SLJ is ringing in the New Year with this January Popular Picks list! This month includes a story about a badger who realizes his obsession with cleanliness has gone too far, the return of Aaron Blabey’s “Bad Guys,” a stunning graphic novel about Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, and an autobiography by soccer star Carli Lloyd, recently voted FIFA’s Best Women Soccer Player.
Choldenko, Gennifer. Dad and the Dinosaur. illus. by Dan Santat. 40p. Putnam. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399243530. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –Nick is afraid of many things: giant bugs, the dark, manhole covers, and what lies beneath them. He longs to be brave like his dad. “His dad was not afraid of anything.” Fortunately, Nick has a plastic dinosaur talisman that makes him fearless. When the dinosaur is safely in his pocket or tucked inside his soccer socks, Nick scales rock walls and scores amazing goals. Once the dinosaur is lost, however, Nick is filled with uncertainty and dread: “The night was as black as octopus ink, giant bugs were everywhere.” After Nick confesses to his father that the dinosaur is the brave one, not him, he and Dad head out to search one more time. The toy is recovered, and Nick is relieved, especially after being reassured by his dad that “it’s okay to be afraid. All guys are now and then.” The mixed-media artwork by Caldecott winner Santat is sumptuous and full bleed. The nighttime scenes are particularly evocative, with Nick’s imagined fears lurking around the edges. Slyly humorous as well as spooky, they keep the mood from getting too scary. This is a modern story reminiscent of Dumbo and his “magic” feather that readers will enjoy as they explore the ideas of bravery, ability, and what lies inside each of us. VERDICT A winning book sure to attract and delight a wide audience.
Fleming, Meg. Ready, Set, Build! illus. by Jarvis. 32p. little bee. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781499801750. POP
PreS-K –A blue dog sets out for a day of construction work. He begins with a plan before getting to work and uses a variety of tools and construction vehicles, with a little green bird as a coworker. The dog and bird take a short break for lunch and then are back to work, until finally they have completed their project for the day, a big blue “Dog and Bird House” with a green roof. The dog and bird head home to get some rest so they can return to work the next day, which promises to be “twice as fun.” Fleming offers a sprightly picture book that will appeal to young readers, particularly those with an interest in construction. She writes in simple rhymes, and her text reflects the enthusiasm of the dog and the bird, both of whom truly enjoy their work. Jarvis’s use of bold, solid colors pairs well with the energy and exuberance of Fleming’s text. The blue dog is depicted with large, cartoonlike features, and the bird is drawn with simple circular shapes, and both are eye-catching. Fleming’s short, bouncy rhymes coupled with Jarvis’s big, bright illustrations make this an excellent choice for a read-aloud in a group setting. VERDICT A definite winner for construction-themed storytimes and for readers looking for a fun and vibrant picture book. Expect high circulation.
Gravett, Emily. Tidy. illus. by Emily Gravett. 40p. ebook available. S.& S. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481480192. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –Pete, a badger, realizes his obsession with neatness has gone too far when he experiences its consequences. Die-cuts leading to the title page show Pete depositing stray leaves in the trash. He clips nonmatching flowers, grooms a scruffy fox, bathes the birds and brushes their beaks, vacuums debris, and scrubs the rocks. He even collects fallen autumn leaves and puts them into hundreds of garbage bags. But the “bare and scrappy” trees still displease him, so he removes them all and solves the ensuing mud problem after a rain by paving the forest floor. Painfully aware that now he can no longer access his burrow or find food, Pete enlists the help of his woodland friends to restore their forest home. The brief rhyming text invites reading aloud, but Gravett’s hilarious illustrations, rendered in pencil, watercolor, and crayon, make this tale shine. Pete’s cleaning materials are everywhere, even stored in trees. A lineup of birds with toothbrushes await beak scrubbing. Forest animals flee their homes amid gray-filled scenes of devastation only to return to help in the restoration process and enjoy a picnic on a carpet of new spring grass. But alert readers will see that the ants and other creatures are taking steps to keep Pete from returning to his excessive tidying. What the badger hides behind his back, though, leaves room for doubt. VERDICT Youngsters will surely grasp the story’s environmental message, but it is told with so much humor and charm that they will want to return to it again and again. A read-aloud winner.
