Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins) and Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat (Candlewick) may have won the Newbery and Caldecott, respectively, on Monday, but they were already stellar titles for School Library Journal‘s Book Review editors. Both books made SLJ‘s Best Books of 2012 list, as well as many of the other ALA’s Youth Media Award-winners.
Listed below are the SLJ reviews for the top prizes:
APPLEGATE, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan. illus. by Patricia Castelao. 305p. CIP. HarperCollins/Harper. Jan. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-210198-3. LC 2011010034.
Gr 3-7—This tender tale of friendship and hope is narrated by a silverback gorilla living at The Big Top Mall, a shabby, circus-themed roadside attraction. For years, Ivan was passively content. He had his art, unlimited bananas, and his friends: Stella (an elephant), Bob (a stray dog), and Julia (a human child). Ivan’s eyes are finally opened to his deplorable surroundings when he loses a friend due to neglect. The last straw is when he witnesses the attraction’s owner abusing Ruby, a newly acquired baby elephant. Thus, Ivan is inspired to take action. With some help from his human friends, his dream of a better life for all the Big Top’s animals just might come true. The character of Ivan, as explained in an author’s note, is inspired by a real gorilla that lived through similar conditions before being adopted by Zoo Atlanta. Applegate makes a powerful statement about the treatment of animals—especially those living in captivity—and reminds readers that all creatures deserve a safe place to call home. Castelao’s delightful illustrations enhance this lovely story, and the characters will capture readers’ hearts and never let go. A must-have.—Alissa J. LeMerise, Oxford Public Library, MI
KLASSEN, Jon. This Is Not My Hat. illus. by author. 40p. Candlewick. Oct. 2012. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5599-0.
PreS-Gr 1–With this new creation, Klassen repeats the theme from I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick, 2011), but with a twist. The narrator here is the thief–a small, self-confident fish who has pilfered a little blue bowler from a big sleeping fish. He wastes no time or words in confessing his crime as he swims across the page announcing, “This hat is not mine. I just stole it.” He continues his narrative with no regrets, but with a bit of rationalizing (“It was too small for him anyway.”) as he swims to his hiding place, unaware that the big fish is in quiet pursuit. Readers, of course, are in on this little secret. When the two disappear into a spread filled with seaweed, the narration goes silent, and youngsters can easily surmise what happens as the big fish reemerges with the tiny blue bowler atop his head. Simplicity is key in both text and illustrations. The black underwater provides the perfect background for the mostly gray-toned fish and seaweed while the monochromatic palette strips the artwork down to essential, yet exquisite design. Movement is indicated with a trail of small white bubbles. This not-to-be-missed title will delight children again and again.–Carolyn Janssen, Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, Cincinnati, OH
Theodore Geisel Medal
LONG, Ethan. Up, Tall and High! illus. by author. unpaged. CIP. Putnam. Feb. 2012. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25611-0. LC 2011003291.
PreS-K—Long borrows from the Mo Willems school of minimalist humor in this early reader about a flock of funny birds trying to outdo one another. The three stories utilize repetition of very few words (“I am tall.” “You are not tall.” “I may not be tall. But I am not small”), but the accompanying illustrations greatly enrich the spare text with bright colors and charming cartoons, making this a fun first venture into reading alone. The book has one shortcoming: the pages are flimsy and do not lie flat, so the flaps catch when opened or closed, so longevity is definitely a concern. Otherwise, the silly birds and their games of one-upmanship are definitely giggle-worthy.—Alyson Low, Fayetteville Public Library, AR
Anna, Emma and the Condors. DVD. 20 min. Green Planet Films. 2012. ISBN unavail. $49.
