A zany send-up to Star Wars and Star Trek and a fanciful dragon tale are some of the kid-friendly picture books featured in SLJ’s May 2015 issue. Fans of Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle will have another heroine to admire in a debut middle grade tale by Eve Yohalem. And important titles from heavy hitters Phillip Hoose and Courtney Summers are just some of the works for older readers highlighted. Check out the latest sneak peek of reviews appearing in the next print issue.
Dolan, Elys. Nuts in Space. illus. by Elys Dolan. 32p. Candlewick. May 2015. RTE $17.99. ISBN 9780763676094. LC 2014939363.
K-Gr 3–From the author of Weasels (Candlewick, 2014) comes another fantastically wacky tale of space travel, hunger, betrayal, and…nuts? A motley crew of space-faring animals clad in Trekkie uniforms return from their mission of retrieving the Lost Nuts of Legend, only to realize that they are out of provisions and that Beaver, the engineer, ate their map. Their quest for directions results in a wild odyssey, culminating in an encounter with the dreaded Death Banana, crewed by storm trooper monkeys who try to steal the coveted nuts. Upon escaping and following large arrows that read, “Home, this way,” the crew discovers that Beaver ate the nuts, and they must turn the starship around and head back into space. Illustrated mostly on full-bleed oversize spreads, Dolan’s cartoonish drawings overflow with myriad visual jokes and speech balloons that perfectly complement the tongue-in-cheek narrative. VERDICT For those who get the references and humor and have the patience to pore over the dizzying array of details, this is veritable tour-de-farce that is sure to appeal to young fans of Star Wars, Star Trek, and general comic book silliness.
Florian, Douglas. How to Draw a Dragon. illus. by Douglas Florian. 32p. S. & S./Beach Lane. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442473997; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442474000. LC 2014012062.
K-Gr 3–Award-winning author and poet Florian captures the imagination of children again in this brilliantly simple picture book. Repetitive, rhyming text and childlike crayon drawings offer advice to budding artists on the secrets of capturing the larger-than-life beasts on paper. “Draw your dragons painted spines/using lots of jagged lines.” Each spread has a stanza consisting of one or two sentences, along with a picture of a dragon and a proud artist —highlighting the creativity of a group of multicultural children. This oversize package literally turns itself on its side to get the point across and gives helpful tips along the way. “Dragonfire has reds and yellows,/and its good to toast marshmallows.” Rhyming text employs similar vowel sounds and alliteration that, along with the pictures, assist readers in sounding out new words. All of the couplets lead to a satisfying conclusion as all of the drawings appear in the Dragon Art Show at P.S. 117 in a huge gatefold display. VERDICT This book will appeal to a wide audience: beginning readers, budding artists, and dragon lovers alike.
Markle, Sandra. Toad Weather. illus. by Thomas Gonzalez. 32p. Peachtree. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781561458189. LC 2014006505.
K-Gr 2–It’s a rainy March afternoon with end-of-the-day, gray light when Ally and her grandmother are surprised by Mama, who excitedly bursts through the door. Encouraged to join her in the “nearly-nighttime,” the three move quickly through cold rain, searching the streets for a special surprise promised by Mama. A sound like tiny whistles gets louder and louder through the “drippy, slowing-down rain” before they turn the corner and spot a sign: TOAD DETOUR. For only a few weeks each spring in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA, the toads head to ponds and a nearby reservoir to mate and lay eggs. Photo-realistic illustrations in pastel and pencil on watercolor paper capture a unique experience on full pages and spreads as residents gather to assist the yearly migration of hundreds of toads moving with determination toward water. Faces express the wonder of walking through “the dripping, freshly-washed, after-the-toad-weather city,” and an author’s note clarifies the scientific details. VERDICT An appealing seasonal selection for most libraries.
McGuire, Sarah. Valiant. 384p. Egmont USA. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781606845523; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9781606845530.