Greene, Rhonda Growler. Push! Dig! Scoop!: A Construction Counting Rhyme. illus. by Daniel Kirk. 32p. Bloomsbury. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780802735065. POP
PreS-K –A clever reimagining of “Over in the Meadow” featuring different families of construction trucks busy attending the daily shores by a dirt pile. Parent trucks must show the little ones the important tasks they all have at the construction site. Mama bulldozer shows her little dozer the ropes: “ ‘Push!’ says the mama. ‘I push!’ says the one./So they push oosh oosh in the sizzling summer sun.” Papa excavator shows his two little excavators how to dig. The assignments differ as papa wheel loader shows his three little loaders how to scoop, mama dump truck teaches her four little dumpers that they must spill, etc. It is a great learning experience for all the little trucks, who, after a long and arduous day of work, are ready for some lullabies and then to say good night. Greene is in tune with preschoolers and has created a sensitive rhyming and counting book with an asymmetrical composition that plays with the organization of the text’s layout and the illustrations. The text flows naturally, providing enough repetition for an interactive setting and abundant vocabulary to enrich preschoolers’ language skills. Additionally, the expressive, bright illustrations, made with a fusion of black ink drawings and digitally added colors, relate to the text and will inspire children’s imagination. VERDICT This appealing picture book will work well in classrooms and storytimes and as a bedtime read. Bound to circulate often.
Nieminen, Lotta. Pancakes!: An Interactive Recipe Book. illus. by Lotta Nieminen. 16p. (Cook in a Book). Phaidon. Oct. 2016. Board $14.95. ISBN 9780714872834. POP
Toddler-PreS –The first in an upcoming series of interactive child-friendly recipe books, this title guides a youngster through the process of making pancakes. It begins with an introduction to the ingredients and utensils needed to successfully execute the recipe. Each subsequent page illustrates a piece of the recipe and allows the child to actively “cook” by pulling tabs and spinning wheels. These interactive features depict an egg being whisked, flour and milk being added, and batter being poured into a pan. A golden brown pancake pops out from the page and can be manipulated from the pan to the serving plate. Simple yet colorful visuals adequately represent the materials and processes that would be done in the kitchen, providing the perfect opportunity for adults to extend the story by carrying out the recipe with actual ingredients. VERDICT Recommended for most picture book/board book collections, this interactive and delightful adventure for the youngest chefs promotes parent/child interaction and cooperation and opens the door to an enriching conversation.
Nobleman, Marc Tyler. The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra. illus. by Ana Aranda. 32p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399174438. POP
PreS-Gr 1 –Stepping away from nonfiction, Nobleman, in his first fiction picture book, presents a playful twist on outsmarting a predator. After worrying if tonight is the night the chupacabra “comes for dinner,” three nervous goats—Jayna, Bumsie, and Pep—take fate in their own hands and leave to try to scare the creature off. With a candelabra to guide them, they head toward the monster’s home, but the chupacabra finds them and eats their candelabra, as candelabras happen to be his third-favorite food. The goats, all of whom have distinct personalities, deal with being kept on their toes by the chupacabra. As the title suggests, there is a lot of playful language throughout, as the chupacabra not only eats candelabras but also munches cucarachas (his second-favorite food). Aranda’s illustrations, which extend the text, elevate this title and burst with humor. Her bright pinks, yellows, and purples vibrate off the page in the often nighttime setting. The snaggle-toothed but adorable chupacabra sometimes lurks in the background, while other times his shadow comically dominates the page. Everything comes together when the beastie finally gets to eat his absolute favorite food—goat cheese. VERDICT This enjoyable monster book is perfect for storytime read-alouds or anytime a humorously spooky tale is in order.
Rinker, Sherri Duskey. Mighty, Mighty Construction Site. illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. 40p. ebook available. Chronicle. Feb. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452152165. POP
PreS-Gr 1 –In this follow-up to the wildly popular Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, the trucks are back, working together to get the job done. This task is a bit too big for the old crew, though, and some new friends make an appearance, including a skid steer loader, a backhoe, a flatbed, a pumper truck, and a front-end loader. Fans of the first title, and vehicle lovers in general, will adore this story that’s perfect for reading anytime of day. Filled with vibrant illustrations and rich vocabulary, this rhyming tale is sure to make readers grin as brightly as the smiling vehicles in the book! VERDICT A solid addition for storytimes and one-on-one sharing. Expect high circulation.
