November 17, 2017

Subscribe to SLJ

SLJ’s December Popular Picks

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

December’s Popular Picks are guaranteed to fly off the shelves. This month’s list includes a fun read-aloud about a rooster who would not keep quiet (!), a middle grade version of Cyrano de Bergeraca witty look at some animals you’ve probably never even heard of, and an adorable tale of a narwhal and his jellyfish best friend.

1612-pop-covers1PICTURE BOOKS

DEEDY, Carmen Agra. The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! illus. by Eugene Yelchin. 48p. Scholastic. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545722889. POP

K-Gr 2 –In the village of La Paz, everyone is constantly singing. So much happy noise eventually causes the townspeople to wish for a little peace and quiet. So they throw out the old mayor and bring in Don Pepe, who guarantees change. In a classic “be careful what you wish for” scenario, Don Pepe delivers on his word and successfully makes singing illegal. For seven years the village remains quiet, until along comes a saucy gallito, who happily crows aloud every morning. Angered, Don Pepe makes it his personal mission to silence the rooster once and for all. He takes away the rooster’s food, family, and sunlight and even threatens death, but the gallito still crows, “Kee-kee-ree-KEE!” and eventually inspires the rest of La Paz to join him in his triumphant singing. Don Pepe leaves town, and the villagers return to their loud, joyful ways. Told with a storyteller’s flair, the narrative reads like a folktale, while Yelchin’s mixed-media illustrations are vibrant and perfectly suit the text. VERDICT A fun read-aloud for any library, especially ones looking for stories with Hispanic influence.–Jasmine L. Precopio, Fox Chapel Area School District, Pittsburgh

DiPucchio, Kelly. Antoinette. illus. by Christian Robinson. 40p. S. & S./Atheneum. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481457835. POP

PreS-Gr 1 –DiPucchio and Robinson follow up Gaston, their book about a French bulldog in a family of poodles, with a tale about his pal Antoinette, the lone poodle in a litter of French bulldogs. Antoinette’s siblings all have special talents, but she’s not sure what makes her stand out. All that changes, however, the day that Antoinette’s and Gaston’s families meet up and Gaston’s sister Ooh-La-La goes missing. Stalwart Antoinette refuses to give up in the face of adversity and soon proves herself. Expressive and energetic, Robinson’s acrylic illustrations are full of details that establish the Parisian setting, from the Eiffel Tower in the background to the beret on a painter in the park, and the climactic moment takes place in the Louvre, on the famed Winged Victory of Samothrace statue. The images have a flat, almost childlike feeling, with the artist using simple shapes to portray characters and objects and convey a sense of whimsy that matches the text. The focus is the dogs, but many ethnically diverse people appear in the background. While this is a straightforward story, with the familiar message that sometimes it takes time to discover one’s raison d’être, DiPucchio brings a lighthearted, arch quality to her narration, breaking the fourth wall here and there (“Busy aren’t they? And ridiculously cute, but please don’t tell them that.”). Overall, this picture book is bound to have children rapt until the conclusion—and soon begging for another read. VERDICT Sure to be a storytime hit, especially where Gaston is popular.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Martin, Bill, Jr. & Michael Sampson. Spunky Little Monkey. illus. by Brian Won. 32p. Scholastic. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545776431. POP

PreS-K –In this twist on the classic children’s clapping game “Down Down Baby,” the titular little monkey won’t get out of bed until the doctor prescribes some exercise as the remedy. What results is an infectious, rhythmic dancing game, complete with clapping, stomping, and shaking. It’s nearly impossible to resist joining in, and possibly even more difficult to get the rhyming song out of one’s head once the book is through. Won’s bold, colorful illustrations fill each page, bringing the spunky chimp to life. With simple, lyrical repetition, this is a fantastic book for young children and one that can easily be adapted for younger elementary-age kids. Sampson includes a note about the importance of daily exercise along with a poignant remark regarding reading as a form of exercise. VERDICT A whimsical and playful way to inspire children to be both physically and mentally engaged. In the end, Monkey’s friends join in the fun, as will any reader or listener, making this a popular storytime title.–Kaitlin Malixi, Bucks County Free Library, Doylestown, PA

Patricelli, Leslie. Nighty-Night. illus. by Leslie Patricelli. 26p. Candlewick. Jan. 2017. Board $6.99. ISBN 9780763679323. POP