Gr 4-6–When her distant, brutal father is struck ill, Saville decides to disguise herself as a boy in order to obtain and fulfill his tailoring commissions for the king. She needs to buy medicine for her dying father, and feed herself and the starving boy she has taken in, Will. But the kingdom of Reggen, under the weak and cowardly King Eldin, is besieged by giants ruled by an evil, monstrous duke. Trapped in her male disguise, Saville becomes an unwitting (and unwilling) giant-killer, tricking two giant emissaries into returning Will, whom they have captured, unharmed and leaving Reggen. Using a trick of squeezing whey from a stone (in actuality a piece of cheese) and throwing a rock (actually a bird) so high that it never lands, Saville convinces the two young giants of her incredible strength and sends them back to die at the hands of their duke. Now, still devastated by their deaths, she must take on the entire army of giants alone while being expected to marry the princess as a reward. Meanwhile, she is falling in love with the king’s cousin and adviser, Lord Verras, who has guessed that she is not who she pretends to be. McGuire’s reluctant heroine is irritatingly given to introspection at the height of danger, and readers will sometimes wonder how she ever manages to escape death. In the end, however, Saville’s intelligence, intuition, and compassion prove more powerful than weaponry and force, and in the spirit of “The Brave Little Tailor” by the Brothers Grimm (note the reference to Savile Row, London’s famous street of bespoke tailoring), she vanquishes evil and ultimately achieves a “happily ever after.” The romance is nuanced with a delicate hand. VERDICT A good choice for those who have finished all of Gail Carson Levine’s fairy tale retellings.
Pichon, L. Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff). illus. by L. Pichon. 352p. ebook available. glossary. Candlewick. May 2015. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780763674748. LC 2014944793.
Gr 4-6–Tom Gates, a British lad in year five, can’t wait for his two-week holiday from school. He and his best mate, Derek, have some grand plans: doing nothing; having sleepovers; practicing being rock stars in their band, Dogzombies; annoying Tom’s snarky older sister, Delia; and watching lots of television. Unfortunately, a letter home from Tom’s teacher Mr. Fullerman puts the brakes on the fun. Mr. Fullerman may or may not have fallen for Tom’s “attacked by a vicious dog on the way to school” excuse regarding his missing homework. His mother insists that the homework be completed before anything else and throws in the demand for a clean room to boot. Faced with this task, Tom draws a total blank and ends up drawing cobwebs in his notebook instead. Hilariously unreflective and self-absorbed, Tom aspires to avoid schoolwork at all costs and become a rock star, even though he hasn’t mastered the music part and his band lacks a drummer. Tom and Greg Heffley are kindred spirits, and Tom’s notebook, filled with frenetic, free-wheeling attempts to avoid homework, responsibility, Marcus Melgrew, his uncle, and all things remotely unpleasant, should entertain, if not resonate. This is not the first in the series, but readers will have no problem jumping into the story. Many terms have been Americanized, such as Mom instead of Mum, but those Briticisms that were not, such as bodged or bogey, are explained in a short glossary at the end of the book. VERDICT Middle grade readers looking for more books with “Wimpy-appeal” should find a lot to enjoy in this UK import.
Yohalem, Eve. Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen. 320p. ebook available. Dial. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525428565.
Gr 5-8–The year is 1663, and motherless 12-year-old Petra escapes her once well-to-do abusive alcoholic father by stowing away on a merchant ship bound for the East Indies from her home in Amsterdam. She is discovered and befriended by Bram, an illegitimate boy of mixed-race heritage whose mother was Javanese and whose father was a Dutch sailor. Petra secretly assists Bram with his daily tasks such as weaving rope, making repairs, and organizing supplies. The boy is hoping that if he works hard, the ship’s captain will sign papers that make him a “legal son” and that will allow him to set foot on European land. The story is told in alternating points of view from each of these unique perspectives. Disguised as a boy, Petra eventually boldly exposes herself to the crew, using her sewing skills to assist with an emergency surgery. After being keelhauled as punishment for being onboard, Petra continues to work alongside the ship’s doctor. Yohalem’s thorough research, authentic nautical jargon, and sailors’ dialect brings this riveting tale to life. Likable characters and rich historical detail from daily food and drink to the elaborate hierarchy of the ship’s crew to how to use a “butt-broom” make this a believable tale. Adventures abound as Petra and Bram struggle through raging storms, rollicking battles with pirates, and deadly bouts of disease. Plots of mutiny heighten tensions and divide loyalties, and Bram and Petra are both dangerously caught in the middle, fighting for survival and a place to call home. VERDICT Pair this book with Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990) or Karen Hesse’s Stowaway (2001, both Scholastic). A thoroughly satisfying high seas adventure.
