Picture books about modern African children are uncommon, with superb ones in short supply, making this an excellent choice...

Nothando's Journey

A young Swazi girl finds strength and confidence by watching the movements of animals in this debut picture book.

In Swaziland, young girls celebrate the Reed Festival by dancing before the King and the Queen Mother. Nothando, about to dance for the first time, feels very nervous. Her brother, Jabu, who is “older and wiser,” helps her prepare, comforts her, and gives her the choice of how they will walk to the festival: the long familiar way or the short, untried route. Not wanting to be late, Nothando chooses the shorter path. When they encounter a wild dog, she is frightened, but Jabu urges her to watch the animal to see what she can learn from its movements. Casey depicts Nothando’s efforts by showing the dog’s prints and Nothando’s together, where both human and canine have performed the yoga move downward dog. Soon, the children rest on a hill overlooking a watering hole, where many types of creatures gather. Nothando applies her brother’s lesson and mimics these animals as well. Over several illustrated pages, with a single sentence of text on each, Nothando feels the strength of a lion, the calm of the fish eagle, and the courage of the baboon. When the children arrive at the festival, Nothando is no longer afraid: “She is grateful to be Nothando.” Although the themes of seeing oneself reflected in nature and learning from wild beasts and the land are hardly new, Manly’s application of yoga poses and the idea of embodying the movements of animals make this tale unique. The proportion of words to page is uneven, with some text-heavy pages that may frustrate young readers and others with shorter sentences that should be quite approachable. While the book offers a solid story and vocabulary that’s not too difficult for lower elementary readers, the most appealing aspect is the beautiful artwork. Casey uses many textures of collage paper, frequently torn at uneven angles to heighten the sense of landscape. Her colored pencil, pastel, and charcoal details make the animals and children come alive, particularly on the double-page spread where Nothando imitates several creatures at the watering hole. The baobab tree, constructed of twisted cords pressed together, looks as if a reader could touch the scratchy surface.

Picture books about modern African children are uncommon, with superb ones in short supply, making this an excellent choice for libraries seeking diversity.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-615-89235-1

Page Count: 35

Publisher: JABU Kids

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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