A devilishly rich, satisfying scientific confection.

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    Best Books Of 2013

Radium Baby

In Karp’s debut young-adult novel, three preteens compete to prove their connection to famous scientists who died more than a decade ago.

In 1927, 13-year-old Sam Ticky lives in Claremore, Okla., also known as “Radium Town,” because the chemical element bubbles freely from the ground, like oil. He works at the radium baths, where people soak in an effort to cure themselves of ailments such as barnacles and gout—despite the fact it might possibly be dangerous. According to Sam’s adoptive father, Sam is the biological son of the well-known scientists Alexander and Valerie Pepperpot, who gave him up after they died; as a result, science is his heritage. Meanwhile, in New York, Clive Chapman ponders the fate of his Sun Studios Radio Corporation. Ratings are falling, even on his most popular shows, and he needs something brilliant to turn his business around. When the U.S. government asks for his help in finding the Pepperpots’ missing child, he dreams up a contest. Soon, Sam is competing against two other finalists who share his birthday, Gloria Noakes and Hadrian Sands. The prize: the Pepperpots’ estate. The contestants must solve a series of puzzles staged in China, Egypt and Boston as they try to provide proof of the identity of  the real “Radium Baby.” Throughout this adventure novel, Karp’s madcap imagination keeps readers hungering for the final outcome, and his prose sparkles with his flair for the absurd: For example, the Pepperpots “invented the hamster wheel, the hamster cage and the hamster feeder, then rounded off their list of achievements by inventing the hamster.” The contest’s puzzles, which involve such diverse elements as hornets’ honey and the Eye of Tutankhamen, have surprise twists, but Karp isn’t merely a showman. He’s also capable of dreamily evocative scene-setting (“Everything hit [Sam] at once...the temples with roofs like dog-eared paper, [and the] fine statues and filigree metalwork tracing spider webs across the walls and ceilings”) and manages to end his tale on a truly profound note.

A devilishly rich, satisfying scientific confection.

Pub Date: April 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0989263009

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Remora House

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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More gift book than storybook, this is a meaningful addition to nursery bookshelves

MAYBE

A young child explores the unlimited potential inherent in all humans.

“Have you ever wondered why you are here?” asks the second-person narration. There is no one like you. Maybe you’re here to make a difference with your uniqueness; maybe you will speak for those who can’t or use your gifts to shine a light into the darkness. The no-frills, unrhymed narrative encourages readers to follow their hearts and tap into their limitless potential to be anything and do anything. The precisely inked and colored artwork plays with perspective from the first double-page spread, in which the child contemplates a mountain (or maybe an iceberg) in their hands. Later, they stand on a ladder to place white spots on tall, red mushrooms. The oversized flora and fauna seem to symbolize the presumptively insurmountable, reinforcing the book’s message that anything is possible. This quiet read, with its sophisticated central question, encourages children to reach for their untapped potential while reminding them it won’t be easy—they will make messes and mistakes—but the magic within can help overcome falls and failures. It’s unlikely that members of the intended audience have begun to wonder about their life’s purpose, but this life-affirming mood piece has honorable intentions. The child, accompanied by an adorable piglet and sporting overalls and a bird-beaked cap made of leaves, presents white.

More gift book than storybook, this is a meaningful addition to nursery bookshelves . (Picture book. 2-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-946873-75-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Visually accomplished but marred by stereotypical cultural depictions.

HOME

Ellis, known for her illustrations for Colin Meloy’s Wildwood series, here riffs on the concept of “home.”

Shifting among homes mundane and speculative, contemporary and not, Ellis begins and ends with views of her own home and a peek into her studio. She highlights palaces and mansions, but she also takes readers to animal homes and a certain famously folkloric shoe (whose iconic Old Woman manages a passel of multiethnic kids absorbed in daring games). One spread showcases “some folks” who “live on the road”; a band unloads its tour bus in front of a theater marquee. Ellis’ compelling ink and gouache paintings, in a palette of blue-grays, sepia and brick red, depict scenes ranging from mythical, underwater Atlantis to a distant moonscape. Another spread, depicting a garden and large building under connected, transparent domes, invites readers to wonder: “Who in the world lives here? / And why?” (Earth is seen as a distant blue marble.) Some of Ellis’ chosen depictions, oddly juxtaposed and stripped of any historical or cultural context due to the stylized design and spare text, become stereotypical. “Some homes are boats. / Some homes are wigwams.” A sailing ship’s crew seems poised to land near a trio of men clad in breechcloths—otherwise unidentified and unremarked upon.

Visually accomplished but marred by stereotypical cultural depictions. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6529-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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