Gr 5 Up–Viewers will be captivated by this charming and gorgeously photographed look at the life of an environmental biologist and his family as they work to save the California Condor. Chris Parrish is the director of the Condor Project for the Peregrine Fund at Vermilion Cliffs National Park in Arizona, and his wife, Ellen, is a teacher for Roots and Shoots, an organization founded by Jane Goodall. They home school their two daughters, Anna and Emma, allowing the girls to work with them in their species conservation efforts. There is no story or plot to the film, and not a lot of scientific details either. Rather, the film showcases the stunning landscapes of the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona, and offers many breathtaking images of condors—in flight, at rest, eating, and mating. The family is shown tracking the birds, taking blood samples, feeding them (not for the faint of heart, condors are scavengers and these eat dead calves), and in an emotional moment, releasing a young condor back into the wild. There are many images of the family hiking, camping and riding horses, while in voice-overs they discuss living with respect for the environment. Parrish is also shown singing several songs with his guitar. This short sketch might make a nice supplemental film for an environmental studies class.–Geri Diorio, Ridgefield Library, CT
Sibert Medal, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, Newbery Honor
SHEINKIN, Steve. Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-487-5; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-861-3.
Gr 5 Up–“Harry Gold was right: This is a big story.” So begins this depiction of the “creation–and theft–of the deadliest weapon ever invented.” As he did in The Notorious Benedict Arnold (Roaring Brook, 2010), Sheinkin has again brought his superior talent for storytelling to bear in what is truly a gripping account of discovery, espionage, and revolutionary changes in both physics and the modern world. This fascinating tale, packed with a wide cast of characters, focuses mainly on three individuals: spy for the Soviets Harry Gold, leader of the Manhattan Project J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Knut Haukelid, who sabotaged German bomb efforts while working for the Norwegian resistance. Sheinkin skillfully combines lucid, conversational snapshots of the science behind the atomic bomb with a fast-paced narrative of the remarkable people who made it possible and attempted to steal it. Handsomely designed and loaded with archival photos and primary-source documents, the accessible volume lays out how the bomb was envisioned and brought to fruition. While the historical information and hard facts presented here will likely be new to the intended audience, they in no way overwhelm readers or detract from the thoroughly researched, well-documented account. It reads like an international spy thriller, and that’s the beauty of it.–Brian Odom, Pelham Public Library, AL
VOORHOEVE, Anne C. My Family for the War. tr. from German by Tammi Reichel. Dial. p. 124.
Gr 7 Up—In 1938 Berlin, 10-year-old Ziska and her best friend run from classmates-turned-bullies who torment them for being Jewish, even though Ziska’s family converted in the last century and she knows nothing of the Jewish religion or culture. When her father is beaten during a brutal midnight raid on their apartment and imprisoned, Ziska earns a position on the kindertransport to England, where she begins a new life as Frances, foster daughter to an Orthodox London “family for the war.” In an engaging, honest voice, she relates her fears, triumphs, and revelations as she learns English and the rituals of Judaism, adapts to a new life, and copes with guilt about her growing love for her new family. She tries in vain to acquire permits for her parents to join her while they keep up a soon spotty, strained correspondence that brings increasingly heartbreaking news of those left behind. By war’s end, Frances, now 17, has experienced evacuation to the English countryside and another foster home, air raids, bomb shelters, and first love with page-turning immediacy despite the sense that the story is told by a much older, reflective Frances looking back. Events and facts are expertly woven into the girl’s emotional growth, and changing relationships—especially those with her complex, fading mother and differently complex foster mother—provide a rich exploration of identity and self. Like Frances, the mostly Jewish cast of secondary characters is varied, multidimensional, and sometimes unlikable. With a compelling main character and taut and insightful story line, this novel is sure to find no shortage of readers, and it adds a valuable perspective to collections of World War II fiction.—Riva Pollard, Prospect Sierra Middle School, El Cerrito, CA
Pura Belpré Author Award, Stonewall Medal, Printz Honor
SÁENZ, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. 358p. CIP. S & S. Feb. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0892-0; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0894-4. LC 2010033649.
