November 17, 2017

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A Bevy of Books for Gift-giving | SLJ Sneak Peek

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From a galaxy far, far away to a pop-up misadventure, this month’s sneak peek of January 2015 reviews features great last-minute gift ideas and new titles to add to your TBR pile. Subscribe to SLJ today to get all of our reviews every month!

Fiction: Preschool to Grade 4

Otis courted MamaredstarAPPELT, Kathi. When Otis Courted Mama. illus. by Jill Mcelmurry. 40p. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780152166885.

PreS-Gr 3–Set in the southwestern desert, this adorable, humble tale of how a young coyote copes with divorced parents will win children’s hearts. The cadence of the story, with its soothing repetition, balances the new dual-home reality of so many children today with the old comfort of Home where a child feels “loved through and through.” The beautifully toned gouache brushwork and large swatches of color are reminiscent of Rothko’s work on one page while evoking classic Golden Book aesthetics on the next. White stands out like the stars in the desert night, and the eyelashes of these coyotes are long and lush or their cheeks blush. Cardell loves his daddy who can sing and play and cook jalapeño flapjacks like no other, but he has to share his “perfectly good daddy” with a stepmother and a baby stepbrother. He loves his “perfectly good mama,” but not the series of suitors that come a-courtin’ but are soon sent away. Then Otis arrives, and he makes Cardell feel “a grrr form in his throat.” He expects his mother to say, “We can do without Otis…but “Adiós, Otis” never came.” The complicated feelings of a child who must accept a new stepparent are woefully underrepresented in children’s literature. Turns out that Otis can spin a pretty good yarn that “settled on Cardell’s fur like a warm blanket. Even the moon seemed to smile.” Well, like Otis, this exquisitely told tale is a welcome addition to any collection. Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City

star-warsDiTerlizzi, Tony. The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. illus. by Ralph McQuarrie. 64p. (Star Wars). Disney. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781484706688. LC 2014937079.

Gr 1-3 –Back when Luke Skywalker’s adventures were just words on a page, George Lucas worked with concept artist Ralph McQuarrie to create the signature look of the vast Star Wars universe. Now DiTerlizzi introduces the original Star Wars trilogy to a new generation with a picture book illustrated with stunning sketches and gouache paintings. True to its title, this retelling focuses on Luke’s tale, relegating the other characters to supporting roles. It recounts the story of Luke’s journey from farm boy to Jedi Knight. DiTerlizzi delved deep into the Lucasfilm archives to select artwork that perfectly captures the most memorable locales, from the wretched hive of Mos Eisley spaceport to the stark interiors of the Death Star. The layout allows McQuarrie’s art to shine, alternating between small panels and large full page illustrations. DiTerlizzi’s lively text condenses the saga into a brisk 64 pages without losing the iconic moments that have delighted generations of fans. Blasters, explosions, and light sabers abound, yet the violence is restrained compared to the movies. It is the ideal initiation for young Padawans taking their first steps into a larger world.–Tony Hirt, Hennepin County Library, MN

Julia ChildMaclear, Kyo & Julie Morstad. Julia, Child. 32p. Tundra. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781770494497.

K-Gr 2 –This is the story of a girl named Julia who falls in love with French food at a young age (any resemblance to the real Julia Child is purely coincidental). She and her friend Simca take some classes and do a lot of experimentation and decide to pursue a future of cooking together. Because life “was filled with far too many grown-ups who did not know how to have a marvelous time,” they are determined to follow their passion and to maintain their childlike joie de vivre. To do so, they create recipes for “growing young,” which require no hurrying, and delicate spices “so that worries would disappear and wonders would rise to the surface.” Despite some setbacks and needed modifications for clueless adults, Julia and Simca perfect a cookbook called Mastering the Art of Childhood. Morstad’s lovely gouache and ink artwork has just the right proportions of sophistication and whimsy to suit the subject matter and to offer epicurious picture-book consumers something to sink their teeth in to. Bon Appétit!.–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

Dragon_Sabuda_redstarSabuda, Robert. The Dragon and the Knight: A Pop-Up Misadventure. illus. by Robert Sabuda. 22p. S. & S./Little Simon. 2014. Tr $29.99. ISBN 9781416960812.

