SLJ‘s August 2016 Popular Picks feature some great titles that your kids and teens will be clamoring for. This month, check out the latest from Nicola Yoon; Dan Santat’s newest early reader, part of Mo Willems’s “Elephant and Piggie Like Reading” series; and the DVD version of Finding Winnie.
Bell, Cece. Rabbit and Robot and Ribbit. illus. by Cece Bell. 48p. Candlewick. Sept. 2016. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780763679354. POP
Gr 1-3 –In the second title from the series, a new friend is introduced, Ribbit, a frog, and this does not sit well with Rabbit. He shows up unexpectedly to surprise Robot and finds a frog playing checkers with his friend. Rabbit is invited to stay to watch Cowboy Jack Rabbit, his favorite show. But when Robot adds flies to the popcorn, Rabbit cannot take it anymore, despite Ribbit’s cordial gestures. Robot is so overwrought by the bickering between his two guests, he malfunctions. This forces Rabbit and Ribbit to work together to fix their mutual friend, and you guessed it, they figure out they can be friends, too. Easy text will draw in emerging readers as well as those ready for a simple chapter book much like Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” series. The digital illustrations are expressive and joyful and will keep readers engaged in the plot. VERDICT A fun and pleasing friendship story for young readers learning that three doesn’t have to be a crowd.
Curato, Mike. Little Elliot, Big Fun. illus. by Mike Curato. 40p. Holt. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780805098273. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –In this third offering in the series, Mouse and Elliot head to Coney Island for a day of “ice cream and cotton candy and popcorn…shows and games and lots of rides!” Though excited about the treats, the timid pachyderm vetoes almost every ride his friend suggests. The water chute is “too wet,” the giant roulette wheel is “too dizzy!”, and the roller coaster is “too fast!” After he loses his ice cream to a greedy seagull, an inadvertent misadventure in the fun house causes the little elephant to retreat under the boardwalk. But after a good time on the beach, he reluctantly agrees to try the Ferris wheel, which is depicted through a gatefold spread featuring a fabulous aerial view of the amusement park. Next, Elliot and Mouse brave the bumper cars, play skee-ball, and ride the carousel. When Elliot asks his friend about his favorite part of the day, Mouse doesn’t hesitate. He says, “Being with you,” to which Elliot replies, “Being with you is my favorite part of every day!” Charming endpapers display advertisements for myriad sideshow performers, including a tightrope walker, a tattooed lady, a magician, and, of course, “the incredible POLKA-DOTTED ELEPHANT.” The detailed pencil drawings of old-time Coney Island are digitally colored in Adobe Photoshop. VERDICT This beautifully designed title is perfect for units on friendship, New York, or summer vacations. Sure to be a hit at a Big Fun storytime.
Keller, Laurie with Mo Willems. We Are Growing! illus. by Laurie Keller with Mo Willems. 64p. (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!). Disney-Hyperion. Sept. 2016. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9781484726358. POP
K-Gr 2 –An exciting thing is happening. The grass is growing! One blade grows tall, another grows curly, and two grow pointy. As these changes occur, the blades of grass declare what it is that makes them unique—all but one, that is. The last blade of grass has no distinguishing feature of note, and no matter how much the group wrack their brains, they can’t figure it out. Then, the great equalizer, the lawn mower, comes along. It takes this event for the blade to discover his special quality. As for the rest, even though they are literally cut down, they are reassured that they will grow again. The empowering narrative can be applied to lessons regarding things like confidence, identity, and growing up. No matter the takeaway, the message is easily consumable, thanks to exaggerated characteristics, cartoonish actions, and a good sense of comedic timing. In this new series, Willems’s popular characters share their favorite books, acting as the introductory and closing framework to the story. In this case, they have made an excellent choice. VERDICT Fans of Elephant and Piggie will devour this kooky easy reader, with its similar presentation and storytelling style.
Leigh, C.J. The Ninjabread Man. illus. by Chris Gall. 40p. Scholastic/Orchard. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545814300. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –This humorous parody of a familiar tale, “The Gingerbread Man,” is sure to become a hit with the young martial arts crowd. Sensei makes the ninjabread as a reward for his hardworking students. But when he opens the oven, “KA-POW! Out [leaps] the Ninjabread Man, alive and kicking.” Children will relish Gall’s large, action-inspired artwork. The rhyme and meter of the phrasing are great fun for reading aloud, with a twist on the well-known line in the climatic scene, “Try, try as best as you can, you can’t beat me, I’m the Ninjabread Man!” For those who already know the story, Leigh has created a satisfying concluding page. VERDICT Little ninjas will eat this title up, and primary-age children will enjoy making comparisons with the original tale.
