the Field series focuses on research leading to the use of porcine zona pellucida vaccine on wild horses for reliable, reversible birth control. Frydenborg introduces her readers to several scientists involved in this work, principally Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, who first studied horse herds in Montana and pioneered the use of PZP at Assateague National Seashore; Allison Turner, who observes Assateague horses on a daily basis and helps deliver the vaccine (with a rifle adapted to shoot darts); and Dr. Ronald Keiper, who developed the wild horse observation methods and record-keeping system still in use there today. Along the way are chapters on horse ancestry and the history of wild horses in this country, as well as information about color and size and other research and researchers. Underlying these particular stories are important concepts, lucidly conveyed: Scientists work together to solve problems, solutions can be a long time coming and sometimes approaches fail. The attractive design makes the most of the Maryland and Montana scenery and includes plentiful photographs of horses in the wild and scientists at work.
A science title with wide potential appeal.
(glossary, where to see, how to help, resources, index)
(Nonfiction. 12 & up)
A farm child and a fugitive make an unspoken connection in this suspenseful, wordless Civil War episode.
Drawn in monochrome pencil on rough-textured paper, the broad, full-page and full-spread rural scenes give the encounter a shadowy, atmospheric setting. Going about her chores after watching a detachment of mounted soldiers beneath a Confederate flag trot by, the child is startled and fearful to realize that someone is hiding in a pile of cornstalks in the storehouse. Rather than mention this to the (seemingly) oblivious adults in her extended family or, later, to the hunters who come by with a reward poster, she courageously ventures out by herself, carrying small gifts of food. Never seen beyond a glimpse of an eye amid the leaves, the fugitive at last departs as silently as he (or she) came—leaving a corn doll in return for the girl’s kindness. In a ruminative afterword, Cole reflects on his Virginia family’s own connections to the war and, though silent about the signal quilt he hangs on the farmyard’s fence in the illustrations, explains the significance of the Big Dipper visible in the nighttime sky.
Moving and emotionally charged, the book is capped with a powerful close-up of the child’s face on the rear cover with the legend “What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?” (Picture book. 7-10)