Saltzberg, Barney. Hug This Book! illus. by Fred Benaglia. 32p. Phaidon. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780714872841. POP
K-Gr 2 –Saltzberg’s tribute to the lovability of a favorite book bounces in perfect rhythm. Benaglia’s pen on paper, digitally colored illustrations tell their own whimsical story in delightful and unpredictable ways. The poem begins, “You can read this book to a hippo,” and brightly colored children (red, blue, chartreuse) do just that. On the next page, they step off the hippo (with her impossibly small feet) into a floating bathtub just in time for the line, “You can read this book in the bath.” As the right-facing page shows an island ahead (“If you read this book being tickled, I dare you not to laugh!”), we know that it will be the setting for the next set of lines. A little girl peeking around a tree in a corner shows up as the main character on the next page. The book they are reading, white with a red heart, is passed from page to page and enjoyed in many different ways. VERDICT Young children will memorize and recite the text; older children can extend its message by adding lines of their own. Teachers can introduce units on poetry or graphic design. Circulation guaranteed.–
Sima, Jessie. Not Quite Narwhal. illus. by Jessie Sima. 40p. S. & S. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481469098; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481469104. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –The “not quite” narwhal in this story is Kelp, an adorable unicorn, born underwater and living with an equally adorable school of narwhals. His tusk is kind of short, he’s not a very good swimmer, and narwhal food is just gross, but his life is pretty great. Kelp is accepted by the narwhals, and he accepts himself as he is. But one day, a strong current drops him on a beach, where he learns to walk (after hysterically imitating a crab and a frog, he finds that a turtle is the best model) and discovers a whole herd of “land narwhals” who look just like him. Little Kelp’s new life is awash in rainbows and unicorns—he almost doesn’t want to go home. Of course, home isn’t quite the same after his adventure, but luckily everyone is on his side. The narwhals and unicorn meet at the beach, and Kelp ends his story in the best of both worlds. Sima draws digitally on a Wacol drawing tablet and has created charming undersea and overland settings on full-bleed spreads. Her narrative is short, with a storyteller’s pacing and winning characters, resulting in an appealing book. Read it for a whimsical storytime or provide some text-to-text connections for older students with Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Uni the Unicorn and Bob Shea’s Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great. VERDICT Useful for ELA curricula and sure to circulate, this title is highly recommended.
Yeh, Kat. The Friend Ship. illus. by Chuck Groenink. 32p. Disney-Hyperion. Dec. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484707265. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –Hedgehog overhears some woodland animals who are concerned that he looks lonely and is in need of some friendship. Thinking this is actually a ship, he goes searching in his own vessel to find it. Every time he encounters new animals, he asks if they have seen the “friend ship.” No one has, but they want to tag along. Hedgehog gathers new companions on each page as he journeys along. This is a lovely tale about not realizing that the thing you long for is right in front of you. The illustrations are endearing, with muted hues and expressive faces. This title also makes for a fun play on words. The moral of the story and the sweet nature of the narrative make this a standout among books about friendship. VERDICT A strong read-aloud choice for back to school, Valentine’s Day, or anytime.–
Yoon, Salina. My Kite Is Stuck!: And Other Stories. illus. by Salina Yoon. 64p. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2017. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9781619638877. POP
K-Gr 2 –The delightful trio from Duck, Duck, Porcupine are back in three short stories of friendship. In the first, Big Duck gets a kite stuck in a tree. Porcupine and Big Duck attempt to knock it free but succeed only in getting more objects—a ball, a Hula-hoop, a ladder—stuck in the branches. In the second tale, Big Duck is jealous when Porcupine befriends Bee, making Big Duck jealous until she meets Ladybug. When a spider lands on Little Duck, the others assume that he has made a new friend, too. In the final tale, Big Duck and Porcupine are so focused on making a lemonade stand that they forget all about the lemonade. Good thing Little Duck is prepared. A step up from Mo Willems’s “Elephant and Piggie” in reading level, Yoon’s beginning reader is thoughtfully designed. The comic book layout of panels bordered in black draws attention to the sequential action. The humorous, full-color digital illustrations feature welcoming, curving black outlines. The all-dialogue black text is printed in a large font in white speech bubbles against solid colored backgrounds. The text is grounded in short, declarative, sight word–heavy sentences. Occasionally, a new word is introduced without a clear visual context clue, but in general the text is strongly supported by illustrations as well as by frequent word repetition. Contractions—“don’t,” “can’t,” “let’s”—are used in a natural way, making for a smooth flow. VERDICT Cheerful, approachable, and thoughtfully created, this beginning reader will find a welcome home in public and school libraries.
Blabey, Aaron. The Bad Guys in Mission Unpluckable. illus. by Aaron Blabey. 144p. ebook available. Scholastic. Mar. 2017. pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780545912419. POP
Gr 2-4 –The “Bad Guys” return for another rescue mission. This time their goal is to free 10,000 chickens from Sunnyside Chicken Farm. Readers new to the series will benefit from the summary that kicks off the story. However, fans of the original will also delight in one of the most creative synopses appearing in serial books. In this second tale, Mr. Wolf is still trying to prove that his crew is filled with “good guys,” which isn’t always easy. While Mr. Snake agrees to aid in the chickens’ release, it is clear to readers that he would rather eat them. To accomplish the chicken rescue operation, Mr. Wolf must enlist the help of a computer-hacking expert. Despite Mr. Shark’s trepidation, a tarantula joins the team. In a spoof on “Mission Impossible,” the heroes must break into the security system, navigate laser beams, and avoid wall sensors. It’s “Mission, Like, Totally Impossible.” Blabey continues to charm a wide age range of readers with uproarious storytelling and artwork that features exaggerated facial expressions. Readers will revel in the voice of his newest character. Variations in font sizes and styles not only make the pages sizzle but also aid developing readers. A twist at the end of this installment is sure to have kids begging to read more. VERDICT Guaranteed to be a hit for chapter book readers looking for humor and action.
