November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Counting Down to SLJ’s Popular Picks: Part 1

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In advance of the print debut of SLJ’s Popular Picks in the April 2016 issue, SLJ editors have chosen must-have works for kids and teens that appeared in the January 2016 issue. Selections from the February 2016 issue will publish on March 28 and picks from the March 2016 issue will appear online on April 4.

1601-POP-CVs-1Picture Books

Ahlberg, Jessica. Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker: A Peek-Through Story. illus. by author. Candlewick. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9780763681241.

PreS-Gr 2 –When Lucy’s dog, Mr. Barker, becomes bored with the story she’s reading him and leaps out a peek-through window, the pair soon find themselves inside different fairy tale scenes. From the home of the Three Bears, they seek refuge with the Three Pigs. They then find themselves in the Giant’s home atop Jack’s beanstalk, later in Sleeping Beauty’s bedchamber, then hurrying past a gingerbread house in the forest, and finally back in Lucy’s room, safe from bears, a wolf, a giant, and a disgruntled fairy. Upon entering each new scene, Lucy asks, “Where are we?” Knowledge of the tales represented in this book will greatly enhance children’s enjoyment as they follow the characters and join Lucy in saying, “Oh! I know where we are,” even before a page turn reveals the answer. Sharp youngsters will notice that the poster in Lucy’s room in the opening scene contains a foreshadowing of the tales she will encounter, and subsequent charming watercolor illustrations are filled with details that will help identify those stories. There are plenty of visual jokes to entertain adults reading the story aloud as well. For example, a sign in the Three Bears’ home reads, “Home is where the porridge is,” and the knobs on the stove point to “too cold,” “too hot,” and “just right.” VERDICT Sturdy pages will ensure that the book holds up through repeated journeys as readers enjoy many trips through the different peek-through openings to discover in each scene.–Marianne Saccardi, Children’s Literature Consultant, Greenwich, CT

Bently, Peter. Captain Jack and the Pirates. illus. by Helen Oxenbury. Dial. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9780525429500.

PreS-K –The gifted Bently and Oxenbury team up again to take their characters from King Jack and the Dragon (Dial, 2011) on a pirate adventure. Jack, Zach, and Casper (three very little children, one with a pacifier) and their teddy bear play on an idyllic beach, where their sand-castling becomes an imaginary adventure on the high seas. A busy day includes a terrifying storm, a shipwreck, and a run-in with pirates and ends with a warm bath and some ice cream. There are other pirate stories that highlight imaginative play, and Bently covers no new ground here, but his treatment features expertly phrased rhyming couplets that take readers step-by-step into the characters’ creative process and are paired perfectly with Oxenbury’s romantic washed watercolors and pencil sketches. Perfect for a lap-sit, where a child has plenty of time to search for details, identify with the characters, and fall into the rhythm of the story, but useful, too, in a small group, where readers can predict the end to each rhyming verse. VERDICT A grand adventure and a solid addition to most picture book collections.–Lisa Lehmuller, Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School, Providence, RI

Parenteau, Shirley. Bears in a Band. illus. by David Walker. Candlewick. Feb. 2016. ISBN 9780763681470.

PreS –Those cute young bears are back with another adventure. This time the mischievous cubs find musical instruments and begin to create all kinds of “music.” Unfortunately, the noise they make is so loud and out of tune that they wake up Big Bear. Will he be upset? Will this troupe of budding musicians ever be able to play in harmony? This book is as charming as Parenteau’s earlier bear books. This original story is sweet and perfect for preschool age children. The musical onomatopoeia, such as the bells that “ding-a-ding-ding” and the horn with its “tootley-tooo,” make this a fun read-aloud. The entertaining rhyming text make it easy for older preschoolers to predict a word that may fit. While the size of the font is excellent for reading one-on-one or to a larger group, it does not dominate the page. The acrylic illustrations are straightforward and appealing. The soft pastel-like colors of the bears will capture and hold the attention of little ones. The artwork is large enough to show the bears’ various emotions. A simple, but important, teachable lesson is incorporated—if we work together, good things can happen. VERDICT A must-have for most preschool collections.–Barbara Spiri, Southborough Library, MA

Santat, Dan. Are We There Yet? illus. by author. Little, Brown. Apr. 2016. ISBN 9780316199995.