K-Gr 4 –The story line bursts off the pages—literally—in this fun and fast-paced frolic through the fairy tale realm. The first spread introduces a “small but gallant” knight (silver visor tightly closed) and a “terrible” fire-breathing dragon. The formal-sounding text is blocked from view by two much less decorous looking pop-up figures, giving readers an inkling that this is not a traditional recounting. Shouting, “Hey! Get back here!” the knight races after a dragon depicted with more mischief than menace. As each page turn takes the chase through a retelling of a traditional tale, blocks of flowing text erupt off the pages and onto the eye-popping paper sculptures; the story-specific narrative covers Cinderella’s ball gown, Snow White’s glass coffin, Aladdin’s magic carpet, Rapunzel’s tower, and more. The mad dash culminates with a giant-size 3-D, fire-breathing dragon “ROAR!” a few burned-out holes, and a perfectly roasted marshmallow (and the knight—a smiling red-tressed girl—requesting a repeat game of tag). An imaginative, entertaining, and handsomely executed book.–Joy Fleishhacker, School Library Journal

Fiction: Grades 5 to 8

Terrible Two_Barnett, Mac & Jory John. The Terrible Two. illus. by Kevin Cornell. 224p. (The Terrible Two: Bk. 1). Abrams/Amulet. Jan. 2015. Tr $13.95. ISBN 9781419714917.

Gr 4-6 –When you move to a new school, you get to decide who you want to be: front-row kid, kid with cool shoes, or smart kid. Miles Murphy has moved to a new town and a new school, but he doesn’t want to reinvent himself. He wants to be who he has always been; a prankster. The problem is, that role has already been taken by a troublemaker who is even better than Miles, Niles Sparks, masquerading as a do-gooder. Niles respects Miles’ skills and suggests they join forces as The Terrible Two. Initially disinterested, Miles ultimately realizes he is no match for Niles, and they work together to pull off the ultimate prank and develop a close friendship. Coauthors and friends Barnett and John have created a fast paced, laugh-out-loud novel sure to appeal to those who appreciate a good prank and have a sense of justice. The caricaturelike protagonists, particularly the childlike adult characters, add to the absurdity of the book, and the evolving relationship between the Miles and Niles is pure fun. Cornell’s varied graphics perfectly capture the humorous tone and add their own comic appeal. This is a good candidate for reluctant readers and a natural next read for fans of Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series.–Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Library, OR

HEAP-HOUSEredstarCarey, Edward. Heap House. illus. by Edward Carey. 416p. (The Iremonger Trilogy). ebook available. Overlook. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781468309539; pap. ISBN 9781471401596.

Gr 7-9 –Welcome to Heap House, a sprawling, dark, dingy mansion, situated in the middle of a vast pile of junk. It’s home to the Iremongers, a strange and reclusive extended family. They intermarry to preserve their bloodlines and consider themselves almost royalty. People with partial Iremonger blood are their servants. Their identities are tied to “birth objects,” commonplace things that represent and shape who they are from birth. Clod Iremonger is 15, with a bath plug for a birth object. He is unhappily engaged to his cousin Pinalippy. Clod has a skill that makes him seem odd in the eyes of the other Iremongers; he can hear the birth objects speaking. They only speak their names, but their voices are always with him. He is resigned to his dreary life until he meets Lucy Pennant, an orphan who is told she has a little Iremonger blood and forced to work at Heap House. Lucy changes the way Clod sees his world, but her arrival sets off a chain of events that might mean the end of Heap House. Black-and-white illustrations are as deliciously unsettling as the text. Characters are rich with personality, from Clod’s frightening Granny who has never left her bedroom, to his bath plug, who manages to be sassy even though the only thing he says is “James Henry Hayward.” Some colorful language makes this most suitable for older middle grade and teen readers. Stories don’t get much weirder, but that’s precisely what makes it so magical.–Mandy Laferriere, Fowler Middle School, Frisco, TX

stella-by-starlightlgredstarDraper, Sharon M. Stella by Starlight. 288p. ebook available. S. & S./Atheneum. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442494978.

Gr 4-8 –Coretta Scott King Award winner Draper draws inspiration from her grandmother’s journal to tell the absorbing story of a young girl growing up in Depression-era, segregated North Carolina. One frightening night Stella and her brother Jojo witness a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, practically in their own backyard. This meeting is the signal of trouble to come to the black community of Bumblebee. The townspeople must come together to find strength and protection to face the injustices all around them. This is an engrossing historical fiction novel with an amiable and humble heroine who does not recognize her own bravery or the power of her words. She provides inspiration not only to her fellow characters but also to readers who will relate to her and her situation. Storytelling at its finest.–Tiffany Davis, Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, NY

Lai_Listen SlowlyredstarLai, Thanhha. Listen Slowly. 272p. HarperCollins/Harper. Feb. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062229182.

