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

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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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Thought-provoking and charming.

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THE WILD ROBOT

A sophisticated robot—with the capacity to use senses of sight, hearing, and smell—is washed to shore on an island, the only robot survivor of a cargo of 500.

When otters play with her protective packaging, the robot is accidently activated. Roz, though without emotions, is intelligent and versatile. She can observe and learn in service of both her survival and her principle function: to help. Brown links these basic functions to the kind of evolution Roz undergoes as she figures out how to stay dry and intact in her wild environment—not easy, with pine cones and poop dropping from above, stormy weather, and a family of cranky bears. She learns to understand and eventually speak the language of the wild creatures (each species with its different “accent”). An accident leaves her the sole protector of a baby goose, and Roz must ask other creatures for help to shelter and feed the gosling. Roz’s growing connection with her environment is sweetly funny, reminiscent of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family. At every moment Roz’s actions seem plausible and logical yet surprisingly full of something like feeling. Robot hunters with guns figure into the climax of the story as the outside world intrudes. While the end to Roz’s benign and wild life is startling and violent, Brown leaves Roz and her companions—and readers—with hope.

Thought-provoking and charming. (Science fiction/fantasy. 7-11)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-38199-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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