PreS-Gr 3 –This imaginative take on the never-ending car ride is filled with surprises. Santat, creator of Caldecott Medal–winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Little, Brown, 2014), begins this story with an invitation to Grandma’s birthday party, featured on the copyright page. The kid in the backseat is eager for the trip, but after the first hour, he is tired and cranky. Remarks like “Are we there yet?” and “This is taking forever” serve only to annoy his parents. Despite drawing paper, electronic games, a book, and several toys, including a monkey and dinosaur, the child is bored. “But what happens when your brain becomes…TOO… bored?” This question is spread over the top, down the recto side, and upside down at the bottom of the verso, causing readers to turn the book around as they read. An arrow instructs them to turn the pages in the opposite direction, which is somewhat counterintuitive, but once they get the hang of it, the novelty will delight. As the child in the backseat continues to complain, the family car drives through the old West, onto a pirate plank, to a medieval joust, to a pyramid in ancient Egypt, through the dinosaur age, and into the future. Though initially alarmed, the family eventually enjoy the adventure and finally arrive at their destination. At this point, readers must turn the book around again in order to arrive at the party, where numerous elderly friends and relatives are eating cake, wearing party hats, and offering presents. One man squeezes the grandson’s cheek as another pats him on the head, causing him to whine, “Can we go now?” While the design is clever, though potentially confusing, the illustrations, rendered in pencil, crayon, watercolor, ink, and Photoshop are filled with excitement and humorous details—as the family travel back in time, their clothing alters to fit the scene, from prairie bonnets to caveman skins. Full-spreads, giant comic panels, and alarmed expressions add to the fun. VERDICT Most collections will want to purchase this original, amusing offering.–Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools

Shaskan, Trisha Speed. Punk Skunks. illus. by Stephen Shaskan. HarperCollins/Harper. Feb. 2016. ISBN 9780062363961.

PreS-Gr 2 –It’s all about rhythm and rhyme for the punk skunks. Kit and Buzz are BSFs—Best Skunks Forever—and they fill their town with their rockin’ beats and jams. Ever the artistic duo, they always find a way to jam out in harmony—until one day, when they can’t quite agree what they’ll write their next song about. After a not so harmonious argument, Kit goes solo on her drums but realizes it’s all wrong, so she gives up and sets out to sell her drums at Moe’s, the local music shop. Buzz tries hummin’ and strummin’ on his strings, but it’s just not right, so he heads out to sell his prized guitar. When he arrives at Moe’s, he is surprised to see Kit there. They rekindle their musical spirit and find a way to rock out once more. With a “crash! bam! boom!” and a “wahh! wahh! ren!” and fresh new lyrics to boot, the skunks put on a concert for all their friends and finally find friendship and harmony again. With plenty of onomatopoeia and alliteration, this title will get readers up out of their seats and rocking. Bright, neon-inspired cartoons lend themselves to the rockin’ and rhythmic text. VERDICT A vibrant, fun, and memorable read for independent readers as well as group sharing.–Natalie Braham, Denver Public Library

Upton, Elizabeth. Maxi the Little Taxi. illus. by Henry Cole. Scholastic. Apr. 2016. ISBN 9780545798600.

PreS-K –It’s the first day on the job for this shiny new taxi, and he’s ready to roll. “Maxi ZIPPED here. He ZIPPED there. He ZIPPED everywhere—From the park, to the river. And back to the square. He ZOOMED up. He ZOOMED down. HE ZOOMED all around town. Splashing in every big puddle he found!” His passengers drip ice cream and mustard on his seats, and a pigeon leaves its mark as well—soon poor Maxi is filthy, both inside and out. Then a spotless girl taxi sidles up and says, “You’d better wash up, Mr. Gooey-Goo. Or no one will want to ride with you!” Sure enough, everyone ignores him, leaving him in tears until a boy and his mother hop in. At the young rider’s insistence, they go to a car wash, which proves somewhat traumatic for the little guy. As he peers into the “mouth” of the big pink car wash, he’s afraid he’ll be eaten “like a yellow gumdrop!” Soon, the exhausted car heads back to his friend, Mr. Buddy, at the garage and tells him about his day. After a final polish, he closes his eyes and falls asleep. The anthropomorphized cab is quite adorable, with two black eyes peering out the front window and a big smile on his front end. Cole’s bright palette and lively, appealing illustrations are the perfect complement to the rhyming text, which is filled with onomatopoeia and amusing details sure to delight young readers. VERDICT Pair this title with Debra and Sal Barracca’s Adventures of Taxi Dog (Dial, 1990) for units on city life or transportation. A great bedtime story.–Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools

Yolen, Jane. How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends? illus. by Mark Teague. Blue Sky. Feb. 2016. ISBN 9780545829342.

