From a hilarious chapter book set in space to an imaginative origin story for Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts, the following works featured in SLJ’s upcoming February 2015 issue will entertain and pique the interest of voracious and emergent readers. Check out the latest sneak peek of reviews appearing in the next print issue, and subscribe to SLJ today to get all of our reviews every month!
Fiction: Preschool to Grade 4
Hall, Michael. Red: A Crayon’s Story. illus. by Michael Hall. 32p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062252074.
PreS-K –Step inside the life of a crayon in this funny and poignant picture book. The star of the show is Red, a blue crayon who mistakenly has a red label. His teacher tries to convince him to draw strawberries, but they show up blue. He tries on a red scarf, but it just does not match. His mother suggests he mixes with other colors, but the results are not what he expects. No matter how hard Red tries, his efforts just keep coming out blue. His other crayon friends try to help him reinvent himself, but no matter what they do, Red is still a blue crayon. After much self-doubt and denial, Red makes a new friend, a Berry-colored crayon, who asks him to complete his drawing by adding a blue ocean for his boat. Red gives it a go, and suddenly, he finds his true self and discovers what his other art-supply friends knew all along. The rest of his crayon friends are impressed with his new style, and Red comes to embrace his true identity. Hall’s latest picture book is all about staying true to oneself, no matter what others say. The illustrations emulate children’s artwork, giving readers a great opportunity to identify colors and new vocabulary. Large, clear text make this perfect for a read-aloud, as well as independent reading. VERDICT Reminiscent of Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit (Philomel, 2013), this witty and heartwarming book is sure to become a favorite for children and adults alike.
Pennypacker, Sara. Completely Clementine. illus. by Marla Frazee. 192p. Disney-Hyperion. Mar. 2015. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781423123583. LC 2013030583.
Gr 2-4 –Third grade is ending and Clementine feels anxious as the school year comes to a close. She does not like saying goodbye, and she’s especially not ready to bid farewell to Mr. D’Matz. She’s also worried about her mother’s nutty “nesting” behavior as the new baby’s birth approaches, and she’s so mad at her dad she isn’t speaking to him. Everything wraps up neatly by the end, though, and Clementine is finally ready to face the summer and embrace the unknowns of fourth grade. Clementine is just as fresh and funny in this seventh and final title in the series as she was in the first book. It’s sure to be popular for readers already familiar with Clementine and will doubtlessly engender a new set of fans to read each of the books about this entertaining character. VERDICT This last title in the popular and laugh-out-loud chapter book series is a must-have for library collections.
Reeve, Philip. Cakes in Space. illus. by Sarah McIntyre. 224p. Random. May 2015. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780385387927; lib. ed. $15.99. ISBN 9780385387958; ebk. ISBN 9780385387941. LC 2014000428.
Gr 2-5 –Ten-year-old Astra and her family are moving to a whole new planet, aptly named Nova Mundi. Since it takes 199 years to get there, the space travelers will be frozen in sleeping pods. Astra’s skeptical—and hungry! She decides that she needs a snack before going into hibernation, so she asks the ship’s super computer robot, Nom-O-Tron, to make her the “ultimate cake…so delicious it’s scary.” The robot goes to work, but the girl’s parents put her into her sleeping pod before any cake is produced. When Astra wakes up early, she discovers that Nom-O-Tron has made decidedly scary cupcakes that seem to be eating anything they can find. Can Astra and her robot sidekick Pilbeam save the ship? Add some otherworldly pirates and a slithery, creepy alien called the Nameless Horror, and you have a wacky and fast-moving, if somewhat outlandish, adventure. While the full-color cartoon illustrations can seem like something from The Jetsons, that won’t matter to budding readers ready to step up to chapter books. Underlying lessons about not judging by appearances and being careful what you ask for contribute to a happy ending with some sci-fi fun along the way. VERDICT An out-of-this-world choice to read alone or read aloud.
Willems, Mo. Waiting Is Not Easy! illus. by Mo Willems. 64p. (Elephant & Piggie). Disney-Hyperion. 2014. Tr $8.99. ISBN 9781423199571. LC 2014007802.
K-Gr 2 –Gerald and Piggie are sharing another adventure in the latest book in the series. The expected large print, spare dialogue, and bubble delivery make it easy to read. Gerald loses patience with Piggie when he is told that a surprise is in store but that he must wait for it. His reactions include producing several loud GROANS and reminding Piggie repeatedly that waiting is NOT easy. Piggie knows that the surprise is worth the wait, but she has to keep Gerald there to see it. The simple words and expressive illustrations, as always, reveal the fact that we often overlook the obvious and that there is beauty all around us. Nothing brings greater joy than sharing that beauty with our friends. VERDICT This original story is about friendship, but it also offers insights into human emotions.
