Whenever people who are not part of my world—that is to say, the children’s-book world—learn what I do for a living, often they’ll ask if I get bored working with kids’ books all the time. Clearly they expect me to say yes. We review a book in this issue that sums up in its title why my answer is “no”: Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies, by Bruce Hale. As far as I’m concerned, just the title makes the whole book worth its weight in paper; even if the interior turned out to be dull as the tax code (it didn’t), the simple act of unpacking it caused me to gloat about my job to the rest of my Kirkus colleagues.
But if you look beyond Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies (eventually you have to), the breadth of material I work with on a daily basis has me feeling sorry for all those people who don’t know better. Though some of the titles are not quite so evocative as Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies, this issue alone encompasses spectacular books ranging from the simple and sublime You Are Three, by Sarah O’Leary and illustrated by Karen Klassen, an exuberant celebration of being a 3-year-old, to the gratifyingly complex Yvain, by M.T. Anderson and illustrated by Andrea Offermann, a graphic-novel retelling of the Arthurian legend of the knight Yvain that unpacks medieval gender politics.
In between are Town Is by the Sea, by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith, a shimmering picture-book evocation of Nova Scotia’s coal-mining days; The End of the Wild, by Nicole Helget, a sensitively intelligent middle-grade novel that looks at both sides of the conversation about fracking; and What Girls Are Made of, by Elana K. Arnold, an astringently honest novel for teens that explores young womanhood today. And then there’s Mud Book,by John Cage (of 4’33” fame) and illustrated by Lois Long using…mud as her primary medium.
Who could get bored? Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.