November 23, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ’s May 2017 Popular Picks

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A monthly selection of must-have new titles for kids and teens, chosen by SLJ’s book review editors.

Picture Books

Crimi, Carolyn. There Might Be Lobsters. illus. by Laurel Molk. 32p. Candlewick. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763675424. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –Sukie is afraid of the beach. She is only a little dog, and the beach has big whooshy waves and big beachy beach balls—and, worst of all, there might be lobsters. Sukie’s beguiling, spot-on puppy anxiety sets the stage for a delightful romp as she lays out her fears in a mounting pile of italic text that begs to be read aloud; each of her internal monologues ends with her fretting about the dreaded lobster (“and she might tumble down on her head,/and then she’d need stitches,/and, besides, there might be lobsters”). Eleanor, Sukie’s exuberant young human companion, tries to convince her to explore the beach, to no avail. Only when Sukie’s toy monkey Chunka Munka floats off to sea does Sukie dare to brave the waves and the lobsters that may lie beneath them. Sukie’s concerns are distinctly doggy—“she might get a shell stuck up her nose”—yet they will resonate with children who have experienced fear of the unknown. In Molk’s watercolor and ink illustrations, great swaths of sand and sky set off the humor of Sukie’s beleaguered expression and tongue-in-cheek details such as the image of a lobster on a beach bag. VERDICT Charming illustrations combine seamlessly with the text to create a seasonal treat as refreshing as ice cream with sprinkles on a day at the beach. Perfect for one-on-one and small group sharing.–Anna Stover, Poughkeepsie Day School, NY

Levis, Caron. May I Have a Word? illus. by Andy Rash. 40p. Farrar. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374348809. POP
K-Gr 2 –What happens when the letters of the alphabet get into an argument? Many of our favorite words cannot be spelled! This is a funny and charming book about a set of alphabet refrigerator magnets gathering to tell a story. Unfortunately, when it comes to picking the characters, C and K cannot agree on whether the tale should feature a cat or a kitten. The argument progresses, and K becomes quite miffed at all of the “cool” K-sounding words that are spelled with a C. Because of the spat, C and K refuse to stand together, so words such as socks, rocket, and luck cannot be spelled. Then N shows K that he is just as special and needed as C by spelling such wonderful words as knight and knitting. C and K resolve their differences and mend their friendship. Wonderfully entertaining, Rash’s illustrations enhance the text. The letters’ expressions will have kids giggling with delight. VERDICT This unique, hilarious selection will have readers of all ages laughing out loud. Be prepared for it to be in high demand after one read-aloud.–Jasmine L. Precopio, Fox Chapel Area School District, Pittsburgh

Light, Steve. Have You Seen My Lunch Box? illus. by Steve Light. 18p. Candlewick. Jun. 2017. Board $6.99. ISBN 9780763690687. POP
PreS-K –Part color book, part search-and-find, this simple and eye-catching board book is sure to please the youngest of patrons. A boy is getting ready for school and needs to locate essential items, including his socks, pencil case, book, and lunch box. Each missing item is hidden among the everyday clutter in his house. Bold black-and-white illustrations with bright backgrounds highlight the missing object, which appears in a contrasting color. The story has a sweet ending: the child thanks his mom for tracking down all of his belongings before he boards the school bus. The last page reveals all of his missing items and names the colors they represent (teal crayon, yellow ball, green marbles). VERDICT This new twist on the traditional concept book is great for the preschool crowd and is suited to lap reading. A charming purchase for most primary library collections.–Jasmine L. Precopio, Fox Chapel Area School District, Pittsburgh

McElligott, Matthew. The Space Disaster. illus. by Matthew McElligott. 40p. (Mad Scientist Academy). Crown. Jul. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553523829. POP
Gr 1-3 –In the latest adventure in the series, the intrepid monster students head into space. With the guidance of their goofy teacher, Dr. Cosmic, the kids use the amped up planetarium to experience the solar system in a dangerously close-up way. As the malfunctioning planetarium mimics the atmospheres of moons, planets, and comets, the students have to use their knowledge to solve three challenges to complete their assignment and escape the perils of space! Information about basic physical concepts such as gravity and more complex astronomical objects, including asteroids, meteoroids, and comets, is integrated into the story very naturally. The comic-style layout and light, simple dialogue are appealing and give the narrative an action-packed feel. VERDICT This book will easily find a place on fun nonfiction shelves or as part of a beginning graphic novel collection. The result is the same—it’s a space adventure that young readers will pore over, learn from, and enjoy.–Marian McLeod, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Greenwich, CT