PreS-Gr 1 –The latest addition to the series does not disappoint with this friendship-based tale. Like Yolen’s other “How Do Dinosaurs…” series titles, this picture book features comical rhyming, dinosaur identification, and a great moral lesson. The book starts by listing naughty deeds a dinosaur might commit, such as “Does he tear up a book that his friend let him take? Does he throw his friend’s lunch box straight into the lake?” Halfway through the book, the line “No…a dinosaur doesn’t. He won’t even try.” sets the tone for the remainder of the picture book. By listing good deeds a dinosaur does for his friends, even if they’re fighting, Yolen provides a great takeaway message for preschoolers everywhere. Teague’s oversize and colorful illustrations are a delight as always, and the dinosaur’s facial expressions are a clear winner in this latest title. VERDICT Perfect for storytimes and one-on-one reading.–Brooke Newberry, La Crosse Public Library, WI

Chapter Books

redstarVernon, Ursula. Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic. illus. by Ursula Vernon. 240p. (Hamster Princess: Bk. 2). Dial. Mar. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780803739840.

Gr 3-6 –Fierce warrior hamster princess Harriet Hamsterbone and her faithful battle-quail, Mumfrey, are itching for adventure mere weeks after obliterating the fairy curse in the first book of the series, Harriet the Invincible (Dial, 2015). Now that she is no longer invincible, she cannot participate in her favorite pastime, cliff diving, and she yearns for a new mighty quest. When a fairy shrew appears, needing her assistance at the Mouse Kingdom, Harriet quickly obliges. She learns of the plight of the 12 dancing princess mice, who are cursed to dance all night, every night. Arriving at the castle armed with a poncho of invisibility, Harriet must find out what is forcing the princesses to dance and break the curse before it’s too late. What she unearths is a rodent-tweaked version of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses,” in which the 12 princesses, who are named after the months of the year (January, February, March, etc.), seem destined to marry the 12 mole brothers (named after the zodiac signs: Gemini, Pisces, etc.). The generous comic book–like, two-toned illustrations are reminiscent of Vernon’s “Dragonbreath” series (Dial) and suit the text perfectly. VERDICT A quick and satisfying read that is as hilarious as it is fun. Make room on the shelves for this not so frilly princess.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

Middle Grade

Brown, Gavin. Josh Baxter Levels Up. 192p. Scholastic. Mar. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780545772945; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9780545772952.

Gr 4-7 –Replete with gaming metaphors, the otherwise typical plot of a boy grappling with challenges at home and at school is given fresh appeal. Josh has had to move and attend three different schools within two years of losing his father. He relies on his favorite video games to distract him from real-life difficulties. But things seem to take a turn for the worse when Josh starts at a new middle school, becomes the target of a bully, and has his treasured video game collection withheld due to sinking grades. Josh realizes that he needs to take the strategies learned in his games and apply them in life: he evaluates what the heroes of his games would do and makes a plan to “level up.” Each chapter ends with a video game–style update of the protagonist’s level, health, lives, and new skills unlocked. Readers will be engaged in this likable lead’s quest to solidify burgeoning friendships via a school video game decathlon. Secondary peer characters of both genders and diverse backgrounds add texture. Josh’s mother and teachers are supportive secondary characters, demonstrating positive relationships between youths and adults. As a video game designer, the author understands the games in detail and what they mean to enthusiasts, rendering the gaming analogies relatable to the intended audience. VERDICT Recommended as an enticing addition, especially for middle school gamers and reluctant readers.–Suzanne LaPierre, Fairfax County Public Library, Burke, VA

Frazier, Sundee T. Cleo Edison Oliver, Playground Millionaire. illus. by Jennifer L. Meyer. 224p. (Cleo Edison Oliver). Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Jan. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545822367; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780545822374.

Gr 3-5 –Cleo Edison Oliver has a lot of fantastic ideas, and, thanks to the inspiration of business woman Fortune A. Davies, she is inspired to start her own businesses. From selling items from catalogs to setting up an avocado stand in her own front yard, Cleo has a lot of experience. So, for a class project, she offers up her wildest business yet: Cleo’s Quick and Painless Tooth Removal Service! For a cut of the Tooth Fairy money, Cleo has her classmates covered, until an unfortunate barfing incident causes things to go haywire and Cleo learns that running a business isn’t as easy as she thought. Cleo is a spunky, energetic, and highly ambitious girl. Always planning a new way to earn money and make her role model proud, Cleo manages to be an inspiration to young entrepreneurs. She and her brothers are adopted and African American, and the supporting cast is diverse as well. The plot is entertaining and relatable, with a happy ending that reminds readers that there are things more important than money. VERDICT A good purchase for libraries serving elementary-aged readers.–Paige Garrison, Augusta Richmond County Library System, GA

Park, Linda Sue. Wing and Claw: Forest of Wonders. 352p. (Wing & Claw: Bk. 1). HarperCollins/Harper. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062327383.