Meade, Rita. Edward Gets Messy. illus. by Olga Stern. 32p. S. & S. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481437776. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –Edward is a young pig who likes a well-ordered life. While it might be satisfying to be so darn neat, it also poses some challenges. Edward can’t pet a dog or eat any food that splatters, and school contains a whole host of horrors, with messy art projects and untidy outdoor activities. One fateful day, an entire shelf of art supplies falls, and Edward is bathed in a glorious and colorful mess. His initial anxiety quickly dissipates as he discovers the intrinsic joy of creating without worrying. Soon he is taking part in exploding science experiments, petting dogs, and slurping a very messy plate of spaghetti. The charming tale ends with Edward taking a bath and looking quite content. The text is matched perfectly by Stern’s illustrations, which portray the fastidious lifestyle of Edward with precision and detail and then give way to utter abandon. The wonderful spread depicting a muddy and messy baseball game, with Edward sliding into second base, confirms his transformation. VERDICT This debut title is a delightful tale and a storytime winner. Pair it with Karen Beaumont’s I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More to help children embrace the messier side of life.
Santat, Dan with Mo Willems. The Cookie Fiasco. illus. by Dan Santat with Mo Willems. 64p. (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!). Disney-Hyperion. Sept. 2016. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9781484726365. POP
K-Gr 2 –In this book within a book, readers are greeted by Elephant and Piggie, who are ready to share “some of their favorite books” with readers. Santat tackles the subject of division in a way that young kids will relate to—figuring out how to split up cookies fairly. The characters include a nervous purple hippo, a crocodile, a squirrel with pigtails, and a blue squirrel with glasses. They have a problem. There are four of them and only three cookies. How will they divide them up equally? Maybe the two squirrels should share one. Hippo suggests they share by size, but the crocodile protests, “WAIT! You are HUGE! You would get all the cookies!” Finally, a happy accident presents the solution. Those looking for “Elephant & Piggie” read-alikes will not be disappointed. The story is similarly told entirely in speech bubbles. The emotions of the characters are effectively conveyed through these speech bubbles, which change in size to express excitement and frustration, and the comic-style illustrations, which add dramatic appeal and humor. The language is more complex than most beginning reader texts, but kids won’t mind. VERDICT With fun new characters and cameo appearances by Elephant and Piggie, this title is sure to be a hit with beginning readers. Libraries should be prepared for this one to fly off the shelves.
Shea, Bob. The Happiest Book Ever. illus. by Bob Shea. 40p. Disney-Hyperion. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484730454. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –In a quest to be the happiest book ever, this interactive story has lined up lots of help. Dancing cake? Check. A candy parade and a flying lion? Yup. Now readers supply happy thoughts. All is well, except for the frowny frog. The book is super-duper happy, except for the frog, whose dour expression never changes. Entice a smile from him with a frog-centric riddle provided at the back of the book? (What’s giant and green and hops around Tokyo? Frogzilla!) Nope, not even that groaner warrants a grin. Maybe we can just cover the frog with a Post-it note? No way, the sticky-tongued fellow makes fast work of that. The only solution is to kick the frog out of the book entirely. Now everybody’s happy, right? Well, no, not exactly. Chasing Frog out of the book is just mean, and “being mean is not happy.” In a forgiving mood, Frog comes back to the book and is given a balloon to make him content. Book, Frog, and readers have successfully made the happiest book ever! The volume is chock-full of colorfully wacky, doodlelike illustrations that employ a palette of yellow, orange, and bright blue. The book’s “face” is surprisingly expressive, using only a few lines and shapes. VERDICT Fun for one-on-one sharing or a riotous time with a larger group, especially where other interactive titles are popular.
