DADDY PLAYED THE BLUES

One family’s journey from Mississippi to Chicago in 1936, as recalled by the now-grown daughter, interweaves the history of the Great Migration and African-American blues heritage.

Cassie’s narrative begins as the family loads the car with all they own. Uncle Vernon’s up front with Daddy and Mama, and Cassie and two brothers ride in back, Daddy’s acoustic-guitar case across their laps. The family settles on Chicago’s South Side; the men work in the stockyards and play the blues every chance they get. Cassie’s narration seesaws between family scenes and insertions that feel contrived: a definition of the blues, particular blues lyrics, and name-dropped musicians. Oddest is a double-page spread that introduces musician Robert Johnson’s legendary devil’s bargain at a crossroads—without context. “Sometimes…I would fall asleep with the sound of the music in my ears, dreaming about Robert Johnson waiting at the crossroads for the devil to come.” The song is quoted above a sleeping Cassie. Opposite, a horned devil looms huge above Johnson in a red sky. Children not frightened by the image will surely be bewildered. The digital paintings resemble woodcuts. Garland’s signature use of squat, foreshortened figures effectively trivializes the adults, especially when contrasted with depictions of famous blues players, seemingly distilled from photos. In a lengthy author’s note, Garland provides historical background but conflates personal reminiscences with the musical history and celebrates the white rockers who appropriated the blues.

Skip. (song credits, map, thumbnail biographies) (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-88448-588-9

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Tilbury House

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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Make space for this clever blend of science and self-realization.

A PLACE FOR PLUTO

If Pluto can’t be a planet—then what is he?

Having been a regular planet for “the better part of forever,” Pluto is understandably knocked out of orbit by his sudden exclusion. With Charon and his four other moons in tow he sets off in search of a new identity. Unfortunately, that only spins him into further gloom, as he doesn’t have a tail like his friend Halley’s comet, is too big to join Ida and the other asteroids, and feels disinclined to try to crash into Earth like meteoroids Gem and Persi. Then, just as he’s about to plunge into a black hole of despair, an encounter with a whole quartet of kindred spheroids led by Eris rocks his world…and a follow-up surprise party thrown by an apologetic Saturn (“Dwarf planet has a nice RING to it”) and the other seven former colleagues literally puts him “over the moon.” Demmer gives all the heavenly bodies big eyes (some, including the feminine Saturn, with long lashes) and, on occasion, short arms along with distinctive identifying colors or markings. Dressing the troublemaking meteoroids in do-rags and sunglasses sounds an off note. Without mentioning that the reclassification is still controversial, Wade closes with a (somewhat) straighter account of Pluto’s current official status and the reasons for it.

Make space for this clever blend of science and self-realization. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68446-004-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Capstone Young Readers

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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Young readers with a fondness for amphibians will jump all over this one. (Fiction. 6-8)

STINK AND THE FREAKY FROG FREAKOUT

From the Stink series , Vol. 8

Stink Moody, younger brother of Judy, hops into the spotlight with a common problem—and  one that’s a bit more unusual.

Stink would like to advance in his swimming lessons, but he’s afraid to put his face underwater and seems doomed to remain a Polliwog forever. Fortunately, he’s distracted from that issue by the sudden appearance around town—in some surprising places—of a whole lot of real frogs, a few of which are deformed. These frogs give McDonald the opportunity to offer a little information, through the voice of a nature-center guide, on how adverse environmental conditions can influence frog development. Stink memorizes a variety of frog sounds, enabling him to participate in a frog count at a local pond. Somehow, he becomes convinced that he’s turning into a frog himself, but that might just make it possible for him to swim underwater. Brief, cheery, oversized text and lot of cartoonish black-and-white illustrations (only some of which were available for review) make this a good choice for newly independent readers. A minor issue is that the text informs readers that it is early spring; even in Virginia, that’s a little early for Stink to be taking swimming lessons in an outdoor pool, as indicated in the illustrations.

Young readers with a fondness for amphibians will jump all over this one. (Fiction. 6-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6140-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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