Brallier, Max. The Forbidden Power. illus. by Alessandro Valdrighi. 192p. (LEGO NEXO Knights: Bk. 1). ebook available. Scholastic. Jan. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781338041835. POP
Gr 2-5 –This first installment in a planned series features the hapless, shy Fletcher Bowman and his bold, wisecracking friend Isabella Richmond, first-year students at the Knights’ Academy. Readers are likely familiar with the LEGO NEXO Knights’ realm via the brick building sets, the app, the online games, the Cartoon Network TV show, the beginning reader books published by DK, or the short chapter books also published by Scholastic. However, Brallier offers enough explication that readers new to the franchise will be able to follow the action. In this new story, Fletch and Izzy confront snobby classmates and bend the rules to complete their first quest and compete in the “Combatition.” In the process, they awaken a stone giant, nearly destroy the kingdom, and finally (at least temporarily) banish the villain. Fletch doesn’t have Izzy’s fighting skills or bravado, but he does have the feeling, which turns out to be “olden-days magic.” Fletch must keep the feeling to himself, however, because Principal Brickland believes that “magic turns everyone evil.” But Merlok 2.0 (a digitized hologram of the powerful magician) will probably help Fletch develop his skills in future installments. Brallier’s plot zips along with short sentences and lots of quick action. Tongue-in-cheek humor and flippant, fresh dialogue keep the fighting from being too serious and the villains from becoming too scary. VERDICT Bound to circulate like hotcakes among LEGO fans. Recommended for most public and school library collections.
Blackwood, Sage. Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded. 368p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062402639. POP
Gr 4-8 –Chantel is a powerful young sorceress, but she’s had less luck with the deportment lessons that all magical maidens learn at Miss Ellicott’s school. When Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears, a lack of deportment may be the least of Chantel’s problems. Marauders are besieging the city, and suddenly none of the adult sorceresses are around to perform the spells that strengthen the walls. Also, Chantel’s snake familiar has crawled into her head, which doesn’t help matters. As she takes responsibility for the school’s younger students, questions the city’s patriarchy and the old ways of thinking, and begins to find her way into her full powers, Chantel starts to learn when to be biddable and when to be bold. This imaginative story has it all: magic and adventure but also humor and relevant political undertones for savvy readers. Chantel is described as brown-skinned; the racial identity of other characters is not specified. This book features a strong plot and well-developed characters. Readers who enjoyed Blackwood’s earlier works will not be disappointed. Hand this to fans of Diana Wynne Jones and Shannon Hale. VERDICT This clever fantasy is a strong purchase for most middle grade collections.
Bracken, Alexandra. Wayfarer. 544p. (Passenger: Bk. 2). ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484715765. POP
Gr 9 Up –The times, they are a-changin’, and no one knows that better than a time traveler. When this sequel to Passenger opens, two weeks have elapsed since Etta was in Damascus, where she was shot in the shoulder, a coveted astrolabe was stolen from her, and she was separated from her beloved Nicholas. Now Etta must retrieve the astrolabe so that the right time line can be maintained. Etta, the Thorns (the good guys), and the Ironwoods (the bad guys) trade blows across continents and centuries, from Carthage in 148 BCE to Imperial Russia in 1919 to New York City in 1939 and a dozen times and places in between. Bracken’s knowledge of history is formidable. Each location is vividly depicted, right down to the smells. The two clans vie for the astrolabe and the power it wields, amid street fights, poisonings, diseases, witch curses, elephant rampages, and earthquakes. With such an impressive panoply of perils, action drives the narrative. Even so, secondary threads are engaging and make the novel relatable to teen readers. For instance, several characters wrestle with repercussions of childhood poverty and fear, and Etta struggles with parental approval and remembers being a child in her mother’s chilly presence: “Loneliness had a pitch—that high whine of static that coated silence.” It is in conveying these intensely human issues that Bracken’s prose shines. VERDICT An exciting, well-told story, but reading Passenger first is a must, so buy where that volume is popular.
Higgins, Wendy. The Great Pursuit. 512p. (Eurona: Bk. 2). ebook available. HarperCollins/Harper. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062381361. POP
Gr 9 Up –Kicking off immediately after the events of Higgins’s The Great Hunt, this sequel finds Princess Aerity on a mission to locate Paxton, a hunter, to achieve a sense of closure before she marries Leif. Her wedding will be the fulfillment of the promise of her hand to whoever could kill the beast that terrorized her family’s kingdom. Rozaria, who is part of the enemy Lashed clan, already has her claws in Paxton when Aerity tracks him down, and it’s up to Aerity to protect her homeland before Rozaria and other Lashed rebels can usurp her family’s power and destroy the realm of Eurona. With a foundation firmly in place from the previous book of the duology, Higgins hits her stride here, sending her characters in all directions as they embark on adventure. A stronger sense of pace and higher stakes make the novel even more engaging than The Great Hunt, while the characters have somewhat open personalities into which readers can insert themselves. Moments of romance will leave teens swooning for their favorite couples. Complete with a surprising betrayal and excitement through the very end, this title will appeal to those who loved Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Princess and the Hound. VERDICT An enjoyable follow-up to The Great Hunt, this novel offers a happy ending that works both as a pleasant diversion and a political commentary about marginalized groups.