Angleberger, Tom & Paul Dellinger. Fuzzy. 272p. Abrams/Amulet. Aug. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781419721229. POP
Gr 5-8 –Max is looking forward to starting sixth grade because this year her school is launching a new program, Robot Integration, and Max is excited about meeting the first ever robot student. When she meets Fuzzy, Max quickly befriends him and is assigned to show him the ropes. Not everyone at school is excited about the new student. The assistant principal, an AI computer named Barbara, seems determined to get rid of both Fuzzy and Max. When Fuzzy winds up in a showdown with Barbara, somebot’s bound to be reprogrammed. In some ways, this is a typical school story—smart kids, clueless adults, overly tough school administrators, and some bad guys (cyberspies) thrown in for good measure. It’s also a futuristic sci-fi novel with a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the evils of standardized testing gone awry. VERDICT An absorbing, fast-paced read and an excellent choice for middle schoolers.
Lin, Grace. When the Sea Turned to Silver. illus. by Grace Lin. 384p. Little, Brown. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316125925; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316317696. POP
Gr 3-6 –The Tiger Emperor is conscripting all the men of the mountain villages to build the Vast Wall surrounding the kingdom. But when they reach Pinmei’s village, they also take her grandmother, the Storyteller. In order to save her, Pinmei and her friend Yishan embark on a voyage to find the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night—the only thing the Emperor will trade for a prisoner’s freedom. From the top of Never-Ending Mountain to the City of Bright Moonlight to the bottom of the sea and back, their journey brings readers to familiar characters and settings as well as new ones. Combining the epic quest of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the tight, cyclical plotting of Starry River of the Sky, this is the strongest addition yet, binding the previous volumes together even more closely. As in the earlier companion novels, stories inspired by Chinese folktales are frequently interspersed, giving astute readers critical background information and clues and letting them see the future of their favorite characters, as many stories gain additional chapters. The framing narrative is bleaker and darker, and greater emphasis is placed on the importance and role of stories and storytellers. Lin’s vibrant chapter decorations and full-color, full-page paintings add to the work’s beauty. VERDICT A stunning addition to a deservedly beloved set of novels; recommended for all middle grade collections.
Vivat, Booki. Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom. illus. by Booki Vivat. 240p. HarperCollins. Sept. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780062398796. POP
Gr 3-6 –Middle child and soon-to-be middle schooler Abbie Wu is in major need of crisis control. Her fear and anxiety have her constantly freaking out, especially when it comes to sixth grade. Abbie’s mom doesn’t understand why she’s stressed, and her perfect siblings aren’t helping the situation, either. Because Abbie couldn’t decide on an elective class, she’s been assigned to study hall. Her two best friends actually enjoy school and have found activities they’re passionate about. Not having a “Thing” like everyone else is making Abbie feel left behind. The only part of school she’s looking forward to is the cafeteria lunches, which include pizza, fries, and cookies. When Abbie discovers that sixth graders are forbidden from eating those foods, she organizes an underground lunch exchange. The success of her food rebellion gives Abbie the confidence to find her voice and, ultimately, her “Thing.” Abbie’s phobias and worries are charmingly depicted in this heavily illustrated hybrid novel. The humorous, doodlelike artwork makes her struggles entertaining and relatable. VERDICT Share this title with fans of Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series and anyone who will appreciate rooting for a witty underdog.
Gratz, Alan. Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II. 320p. ebook available. Scholastic. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545880169. POP
Gr 7 Up –Michael O’Shaunessey may be the son of the Irish ambassador to Germany, but in 1943, with his flawless German and easy intelligence, he represents the perfect Hitler Youth, ambitiously climbing the organization’s ranks. Michael is living a lie; he despises the Nazis and all they represent. He enlisted in the Hitler Youth in order to infiltrate Nazi hierarchy and access information that will assist his parents in spying for the Allies. When a friend shows him plans for the new jet airplane the Nazis are developing, his covert activities turn deadly serious. Gratz returns to the World War II era of his Prisoner B-3087 to illuminate a little-known aspect of the war. Although Ireland declared itself neutral, documents declassified decades after the war revealed its diplomats were actually collecting intelligence for the Allies. Gratz takes readers inside daily life in Germany as well as the Hitler Youth organization, deftly conveying the suspicion and fear that were the constant companions of German citizens. Michael grapples with deep moral dilemmas, including the painful choice to sacrifice one life for the greater good. An author’s note offers supplemental information and background on the Hitler Youth. While the book is replete with fascinating historical insight, Gratz has also crafted a suspenseful mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. With short, action-packed chapters, it is a great choice for reluctant readers as well. VERDICT A winning combination of action, suspense, and historical setting. Recommended for all collections.