Gr 4-7 –Park’s newest foray into fiction is a switch from the historical into the fantastical. In this, the first installment in a trilogy, readers meet Raffa Santana. The young teen protagonist is following in his parents’ footsteps and taking on the challenges of apothecary work. Raffa has a deeply profound intuition when it comes to botanical/chemical work. His extreme ability leads him to form uniquely deep relationships with special friends and creatures from the Forest of Wonder. The story is written with skill and well paced. The real beauty in Park’s work lies in the relationship she creates between Raffa and Echo the bat. The story contains some high-intensity action scenes that will hook readers. The world-building is intensive; there is clearly a multilayered history and culture underlying the richly detailed setting. This story would be great as a way to create some interest and engagement with students studying chemistry or earth science. VERDICT A strong addition by a wonderfully talented author to diversify middle grade fantasy collections.–Chad Lane, Tulip Grove Elementary School, MD

1601-POP-CVs-3-rYA

Calame, Don. Dan Versus Nature. Candlewick. Apr. 2016. ISBN 9780763670719. Gr 10 Up –Dan Weekes, a budding graphic novelist, and his geeky, germophobic best friend, Charlie, are just trying to survive high school, their main goal being not getting beat up by the jocks. Meanwhile, Dan’s mother has made a point of dating almost every man in California. Then she meets Hank, to whom she gets engaged before Dan even meets him. The teen’s first impression is that Hank is the living version of Wolverine, leaving him checking his hand for fractured bones after their initial handshake. For Dan’s 16th birthday, his mom gets him two tickets to go on a wilderness adventure to bond with Hank. To make matters worse, Dan is assigned to take Baby-Real-A-Lot (a mechanical baby) the same week as the trip. Dan convinces Charlie to go on the trip, with Charlie coming up with a series of increasingly raunchy pranks designed to scare Hank off from marrying Dan’s mom. Calame throws a twist in when Penelope, a smart and adorkable teen, and her mother end up on the same trip. Full of uproariously funny scenes and foul language typical of today’s teens, this is a journey through the wilderness that readers will never forget. The pranks include doctored-up chili, doe urine, rainbow barf, and an unplanned stalker. Under the surface, Calame touches on deeper issues, including Dan’s absent father, Hank’s own father issues, jealousy, and expectations of what makes a family. VERDICT Perfect for the most reluctant of readers, this book is a sure-fire hit.–Erin Holt, Williamson Cty. P.L., Franklin, TN

McCarthy, Cori. You Were Here. illus. by Sonia Liao. Sourcebooks/Fire. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9781492617044.

Gr 10 Up –It’s been five years since Jake died—he broke his neck the day of his high school graduation while attempting a daredevil stunt. Jake’s sister, Jaycee, has had a hard time letting him go. It’s now Jaycee’s own high school graduation, but she’s still consumed with sadness, guilt, and anger over his death. When she discovers a map in Jake’s old room of all the locations he visited during his urbex explorations (going to abandoned man-made structures like a mall or amusement park), she and a group of unlikely friends decide to re-create Jake’s path. There’s Natalie, Jaycee’s former best friend; Zach, Natalie’s slacker boyfriend; Bishop, a lovesick artist; and Mik, Jake’s former best friend who is now a selective mute. The story is told from five points of view in alternating chapters. Three follow a traditional prose narrative, while Mik’s is told in graphic novel style and Bishop’s through chapters consisting of street art reproduced on a single page. The emphasis, however, is on the two female characters, and since Jaycee’s chapters are in the first person, her story is the most personal. The pacing is slow at the start, and the work has an ambitious structure with a lot of moving parts; it may take a while for readers to become vested in the outcome or care about the characters. Readers who persevere, however, will be rewarded by the emotionally satisfying conclusion. VERDICT The topic of urban exploration and the inclusion of graphic novel style chapters will appeal to teens.–Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn, NY

redstarSmith, Amber. The Way I Used To Be. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9781481449359.