Hopkins, Ellen. The You I’ve Never Known. 608p. ebook available. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry. Jan. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781481442909. POP
Gr 9 Up –Ariel and her father, an abusive, homophobic alcoholic, never stay in one place very long. Miraculously, though, they have spent Ariel’s entire junior year in Sonora, CA, and she hopes that, for once, they can stick around. Here, she has finally experienced a bit of stability and made friends. She has also begun to explore her sexuality with both new guy Gabe and Monica, her “queer Mexican American” best friend. Ariel keeps her feelings for Monica from her father, who never lets her forget that her mother left them when Ariel was two to “run off with her lesbian lover.” The teen longs to break free from her father’s control and be herself—whoever that is. Seventeen-year-old Maya, a Texan whose cold and abusive mother is increasingly involved in Scientology, seeks escape, too, and she finds it when she meets Jason, 10 years her senior; gets pregnant; and marries. But Jason has an escape plan of his own, one that will bring Ariel’s and Maya’s stories together in a startling way. Themes of identity, family, and truth are interrogated as readers slowly learn more about Ariel and Maya. Writing in verse (Ariel’s tale) and prose (Maya’s), Hopkins uses skillful pacing and carefully chosen words to conceal the most important truth of the novel. The reveal arrives just as readers may be putting the pieces together themselves. VERDICT A sharp, gripping read sure to please Hopkins’s legions of fans.
Redwine, C.J. The Wish Granter. 432p. (Ravenspire: Bk. 2). HarperCollins/ Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062360274. POP
Gr 9 Up –Redwine’s second installment of the series, which began with The Shadow Queen, will delight fairy-tale fans with its page-turning suspense and rich character development. In this retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin,” Thad has inherited the Sundraille throne after the members of the royal family die under suspicious circumstances. His twin sister, Ari, learns that Thad’s real route to the throne came after selling his soul to a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague to ensure Ari’s safety. In addition to stealing souls in exchange for wishes, Teague also collects debts from the kingdom’s citizens to keep them under his control. Shrewd Ari plots to stop Teague’s violent reign of terror by enlisting her friend Cleo and the palace’s new weapons master, Sebastian, to help her find a weakness in Teague’s fae magic. Along the way, Ari and Sebastian’s friendship blooms into romance. Ari defies the mold of a “proper princess,” favoring the company of servants over nobles, and she uses her wits to discover solutions to her problems. Sebastian grapples with his father’s severe abuse and his mother’s drug addiction. Raised on the rough side of town, he’s always prepared for danger. Both Ari and Sebastian have lost beloved family members because of Teague’s evildoing, and they are determined to stop him. Although the action overshadows the world-building, readers will enjoy the plot twists and Ari and Sebastian’s progressive relationship. They save the kingdom together as equals, in a welcome feminist revision of the classic fairy tale. VERDICT Recommended for all libraries where fairy-tale retellings are popular.
Roth, Veronica. Carve the Mark. 480p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jan. 2017. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780062348630. POP
Gr 9 Up –Lifegiving “current” hums throughout the planets in what Akos knows as “the galaxy.” This includes Akos’s nation-planet of Thuvhe along with planets Zold, Othyr, Urek, Shotet, and more. Cyra dwells on Shotet, a bitter Thuvhesit enemy. Akos and Cyra each have currentgifts, which manifest at adolescence. His gift can provide relief, while hers causes pain for herself and others. In Roth’s military-styled world, battles are settled with currentblades, and victors scar their arms with kill marks, meant both to count the dead and, in some cases, to honor them. The story is told from the perspectives of both Akos and Cyra. Readers follow a third-person view of Akos, who was brought unwillingly to Shotet and harbors deep resentments, while Cyra, always at the edge of pain and ready for battle, narrates in first person. Gradually, Cyra and Akos move from grudging tolerance of each other to respect and then love. Intrigue, poisonings, and an epic battle in the final chapters set the stage for the next book in this planned duology. Roth’s dark world mixes classic elements, such as oracles and gladiator-style battles, with futuristic bullies who have a thirst for power. VERDICT The author’s name may catch the eye of “Divergent” trilogy fans, but they will find that this book has less romance and more violence. Consider where Marie Lu’s “Young Elites” series, Eoin Colfer’s “W.A.R.P.” books, and Allen Zadoff’s “Unknown Assassin” titles are popular.–
Sáenz, Benjamin Alire. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. 464p. ebook available. Clarion. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544586505. POP
Gr 9 Up –It is the first day of senior year, and Sal feels as if his life is exactly as it should be. He has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and their loving Mexican American extended family. Sal’s best friend, Samantha, is almost like his sister. She really gets him, and more often than not, she finishes his sentences and knows exactly what he is thinking, even when he won’t admit it. Sal is an inward thinker who struggles with anger that has begun to boil just under the surface. After tragedy strikes Samantha’s life and leaves her reeling, Sal and his father take responsibility for her well-being and bring her into their family circle. At the same time, Sal befriends Fito, a streetwise teen trying to find his place in a world not of his own choosing. Sal and Samantha show Fito that his life has purpose, just as they discover the same about their own lives. Sal’s history unexpectedly haunts him, and life-changing events force him and Samantha to confront serious issues of faith, loss, and grief. The themes of love, social responsibility, death, and redemption are expertly intertwined with well-developed characters and a compelling story line. This complex, sensitive, and profoundly moving book is beautifully written and will stay with readers. VERDICT A must-purchase title, recommended for all school and public libraries.