Baby-Toddler –Patricelli’s irrepressible baby is back for another wonderful board book installment. This title features the usual humorous tone mingled with the comforting routines of bedtime. After dinner, the baby bids farewell to the sun and says hello to the moon, before “Bye-bye pants. Naked dance!” The precious narrative speaks directly to the intended audience in language they are sure to respond to: “Brushy toothy. Brushy hair. Kissy Daddy. Huggy bear.” In another context, this technique could be cloying, but the simplicity of the words, combined with the spare, appealing illustrations, makes for a harmonious read. After pajamas, a story, a song, and a final hug and kiss from both parents, the baby goes “nighty-night.” VERDICT A highly recommended addition to all board book collections and a worthy companion to the other entries in the series.–Kristy Pasquariello, Wellesley Free Library, MA

Rockwell, Anne. Zoo Day. illus. by Lizzy Rockwell. 32p. (My First Experience). S. & S./Aladdin. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481427364. POP

PreS-Gr 1 –A boy describes his first trip to the zoo with his family. Howls, squawks, barks, splashes, grunts, and whistles are just some of the sounds he hears as they walk past the cages. “I hold my father’s hand tightly because the roars make me a little nervous.” A full-spread map of the zoo reveals all the habitats and animals that the family will visit. They begin at the Jungle House to see the busy monkeys, followed by Gorilla Forest. Next they stop by the African Plain to view the elephants, ostriches, zebras, and giraffes. At the Reptile House, they see a boa constrictor, a poisonous coral snake, and a painted turtle. The boy’s little sister runs ahead when they get to the polar bears. The children love watching the big white bears “in their underwater dance,” but their father hurries them along because it’s feeding time for the sea lions. As the zookeeper throws the shiny silver fish to the excited barking diners, the boy realizes he, too, is hungry. After a picnic lunch, they walk through the Bird House, where there are no cages, and a parrot rests on the boy’s shoulder to drink nectar from a paper cup. “I wish I could bring him home,” he laments, but they do get souvenir balloons to keep. Rockwell’s signature watercolor illustrations depict a loving, brown-skinned, pink-cheeked family and an exciting array of animals eating, playing, and caring for their young. VERDICT In addition to preparing youngsters for a trip to the zoo, this title can be used with early elementary students to model personal narrative. A pleasing, straightforward introduction.–Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools

1612-pop-covers2MIDDLE GRADE

Vail, Rachel. Well, That Was Awkward. 320p. ebook available. Viking. Feb. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670013081. POP

Gr 5-8 –A modern, multicultural version of Cyrano de Bergerac. Gracie Grant, a tall eighth grader who has a prominent nose and hails from New York City, takes the lead as the Cyrano stand-in. Gracie’s best friend, Sienna Reyes, needs help texting the boy who likes her, the handsome AJ Rojanasopondist. Unbeknownst to Gracie and Sienna, AJ gets help in responding to the texts from the witty but vertically challenged Emmett Barnaby. In addition, Gracie is coming to terms with the lifelong effects of losing a sibling. Bret, her sister, died in an accident before Gracie was born. Gracie’s parents are understandably a bit overprotective, and she often wonders how her life would be different if Bret had lived. She is also facing the standard middle school angst: Is she pretty enough? Why isn’t she as popular as other kids? Will a boy ever like her? The protagonist and her friends represent a variety of middle schoolers: a mean girl, a bullied kid, a sporty kid, a smart kid, the popular group, and outsiders. Yet Vail’s portrayals prevent the characters from being mere stereotypes. Even Gracie’s parents are fully formed, not the typically clueless adults who populate many books for kids. Readers will see themselves in Gracie and her friends, root for them, and likely figure out who is actually texting whom before the characters do, even if they haven’t read the source material. VERDICT This tween romance proves that some stories stand the test of time, even with modernization.–Cindy Wall, Southington Library & Museum, CT

YA

Fine, Sarah. The Cursed Queen. 432p. S. & S./ Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481441933. POP

