Smoke dissipates quickly, but this poetic text will linger.

I AM SMOKE

Lustrous illustrations and meditative text reflect on the role of smoke in nature and civilization.

Within this exquisitely beautiful melding of science and poetry is a ton of trust: trust that readers will absorb the intricate, evocative prose; trust they will utilize the comprehensive backmatter; and trust that readers will reconsider something as ubiquitous as smoke afresh. Using sparse but potent text, author Herz presents smoke as a “swirling, roiling mist” vital to nature and to humans; it’s as important in its mundanity as it soothes bees or flavors food as it is in the sacred, when smoke “participates in prayer” through incense. It’s a high-level presentation, but inquisitive readers will enjoy connecting the lyrical lines with the thorough backmatter. Mystically multilayered illustrations combine perfectly with the text’s reverential tone. A unique technique uses images created from smoke itself and then collaged with Photoshop and watercolor. The result is gossamer landscapes decorated with molecular structures as well as homey scenes of Greeks fumigating temples. Spreads of smoke rising fluidly into a pinprick-starry sky, a “dark dance from every campfire,” are veritable gems. Moving scenes involving humans include impressionistic images of various religions worshipping and a Huron child planting pumpkin seeds, though it’s unfortunate a group of Indigenous people in regalia isn’t given a specific tribal identity. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Smoke dissipates quickly, but this poetic text will linger. (bibliography, sources) (Picture book. 7-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-88448-788-3

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Tilbury House

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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Readers new to Gooseberry Park will hope they don’t have to wait another 20 years for the next book

GOOSEBERRY PARK AND THE MASTER PLAN

Twenty years after the publication of Gooseberry Park (1995), Rylant returns with a sequel.

In the previous outing, the residents of Gooseberry Park coped with an ice storm; now, a drought threatens Stumpy the squirrel and her family, along with all the other animals. This spurs house pets chocolate Lab Kona and hermit crab Gwendolyn to devise the titular master plan to help their friends through the ecological disaster. Herman the crow—so smart that the rest of the crows have given up the annual chess match because they got sick of losing to him—works out a flowchart that involves a cat, a possum, a raccoon, 200 owls, and 20 packs of chewing gum. Murray the bat’s motivational-speaker brother puts his well-developed jaw muscles to work on the gum; Kona’s chocolate-Lab sincerity wins the unprecedented cooperation of 200 owls. Rylant writes with her customary restrained humor, creating with apparently no effort a full cast of three-dimensional furred and feathered characters. The story comes with lessons ranging from the overuse of fossil fuels to the peculiar magic of friendship, all applied with a gentle hand and a spirit of generous trust in the abilities of her readers to understand them. Her frequent collaborator Howard supplies lumpily humorous grayscale illustrations that augment the character development and give readers’ eyes places to rest.

Readers new to Gooseberry Park will hope they don’t have to wait another 20 years for the next book . (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-0449-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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