Zarr, Sara. Gem & Dixie. 288p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062434593. POP
Gr 8 Up –With a limited support system, Gem is adrift. Her father left years ago, and her mother barely acknowledges her. Gem has always felt intensely protective of her younger sister, Dixie, but now that the girls are in high school, things are different. Pretty, popular Dixie wants little to do with awkward and angsty Gem. When the girls’ father returns, however, their already precarious life is upended, sending the teens on a journey that will change them both forever. Writing in a terse, almost brusque manner, Zarr adeptly brings to life a protagonist grappling with anger, loneliness, and rejection. The siblings’ relationship is authentically nuanced: Gem’s love for her sister is balanced with her resentment of Dixie, who easily garners attention and appears to have a better relationship with their parents. The plot is secondary to the rich portrayal of the characters’ internal lives and depiction of a dysfunctional family engaged in more subtle forms of mistreatment. Neither Gem nor Dixie is physically abused, but their parents’ neglectful, manipulative behavior and struggles with drug addiction have left their mark on both girls. While some readers may find that the book wraps up loose ends too neatly, others will welcome the optimistic conclusion. VERDICT A thoughtful work that will resonate with Zarr’s many fans and those who appreciate contemplative, character-driven novels. School Library Journal
O’Connor, George. Artemis: Wild Goddess of the Hunt. illus. by George O’Connor. 80p. (Olympians: Bk. 9). bibliog. further reading. notes. First Second. Jan. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781626725225. POP
Gr 4-8 –With the latest in his series of books focused on the Greek deities, O’Connor brings to life the goddess of the hunt. Various individuals share anecdotes, weaving a nuanced portrait of Artemis: formidable, quick-witted, occasionally cruel, yet always deeply devoted to the natural world and intensely protective of women and girls. The images are dynamic, with the use of different perspectives creating drama and suspense. Blonde, blue-eyed Artemis is illustrated with cool tones, befitting her characterization. Complementing the visuals, the writing is exciting yet lyrical, evoking the poetry of the original legends. Some stories contain violence, and there is brief nudity but nothing explicit (in one scene, the hunter Actaeon spies the goddess bathing naked and as punishment is transformed into a stag and devoured by his own dogs). The back matter is particularly noteworthy: in “Greek Notes,” O’Connor provides insightful—and witty—commentary, and his bibliography will intrigue readers curious about the source material. Though the author is true to the original tales (never shying away from their less savory elements), he injects a feminist perspective, emphasizing Artemis’s strong relationships with other women and, in “Greek Notes,” referring to Actaeon as a “creepy peeping Tom.” VERDICT An excellent addition to graphic novel and Greek mythology collections. School Library Journal
Pilkey, Dav. Dog Man Unleashed. illus. by Dav Pilkey. 224p. (Dog Man: Bk. 2). ebook available. Scholastic/Graphix. Jan. 2017. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9780545935203. POP
Gr 1-4 –Readers who enjoyed Dog Man will be pleased to see Pilkey deliver the same blend of over-the-top plot turns and hilariously irreverent humor. This time, the title character (the result of medical surgery that fused a canine and a policeman after an accident) is tasked with buying his boss, the police chief, a birthday present. When the pet he purchases turns out to be an evil fish, wacky high jinks ensue. And there’s more trouble on the horizon. Angry that a mysterious stranger is framing him for robbery, Dog Man’s nemesis, Petey the cat, escapes from prison to clear his name. Meanwhile, the decoy that Petey uses to make his getaway, a flat paper cat, comes to life. Once again, Dog Man must put things right, relying on his keen ability to fight crime while also attempting to stifle some of his canine urges. Pilkey uses the premise that the comic has been penned by George and Harold, two elementary school students, and the artwork and story are delightfully childlike. The illustrations have been rendered with a thick-lined scrawl and simple shapes, and intentional misspellings and errors are sprinkled throughout. While the sentence structure is simple and concise, Pilkey displays a sense of sophistication, including clever puns and wordplay, as well as a clear mastery of sequential art, making this an ideal option for both reluctant and more advanced readers. VERDICT An entertainingly zany addition to graphic novel collections; for series fans and newcomers alike. School Library Journal
Winick, Judd. The Great Big Boom. illus. by Judd Winick. 208p. (Hilo: Bk. 3). Random. Feb. 2017. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780385386203. POP