Gr 9 Up –Eden is a quiet band nerd and a freshman when her brother’s best friend, Kevin, rapes her. Eden’s entire life is changed from that moment. Life no longer makes sense. She believes Kevin’s threats and doesn’t tell anyone what happened. The next four years of her life are shaped by that night in large and small ways. Eden struggles to relate to her best friend and most of her other acquaintances. The teen experiments sexually in an attempt to gain control, but her inability to relate and connect create a dangerous cycle she must confront in order to move on. Smith tells Eden’s story in four parts: freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year. This is a poignant book that realistically looks at the lasting effects of trauma on love, relationships, and life. While the rape is discussed, it is not graphic, allowing for a wider readership. Teens will be reminded of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. VERDICT An important addition for every collection.–Cyndi ­Hamann, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Taylor, Janet B. Into the Dim. HMH. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9780544602007.

Gr 8 Up –Hope Walton’s life has been turned upside down by the sudden presumed death of her mother, a well-respected history lecturer. When her stepfather gives her a letter from the Scottish aunt she’s never met inviting her to come visit, Hope jumps at the chance. Once at her aunt’s huge estate, she discovers a family secret: her mom was one of a group of time travelers and may be stuck in England in the year 1154. Hope agrees to go along on a dangerous rescue mission. Once they are in England, however, nothing seems to go right, as their plans are foiled by another group of time travelers ostensibly bent on keeping her mother there. One of them is Cam, a young man for whom Hope has developed an undeniable attraction—but she is unsure of his motives. While the historical details are interesting and generally accurate, the crux of the story takes a bit too long to get started. Though this isn’t the fun romp through time that it might appear to be at first, there is plenty of action and adventure to keep readers mostly engaged through the long, drawn-out ending. The author’s portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine strains some credulity but is mostly well done and helps the famous historical figure come to life. VERDICT A somewhat absorbing, if uneven, foray into the Middle Ages for teens.–Necia Blundy, formerly at Marlborough Public Library, MA

Wells, Robison. Dark Energy. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Apr. 2016. ISBN 9780062275059.

Gr 8 Up –This week, 17-year-old Alice is being forced to move to Minnesota with her father, the Director of Special Projects for NASA. That’s because last week a giant UFO crashed in the Midwest, killing tens of thousands of people before skidding to a stop outside of Minneapolis. The world is outraged at the loss of human life and terrified that whatever is inside the UFO has come to invade Earth. Surprisingly, the aliens from the ship look like humans, despite having pale skin and an unfamiliar language. Calling themselves the Guides, they seem to come in peace. In an effort to boost diplomatic relations, two of the teenage Guides are sent to a boarding school in Minnetonka, where they are predictably befriended by Alice and her brilliant math- and science-minded roommates. What follows is a fast-paced adventure, filled with action, mystery, and humor. A rushed ending is the only glaring flaw in an otherwise entertaining (if not always believable) plot. The novel’s greatest strength lies in the perfectly timed wit of its young female narrator. The Guides’ inability to understand Alice’s sarcasm and idiomatic expressions makes for some hilarious conversations. But those same sarcastic discussions lead to poignant observations about humans, who, as Alice explains, don’t always treat one another very well and are generally afraid of other people’s differences. In the end, Wells proves that teenagers are smart and resourceful and that their unique perspective might just save the world. VERDICT Witty dialogue, plenty of action, and just a hint of romance make this a perfect selection for any teenage science-fiction fan.–Liz Overberg, Zionsville Community High School, IN

Zentner, Jeff. The Serpent King. Crown. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9780553524024.

Gr 9 Up –The son of a snake-handling preacher imprisoned for possessing child pornography, Dill escapes his controlling mother and social ostracism with the help of his two friends, Lydia and Travis. As the trio round out their senior year, it becomes overwhelmingly apparent the different paths their lives are going to take—Travis is content working in a lumberyard and diving into a fantasy world from a book series in his spare time, while Lydia runs a popular fashion blog and is intent on attending New York University. As for Dill, he yearns for more than Forrestville, TN, can offer, but he feels compelled to honor his father’s legacy and his mother’s domineering wishes. As Dill grapples with a crush on Lydia and a mother who wants him to drop out of high school, a YouTube clip of Dill singing and playing guitar begins to garner attention. Dill must decide among what his heart wants, what his family needs, and his own desire for a life outside of their small town; “If you’re going to live,” he says, “you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.” Zentner offers a contemporary young adult novel that explores many issues common with teenagers today—bullying, life after high school, and the coming together and breaking apart of high school friendships. Thorough characterization and artful prose allow readers to intimately experience the highs and lows of these three friends. VERDICT Recommended for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.–Amanda C. Buschmann, Atascocita Middle School, Humble, TX

Zhang, Amy. This Is Where the World Ends. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062383044.