Maniscalco, Kerri. Stalking Jack the Ripper. 320p. ebook available. Little, Brown/Jimmy Patterson. Sept. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316273497. POP
Gr 9 Up –Audrey Rose Wadsworth spends most of her time in her uncle’s laboratory, studying science and medicine through the dissection of cadavers. Although she has confided in her conceited brother regarding her studies—which are questionable at best for a young girl of her station—she has kept her time away from home mostly secret from her overprotective father. But when her work with a series of gruesome murders pulls Audrey Rose into a serious criminal investigation, she may not be able to keep her double life from her father, or from society at large, much longer. With help from her uncle’s second apprentice, Thomas Cresswell, the protagonist is determined to find answers, for herself and the murdered women, even if those answers are closer to her own sheltered life than she’d like. Set in 1888, this seamless blend of history and fiction places its characters directly in the middle of the Whitechapel murders attributed to Jack the Ripper. The heroine is strong-willed and independent, and her sassy and Sherlockian protégé, Cresswell, adds a satisfying romantic element to the work. While this offering is thoroughly researched, some liberties have been taken to further the plot; these are outlined in an author’s note at the end of the book. Grisly period images set the mood, and strong language is included throughout. VERDICT An entertaining debut full of twists and turns, perfect for fans of historical fiction and mystery.
Niven, Jennifer. Holding Up the Universe. 400p. ebook available. Random. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385755924. POP
Gr 9 Up –Libby Strout is used to being alone. After her mother’s unexpected death, she had eaten her grief away to the point of morbid obesity. Her trials and challenges with this issue turned her into a social media spectacle and forced her into seclusion. Now she is entering high school after years of homeschooling and a medical surgery that helped her go from 600 to 300 pounds. Jack Masselin is the resident bad boy and part of the “in” crowd, but his behavior is all a facade to cover up a big secret. Jack has prosopagnosia, a neurological condition that causes facial blindness. He uses identifiers such as hairstyles and voice recognition and has mastered the art of keeping people at bay so as not to betray his disability. Libby’s and Jack’s worlds eventually collide after a bullying incident and poor judgment, which places them both in after-school detention. As their friendship grows, they learn what truth and honesty are all about. Libby’s unique presence and drive to be herself permeate this poignant story. Jack, who is biracial, transcends the popular pretty boy trope. Both are complex, nuanced protagonists. Written in short chapters of alternating perspectives, this is a thoughtful exploration of identity and self-acceptance, with commentary on overcoming adversities that will hit close to home. The work also examines anxiety, mixed-race marriages, and LGBTQ issues. VERDICT Niven’s approach to hard-hitting subjects will speak to the intellectual teen crowd, including fans of Niven’s previous work, Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You, and Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything.–
Oliver, Lauren. Replica. 544p. ebook available. HarperCollins. Oct. 2016. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780062394163. POP
Gr 8 Up –This unusual piece of fiction will be a winner among teens. Written as a “flip book,” the volume has two novels in one. Readers will experience the story from two different characters’ perspectives. Sixteen-year-old Gemma has always been sickly and alone most of her life. Her existence changes in a hurry when she is followed and questioned about what she knows about Haven, a secret research facility to which her father seems to have a connection. Eventually, she starts to investigate and travels to Florida, where she finds two replicas who are actually clones who have escaped from the facility. Turning the book over, readers get the story from the viewpoint of Lyra, who is one of the clones. Each point of view can be read in its entirety one at a time or in alternating chapters. Oliver has managed to create different tempos and moods in each tale, which allows readers to better understand the characters. Young adults will enjoy this unique reading experience. While the narrative is accessible to middle and high school readers, occasional strong language will make it a choice for older teens. VERDICT Reading this book in alternating chapters as an ebook could prove challenging, so libraries will want to have this hit available to teens in a print format.–
Tahir, Sabaa. A Torch Against the Night. 464p. (An Ember in the Ashes: Bk. 2). ebook available. Penguin/Razorbill. Aug. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781101998878. POP
Gr 9 Up –In this sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, Martial Elias and Scholar Laia are trying to escape from Serra and reach the prison of Kauf, where Laia’s brother has been imprisoned for having secret knowledge of Martial weapons. Their journey will be extremely hazardous, since Helene Aquilla, childhood friend and fellow Mask, who is now Blood Shrike for the Emperor, has been ordered to hunt Elias down. Elias and Laia are also trying to evade Elias’s ruthless mother, the Commandant, who is scheming to seize power and is willing even to poison her own son to achieve her ends. Most dangerous of all, however, is the grim prison of Kauf, where their attempt to rescue Laia’s brother leads to further horrors and some surprises. Told in the alternating voices of Elias, Laia, and Helene, this book is even darker and grimmer than the first, which readers will need to be familiar with in order to follow the twists and turns of the plot. Strong and compelling characters, particularly Helene, who is fleshed out more than in the previous volume, and a number of action-packed sequences help keep things moving. VERDICT This one is bound to be popular with fans of the first installment, making this a must-purchase.