Gr 3-5 –Hilo the robot boy and his best friend DJ must team up to track down DJ’s pal Gina, who was swallowed by a mysterious portal. In the process, Hilo and DJ are reunited with old friends, make new friends, and unearth more secrets from Hilo’s past. This third installment in the series delivers humor and cartoony, over-the-top adventures that fans and new readers will delight in. The violence is minimal and more silly than scary. More sophisticated readers will find deeper meaning in Hilo’s quest to discover who he is, as well as DJ’s attempts to be a good friend and realize what it is he excels at. Full-color artwork on glossy pages completes this bright, cheerful, and just plain fun package. VERDICT This latest in a series that has proven to be a favorite of young readers continues the high standards of the previous volumes. For those who are familiar with the books and newcomers alike.
Bornstein, Michael & Debbie Bornstein Holinstat. Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. 352p. ebook available. glossary. photos. Farrar. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374305710. POP
Gr 6-8 –Middle schoolers will be engrossed by Bornstein’s account (written with the help of his daughter) of his and his family’s survival during the Holocaust. Bornstein was born in the town of Zarki, Poland, which had largely become a Jewish ghetto after the Nazi invasion. For years, his parents survived through bribery and good fortune, but ultimately they, along with the entire Jewish population of the town, were sent to concentration camps (the Bornsteins to Auschwitz, specifically). When the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz, Bornstein was four years old and accompanied only by his grandmother. (His father and brother were dead, and his mother was presumed dead.) The remaining Bornstein clan would eventually immigrate to the United States. The book is written in a soothing tone, which helps balance some of the grim details of Jewish life under the Nazi regime. In the preface, Bornstein explains why he chose to finally chronicle his experiences (a picture of him during the camp’s liberation was being used by Holocaust deniers). The storytelling is fast-paced, and readers will be fascinated by this family’s survival and endurance. VERDICT Few Holocaust survivors are still alive; Bornstein’s account is an excellent addition to middle school collections.
Gonzales, Andrea & Sophie Houser. Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done. 272p. appendix. photos. HarperCollins. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062472502. POP
Gr 8 Up –The authors, two extremely talented teenagers who met at a summer learning program called Girls Who Code, were tired of seeing young men receive most of the encouragement to pursue STEM jobs. They were also done with men driving conversations about women’s bodies. Gonzales and Houser decided to do something about it. The empowering video game they created, Tampon Run, quickly went viral and ultimately changed their lives forever. This book aims to provide students with the inside scoop on coding and what life is like for women in STEM industries. Through alternating chapters, readers discover a bit about each author’s background and how she came to attend Girls Who Code. The inspiration and reason behind their magnum opus are also explored. Gonzales’s and Houser’s writing styles are conversational and work well to dispel the aura of inaccessibility that often surrounds works on technology. (Houser talks at length about her social anxiety, and Gonzales discusses the pressures she felt as a child of two Filipino immigrants.) Curious teens will enjoy a section at the end on getting started in coding. Gonzales and Houser never make their story sound easy, but they do show readers that success in STEM fields is more than possible for women. VERDICT Inspiring and hopeful; a great addition to libraries with novice and expert coders alike.
Lloyd, Carli with Wayne Coffey. All Heart: My Dedication and Determination To Become One of Soccer’s Best. 304p. index. HMH. Dec. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544978690. POP
Gr 5-8 –This young readers edition of Lloyd’s adult title, When Nobody Was Watching, details her life as a professional soccer player. Beginning with her childhood experiences on community club teams, Lloyd provides a comprehensive chronicle of her athletic perseverance: using rejection to work harder, coping with disappointment, overcoming obstacles, and relishing the hard-earned professional and personal achievements that come with such dedication. This commitment is evident from Lloyd’s time in college through later years when she pursued Olympic and World Cup glory. With simple sentence structure and a straightforward narrative, this book is appropriately designed for its audience. It predominantly focuses on a play-by-play of the many tryouts, teams, practices, and games of Lloyd’s career, with brief glimpses of the politics behind the game and rare details of her personal life. The prose is replete with soccer terms and jargon, which may make the narrative more difficult for readers less familiar with the sport. Still, the central themes of hard work, diligence, ambition, and tenacity make Lloyd’s story an inspiration for all readers, especially tweens looking for strong role models. VERDICT Purchase where avid soccer fans seek motivational accounts of favorite players.