Fiction: Grade 5 & UP
Kirby, Matthew J. The Arctic Code. 336p. (The Dark Gravity Sequence: Bk. 1). HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062224873; ebk. ISBN 9780062224897.
Gr 4-7 –In the first of this new sci-fi series, the northern part of the world is enveloped in the Freeze, a new ice age that is steadily creeping southward. Twelve-year-old “devilishly clever” Eleanor Perry is safe in relatively warmer Phoenix, AZ. While hoards of northern refugees flood into the city and are housed in buildings plagued by crime, plumbing issues, and power outages, she lives comfortably in the suburbs with her geologist mother and uncle. Currently, her mom is in the Arctic, exploring the frigid ice sheet for a nonprofit organization. Eleanor grows concerned when she receives a cryptic message from her mom, which includes mysterious files from G.E.T., the monolithic and suspicious energy corporation headed by the equally untrustworthy Dr. Skinner. She learns that her mother has gone missing and determinedly stows away on a plane bound for the Arctic. Upon arrival, Eleanor discovers that G.E.T. and Dr. Skinner control everything involving the exploration. Eleanor doesn’t trust the doctor’s motives and she secretly sets out to find her mom. What she discovers will surprise her—and readers. This is an exciting, page-turning tale. Middle grade readers will be compelled by Eleanor’s daredevil adventure to find her mom and thrilled as she unearths some startling secrets. VERDICT While the scientific descriptions may be confusing at times, intrepid readers will be rewarded with an action-packed, intriguing story.
Nielsen, Susin. We Are All Made of Molecules. 256p. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553496864; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780553496871; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780553496888. LC 2014017652.
Gr 7-10 –Thirteen-year-old Stewart and 14-year-old Ashley could not be more different. Stewart is a quirky, gifted intellectual who is coping with the loss of his mother, while Ashley is a popular fashionista still reeling from her parents’ divorce—brought about by her father’s announcement that he is gay. When a serious relationship develops between Stewart’s father and Ashley’s mother, the two teens find themselves living under the same roof. By turns humorous and heartbreaking, the story is told in alternating chapters narrated by both protagonists. In comparison to Stewart, Ashley is somewhat underdeveloped, but the contrast between the two characters makes for a compelling read, particularly as they begin to challenge and influence each other. Their overlapping journeys will leave readers with much to think about, as Nielsen unflinchingly tackles issues such as bullying, bigotry, and tolerance; the true nature of friendship; and what it means to be a family. The book will appeal to fans of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder (Random, 2012) and Jo Knowles’s See You at Harry’s (Candlewick, 2012). VERDICT This work of realistic fiction should find a place in most libraries serving teens.
Rose, Caroline Starr. Blue Birds. 400p. Putnam. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399168109; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698173514.
Gr 4-7 –Like Rose’s debut novel, May B. (Random, 2012), Blue Birds is historical fiction told in free verse. Set in the late 1580s, the story centers on two young girls who forge an unlikely bond, one which defies the conventions of their respective communities and threatens to shatter an already fragile détente. Alis is a colonist who’s just arrived on the island of Roanoke with her family and a small band of English men and women intent on settling the New World. Kimi is a young Roanoke girl who watches the arrival of the white folk with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. Over time, even as tensions mount and violence erupts between the two peoples, the young women find each other amid the confusion, hatred, and ignorance—communicating through gestures and simple words. Told in alternating voices, rendered in distinct font styles for each girl, the verses allow readers to see their relationship evolve from one of tentative friendship to a deep bond of sisterhood. As the girls become closer, their poems occasionally share a page, the short stanzas working together as meaning and understanding is reached. Rose’s writing is accessible and filled with rich details describing the setting: the rough and ragged barracks in which the settlers strive to make a home as well as the vibrant natural beauty of Kimi’s village and surrounding woods. Based loosely on the slim evidence surrounding the events of the infamous Lost Colony of Roanoke, Rose takes some liberties with history (explained in an author’s note): there was no record of a young woman—other than wives and mothers—being among the group of settlers during that time period. Similarly, the actual whereabouts of the missing settlers is one of history’s great mysteries. The tough choices the characters must make are, on the whole, believable outgrowths of their burgeoning bond. The ending, however, may stretch credulity for some readers. VERDICT With two compelling main characters and an abundance of rich historical detail, Rose’s latest novel offers much to discuss and much to appreciate. School Library Journal
White, J.A. The Thickety: The Whispering Trees. illus. by Andrea Offerman. 528p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062257291.