Gr 8 Up –Unfolding in tandem with The Impostor Queen, Fine’s latest novel shifts to the perspective of the Krigere, a fierce people who thrive on raiding, plundering, and killing. Ansa was captured during a Krigere raid as a little girl, but she has earned her place within the group as a formidable warrior. Ansa’s world is turned upside down, however, after the Krigere attempt a raid by sea on the Kupari. The Kupari queen manipulates the weather and the sea with incredible force, decimating the Krigere longships. Few survive, and Ansa soon realizes that her close encounter with the Kupari queen has somehow cursed her. Ansa now wields powers of fire and ice, but she cannot control them, and they threaten her place among the Krigere. A high-stakes power struggle is also brewing. This story connects to the preceding one in eye-opening ways, but it can stand alone, too. Ansa grapples convincingly with who she really is and what she believes, and, refreshingly, her romantic lesbian relationship with crush Thyra is fully developed. Compared to the intricately ritualistic world of the Kupari depicted in The Impostor Queen, the Krigere culture is far more straightforward and accessible to new readers. The narrative is highly readable, the suspense is authentic, and the characters will keep teens guessing about their motivations until the very end. VERDICT A strong purchase. Readers will eagerly await more from this realm.–Sara White, Seminole County Public Library, Casselberry, FL

redstarLacour, Nina. We Are Okay. 240p. Dutton. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525425892. POP

Gr 8 Up –Her first semester of college behind her, Marin stays alone in the dorms over break, even with the threat of a snowstorm looming, rather than return to San Francisco, where bad memories lurk. Her best friend Mabel comes to stay with her, and over the next few days, Marin contemplates the events of last spring and summer and deals with her complicated relationship with Mabel. Slowly, readers learn more about Marin’s life: the surfer mother who drowned when Marin was young, the father she never knew, the loving grandfather who raised her but whose concealed secrets kept a wall between them, and the painful events that sent Marin fleeing San Francisco. LaCour’s use of settings is masterly: frigid and desolate upstate New York reflects Marin’s alienation, while vibrant San Francisco evokes moments of joy. Though there’s little action, with most of the writing devoted to Marin’s memories, thoughts, and musings, the author’s nuanced and sensitive depiction of the protagonist’s complex and turbulent inner life makes for a rich narrative. Marin is a beautifully crafted character, and her voice is spot-on, conveying isolation, grief, and, eventually, hope. With hauntingly spare prose, the emphasis on the past, and references to gothic tales such as The Turning of the Screw and Jane Eyre, this is realistic fiction edged with the melancholy tinge of a ghost story. VERDICT A quietly moving, potent novel that will appeal to teens, especially fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Mesrobian, Carrie. Just a Girl. 304p. Harper Collins. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062349910. POP

Gr 9 Up –Mesrobian offers another honest and emotionally charged look at the secret lives of teenage girls. Here, the author examines the abuse that girls withstand from others and sometimes inflict on one another, as well as the double standards that exist between them and their male peers. Rianne is a high school senior with a bad reputation. Widely known in her small town as a slut and nicknamed Hat Trick Girl even by her closest friends, she is struggling to make it to graduation and dreading what comes afterward. With a difficult home life, a crumbling friend group, and no serious job or college prospects, she views starting a life with Luke, a handsome hometown boy who sees past her reputation, as a good plan. Unfortunately, Rianne isn’t sure she can stay faithful, at least not after she meets Sergei, a much older foreign exchange student from Russia who looks at her with new eyes and promises to take her away from her tiny town and into the wild world. Gritty and real in ways that many female protagonists are not, Rianne is more of an antihero in her quest to create a good life for herself, despite her nearly constant and seemingly avoidable failures to do so. The dialogue is refreshingly accurate; the offhand snipes between friends are particularly sharp and familiar, and the occasional pop culture references and use of slang don’t feel at all contrived. VERDICT Raw and never sensationalized, this title is recommended for readers who like contemporary YA fiction with a realistically dark edge.–Emily Grace Le May, Mt. Pleasant Library – Providence Community Library

Simone, Ni-Ni. Dear Yvette. 256p. (Throwback Diaries: Bk. 2). ebook available. Kensington/Dafina. Dec. 2016. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9780758287762. POP