Volponi, Paul. Game Seven. 256p. ebook available. Viking. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780670785186.
Gr 6-9–Julio Ramirez, Jr., son of a former Cuban national baseball hero known as El Fuego, is an outstanding player in his own right. He dreams of making the Cuban national junior team, but is viewed with suspicion because of his father’s defection to the United States several years before. Julio’s feelings toward his father are conflicted: he is proud of the older man’s success in the American major leagues, but feels abandoned, as he, his sister, and his mother remain in poverty in Cuba while El Fuego enjoys the benefits of his multimillion dollar contract with the Florida Marlins. Unbeknownst to Julio, his father has made arrangements for him, his uncle, and his cousin to escape the island with the help of a guide named Gabriel. By means of a retrofitted ‘59 Buick, the four make the harrowing journey from Cuba to Miami, even as El Fuego is playing a starring role in the World Series. Arriving in the U.S., the group is put up in a luxury apartment, but much to Julio’s disappointment, his father does not make an appearance. In a turn of events that stretches credulity, Julio is spirited into the Marlins’s clubhouse by an ESPN reporter just before the beginning of the final game of the Series. He and his father discuss family issues as the game progresses. While their reunion is moving and appropriately equivocal, sports-savvy youngsters may find the prospect of a teenager chatting up his dad in the bullpen during game seven of the World Series a little difficult to swallow. VERDICT With its short chapters and simple vocabulary, the novel moves along briskly and would be a good fit for reluctant readers with a taste for baseball and adventure.
HARAZIN, S.A. Painless . 279p. Albert Whitman. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807562888. LC 2014027713.
Gr 8 Up–Despite a condition called “CIPA” that leaves him unable to feel pain or regulate his body temperature, David Hart is no stranger to trauma. At 17—already 14 years longer than he was ever expected to live—he’s lost his parents, his grandmother is failing fast, and he’s on the cusp of losing his freedom. While his guardian tries to convince him that he’d be safest in an assisted-living home, David, along with his new friend and assistant, decides that it’s time to create a bucket list and start living his life. The protagonist is well developed with authentic adolescent emotions regarding the difficult hand he’s been dealt. Luna, his assistant, is less fleshed-out: readers learn more about her history in the last chapter of the book than in the previous 200 pages. The remaining characters are even sketchier, seemingly having little purpose besides rescuing David or throwing obstacles in his path. Most of the problems that arise are solved with convenient outside intervention. Despite these flaws, however, this novel is a quick and engaging read. Teens will keep turning pages to learn if David completes his bucket list, ends up in a home, or gets the girl. They ultimately will learn, along with David, that a life without pain also means a life without pleasure and that some experiences are worth the risks. VERDICT Recommended for most fiction collections.
Summers, Courtney. All the Rage. 320p. ebook available. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250021915.
Gr 9 Up–Romy Grey lost her friends, including best friend Penny, and all high school social status when she accused the local sheriff’s son of rape. But then she and Penny go missing the night of the annual senior party, and Romy is found on the side of a road the next morning with no memory of what happened. She has to try and reconcile life as the ostracized girl who is found when the beloved girl is still lost, while dealing with the lasting trauma of her assault. In a society that too often seeks to place blame on the victim, Summers’s book offers a deft and timely examination of the aftermath of rape in a small town where corruption and power trump justice. “You can’t deny you were attracted to him,” the sheriff says in one of the book’s flashbacks, before commenting on the teen’s state of inebriation at the time and her clothing (“short skirt, skimpy shirt”). The dynamics between Romy and other characters, such as her supportive mother and new stepfather-figure, and her out-of-town diner coworker and love interest Leon (whom she doesn’t tell about the rape), are well written. Romy is complex and likewise developed well as the story progresses; readers will feel for her as she grapples with her most vulnerable moments and see hope in her times of strength. Not all loose ends are tied up by the end, and the book is more powerful for it. VERDICT Readers will be drawn into this moving story set in small-town America. Essential for libraries serving high school students. Library Journal
Sweeney, Diana. The Minnow. 256p. ebook available. Text. 2015. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781922182012.