Gr 5-8 –In this relentlessly grim follow-up to 2014’s The Thickety: A Path Begins, (HarperCollins), siblings Kara and Taff are on the run inside the dangerous forest known as the Thickety. Demon Sordyr is hot on their heels and intent on keeping them inside the woods. With the help of a beguiling new friend with a demonic past, Kara and Taff search for a way out of the cursed forest and away from their lost lives in the village of De’Noran. Kara’s magical ability to communicate with animals begins to grow, but like all magic, it comes at a terrible price: in this case, her memories. The plot turns come fast and furious, while the dark imagery of the forest and spot illustrations add to the underlying feeling of dread. The nail-biting suspense will keep readers turning the pages late into the night, and in Kara, readers will find a protagonist to root for. Fans of happy endings, however, should search for a different adventure. VERDICT Readers who enjoyed the spine-chilling first installment will be eager to get their hands on this sequel.
Fiction: Grades 9 & Up
Engel, Amy. The Book of Ivy. 304p. Entangled Teen. 2014. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781622664658.
Gr 9 Up –After the brutal war that decimated most of the country, Ivy Westfall’s grandfather founded Westfall and envisioned a democratic nation in which everyone had a right to vote. However, after a conflict between the Westfall and the Lattimer families, the Lattimers won power and governed Westfall as a dictatorship. All of her life, Ivy has been trained to hate President Lattimer for his imposed laws—specifically arranged marriages. When it is her turn to marry, she is assigned to Bishop, President Lattimer’s son. Going into the marriage, Ivy’s father and sister encourage her to kill her new husband and return the Westfall family to their rightful position. This mission becomes increasingly difficult as Ivy develops feelings for her husband. She is forced to make a decision that will alter her entire life. The Book of Ivy begins as most dystopians do—with a ceremony and the main character forced into a situation as dictated by the government. However, the novel quickly separates itself from the mediocre and presents a fantastic plot that makes readers think about the blurred lines between right and wrong. VERDICT Well-developed characters and intricate world-building combined with complex relationships, political corruption, and betrayal, leave readers begging for the second book in this series.
Latham, Jennifer. Scarlett Undercover. 320p. Little, Brown. May 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316283939; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316283892.
Gr 6-10 –Sixteen-year-old Scarlett is a Sam Spade-talking, fedora-wearing Muslim American who runs her own detective agency in the gritty city of Las Almas. Scarlett’s usual cases involve adultery and insurance fraud until a 10-year-old girl hires her to investigate a suicide. The minute the teen takes the case, she is tailed by two strange girls with gold circles in their eyes. Someone breaks into her apartment and steals a family heirloom. Even her closest friends start acting like the world is ending. Scarlett quickly discovers that her case isn’t just about a suicide, but rather an ancient war between genies and the descendants of King Solomon. There is a relic that could tip the balance of power. Scarlett is tough and fiercely independent. While her older sister takes comfort in religion, the protagonist finds solace in her father’s old copy of One Thousand and One Nights. Unfortunately, the novel suffers from its heavy hard-boiled lingo which, in its modern setting, becomes a distraction from the characterization. Despite this, the supernatural mystery is engaging and the Muslim American teenage sleuth will be a welcome addition to YA shelves. VERDICT A fun, if flawed, whodunit with a diverse protagonist who is an heir apparent to Veronica Mars.
McCarthy, Cori. Breaking Sky. 416p. Sourcebooks Fire. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781492601418; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781492601425.
Gr 9 Up –The year is 2048. Teenager Chase, better known by her call sign, Nyx, is a pilot in training for the American military’s topmost secret project. Back in 2020, American pilots were massacred in an airfight by drones—dictator Ri Xiong Di’s most effective weapon. The entire world has endured a second Cold War ever since. No other countries are allowed to aid the U.S. at all, and the people are suffering. The military is secretly testing two new plane prototypes that might outrun the drones. However, their pilots must be young and strong enough to withstand the tremendous force on the human body that occurs when traveling at high speeds. In order to get funding for more prototypes, Nyx and her comrades must prove the worth of the project. On a training mission, Nyx spots a third prototype that she didn’t know existed. In her haste to discover the identity of its pilot and country, Nyx endangers the entire project and many lives as well. But, if she can start dismantling the wall she’s built around herself since her difficult childhood, she might be able to trust someone, fall in love, and save the day. Similar to the S.J. Kincaid’s “Insignia” series (HarperCollins), this novel distinguishes itself. The dialogue is authentic, and the characters are nuanced. Chase has determination and resolve, even in the face of her fears. The description of her flights is breathtakingly realistic. VERDICT Strong characterizations, action, adventure, and emotion combine to produce a sci-fi novel that is more than just the sum of its parts.
Oakes, Colleen. The Crown. Vol. 1. ISBN 9781940716022.
