After the dog days of summer, the book industry is ready to wow readers with some of the best books of the year. We've culled through our starred reviews to choose five in each category to pay special attention to and present them here.
Read the entire list of Fall Preview Children's and Teen Books.
This gem about canine siblings goes from peaceful routine to funny mayhem to erroneous bereavement—and relief.Littermates Boot and Shoe are small, white dogs with black tails and fur flopping over their eyes. Only their leg coloring differs, giving rise to their names. Boot spends daytime on the back porch, Shoe the front, a habit “perfect for both of them”; they share supper bowl, dog bed and a specific tree for peeing on. Gouache and black pencil create warm vignettes and sturdy spreads with a vibe both lively and mellow. Creamy, speckled paper matches organic, hand-lettered text. One day, a chattering squirrel gets “all up in [their] business,” and the dogs go berserk. To symbolize two dogs and one squirrel in a mad dash, upward of 80 squirrel figures race around the yard and over the roof with a similar number of dog figures in hot pursuit. Post-chase, exhausted, each dog finds himself on the wrong porch. Tragically in sync, they circle the house simultaneously to find each other, preventing their own success. Each progresses from patience—hunger, rain, waiting overnight—to true grief, sure the other’s gone. Dog posture, value and composition create poignant pangs—and stunned joy as the dogs reunite when (and where) nature calls. Frazee conveys painful and soothing depth with ease, which is especially impressive given that Boot and Shoe’s eyes can't be seen. Read unhurried, in a lap, again and again. (Picture book. 4-7) Out Oct. 2.
Lovable Zita returns in a charmingly dashing interplanetary adventure to save yet another doomed planet from impending peril. After saving both a planet and her best friend, Zita has achieved renown as an intergalactic hero and is greeted with adulation wherever she travels. In the midst of her fame, a lone, archaic Imprint-o-Tron—a robot that was built for companionship but took its "imprinting" too far—spies a Zita poster and immediately takes on her likeness. The bot’s mimicry is so exact that it quickly becomes difficult to tell the real Zita from the impostor. A sudden turn of events leads to the real Zita making a felonious—although necessary—decision, instantly transforming her public image from that of hero to outlaw. Faced with saving another planet, the real and fake Zitas must find a middle ground and work together, redefining what it really means to be a hero when they set out to rescue the Lumponians from the cutely named but very deadly Star Hearts, villainous parasites capable of destroying entire planets. Hatke’s arrestingly vibrant art commands instant adoration of its reader. Zita’s moxie is positively contagious, and her adventures are un-put-downable. Readers would be hard-pressed to not find something to like in these tales; they’re a winning formula of eye-catching aesthetics and plot and creativity, adeptly executed. Imaginative and utterly bewitching. (Graphic science fiction. 9-12) Out Sept. 4.
Elin Kelsey; illus. by Soyeon Kim
We are made of earth and water and air and stardust, and we are more related to animals and plants than we ever imagined. Everything about us is found in the natural world. Our atoms are from ancient stardust, and the water and salt that flow within us are part of the unchanging cycle that goes back to the beginning of time. We breathe pollen that, when released, may actually create a plant. We grow at night and seasonally shed and grow hair, in similar fashion to animals. We are also a living planet for millions of microorganisms. Kelsey doesn’t lecture or overcomplicate the information. She speaks directly to readers in a way that opens minds to big ideas and paves the way for thoughtful questions of their own. The litany of facts comes alive in vivid, descriptive language, lending a philosophical, elegant and mystical aura to current scientific findings. Kim’s incredibly unusual illustrations are sublime. Employing varied painting techniques, vivid colors, multidimensional cutouts, unexpected materials and unusual textures, she creates a view of nature that is at once real and otherworldly. This is a work that demands to be read and reread, studied and examined, and thoroughly digested. It is perfect for sparking adult and child conversations about our place in the universe. A remarkable achievement. (Picture book. 5-12) Out Sept. 15.