Melling, David. D Is for Duck! illus. by David Melling. 32p. Kane Miller. Mar. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781610675802. POP
PreS-Gr 1 –Starting even before the title page of this amusing alphabet book, mustachioed, short Duck, wearing a fez and cape, walks onto the page, suitcase and black-and-white magician’s wand in hand. Duck casts a spell, “Abracadabra,” and from a top hat he pulls a bunny and a chicken. The trick should end there, but things go awry as every manner of animal bursts forth from the hat—a fox, a goat, a lion. The magical chaos mounts until Duck takes charge of his magic to save the day. A happy ending is in store—that is, until someone else picks up the magic wand and unleashes its mischievous power. Melling nimbly creates an engaging narrative using just one or two words for each letter of the alphabet. The very large, hand-lettered text is always well placed. Soft, rounded shapes are outlined in black and washed with solid colors against the creamy, thick pages. The clean white background provides the perfect backdrop for the brightly colored characters to shine. The facial expressions and lighthearted character relationships add humor and heart and will keep readers turning the pages. The character sketches on the front and back endpapers portray comical vignettes featuring Duck and two magical eggs. VERDICT This fine contribution to the alphabet canon is enlivened by funny characters and a compelling narrative. The pages are fun to pore over, and the images and text are large enough to share with a group.–Amy Seto Forrester, Denver Public Library

Paschkis, Julie. Magic Spell. illus. by Julie Paschkis. 32p. S. & S. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481422109. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –A mustachioed magician and his glamorous assistant have lots of alphabetical tricks up their sleeves. With the flick of his wand and the change of a letter, the Great Aziz transforms a dish into a fish. He further wows the crowd by turning a rose into a hose, and wire into fire. Zaza, accustomed to cleaning up Aziz’s messes, catches the floundering fish and puts it in a bowl, makes sure that the audience isn’t soaked by spraying water, and douses the flames. Zaza’s patience is pushed to the limit when Aziz turns her wig into a pig. Snatching the magic wand, she turns his black top hat into a bat. Aziz counters by turning the bat into a bag. The spelling sparring rounds spiral out of control when Zaza’s beads are turned into beans and the beans into bears. Accepting responsibility for their actions (“I was a cad,” says Aziz; “I was just mad,” Zaza says), they jointly solve the letter problem and take a big bow together. Paschkis’s watercolor illustrations are full of energy and movement. The fluid lines and bold colors capture the power struggle between the two wordsmiths with aplomb. VERDICT A phenomenal phonological fun read-aloud. Children will be shouting for an encore performance.–­Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

Saunders, Rob. Rodzilla. illus. by Dan Santat. 48p. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481457798. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –Ah, toddlers—those cherubic faces, squishy bellies, and chubby legs! Parents can’t help but want to love and kiss them. But toddlerhood is full of many messy parts. The diaper odors, the drool and vomit, and the mercurial mood swings. Saunders and Santat convey the messiness, impulsivity, recklessness, and joy of toddlerhood by creating a toddler/monster named Rodzilla. Rodzilla is a bright green combination of a dinosaur, Godzilla, King Kong, and a toddler, and he is out to wreak havoc on his city. Rodzilla roars his rage, shoots stink-rays, hurls an attack of yellow gunk, and belly flops before accidentally pricking his finger while climbing a tall tower. The resulting tears cause a flood and prompt the arrival of the heroes of our tale—Mom and Dad. As Rodzilla calls out to his parents, he changes from a huge green monster to a happy little toddler who has merely been playing with his toys and creating a giant mess in his living room. Kids will gravitate to Santat’s marvelously clever and animated illustrations; they capture perfectly the changing emotions of Rodzilla, and the expressions on the faces of the fleeing civilians (later revealed to be just toys) are hysterical and priceless. The vibrant colors are just right for the story of a toddler/monster who is alternatively destructive and tearful. VERDICT An engaging and humorous picture book for young children and their parents to share together.–Sally James, South Hillsborough Elementary School, Hillsborough, CA

STanton, Andy. Danny McGee Drinks the Sea. illus. by Neal Layton. 32p. Random/Schwartz & Wade. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524717360. POP
PreS-Gr 1 –On a trip to the beach, Danny McGee declares that he can drink the whole sea. His sister Frannie tells him to prove it, and so starts a bold new take on “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” Stanton’s writing has a childlike exuberance, racing away at a fast clip as the gluttonous boy gulps down the sea and swallows a tree, a bird, and a bee. And a TV. And the author himself, depicted as a photograph rather than an illustration. The story is very funny when read aloud with enthusiasm, and children will be in absolute fits by the surprise twist at the end. Even more impressive, though, is how Stanton maintains a single-sound rhyme throughout (with the exception of the concluding line). Given this constraint, it is not surprising that he resorts to inventing a word. However, in a humorous nod, he acknowledges his readers’ intelligence (“And I know you think there’s no such thing as a swee”) before proceeding to define the made-up term. Layton’s scrawly naive style is a perfect complement to this crazy tale and its show-off protagonist. Placement of the images, and the words that dance around them, fits the overall presentation and will assist any who try to read the title. VERDICT A riotous rhyming book that just begs to be read aloud in a storytime setting.–Rachel Forbes, Oakville Public Library, Ont.