Gr 9 Up-In the summer of 1987 in El Paso, TX, two 15-year-old loners meet when Dante offers to teach Ari to swim, and they have a laugh over their unusual names. Though polar opposites in most aspects other than age and Mexican heritage, the teens form an instant bond and become inseparable. This poetic novel takes Ari, brooding and quiet, and with a brother in prison, and Dante, open and intellectual, through a year and a half of change, discovering secrets, and crossing borders from which there is no return. Two incidents, one in which Ari saves Dante’s life and his family’s temporary move to Chicago, help Dante understand that he is gay and in love with his friend. Yet, Ari can’t cross that line, and not until Dante is hospitalized in a gay-bashing incident does he begin to realize the true depth of the love he has for him. With the help of his formerly distant, Vietnam-damaged father, Ari is finally able to shed his shame—the shame of his anger, of his incarcerated brother, of being different—and transition from boy to man. While this novel is a bit too literary at times for some readers, its authentic teen and Latino dialogue should make it a popular choice.—Betty S. Evans, Missouri State University, Springfield
Pura Belpré Illustrator Award
SCHMIDT, Gary D. Martín de Porres: The Rose in the Desert. illus. by David Diaz. 32p. CIP. Clarion. 2012. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-61218-8. LC 2011025721.
Gr 2–4—Picture-book biographies of Catholic saints are usually limited to those best known, like Patrick, Francis, Joan of Arc, and Blessed Mother Teresa. Martín de Porres was the first black saint of the Americas, and he has a story as inspiring and evocative of Christian virtue as any other. Born the illegitimate son of a former slave and a Spanish conquistador in 1579 in Lima, Peru, he lived with his mother and sister in abject poverty until he was claimed by his father and eventually apprenticed to a surgeon and found to have healing powers that matched his great piety. He was accepted to be a servant at a Dominican monastery, with the explicit understanding that he, a mulatto, would never become a priest. He showed compassion for all people and animals and was said to have miraculous gifts. But it is his extreme humility that resonates with most biographers, including Schmidt, who tells the story of St. Martín’s life in simple and eloquent language, emphasizing his humble servitude and great empathy. Diaz’s multimedia illustrations are lush and beautiful, reinforcing the narrative and frequently using iconic images and stylized shapes that evoke stained glass. Some drawings of Martín, however, are inconsistent. His age occasionally seems to shift out of sequence, and the changing shape of his nose and eyes in particular results in some visual dissonance for young readers. Nonetheless, this is an artful and reverent portrait of a little-known figure.—Lisa Egly Lehmuller, St. Patrick’s Catholic School, Charlotte, NC
The Fault in Our Stars (unabr.). 6 CDs. 7:19 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4558-6987-9. $59.97.
Gr 9 Up–John Green’s compelling, engaging novel (Dutton, 2012) is about life, and love, and death. Hazel was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 13. Three years later, she is still alive. However, her life is turned upside down when she meets Augustus Waters at a support group for teens with cancer. They embark on a relationship that has the potential to become an emotional grenade. Gus uses his “last wish” granted to sick children by the Genie Foundation to take Hazel to Amsterdam in order to meet Peter Van Houten, the author of her favorite book about a girl who has cancer. She believes there is more to the story and wants the author to give her additional information. Van Houten’s response is disappointing, but in the end Hazel allows herself to love Gus. Kate Rudd narrates in a relaxed style, perfectly voicing all of Green’s well-developed characters. This novel doesn’t pull any punches, and listeners’ emotions will run the gamut from laughing out loud to sobbing with joy or grief. A strong choice for young adult collections.–Elizabeth L. Kenyon, Merrillville High School, IN
LAKE, Nick. In Darkness. 352p. Bloomsbury. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-743-7; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-820-5. LC 2011022350.