Gr 10 Up –It’s 1989, and 16-year-old Yvette Simmons is living in the Douglas Gardens apartment complex in Newark, NJ, with her two-year-old baby, Kamari, and Nana, to whom she isn’t related. When Kamari’s father tells Yvette that she’s been accused of snitching by a former friend, Yvette fights her ex-friend at a bus stop, cutting up her face. Yvette is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, but she takes a plea deal to live with Kamari in a “professional parent home” in Norfolk, VA. Yvette is used to being abandoned by adults. Her mother, a crack addict, has been in and out of her life. After Yvette’s arrest, Nana decides she wants nothing to do with Kamari. Even Yvette’s old friends won’t help her. So the plea deal is her only good option, and she and Kamari live with Ms. Glo and another teen, Tasha. At first, Yvette has her guard up and has several angry outbursts, but over time, she makes friends, has a romantic relationship, and learns to love living with Ms. Glo and Tasha. Simone develops Yvette into a nuanced character who, over time, sees that she can handle her problems in ways that are different from how they’re dealt with on the streets of Newark. Many teens will also enjoy the 1980s street slang and fashion references. VERDICT This series installment is sure to be a hit with YA readers who like problem novels, realistic titles, and urban fiction.–Adrienne L. Strock, Nashville Public Library

GRAPHIC NOVELS

redstarClanton, Ben. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea. illus. by Ben Clanton. 64p. (A Narwhal and Jelly Book: Bk. 1). Tundra. Oct. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781101918265; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781101918715. POP

Gr 1-3 –Readers new to graphic novels will be richly rewarded with this series opener about a delightfully quirky duo. Earnest and down-to-earth Jelly the jellyfish is the perfect foil for endearingly airheaded Narwhal. Divided into three tales, the book is light on plot but brimming with a fantastically kid-friendly sense of the absurd, from the friends’ first reaction upon meeting each other (“You don’t look like any fish I’ve ever seen, but you do look kind of jelly-ish.” “Look…things like you don’t exist. I mean what is up with that horn?”) to the tale that Narwhal and Jelly spin in their metafictional turn, which has a waffle, a strawberry, and a sea monkey doing battle with a giant robot. The art has a childlike quality, and though Narwhal and Jelly are rendered with simple, thick-lined scrawls, the illustrations are expressive and energetic. Clanton includes just a few panels per page and breaks up some of the action with full-page spreads, resulting in a wonderfully accessible option for kids making their first forays into sequential art. A song (“I am a narwhal/a happy little narwhal!”) and a brief section with facts on jellyfish and narwhals are fun additions (kids will be impressed to learn that the narwhal’s tooth can be up to ten feet long and that the marine mammal can live 90 years). VERDICT An utterly enchanting start to a series that’s bound to be popular among young readers. Readers moving on from Mo Willems’s “Elephant and Piggie” books and Bob Shea’s “Ballet Cat” series will adore this undersea odd couple.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

NONFICTION

Brown, Martin. Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You’ve Never Heard Of. illus. by Martin Brown. 56p. glossary. maps. Scholastic/David Fickling Bks. Dec. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338089349. POP

Gr 3-6 –What are a numbat, a zorilla, an onager, a gaur, and a hirola? Readers learn about these unusual animals in this playfully written and witty guide to creatures unknown. Each of the subjects receives approximately two pages of treatment. Page layout is consistent and well organized, with blocks of color drawing attention to the humorous but informative text. Brown offers vivid analogies rather than precise measurements when describing animal sizes; for example, the zebra duiker is “medium dog-size—with skinny legs,” while the crabeater seal is “as big as a very tall, fat man—lying down.” The subjects inhabit different regions, and tiny maps, occasionally too small to distinguish, identify where they can be found. Among other details are diet and conservation status, derived from the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. The light, cartoonish artwork matches the tone of the writing. Vocabulary chosen for the glossary continues the fun. Among the terms are more familiar words such as male and female and even the definition of glossary. VERDICT This romp through the lesser-known animal kingdom will inspire appreciation in readers. Highly recommended as an alternative to more traditional works.–Lynn Vanca, Freelance Librarian, Akron, OH

Copeland, Misty. Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina Young Readers Edition. 192p. S. & S./Aladdin. Dec. 2016. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781481479790. POP