Gr 9 Up –Edgy, taut, and compelling, this is a story of unrequited love, betrayal, and apocalyptic changes using lyrical language wrought with symbolism. Janie and Micah have been next-door neighbors and nighttime ninjas since childhood. Micah has long loved Janie from (not-so) afar while Janie remains elusive. Despite her steely exterior and manipulative ways, Janie loves Micah as much as he loves her, but she toys with him nonetheless. Similarities to John Green’s Paper Towns (Dutton, 2008) end here. Micah wakes up at the hospital after a night of binge drinking; he vaguely recalls a fire, but details are missing. Where is Janie? Why are the police questioning him? Events unfold through the alternating voices of Janie and Micah in nonlinear fashion until Janie’s past and Micah’s present collide. Ultimately, this narrative choice creates suspense and works, yet initially it may confuse readers. Zhang tackles heavy subjects such as rape and suicide directly, realistically, and in a way that speaks to teens. Micah’s quick acceptance after learning the tragic facts presents perhaps the novel’s only real flaw. This abruptly tidy ending does not keep with the lugubrious tone. Both Micah and Janie are well-drawn, complex, and sympathetic. Janie explains her connection with Micah, “We had already drawn lines on our soul and stabbed little flags on it”; language such as this sets this novel apart. VERDICT The breadth of topics covered, figurative language employed, page-turning suspense, and spot-on delivery render this novel a must-have for high school libraries.–Laura Falli, McNeil High School, Austin, TX

Nonfiction

Keyser, Amber J., ed. The V-Word: True Stories About First-Time Sex. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Feb. 2016. ISBN 9781582705224.

Gr 10 Up –All too aware that often media and pop culture messages about sex and virginity are at best inaccurate and at worst dangerous, Keyser has compiled 17 essays from female authors—straight, gay, bisexual, and transgender—about their first time having sex: the good, the bad, the ugly, and, of course, the awkward. The experiences range from a wedding night to a spontaneous but tender hookup to an alcohol-fueled one-night stand. The writing varies, but all of the authors express genuine and heartfelt emotions. While there is a fair amount of explicit content, the tone is less sultry and more contemplative. Keyser prefaces each piece with a brief introduction that teases apart themes such as gender identity and sexual autonomy. The book concludes with information on topics such as consent, body image, and masturbation, all presented in a way that reflects the editor’s progressive mind-set. Appended is an interview between Keyser and contributor, former librarian, and editor Kelly Jensen, who offers many examples of YA novels with rich depictions of female sexuality. Although there’s a wealth of thought-provoking content here, Keyser is never preachy, and teens will come away feeling as though they’ve spent time in the company of a smart and self-assured but gentle and reassuring older sister or friend. VERDICT A strong addition to sex ed shelves and a much-needed perspective on teenage sexuality.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

redstarLondon, Jonathan. Otters Love To Play. illus. by Meilo So. Candlewick. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9780763669133.

K-Gr 2 –The story of an action-filled year in the life of a North American river otter family begins with the selection of an abandoned beaver den by the mother and the spring birth of her babies. Solely responsible for the young, she nurses them until they are ready to leave the den and go outside, where she teaches them how to swim. The antics of the pups—they wrestle and roll, play tag and race, and flip and swish like underwater acrobats—are amplified by vibrant and expressive watercolors. Their playful activities mimic future adult behavior as they learn how to catch fish and other prey and deal with the threat of a hungry fox. Facts about otters runs underneath the fictional narrative of the mother otter and her offspring. Seasonal variations in the riverside habitat are captured in the lovely spreads, such as the tracks as the otters slide down snowy hills. VERDICT Fun and informative, this beautifully illustrated, strong narrative belongs in every collection.–Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA

Rubin, Susan Goldman. Hot Pink: The Life & Fashions of Elsa Schiaparelli. Abrams. 2015. ISBN 9781419716423.