Gr 9 Up–Trapped in the rubble of Haiti’s massive 2010 earthquake, teenage Shorty desperately waits for rescue. While in darkness, events of his traumatic, violent life replay in his head. He is haunted by his father’s brutal murder, his twin sister’s disappearance, and the armed gang activity that has been his means of survival in Site Soléy (Cite Soleil), a very real and dangerous slum. As he faces death and struggles to understand the external forces that have shaped him, Shorty gradually feels the uplifting spiritual presence of revered slave liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture and draws strength and hope from the man’s extraordinary life, determination, and idealism. The pervasive Haitian voodoo belief in spirit transfer empowers Shorty and connects him with Touissant across time. In alternating chapters of “Now” and “Then,” Shorty’s and Toussaint’s stories unfold. The relentless oppression, poverty, violence, and instability of the country is vividly conveyed through Shorty’s stark, graphic narrative. Toussaint’s story provides historical background for the socioeconomic and political conflicts that continue today. As the author notes, he portrays the essential spirit and history of Touissant with some omissions and simplifications. For example, Touissant learned to read as a boy, and not late in life, but this factual inaccuracy does not diminish the account of his charisma and significance. The entangled actions of gangs and government, the complicated relationship between Haitians and foreign-aid organizations, and the rich mix of Creole and French patois provide insight and authenticity. A striking cast of characters, compelling tension as Shorty confronts his own death, and the reality and immediacy of Haiti’s precarious existence will captivate secondary readers.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC
Coretta Scott King Book Awards
PINKNEY , Andrea Davis. Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. illus. by Brian Pinkney. 244p. bibliog. chron. further reading. index. CIP. Disney/Jump at the Sun. 2012. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-4257-7. LC 2011051348.
Gr 5–8—This book is similar in scope to the author’s Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters (Harcourt, 2000). The subjects here include Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama, all introduced in the author’s characteristically lively prose (“Black students kept on keeping on with dog-eared textbooks and dog-tired feet”; Malcolm Little’s hair was transformed from “pretty-boy cotton-kink to slick-daddy bone-straight”). The distinct experiences that shaped each man are ably delineated-the childhood events, the hardships faced, the richly deserved victories won-and the results are, without exception, compelling. The large font size is perfect for the middle-grade audience, but too many blocks of unbroken text may turn away less-confident readers. Thankfully, Brian Pinkney’s magnificent portraits and spot art throughout each profile help to amplify each man’s story. A must-have for all libraries serving young people. Sam Bloom, Blue Ash Library, Cincinnati, OH
HUGHES, Langston. I, Too, Am America . illus. by Bryan Collier. CIP. S & S. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-2008-3. LC 2011002879.
K-Gr 5—Hughes’s poem of burgeoning pride in one’s African American identity, written at the height of the Harlem Renaissance in 1925, is interpreted anew in this striking picture book.Collier has visualized the message of the sparely written poem, barely 60 words in length, through the lens of a Pullman porter. “I, too, sing America” proclaims the opening spread that depicts a passenger rail car whizzing by; then, “I am the darker brother” shows an African American young man in the porter’s uniform gazing squarely at readers through a faint, translucent overlay of the American flag, a recurring motif. As the porter cleans up the club car and examines the detritus—newspapers, magazines, blues, and jazz albums left by the train’s well-heeled passengers—he impulsively flings it all from the caboose, scattering this knowledge to those who will willingly learn from it. Wafting through time and space, these items fall into the hands of a young female field worker in the long-ago South as well as residents in a contemporary northern urban landscape. The poem’s powerful conclusion—”I, too, am America”—depicts a young boy on the subway with his mother, peering out the window through a readily visible flag toward his unknown but hopeful future. Collier’s signature mixed-media collages create bold, textured images that give tangible expression to the poet’s potent words. A memorable and multilayered volume for all libraries.—Kathleen Finn, St. Francis Xavier School, Winooski, VT
William C. Morris Award
HARTMAN, Rachel. Seraphina. Random. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-86656-2; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-375-96656-9; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-89658-3. LC 2011003015.