Yoon, Nicola. The Sun Is Also a Star. 384p. ebook available. Delacorte. Nov. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780553496680. POP
Gr 8 Up –It is Natasha’s last day in New York City, where she has lived for 10 years. Her family, living as undocumented immigrants in a small Brooklyn apartment, are being deported to Jamaica after her father’s arrest for drunk driving. Natasha is scouring the city for a chance to stay in the United States legally. She wants the normal teen existence of her peers. Meanwhile, poetic Daniel is on his way to an interview as part of his application process to Yale. He is under great pressure to get in because his parents (who emigrated from South Korea) are adamant that he become a doctor. Events slowly conspire to bring the two leads together. When Daniel and Natasha finally meet, he falls in love immediately and convinces her to join him for the day. They tell their stories in alternating chapters. Additional voices are integrated into the book as characters interact with them. Both relatable and profound, the bittersweet ending conveys a sense of hopefulness that will resonate with teens. VERDICT This wistful love story will be adored by fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and by those who enjoyed the unique narrative structure of A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz.
Inzer, Christine Mari. Diary of a Tokyo Teen: A Japanese-American Girl Travels to the Land of Trendy Fashion, High-Tech Toilets and Maid Cafes. illus. by Christine Mari Inzer. 128p. photos. Tuttle. Sept. 2016. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9784805313961. POP
Gr 7 Up –Born in Tokyo in 1997, Inzer grew up there until her family moved to the United States in 2003. While the book refers to her as a “Tokyo teen,” she in fact has revisited different neighborhoods and provinces and shares accounts from urban and rural locations. This offering will attract a wide range of Japanophiles, both for the humorous stories and her charming and colorful drawings. This is a visually engaging selection, and photographs from Inzer’s visits help to ground this narrative in reality. Readers will appreciate the amusing tales about unfamiliar foods, far-out fashion, and intriguing traditions and will enjoy reading something by a teen author. One minor drawback is the title—while it has lots of teen appeal, it’s not entirely accurate, because Inzer’s experiences take place all over Japan. This work is a newer version of Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan, which featured a more accurate title. The main difference between the two versions is that this one has additional illustrations and is also in color. VERDICT A sweet and funny book that will entice those with an interest in Japan, as well as fans of Lucy Knisley’s Relish: My Life in the Kitchen.
Pastis, Stephan. When Crocs Fly. illus. by Stephan Pastis.176p. (Pearls Before Swine Kids: Bk. 4). Andrews McMeel. Jul. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781449476274. POP
Gr 3-7 –This is the fourth book in the series, and the gang are back for more crazy adventures. Arrogant Rat continues to make dim Pig the butt of all his jokes, the hilariously maladroit Crocs endlessly hunt uncooperative Zebra, and rational Goat tries to stay out of the crossfire. Fans of Pastis’s “Timmy Failure” books are sure to laugh out loud at all the snarky and irreverent commentary and will gleefully absorb the quirky life lessons sprinkled throughout (“The only real happiness is found inside us…. Because that’s where the french fries go.”). The artwork is childlike, with chubby bodies and stick arms and legs, and the bright, full-color panels are spare, with very little movement; what action there is often takes place behind a table or hedge or in a bare room. This simplistic approach only enhances the character interactions by highlighting the dialogue, making the silly puns and punch lines funny and unexpected. VERDICT Anyone who has enjoyed the first three books in this series will be clamoring to read this installment, and old and new readers alike will love Pastis’s wonderful combination of humor, wit, and wise social commentary.
Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass Graphic Novel, Volume 2. adapt. by Stéphane Melchior. illus. by Clément Oubrerie. 80p. (His Dark Materials). ebook available. Knopf. Sept. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780553535129; lib. ed. $21.99. ISBN 9780553535143; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780553535136. POP
Gr 6 Up –This exciting second volume of Pullman’s saga lives up to the promise of the first. Lyra and the Gyptians are continuing their northward quest, but first Lyra must recruit a new companion, the ferocious panserbjørn Iorek Byrnison. The party, including the aeronaut Texan Lee Scoresby, are attacked by Samoyed hunters, who apprehend Lyra and take her to Bolvangar. The Gobblers pretend to be caring for the children they have captured, but in fact they perform experiments to remove the connection between the children and their daemons. This volume ends with Lyra leading the escape of the children and the battle between the Gobbler forces and Lyra’s allies, with airborne witches providing much-needed support. As in the first volume, Oubrerie employs muted colors, with notable exceptions (his brilliant blues and greens for the Aurora). His accessible style recalls a young person’s doodling, albeit with greater detail. VERDICT This worthy continuation of the series belongs in all libraries that include Pullman’s works.
Lee, Sungju & Susan Elizabeth McClelland. Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea. 320p. glossary. Abrams/Amulet. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781419721328. POP
Gr 6-9 –Lee pens his harrowing journey from one of North Korea’s city elite to a homeless and hungry vagrant. Lee, an only child, grew up comfortably in the nation’s capital of Pyongyang because his father was a well-respected member of the military. Yet with no warning, the boy and his parents were deported to the countryside. Lee, who had known only the strict rituals and decorum of Pyongyang, was initially horrified by life in Gyeong-seong. Mass hunger, public executions, and unemployment were rampant—a stark contrast to the propaganda Lee had been taught his whole life. Forced by starvation, Lee’s parents left him in search of commerce or emigration. He fended for himself for almost five years. His struggle is chronicled in a tightly written first-person narrative. Lee would eventually lead a gang of boys who lived by their wiles, stealing just enough to survive. The tension that runs throughout the narrative is somewhat alleviated by the mere existence of the work. Lee provides a summary of the history of Korea and the politics of the famine in North Korea, achieving a great balance between historical context and storytelling. Lee incorporates Korean words throughout the text and defines them with a pronunciation guide in the back matter. VERDICT An excellent inside look at childhood in poverty that will resonate with middle schoolers.
Mazzeo, Tilar J. Irena’s Children: Young Readers Edition. adapt. by Mary Cronk Farrell. 272p. notes. photos. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481449915. POP
Gr 6-10 –Irena Sendler, a righteous Gentile who rescued approximately 2,500 Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto, is the focus of this volume. Sendler’s father, a Catholic doctor who treated Jews others turned away, grew up speaking Yiddish with close Jewish friends. Her senior role at a government agency positioned her to offer help following the 1939 Nazi invasion of Poland. Sendler and an inner circle of trusted friends, Jewish and Christian alike, used creative means to spirit Jewish children away to safety in orphanages and foster homes. Tortured by the Nazis, she gave up no secrets, keeping the children and her network safe. While the book is strong on general historical context, featuring descriptions of socioeconomic divisions among Jews in occupied Warsaw, it suffers from the wartime loss of direct historical evidence. Many of the individuals portrayed—Sendler included—do not feel fully fleshed out, making the narrative somewhat confusing and lessening the emotional impact. This is a story better suited to shorter treatments, such as Marcia Vaughan’s Irena’s Jars of Secrets. More readable, engaging volumes on similar individuals exist, such as Irene Gut Opdyke’s In My Hands and Alison Leslie Gold’s A Special Fate. VERDICT Purchase where there is a high demand for Holocaust nonfiction.
Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln. 14 min. Dist. by Weston Woods. 2016. $59.95. ISBN 9780545932660. POP
Gr 2-4 –The voice of a female narrator, a melodious sound track of music, exquisite drawings, and the familiar words of Lincoln convey the story of the 16th U.S. president’s life in this film adaptation of the book by Doreen Rappaport and featuring the stunning illustrations by Kadir Nelson. Major topics mentioned include Lincoln’s birth in Kentucky, his time as a legislator in the Illinois statehouse, his campaign for the U.S. Senate, his marriage and family, his election to the presidency, his fight against slavery, the Civil War, and his assassination. One overriding theme throughout his life, and emphasized here, was his love for reading and learning. This is sure to appeal to young viewers. Historical photographs are dispersed throughout and do not detract from the colorful drawings. Bonus material presents important dates in Lincoln’s life illustrated with historical photos, maps, and drawings. For teachers, learning objectives and activities are also featured. VERDICT Classes studying history and government can easily use this presentation. It is a welcome addition to the shelf of Lincolniana.–
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. 22 min. Dist. by Dreamscape. 2016. $38.99. ISBN 9781520014531. POP
PreS-Gr 3 –The beautiful gouache and ink illustrations that earned this title the 2016 Caldecott Medal spring to life in this exceptionally well-done, heartfelt production. Delicate keyboard music sets a tender tone as narrator Katherine Kellgren introduces viewers to author Lindsay Mattick and her young son Cole. As seen in Sophie Blackall’s illustrations, they’re sharing a bedtime story about Cole’s real-life great-grandfather Harry Colebourn. Harry was a World War I veterinarian who rescued a bear cub from a trapper at a train station. He named the bear Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg, and she traveled with him and his regiment all over Canada and eventually across the Atlantic Ocean to England. She became the mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade, but when the time came for the men to march into battle, Harry knew it wouldn’t be safe for the cub to come along. He drove her to the London Zoo, promising to always love her, even while they were apart. While staying at the zoo, Winnie met Christopher Robin Milne. The boy and the bear formed a special bond, and Christopher Robin’s father, A.A. Milne, wrote about their adventures in his books. Real photographs are included at the end that depict Winnie with Harry, his fellow soldiers, and Christopher Robin. Close-ups of Harry’s diary entries are featured as well. VERDICT Well-paced narration, gentle background music, strong storytelling, and expressive artwork combine seamlessly, making this perfect for a bear-themed storytime or for a World War I unit.–
Stick and Stone. 8 min. Dist. by Weston Woods. 2016. $59.95. ISBN 9780545938143. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –This simple story of friendship between a stick and a stone, in which both learn that “alone is no fun,” is enhanced by ample animation that makes the faces of Stick and Stone more expressive than in the source material, the Beth Ferry/Tom Litchtenheld picture book. Even the shadows of these characters pulse with movement. Waves spill onto the shore, swings swing, and raindrops splash. Spritely electronic music by Jack Sundrud and Rusty Young accompanies the action, and the closing song and lyrics are extremely catchy and will have viewers humming along. The mean Pinecone’s taunting laughter and “nanananana” are the classic taunts of a bully, and sounds of waves, gulls, rain, and thunder intensify the mood. All aspects work together to make a hurricane a truly scary event, and so much is conveyed in the spare text and expressed perfectly by narrator Maxwell Glick. Students will be eager to share experiences they’ve had that may be similar to those of the relatable Stick and Stone or just to think about them. Older audiences will enjoy the wordplay—Stick gets stuck, and Stone rocks. VERDICT Young viewers will be inspired to discuss friendship, loyalty, tolerance, and how they might react to a bully.–
RWBY: Volume 3. 176 min. Dist. by Cinedigm. 2016. $14.99. UPC 883476150895. POP
Gr 4 Up –The members of Team RWBY, led by peppy Ruby Rose, are finally ready to show off their skills at the Vytal Festival, where the best fighters of the kingdoms of Remnant battle one another. But a sinister dark force threatens to disrupt the festival and destroy the peace among the kingdoms. Those familiar with this animated series will find that the pace has changed in the third volume, focusing less on character development and more on action, which fits the new, darker tone perfectly. Produced by American company Rooster Teeth, this anime expertly mimics the tropes of traditional Japanese anime while creating a slick, cinematic style of American cartoons. With an overarching story that’s epic yet relatively easy to jump into and the addition of some literal laugh-out-loud moments, this is not a traditional anime, in the best possible sense. Though at times blocky and stiff, the computer animation is easily overlooked because of the fast-paced, wonderfully choreographed fight sequences that rival most action movies. And with no blood and hardly any profanity, this is one of the rare animes that is truly for all age groups. VERDICT The next big hit at the anime club—a must-have.–
These reviews are published in School Library Journal’s August 2016 issue.