Gr 5-8 –Art historian and biographer Rubin, who has written about art heavyweights such as Diego Rivera, Andy Warhol, René Magritte, and many others, turns to one of the first fashion designers to consider herself an artist (long before every fashionisto/fashionista made this same claim). Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) defied tradition and set out to shock and amuse with her designs. The Paris-based designer collaborated with surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau, creating lobster-embellished gowns, hats that looked like upturned shoes, and suits with drawers like a wardrobe. The collaborations were a two-way street: she influenced the artists as much as they did her. The author reminds us that the groundbreaking designer invented many things we consider fashion staples now: the color “Shocking Pink,” now called hot pink; fur booties; wedge heels; bolero jackets; shoulder bags. She was also the first designer to “brand herself,” licensing her name to many adjunct products (her frenemy and contemporary Coco Chanel only attached her name to her company’s perfumes). This is an attractive volume (shocking pink, of course), with large, high-quality photos. Though certain highlights of Schiap’s personal life are mentioned, this book concentrates on her creative work. There’s a bit of pinkwashing here: some accounts of Schiaparelli mothering skills are less benevolent than Rubin’s, and a mention of how Schiap disliked even five minutes’ tardiness from her employees speaks volumes. VERDICT This is a stirring account of a strong-willed, one-of-a-kind woman who made it big and did it her way. Her story will inspire young creative types and anybody who feels like an outsider.–Liz French, Library Journal

redstarSinger, Marilyn. Echo Echo: Reverso Poems About Greek Myths. illus. by Josée Masse. Dial. Feb. 2016. ISBN 9780803739925.

Gr 2-5 –A companion volume to this team’s Mirror Mirror (2010) and Follow Follow (2013, both Dial), this imaginative work is a symphony of cannily composed verse intensified by a palette of Aegean blues, sunlit golds, and delicate greens. Through reverso poems rendered in an elegant font on split blue and white pages, Singer presents two sides of different Greek myths. The demanding wordplay is deftly handled and prettily displayed. Perfectly complementing—indeed, enhancing—the sly subtlety of the text are Masse’s compelling stylized acrylics: Narcissus gazing raptly at his reflection, Daedalus soaring into airy blueness while molting, and melting Icarus plunging into the ocean. For those unfamiliar with the Greek myths, an encapsulated summary is provided at the bottom of each spread. VERDICT A witty, seductive pairing of poetic imagination and artistic vision.–Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY

1601-POP-CVs-2-rGraphic Novels

Allison, John. Giant Days. illus. by Lissa Treiman & Whitney Cogar. Boom! Studios. 2015. ISBN 9781608867899.

Gr 10 Up –A hilarious peek into freshman year of college from the eyes of three spunky but realistic young women. Susan, Esther, and Daisy have become fast friends during the first few weeks at university. Brash Susan suffers no fools and hopes to take down the patriarchy. Punk/goth Esther can’t escape the drama that seems to follow her every move. And sheltered, super-sweet Daisy begins to explore new aspects of herself (including her first experiences with drugs, clubbing, and girl crushes). Collecting the first four issues of the acclaimed comics, this volume showcases the trio’s misadventures as they navigate the highs and lows of that pivotal first year of college. From enduring a dorm room flu epidemic to bringing down the dudes responsible for putting Esther on a website that objectifies “hot” freshmen girls, the friends’ high jinks will cause chuckles and groans. Allison’s sparkling and wry dialogue, which fans of his Bad Machinery (Oni, 2013) will recognize, and Treiman’s laugh-inducing illustrations combine to create a fun romp for older teens looking forward to their college debuts. Cogar’s warm and vibrant gem-tone colors complete the package. Briticisms don’t detract from the reading experience (except for Daisy’s birthday celebration in a bar—teens can legally drink at age 18 in the UK). The work is appended with variant covers from individual issues. VERDICT A pitch-perfect exploration of the small and large milestones of early college life that should garner a place in collections serving older teens.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

AnglEberger, Tom. Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Stripmall. illus. by author. Marvel. Mar. 2016. ISBN 9781484714522. Gr 5 Up –“Origami Yoda” series (Abrams) author Angleberger presents a silly tale starring two popular Marvel comic heroes. This slapstick romp is full of potty humor and gags that middle schoolers will love. The book opens as Rocket and Groot become shipwrecked after battling a swarm of giant space piranhas. The only thing that they have left is an artificially intelligent tape dispenser named Veronica, who transcribes their adventures in the form of captain’s logs. Veronica also has a Doodle app so the heroes can draw pictures to accompany the text. Desperate to find food, water, and shelter, they land on an unchartered planet full of strip malls. With a succession of scuffles, they find themselves encountering hungry, violent toilets, killer robots, dangerous washing machines with chain-saw arms, sewage monsters, and fantastic homicidal aliens. Readers will be amused by the Guardians of the Nacho Cheeze–themed restaurant. Black-and-white pictures in cartoon style accompany the story. Graphic novel traditionalists may have a hard time with the large amount of text, but fans of both Marvel and funny illustrated novels will be pleased to know that two follow-up installments are planned. VERDICT Recommended for kids who enjoy highly illustrated novels, laugh-out-loud comics, and extension stories from the Marvel universe.–Lisa Gieskes, Richland County Public Library, Columbia, SC

Deutsch, Barry. Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish. illus. by author. Abrams/Amulet. 2015. ISBN 9781419708008.