––––. The Wonder. Vol. 2. ISBN 9781940716213.
ea vol: 222p. (Queen of Hearts). ebook available. BookSparks/SparkPress. 2014. pap. $15.
Gr 9 Up –Readers get a peek into the story behind the darkly twisted world of Wonderland before Alice arrived. Fifteen-year-old Princess Dinah, heir to the throne of Wonderland, tries to navigate her way to power around the ruthlessly brutal King; her half-sister, Vittore; her much adored “mad” brother Charles, who is the direct heir, but not able to take on the responsibilities of the throne; and an interesting hierarchy of characters who are either in support of or in opposition to her becoming the “Queen of Hearts” once she turns 18. In The Crown, readers catch a glimpse of the causes of the future Queen’s anger-management issues and mistrust of people. Surrounded by few friends and numerous enemies—with the shape-shifter and king’s advisor Cheshire being the most dangerous of all—Dinah lives in constant fear and is forced to hide her true feelings for mere survival. In The Wonder, Dinah is in exile, hiding from the king’s assassins, and purported to be a traitor and murderer. Oakes expertly expands the children’s classic into a complex and compelling series of plot twists that uncover the future Queen of Hearts’s true origins. The author fleshes out some of the quirks in Carroll’s work and adds more depth to the source material’s secondary characters. Familiarity with the original isn’t necessary, but will add richness to this tale. VERDICT Complete with a mad tea party in the woods, this cinematic series has just the right amount of fantasy and epic suspense to keep even the strongest of hearts on the edge of their seats.
Grades 9 & Up
Watson, Andi. Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula. illus. by Andi Watson. 176p. First Second. Feb. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781626722750; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781626721494.
Gr 6-10 –In this graphic novel by longtime comic artist Watson, harried Princess Decomposia is so busy running the Underworld for her overbearing and hypochondriac father that she never has time to eat properly. With state affairs hanging in the balance, she hires pastry chef Count Spatula as the new cook, hoping he will finally be able to assuage the King Wulfrun’s cantankerous belly, so that he can go back to running the gloomy kingdom. When Wulfrun (who could give Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse’s dad a run for his money) discovers the growing friendship and romance between the Princess and the cook, all hell breaks loose as the burgeoning couple take a day trip aboveground. Visual and textual puns abound in this Downton Abbey-esque romp, which balances serious discussions on class, gender, and politics with humor and wordplay. Decomposia learns to stand up for herself, inspired by her new friendships, and comes into her own, a lesson that could border on preachy, but is delivered with nuance. The inky black-and-white illustrations on the mostly three-tier, six-panel pages denote movement and facial expressions with aplomb. The narrative is appended by a section of character sketches that will intrigue visual artists. VERDICT This comedy of manners and errors is a delightful confection for graphic novel fans looking for a quirky, tame romance. School Library Journal
Nonfiction: Preschool to Grade 4
Hsyu, J.C. The Dinner That Cooked Itself. illus. by Kenard Pak. 32p. Flying Eye Books. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781909263413.
Gr 1-3 –Hsyu and Pak have revived a Chinese folktale, keeping the flavor of ancient China while making the story appealing to a modern audience. The mixed-media illustrations are done in the style of traditional Chinese art and include Chinese characters for several key words. The well-written story offers a familiar lesson on the value of hard work and thoughtfulness. The idea of finding a match based on birth year and name may be unusual to readers but will offer a starting point for talking about Chinese culture. VERDICT A solid choice for multicultural folktale collections.
Nonfiction: Grade 5 & Up
Healy, Nick, ed. Love & Profanity: A Collection of True, Tortured, Wild, Hilarious, Concise, and Intense Tales of Teenage Life. 232p. index. Capstone/Switch Pr. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781630790127.
Gr 8 Up –Short yet powerful autobiographical stories comprise this collection of consistently excellent, vivid writing. The 43 authors from various backgrounds include a few YA well-knowns—John Scieszka, Joseph Bruchac, Carrie Mesrobian, Will Weaver—and many new and upcoming names. The stories reflect the writers’ adolescent experiences with conflict, bullying, family, school, friendship, unrequited love, sex, and more. They offer appeal mostly for high school teens and even adults, though there are several that would be appropriate for upper middle schoolers. Love, or the abysmal lack of it, is central to many of the stories, while profanity is primarily reflected in situations rather than word choice (though the language is occasionally graphic). The stories are, by turns, edgy, nostalgic, poignant, sad, and humorous, with some offering a combination of these qualities. Each selection is heartfelt and thought-provoking and could be a catalyst for intensive discussion. VERDICT Readers of Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking up, Standing out, and Being Yourself edited by Luke Reynolds (Chicago Review, 2013) and Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally (Zest, 2012), may appreciate this compilation.