Gr 7 Up–For nearly 40 years, the treaty between the humans of Goredd and the dragons of dragonkind has held strong. Humans must not enter dragonkind territory and dragons, upon entering human lands, must take their human shape, or saarantrai. In Goredd, Seraphina’s human father, a high offical, needs her to stay anonymous. The dark secret that she must hide is that her mother was a dragon. Because of her musical talents, Seraphina becomes Goredd’s music assistant, helping prepare for the anniversary celebration. Layers of clothing disguise the scales on her arms and stomach, but unlike dragons, her blood runs red, not silver. Also, to keep from having fainting spells in which she relives her deceased mother’s experiences, Seraphina must clear her head each night. She calls the figures in her vision grotesques, and each night, she must ensure all is calm in her mind-garden. When the decapitated body of Prince Rufus is found just days before the anniversary festivities, many humans are quick to accuse a dragon of breaking the pact. Seraphina’s grotesques begin acting strangely, and the whole court is investigating the murder. When the celebrations are in full swing, all hell breaks loose as the rogue dragon that killed the prince enters Goredd in his dragon form and attempts to take control. Seraphina must risk revealing her true identity (and that of her fellow hybrids) in an attempt to save the kingdom. Hartman creates a rich story layered with intriguing characters and descriptive settings. Seraphina is a complex and fully developed protagonist. Although long, this unique novel (left open for a sequel) will surely appeal to fans of Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon” books (Knopf) and wherever readers enjoy fantasies. Lauren Newman
Schneider Family Book Award
For Middle Grade Readers:
LEAN, Sarah. A Dog Called Homeless. 198p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-212220-9; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-212222-3. LC 2011044628.
Gr 4–7—Cally Fisher hasn’t spoken for 31 days. As she explains in the prologue, “Talking doesn’t always make things happen, however much you want it to.” She knows that talking won’t bring her mother back to life or keep her dad from selling their home in exchange for a small apartment so what’s the point in saying anything. But when her mother appears one day wearing a bright red raincoat and the only other soul that sees her is a big scraggly dog, the girl knows she must find a way to convince her father that the dog is the only thing connecting them to her mother. But her father’s growing depression continues to separate the family and Cally struggles to keep her mother from becoming a distant memory. When she meets Sam, who lives downstairs, the friendship that forms between the blind boy and silent girl manages to reunite a family, and each character benefits from the bond. Truly a lesson in the power of love and loss, this story shows that learning how to listen is more important than what’s being said. This is a thought-provoking story that will speak to readers of all ages.—Cheryl Ashton, Amherst Public Library, OH
For Younger Readers:
ALEXANDER, Claire. Back to Front and Upside Down. illus. by author. 26p. Eerdmans. Sept. 2012. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-8028-5414-8.
PreS-Gr 1–Stan, a small anthropomorphic puppy, faces a big problem–his class is making birthday cards for the principal, but he just can’t get the hang of writing. He is despondent until a friend suggests that he approach their teacher for help. Gathering up some courage, Stan approaches Miss Catnip and discovers that he’s not the only one having trouble. After “lots and lots and lots of practice,” Stan’s writing improves and he not only creates a great card, but learns that he should always ask for help when he is struggling. Alexander’s mostly full-page illustrations of Stan and his animal friends are bright and cheerful. Though cartoonish, they expressively depict the change in Stan’s emotions–from isolation and sadness to accomplishment and happiness. The story is a tad didactic, but it teaches a good lesson. Students should have no trouble sympathizing with Stan’s learning difficulties and cheer for his success.–Yelena Alekseyeva-Popova, formerly at Chappaqua Library, NY
ALA Youth Media Awards 2013: Post-Game Recap — A Fuse #8 Production
Alex Award Reactions —Adult Books 4 Teens
The 2013 Newbery, Caldecott, and Geisel: Winners and Reactions — 100 Scope Notes