Maraniss, Andrew. Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line. 272p. bibliog. ebook available. index. photos. Philomel. Dec. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399548345. POP
Gr 7 Up –Vanderbilt University made a strong statement in 1966 when they recruited Perry Wallace, a local teen basketball star who was African American. Students may not be familiar with Wallace, but after reading this poignant biography, they will not forget him. Readers meet him as a child whose loving family provided him with the care and attention he needed to thrive academically, then follow him onto the court, where he yearned—and then learned—to dunk. Maraniss speeds through Wallace’s senior year at Pearl High, in Tennessee, where recruiters from schools across the country were eager to add him to their rosters. His years at Vanderbilt, where he broke the color barrier in the Southeastern Conference, receive the most attention, with great sports writing meeting heartfelt interludes of Wallace’s efforts to bring about change for his fellow black students. Maraniss does not shy away from the ultimate truth: Wallace experienced vicious racism and countless death threats as well as racial slurs, discrimination, and unfair treatment on and off the court. Wallace is quoted abundantly throughout the text, and the bibliography is packed with primary sources, offering ample research opportunities for those compelled to dig deeper into the civil rights struggle of Wallace and other black athletes. VERDICT This portrait of the fortitude of a young athlete will make a huge impact on teens and is guaranteed to spark serious discussion.
Trunko, Emily, ed. The Last Message Received. illus. by Zoë Ingram. 176p. ebook available. further reading. websites. Crown. Jan. 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780399557767. POP
Gr 8 Up –Trunko started the titular Tumblr account as a way to provide a platform for those dealing with loss. Users submit to Trunko the last messages they received from or sent to a person of significance. These messages are often fraught with emotion and explore subjects such as suicide, lost love, divorce, and death. Though most entries are brief, they are a powerful exercise in how to convey a complex backstory in only a few choice words—a number of great creative writing prompts and lessons can be mined from this collection. A variety of fonts and font sizes are used throughout, along with Ingram’s illustrations, making for a visually pleasing and vibrant reading experience. VERDICT Readers will return to this volume again and again, especially those in need of a bit of reassurance about the world.
Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future: Young Readers’ Edition. 288p. chron. photos. HarperCollins. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062463289. POP
Gr 8 Up –This biography of Musk, one of the most important figures in modern technological advancement, aims to communicate the excitement and promise of the work that he and his companies—Space X, Tesla, and Solar City—are doing in the fields of aerospace, automotive transportation, and alternative energy. The book is organized around Musk’s self-proclaimed quest to “guard man’s fate in the universe” by “turning humans into space colonizers” and the varied paths that he has taken to achieve this end. The bulk of the narrative is focused on Musk’s work with Space X and Tesla since the 2000s, with few details on his early life in South Africa. Vance creates a “you are there” feeling as he describes the early test launches of Space X rockets and the development of the revolutionary electric cars produced by Tesla. Musk and his friends and associates cooperated with the creation of the New York Times best-selling adult version of this biography, and that deep access to information shines through in this edition for young readers as well. The volume’s more than 250 pages are crammed with details of the inner workings of Musk’s companies, and the discussions on buyouts, venture capitalism, and initial public offerings may overwhelm those drawn to the title out of a more personal interest in Musk. Still, Vance maintains a lively pace and explains the groundbreaking technology in a way that is accessible and exciting. VERDICT Highly recommended for high school and ambitious middle school readers for its insights into Musk, technology, and venture capitalism.
Caillou the Courageous. 60 min. Dist. by PBS. 2016. $12.99. ISBN 9781627897457. POP
PreS-K –Caillou, a four-year-old boy, learns how to deal with emotions. He has the support of a traditional nuclear family, preschool friends, and Daniel, an older boy who sometimes babysits for Caillou. The seven gentle stories in this collection are narrated by a grandmotherly voice. The cartoon animation features simple line drawings, primary colors, and minimalist settings with blurred edges. In “Caillou Climbs,” Caillou’s mother surprises him and his friend Clementine with an outing to a rock climbing wall, and the boy overcomes his fear to find that he enjoys climbing. “The Spider Issue” begins with Daniel sharing a comic book about a mutant spider from cosmic space, which makes Caillou fearful as he seems to encounter spiders at every turn. A conversation with his father, who shows Caillou some garden spiders, reassures him. Another episode has Caillou trying out new roller skates at the park, where Daniel encourages him by sharing his own experience and stressing the importance of practice. VERDICT These gentle tales address preschool concerns with reassurance and affirmation. A staple for public libraries.