Gr 4-7 –Although Copeland didn’t begin her ballet training until the age of 13, she transcended the competition in just five years’ time and became a professional dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Despite Copeland’s extraordinary natural talent, her dance career has not been an easy one. In this young readers edition of her 2014 autobiography, she relates her experiences growing up in a low-income, single-parent family and recounts the custody battle between her mother and her dance teacher. Copeland goes on to describe the challenges of her life as a professional ballerina, most notably her isolation as a black artist in a predominantly white field. She writes that “some people still notice [her] skin color before they notice [her] talent” and that others “simply don’t believe brown girls have a place in classical ballet.” While Copeland’s overall tone is conversational, her frank discussion of race is serious and relevant to tween readers. She expresses gratitude for her numerous friends and supporters and recalls her delight at certain opportunities and roles, such as her collaboration with Prince and her landmark performance as the Firebird in 2012. Copeland closes her book by saying that she wants young dancers to “look at what I’ve accomplished and realize they can achieve this dream, too.” VERDICT Copeland’s story will interest, inform, and inspire budding ballerinas and deserves a place in every library that serves middle grade readers.–Magdalena Teske, Naperville Public Library, IL

DVD

Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs/José el Chévere: Helado y dinosaurios. 6 min. Dist. by Weston Woods. 2016. $59.95. ISBN 9781338090284. POP

PreS-Gr 1 –Groovy Joe is one happy dog, and why shouldn’t he be? He has his guitar and his doggy ice cream. Life is good. But wait—who’s that charging through the door? A dinosaur. What’s Joe going to do? Will he panic? Will he run? Of course not, he’ll share his ice cream. And he’ll do the same with the next dinosaur…and the next …and so on. This is a lively presentation of Eric Litwin’s book. Narrated and sung by the author, this will have youngsters groovin’ and movin’ as Tom Lichtenheld’s cheery illustrations are animated. The video includes Spanish and English versions as well as read-aloud options. Is it almost exactly the same formula as “Pete the Cat?” Yes. Does it blatantly pander to the intended audience with rhyme, repetition, music, ice cream, and dinosaurs? Of course. Does that matter? Not a whit. VERDICT This will be a surefire hit with younger kids and their parents and a good way to throw a splash of movement and music into any storytime.–Teresa Bateman, Brigadoon Elementary, Federal Way, WA

redstarSupertruck. 5 min. Dist. by Weston Woods. 2016. $59.95. ISBN 9781338090338. POP

PreS-Gr 1 –Stephen Savage’s Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor title receives prime treatment in this presentation. All the trucks in the city do their jobs and, in their own ways, save the day. Some are flashier than others, though. The garbage truck, for example, performs a necessary job with little fanfare. However, when a snowstorm hits and snow piles high, other trucks are stuck until the garbage truck throws off his glasses, puts on his capelike snowplow, and, as his secret superhero alter ego, digs the city out. Lively, triumphant music and expressive narration by George Newbern combine with beautifully done yet simple animation of the original digital illustrations’ clean and crisp lines. The DVD includes a 10-minute interview with the author/illustrator, aimed at an older audience, that is amusing and enlightening. VERDICT This is a video that calls to the hearts of the intended audience with its simplicity, superhero theme, and underlying message of unsung service. Combine this with Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow for a fun story hour when the snow begins to fall.–Teresa Bateman, Brigadoon Elementary, Federal Way, WA

Wild Kratts: Wild Reptiles. 100 min. Dist. by PBS. 2016. $12.99. ISBN 9781627896924. POP

Gr 1-4 –In this PBS series, brothers Martin and Chris Kratt explore natural habitats of animals all over the world while focusing on the incredible “creature powers” of a variety of wildlife. Besides being educational, each segment also has a villain or some situation that the Kratts and their helpers must try to defeat or solve. After a live-action portion, each episode transitions into animation when Martin and Chris ask a “What if?” question, which leads to adventure. In “The Gecko Effect” episode, audiences will learn about the intricacies of the lizard’s amazing feet. On a trip to the Everglades in “Crocogator Contest,” the gang wonder about the differences between crocodiles and alligators, and this quickly turns into a contest to see who can discover the most facts. With lots of kid appeal, this DVD will encourage viewers to take a closer look at their environment and the creatures that live there and to find ways to make a positive impact on their own habitat as well. VERDICT A surefire selection for public libraries.–Amy Joslyn, Fairport Public Library, NY

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

Share
A Day-Long Celebration of Fandom-Beloved Stories and Characters
Join Library Journal and School Library Journal for our inaugural LibraryCon Live! We’re excited to offer this day-long virtual festival for book nerds, librarians, and fans of graphic novels, sci-fi, and fantasy. Network online with other fans and explore our virtual exhibit hall where you’ll hear directly from publishers about their newest books and engage in live chats with featured authors. You’ll also learn from librarians and industry insiders on how to plan and host your own Comic Con-style event.
Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*