Gr 8 Up–Tom’s family was killed in a flood. Only Tom and her Nana remain. In her grief, the teen has formed a profound bond with the water—it is a place of peace, but also a place of overwhelming grief and loss. Living with her father’s friend Bill (who might have taken advantage of her), she is neither cared for or loved by him and is acutely alone. When she discovers that she is pregnant, she leaves Bill and moves in with a childhood friend, Jonah, who has also lost most of his family. As her life and pregnancy progress, Tom is guided out of her grief by the ghost of her dead grandfather, her Nana’s vivacity, and Jonah’s steadfastness. She slowly bonds with her unborn child whom she calls The Minnow and whose clear voice only Tom can hear. The people in the young woman’s life never push her harshly to face her loses, but offer palliation. By the end of the novel, Tom has perhaps not found a gleaming happiness, but has made peace with her losses and grows to love her child and friends who have become her family. The writing is lyrical and fragmented with a dreamlike style that swirls together like oil on water. The watery imagery throughout perfectly expresses the grief and the guilt of a survivor without being colored black with depression but rather blue-green with sadness. VERDICT A haunting and beautiful novel for sophisticated readers.
Lu, Marie. Legend: The Graphic Novel. adapted by Leigh Dragoon. illus. by Kaari. 160p. (A Legend Novel). Putnam. 2015. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9780399171895.
Gr 8 Up–Lu’s Legend (Putnam, 2011) has been adapted as a full-color graphic novel and is just as riveting and action-packed as the original. In a futuristic Los Angeles split into factions between the Republic and the Patriots, two 15-year-olds from different worlds—June, a prodigy from the upper society and Day, a criminal from the slums—have nothing in common. But, when June’s brother Metias is murdered, Day becomes the prime suspect, and June vows revenge. As she relentlessly pursues him and they finally meet, they discover the Republic’s deadly secrets and join forces to fight injustice. Dragoon’s dialogue is faithful to the original text and each character is distinctly identifiable and clearly drawn. By repeatedly incorporating the Republic logo throughout the work’s pages, Kaari effectively illustrates the regime’s extreme oppression. The use of monochrome colors in the poorer areas compared to the more vibrant colors in the richer sectors also reinforces that theme. The artist accurately visualizes and portrays the descriptive scenes from the novel, using a minimum of panels without significantly sacrificing the original book’s story line. Kaari’s rich colors and bold, expressive style not only retains but enhances the title’s irresistible kinetic energy. VERDICT Fans of the series or those new to the first volume in Lu’s popular trilogy will love this fast-paced, beautifully illustrated version.
Maihack, Mike. Cleopatra in Space: The Thief and the Sword. 192p. (Cleopatra in Space: Bk. 2.) Scholastic/Graphix. May 2015. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780545528450.
Gr 4-7–Cleopatra is back for more galactic adventures. In the opening scene, a foreign spaceship is infiltrated by a young thief using a series of daring and skillful maneuvers to defeat scores of troopers. The action then shifts to the futuristic Planet Mayet, where young Cleo and her talking cat now reside. Cleo, outfitted in a cheerleader-style space outfit with a cobra headband over multicolor bobbed hair, possesses a fearless and impulsive attitude. These attributes, along with her ray-gun skills and predetermined status as heroine of the universe, make her a popular teen classmate. Maihack’s characters, both human and nonhuman, are diverse, expressive, and visually distinct. With action varying from tumultuous chase scenes to quiet secret meetings, the book skillfully uses color to impart mood. This title is suitable for fans of Ben Hatke’s “Zita the Spacegirl” series (First Second) and Jeffrey Brown’s “Jedi Academy” (Scholastic) who are ready to move on to older characters and more complex images. Younger devotees of Jeff Smith’s “Bone” (Scholastic) may also it. VERDICT This full-color adventure series is recommended for public and school libraries.