Wynton Marsalis; illus. by Paul Rogers
Marsalis and Rogers, who collaborated on the scintillating Jazz ABZ (2005), reunite for this sonic celebration for the younger crowd. Marsalis contributes 10 three-line verses that crackle with invented sound words. Most verses link a couple of everyday sounds with one made by a musical instrument: “Big trucks on the highway RRRRUMBLE. / Hunger makes my tummy GRrruMBle. / The big bass drum goes “Bum! Brrrum! BRRRUMBLE!!!!” Rogers’ digitally colored ink drawings depict a New Orleans setting. The narrator, an African-American boy in white high-tops, exudes curiosity and cool (and plays trumpet). Those onomatopoeic words, elegantly red-dressed in Caslon 540 Italic, will challenge readers and delight listeners. Marsalis’ choices seem just right: “Chrrrick chrrrick chrrrick chrrrick—buttering my toast.” An upright bass emits “Doom, Doom, Doom, Blap! Doom, Doom, Slap!” Rogers’ hip, playfully cartoonish spreads pop with clever visual allusions to jazz tunes and players. Hand-lettered lyrics to a popular funeral song blow out of a church band’s instruments; indeed, the tuba’s bell forms the “O” for “O[h] didn’t he ramble.” An ambulance’s side reads “U.M.M.G. Ambulance,” a brilliant reference to the Billy Strayhorn tune whose titular acronym means “Upper Manhattan Medical Group.” The final spread rounds up a cacophony of sounds, from “Squeak” and “Schuk-chuk” to “BAP!” Loud and clear, the creators show how tuning into everyday sounds can inspire music. Clap, clap, CLAP! (Picture Book. 3-7) Out Oct. 9.
Time travel, an Arctic ice shelf and frivolous elves converge in this second installment of The Books of Beginning. Siblings Kate, Michael and Emma were lauded for successfully battling evil in The Emerald Atlas (2011), but soon afterward, their trusted confidant, Dr. Pym, redeposited them in a decrepit orphanage without explanation. After several months, a foreboding black cloud rolls in, catapulting the children into action. Kate escapes to 1899 Manhattan via the previous book’s titular atlas, while Michael and Emma are miraculously plucked from danger by Pym. So sets the stage for Kate’s mission to rejoin her siblings and for Michael and Emma’s journey to a secreted, lush valley in Antarctica to seek a second magic book, the Chronicle. The children aren’t strangers to magic, but their awe of magical places, allies and enemies does anything but wane here (it’s hard to be ho-hum when entranced by elves, pursued by a dragon and combatting trolls). A third-person-omniscient narration alternates between Kate and Michael, but Michael, the meekest child (and destined keeper of the Chronicle), is the primary focus as he struggles to find a fiery strength within himself. With no rest for the children, the ending is anything but a fading ember as Emma is kidnapped, separating the trio once again and setting the stage for Book 3. Irreverent humor and swashbuckling adventure collide in a fetching fantasy. (Fantasy. 10-14) Out Oct. 9.
Cinda Williams Chima
Torture and treasure, treason and trust, and the triumph of true love: All come to fruition in the stirring conclusion to this epic fantasy series. Raisa ana'Marianna has claimed the Gray Wolf throne, but her grip is tenuous: Every faction—clans, wizards, army, flatlanders—both within and without the Fells hates all the others, and each pushes Raisa to accept its preferred candidate for consort. Meanwhile, Han Alister has taken his seat on the Wizard Council at the queen's command, but every other member secretly wants to use him or kill him. Furthermore, there are the mysterious murders of wizards, marked with Han's old streetlord sign; all this disarray signals a weakness that encourages invading armies from the South. Together, Han and Raisa seek the long-lost Armory of the Gifted Kings as the only way to avoid re-enacting a 1,000-year-old tragedy; but to wield such a weapon may well trigger an even greater catastrophe. Chima manages to resolve this impossibly tangled skein of politics, intrigue, history, prejudice and passion with style and grace. Grim scenes of shocking violence alternate with moments of tenderness and humor, and the high body count is balanced by the almost fairy-tale–romantic conclusion. While some of the depth and complexities of the supporting characters—along with the nuanced subtleties of their conflicting worldviews—are sacrificed to help demonize (or valorize) their respective positions, nothing can overshadow the cathartic satisfaction for those caught up in this sweeping saga. Simply brilliant. (Fantasy. 12 & up) Out Oct. 23.