Gr 4-6 –In a third adventure in the Orthodox community of Hereville, Mirka learns more about her stepmother when she meets a magic fish whose powers are held in check by a wish Fruma made when she was a teenager. The fish takes Mirka’s stepsister, Layele, hostage, making Mirka the “worst babysitter ever.” A mix of humor and drama, with plenty of suspenseful chases and battles, this is an enjoyable and absorbing read. Cartoon-style illustrations with bold, clear lines and a limited color palette highlight Deutsch’s deft use of the comics medium. At one point Layele, enchanted by the magic fish, dissolves into a school of fish that bombard Mirka with statements reflecting her conflicted feelings about their relationship. Dynamic paneling heightens the action and emotion in many scenes. In one, Fruma transforms into a giant redwood. A close-up of Mirka’s shocked face is layered over smaller panels sequencing the transformation. On the next page, panels bleed into a wide view of Mirka running to the rescue. This sophistication and subtlety extend to the depiction of Mirka’s relationships, particularly the push and pull with her stepmother. Fruma is argumentative and unsentimental, but she is a reliable and caring adult in Mirka’s life. This stand-alone volume should appeal to readers of other graphic novels starring plucky female characters such as Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters (Scholastic, 2014) and Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost (Square Fish, 2014), as well as fans of humorous adventures such as Jeff Smith’s “Bone series (Scholastic) and Shannon Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge (Bloomsbury, 2008). VERDICT An entertaining graphic novel adventure in which Mirka learns more about herself and her family relationships.–Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library

Motomi, Kyousuke. QQ Sweeper. illus. by Kyousuke Motomi. Viz Media. 2015. ISBN 9781421582146.

Gr 7 Up –Fumi Nishioka is a new transfer student who is now homeless because she’s been abandoned by her family. Fumi is single-mindedly pursuing her Cinderella dream of finding a rich Prince Charming who will support her. Kyutaro Horikita (aka “Q”) is a quiet boy who spends most of his time cleaning and whose father is the principal of the school. Q finds Fumi sleeping in an abandoned area of the school, and he soon discovers that Fumi has the ability to see the mystical doorways and monstrous creatures that only special people like Q and his father can see. Fumi moves in with Q and his father, joining them in their “sweeper” tasks, which involve both physical cleaning and using positive energy to drive out the darkness and unhappiness that can cause people emotional harm. This is an unusual and atmospheric story that will take readers and the characters through unexpected twists and turns. Teens will especially enjoy how Fumi evolves throughout the story, reconsidering the idea that a rich boy can fix all of her problems and stepping up to face the dangerous challenges that her new job provides. Motomi’s artwork expertly captures the changing moods of the story, from dreamy and romantic to dark and ominous. VERDICT Combines the Japanese obsessions with maid culture and the paranormal in a unique and engaging way.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

redstarO’Connor, George. Apollo: The Brilliant One. illus. by author. First Second. Jan. 2016. ISBN 9781626720169.

Gr 4 Up –Narrated by the nine Mousai, or muses, who were worshipped alongside the brilliant son of Zeus, the eighth entry in O’Connor’s masterful graphic novel series continues in the tradition of his previous “Olympians” tales. Starting off with Hera’s pursuit of Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis, and Zeus’s lover, the muses relate different myths, each fleshing out a different aspect of the god of light’s personality and legend. From his many charms and character flaws to his often failed romances, Apollo is presented as the most human of the Greek gods. Telling his story through the muses’ perspectives is a successful device that O’Connor employs—each of them share a story that is in tune with their area of expertise. For example, Erato, the muse of mimicry and love poetry, recites a poem about Hyacinth, the prince of Sparta, who was caught in a love triangle with Apollo and Zephyros. Within this tale, some of the panels feature her miming some of the particulars. It is details like these, plus the creator’s in-depth research, matter-of-fact and humorous tone, and expressive and dynamic art that continue to make each entry in this series a must-have. The variation of panels and the alternating dark and light-infused color palette add to the work’s overall pacing and appeal. VERDICT A shining example of a graphic novel that educates and entertains.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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