Burgess, Matthew. Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings. illus. by Kris Di Giacomo. 64p. chron. Enchanted Lion. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781592701711.
Gr 3 Up–This enchanting picture book biography introduces children to the life and work of e.e. cummings, one of America’s most innovative poets. With a tree house in the city and a cabin by the woods in the country each summer, cummings grew up surrounded by family and nature, and his imagination soared. He began writing poetry from the age of three, which his mother recorded. Written in verse, the text is accessible and lends itself well to read-alouds. The book itself is a work of art, full of thick pages of whimsical, full-spread illustrations in a palette of grays, blues, browns, and greens. Burgess chronicles the poet’s childhood and early adulthood, beginning and ending in the Greenwich Village studio where he would spend nearly 40 years of his life. Several child-friendly poems, including “who are you, little i” and “in Just-,” are interwoven into the text (and appended). Pair with Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s Caldecott Honor title A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (Eerdmans, 2008) for a unit on poetry. VERDICT A unique and inspiring introduction.
Smith, Matthew Clark. Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects. illus. by Giuliano Ferri. 40p. chron. notes. Amazon/Two Lions. May 2015. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9781477826324. LC 2014915911.
Gr 2-5–This enchanting picture book biography examines the life and work of 19th-century French entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre. Fairy tale–like in tone, the first few pages will easily draw in children, as Smith describes the actions of an old hermit who was considered a local eccentric by those in his village for his habit of speaking to animals and collecting insects (“Whether he was a sorcerer, or simply a madman, no one could agree.”). The villagers were shocked, however, when Fabre received a visit from the president of France. Readers are then taken back in time to learn about Fabre’s childhood, education, and ever-present interest in the natural world, as well as his unconventional teaching and writings on insect behavior. Indeed, he often shocked fellow scientists with his bizarre findings. Smith’s engaging text conveys Fabre’s zeal for his subject, while Ferri’s gorgeously detailed watercolor and pencil illustrations of plant life and insects beg readers to stop and look both at the pages as well as at the natural world around them. Historical and author’s notes and a useful time line add further context. VERDICT A must-have.
Hoose, Phillip. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club. 208p. bibliog. illus. index. maps. notes. photos. Farrar. May 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780374300227; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780374302726.
Gr 9 Up–In April 1940, occupying German forces made Denmark a “protectorate” of the Third Reich. The Danish government accepted the occupation, but a small group of teen boys, angry at their nation’s cowardice, formed the secret Churchill Club to resist the Germans and conducted a six-month spree of sabotage and destruction. Incorporating lengthy first-person reminiscences of one of the group’s leaders, Knud Pedersen, Hoose describes how the club recruited members, exploited their youth and innocent looks to deceive their parents and the Germans, appropriated weapons, and carried out guerilla-style attacks from their bicycles. Although the boys were eventually arrested and imprisoned, their exploits made them national heroes, shamed many adults, and fueled Danish resistance. After the war, Winston Churchill honored their efforts. The book is well organized, effectively integrating Pedersen’s vivid descriptions of his group’s motives, determination, and sometimes foolhardy bravery within the larger narrative, which includes information about Denmark, the war, and the boys’ families and lives. Sidebars, detailed maps, and period photos supplement the text. Often reading like a thriller, this title puts a human face on the often-overlooked Danish Resistance and complements titles such as Michael Burgan’s Refusing to Crumble: The Danish Resistance in World War II (Compass Pt., 2010) and Ellen Levine’s Darkness over Denmark: The Danish Resistance and the Rescue of the Jews (Holiday House, 2000). VERDICT A captivating work that will appeal to many readers.