In a follow-up that turns the Breadwinner Trilogy into a quartet, 15-year-old Parvana is imprisoned and interrogated as a suspected terrorist in Afghanistan. When her father’s shoulder bag is searched, Parvana’s captors find little of apparent value—a notebook, pens and a chewed-up copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Parvana refuses to talk; her interrogator doesn’t even know if she can speak. The interrogator reads aloud the words in her notebook to decide if the angry written sentiments of a teenage girl can be evidence of guilt. Parvana is stoic, her keen mind ever alert as she has to “stand and listen to her life being spouted back at her,” a life in a land where warplanes are as “common as crows,” where someone was always “tasting dirt, having their eardrums explode and seeing their world torn apart.” The interrogation, the words of the notebook and the effective third-person narration combine for a thoroughly tense and engaging portrait of a girl and her country. This passionate volume stands on its own, though readers new to the series and to Ellis’ overall body of work will want to read every one of her fine, important novels. Readers will learn much about the war in Afghanistan even as they cheer on this feisty protagonist. (Fiction. 11 & up) Out Oct. 16.
In late December 1938, German chemist Otto Hahn discovered that uranium atoms could be split, and just a few months later the race to build an atomic bomb was on. The story unfolds in three parts, covering American attempts to build the bomb, how the Soviets tried to steal American designs and how the Americans tried to keep the Germans from building a bomb. It was the eve of World War II, and the fate of the world was at stake, “[b]ut how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?” It’s a true spy thriller, ranging from the football stadium at the University of Chicago to the mountains of Norway, from the deserts of New Mexico to laboratories in East Tennessee, and all along the way spies in the United States were feeding sensitive information to the KGB. Groups of photographs are sprinkled throughout the volume, offering just enough visual support for the splendid character development in the writing, and thorough documentation is provided in the backmatter. It takes a lot of work to make a complicated subject clear and exciting, and from his prodigious research and storytelling skill, Sheinkin has created a nonfiction story young people will want to read. A superb tale of an era and an effort that forever changed our world. (Nonfiction. 10 & up) Out Sept. 4.
An ancient Welsh king may be buried in the Virginia countryside; three privileged boys hope to disinter him. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Blue Sargent, daughter of a small-town psychic, has lived her whole life under a prophecy: If she kisses her true love, he will die. Not that she plans on kissing anyone. Blue isn't psychic, but she enhances the extrasensory power of anyone she's near; while helping her aunt visualize the souls of people soon to die, she sees a vision of a dying Raven boy named Gansey. The Raven Boys—students at Aglionby, a nearby prep school, so-called because of the ravens on their school crest—soon encounter Blue in person. From then on, the point of view shifts among Blue; Gansey, a trust-fund kid obsessed with finding King Glendower buried on a ley-line in Virginia; and Adam, a scholarship student obsessed with his own self-sufficiency. Add Ronan, whose violent insouciance comes from seeing his father die, and Noah, whose first words in the book are, "I've been dead for seven years," and you've got a story very few writers could dream up and only Stiefvater could make so palpably real. Simultaneously complex and simple, compulsively readable, marvelously wrought. The only flaw is that this is Book 1; it may be months yet before Book 2 comes out. The magic is entirely pragmatic; the impossible, extraordinarily true. (Fantasy. 13 & up) Out Sept. 18.
Giulia is bright, curious and a gifted artist, born to a noble father and his humble mistress in 15th-century Renaissance Italy. Now her fate rests with her father’s widow, who’s sending Giulia to a Padua convent. Desperate to avoid a cloistered life, Giulia obtains a talisman that’s promised to deliver her heart’s desire: marriage to a good man and a home of her own. Convent life is hard. Highborn nuns enjoy freedom; others, like Giulia, labor at menial tasks. When her artistic talent’s discovered, she’s invited to join the close-knit group of artist nuns whose renowned work helps support the convent. Guided by Maestra Humilità, daughter of a famous artist, Giulia begins to learn this exacting craft with tasks like mixing egg tempera. Artists create their own colors, their recipes closely guarded secrets. Humilità’s precious passion blue is one; its beauty draws Giulia like a flame. So do visions of love and freedom beyond convent walls. But stealing away to meet handsome Ormanno, another talented artist, is risky. Fantasy elements and a historical setting rich with sensuous detail are satisfying, but it’s Giulia’s achingly real search for her heart’s desire that resonates most today, when millions of girls still have limited choices. A rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion. (Historical fantasy. 12 & up) Out Nov. 6.