Gr 5-8 –The summer before she turns 13, Mai is planning to spend her time going to the beach and finally talking to her secret crush. She’s less than thrilled when her parents make her escort her grandmother to Vietnam instead. New information may have surfaced about her long lost grandfather, who disappeared over 40 years ago in “THE WAR.” Mai doesn’t know the culture or speak the language, and everything she knows about Vietnam is from a PBS documentary on the Fall of Saigon. While her parents are excited for her to learn more about her roots, the teen doesn’t even know the details of her own parents’ escape because “random roots are encouraged, but specific roots are off-limits.” Stuck in a village with limited internet access, a sulky Mai slowly makes friends due to lack of better things to do and bonds with her grandmother, with whom she was very close as a small child. Mai’s character growth is slow and believable, coming in small increments and occasionally backsliding. The sights, smells, and tastes of Vietnam’s cities and villages come alive on the page, without overwhelming a story filled with a summers-worth of touching and hilarious moments, grand adventure, and lazy afternoons. With a contemporary time setting, this compelling novel shows the lingering effects of war through generations and how the secrets our parents keep can shape us.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA

Fiction: Grades 9 & Up

Red QueenAveyard, Victoria. Red Queen. 400p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062310637.

Gr 9 Up –Seventeen-year-old Mare Barrow lives in a world where one’s lot in life is determined by the color of one’s blood. She was born a Red and has to make a living by pickpocketing and trying to dodge “the conscription” and being sent off to fight an ongoing war. Mare’s resigned herself to the fact that she’ll always serve the Silver, a genetically gifted group of people with supernatural abilities. A chance encounter with the prince causes Mare to suddenly find herself at the royal palace as a servant, where she discovers in front of everyone that she also has a unique gift. She is Red and Silver, and could be just the spark the Reds need to rise up against the oppressive Silvers. The king and queen quickly cover up Mare’s anomaly by presenting her to the rest of the Silvers as a long-lost princess and betroth her to their second-born son. Now Mare is torn between playing the part of a Silver, and helping out the Scarlet Guard rebellion. The story has touches of the usual dystopian suspects. However, it’s formulaic elements are far outweighed by the breakneck pace and engaging characters. There’s a bit of teen romance, but luckily the characters are self-aware enough to realize its frivolity among the story’s more important plot points. A solid debut from Aveyard and a welcome addition to the plethora of speculative teen lit.–Kimberly Castle-Alberts, Hudson Library & Historical Society, OH

hero-at the end of the worldClaiborne, Erin. A Hero at the End of the World. illus. by Jade Liebes. 308p. Big Bang. 2014. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9780990484400.

Gr 9 Up –Ewan Mao was destined to save the world. Prophesied as slayer of the evil Duff Slan, he has spent most of his life reaping the benefits of being the “chosen one:” namely, skipping school and flouting the rules of magical law enforcement. But when the time comes, it isn’t 16-year-old Ewan who completes his gargantuan task— it’s his best friend, Oliver Abrams. Seven years later, the two are living very different lives. Oliver is working a dream job at the Serious Magical Crimes Agency and living up to his full “hero” potential, while Ewan is sulking as the barista of a rundown coffee shop and living with his parents. When Ewan (accidentally) joins an evil cult with destruction in mind, the estranged pair must reunite in order to save the universe. This hilarious twist on the magical boarding school genre is excellently done, embracing familiar tropes while simultaneously turning them on their heads. Claiborne manages to create characters who are imperfect, but not unlikable. Oliver, for instance, is a hero who knows it; he is admirably brave yet unbearably haughty, with an inflated ego matched only by wealthy quasi-villain Archibald Gardener Hobbes (who also happens to be Ewan’s love interest). With equal parts action and wit, this novel will hook fans of fantasy and snark alike. Liebes’s graceful illustrations perfectly complement the beauty, and the danger, lurking in this mythical Britain.–Ashleigh Williams, School Library Journal

SeekerDayton, Arwen Elys. Seeker. 352p. Delacorte. Feb. 2015. lib. ed. $21.99. ISBN 9780375991486; Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780385744072; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385378574.

Gr 8 Up –A life of honor, using her training for the good of humankind—that’s what Quin Kincaid has been promised. Under the watchful eye of her father she has learned to use the tools of the Seeker: the “whipsword” with its deadly ability to assume the form of any weapon, and the “athame,” a stone dagger that can slice through the threads of time, space, and matter, transporting the user to almost any destination. But upon taking her oath, she finds that her father’s idea of the honorable work of a Seeker leads her to commit terrible acts. When a fiery siege is launched on their compound, Quin takes the opportunity to escape. Now she and her training partners, John and Shinobu, must come to terms with the dark deeds of their past, reclaim the honor of their families, and determine the true and proper duties of a Seeker. This novel combines all of the modern components for a successful young adult novel: a heroine with a perfect mix of innocence and lethal force; a society that, while not quite dystopian, needs saving; a love interest who is dangerous and forbidden; and the promise of sequels-to-come. Dayton has created a complex and intriguing set of characters here. Fans of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” (HarperCollins), Marie Lu’s “Legend” (Putnam), and Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” (Scholastic) series: your next obsession has arrived.–Sara Saxton, Wasilla Public Library, Wasilla, AK

Nonfiction

BeetlesredstarBurns, Loree Griffin. Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People Who Track It. photos by Ellen Harasimowicz. 64p. bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780547792675.

Gr 5-9 –They arrived unseen, burrowed in wooden pallets, spools, and crates, aboard ships from China. The first group spotted in the United States, in Brooklyn, NY, was contained, and quickly taken care of, but since then infestations have been discovered from Massachusetts to Illinois, and as far north as Canada. They’re Asian longhorned beetles, pests with “powerful jaws and a taste for wood” and the frightening potential to eat their way through North American forests. Griffin takes readers alongside a team of dedicated scientists and citizen volunteers working to eradicate this invasive species in a quarantined area in Worchester County, MA. Along the way, she explains how the creatures can go undetected for years (their life cycle begins inside trees, which keeps them heavily camouflaged) and offers information that early studies on the creature have yielded—not all of it hopeful. Abundant, close-up, color photos of the insect (from egg to pupa to mature adult), damaged trees, onsite workers, and informative labeled diagrams and maps help tell this disquieting story. Burns questions the approach of the scientists she followed and both admires and “trusts.” But for her, the story is also personal. The author lives within the quarantined area in Massachusetts and has seen firsthand areas where swatches of infested (and other) trees have been cut down. Her questions about the method employed will leave readers asking some of their own—as they should. A timely, well-told story and a call to action.–Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

Meet MatisseSénac, Jean-Vincent. Meet Matisse. illus. by Jean-Vincent Sénac. 32p. Tate. 2014. pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781849762991.

Gr 2-5 –Highlighting the cut-out art of Henri Matisse, this book invites readers to pretend they are the artist, stepping inside his studio and exploring the creative and conceptual elements of his work. Children gain an understanding of Matisse’s creative processes, learning the principles of composition, design, balance, expression, and color theory. Although the book is relatively short, it’s rich and includes advanced vocabulary, the conceptual and theoretical origins of Matisse’s artistic process, and a brief description of his life. The text highlights the man’s commitment to the emotional and spiritual aspects of art, as well as his curiosity and admiration for the natural world. The bright, contemporary, and modern illustrations will appeal to readers, as will the inclusion of many inspiring Matisse quotes. This book serves best as a supplement to other books on Matisse’s life; having some prior knowledge of the principles of art and design will enhance understanding. A solid work that’s sure to inspire the artist within.–Natalie Braham, Denver Public Library

Saxby_KangarooSaxby, Claire. Big Red Kangaroo. illus. by Graham Byrne. 32p. index. Candlewick. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763670757. LC 2013955949.

Gr 1-4 –“In the center of Australia, far inland, where ocean is a dim memory…a big red kangaroo licks his forearms and lets the early evening breeze wash over him.” So begins this narrative account of one night in the life of a male red kangaroo, leader of his mob. From a breakfast of grasses at nightfall to finding shelter in a rainstorm, Red is ever vigilant, looking out for the sharp-toothed dingo or for male rivals from other mobs. Each spread features action-packed illustrations in charcoal and digital media, a page of narrative, and italicized text offering more information or explanation (“A kangaroo’s tail is long and strong. It aids in balance, almost like another leg. When a kangaroo moves at full speed, its tail acts like a rudder.”). The palette of brown, yellow, orange, gray, and black reflects the heat and night; the animals are gracefully rendered in natural poses. A final page offers additional information. Eloquent writing and large, easy-to-see pictures make this a perfect read aloud for units on Australia, marsupials, or nonfiction.–Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools

yousafzai_iammalalaYousafzai, Malala with Patricia McCormick. I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World. Young Readers Edition. 224p. chron. glossary. maps. photos. Little, Brown. 2014. Tr $17. ISBN 9780316327930.

Gr 6 Up –In this young readers edition of Yousafzai’s best-selling memoir, the Nobel Peace Prize winner retells her experiences at home and at school and discusses the impact of the Taliban presence in Pakistan. Her strong voice and ideals come across on every page, emphasizing how her surroundings and supportive family helped her become the relevant figure she is today. Yousafzai highlights the importance of school and how it was the only space where she felt empowered. Although at times the transitions between personal accounts and historical background feel abrupt, Yousafzai effectively summarizes her story and her advocacy for girls’ education, peace, and human rights. Above all, she stresses that she doesn’t want to be known as the girl shot by the Taliban but rather as a young person who actively fought for education. A strong addition to social studies, history, and biography collections.–Sujei Lugo, Somerville Public Library, MA

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