Willems, Mo & Charise Mericle Harper.
The Good for Nothing Button. illus. by Mo Willems & Charise Mericle Harper. 64p. (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!). Disney-Hyperion. May 2017. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9781484726464. POP
PreS-Gr 1 –Harper’s hilarious entry in the series will press readers’ buttons as they encounter three birds who experience surprise, sadness, happiness, anger, and more. Yellow Bird brings a red button on a brown base to Red Bird and Blue Bird, and Yellow Bird says, “The button does nothing.” As the birds take turns pressing the button, their actions trigger feelings. Blue Bird says, “The button is SO easy to press. It surprised me! A surprise is NOT nothing.” When Red Bird presses the button, she says, “The button did not surprise me.” And she is sad about that. Blue Bird points out, “Sad is NOT nothing!” When Blue Bird and Red Bird experience happiness from pressing the button, Yellow Bird becomes angry and says, “It is a Good for NOTHING Button!” Yellow Bird’s raging insistence inspires Red and Blue Bird to laugh and become happy, concluding that “the button can do EVERYTHING!” This story will be enjoyed by prereaders and by emerging and fluent readers alike and will support extension activities. VERDICT A valuable addition to beginning reader ­collections.–Laura Scott, Farmington Community Library, MI

Chapter Books

Benton, Jim. Let’s Do a Thing! illus. by Jim Benton. 128p. (Victor Shmud, Total Expert: Bk. 1). Scholastic. Jun. 2017. pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780545932295. POP
Gr 1-4 –Fans of Benton (author of the “Franny K. Stein” and “Dear Dumb Diary” series) will be thrilled with this latest series starter. Victor Shmud is a young boy on a mission to find his true calling in life. He has tried many different fields thus far: Knuckle Doctor, Ghost Bear Hunter, and The Guy Who Puts the Sugar in Those Little Envelopes. However, he hasn’t found the career that suits him best…until now. With the help of his trusted sidekick, Dumpylumps, a chickenlike duck, Victor has decided to become a Makeover Expert. Between makeovers at school, Victor and his friend Patti start playing an intergalactic space game on her phone, and, of course, since Victor is an expert at practically everything, an alien spaceship probing the galaxy homes in on Victor’s excellent space war skills. Victor and Dumpylumps wind up in the middle of an intergalactic battle with the fate of the galaxy in their hands. Benton’s trademark wit and kid-friendly humor are on full display. There are boisterous cartoons illustrating most pages, which support comprehension for younger readers transitioning to chapter books. VERDICT A must-buy for libraries where “Franny K. Stein” and other over-the-top, funny chapter book fare are popular.–Brittney Kosev, Honey/Rush Elementary, Lubbock, TX

Harper, Charise Mericle. Lights, Camera, Cook! illus. by Aurélie Blard-Quintard. 192p. (Next Best Junior Chef: Bk. 1). HMH. Sept. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780544912601. POP
Gr 2-5 –Food-infused fiction that combines celebrity chefs, reality TV, and a focus on healthy eating. This first installment in an anticipated series is about a lively televised cooking competition featuring four talented tweens: energetic Tate, charming Rae, worldly Caroline, and hypercompetitive Oliver. Through numerous interviews, taste tests, and chopping challenges, readers get to know each character. The black-and-white illustrations complement the story and add humor. There is a bonus in the back matter that includes techniques for aspiring young chefs. VERDICT A mouthwatering read for all foodies. Be sure to save room for the next two volumes.–Paula Huddy, The Blake School-Highcroft Campus, Wayzata, MN

Montijo, Rhode with Luke Reynolds. Gum Luck. 160p. (The Gumazing Gum Girl: Bk. 2). Disney-Hyperion. Jun. 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781423161172. POP
Gr 2-4 –With her new powers, Gabby Gomez finds herself constantly switching between her secret and real identities. As a result, she is having a hard time juggling everything she has going on. To top it off, Gabby has a cavity, she has yet to tell her gum-hating dentist dad about her secret identity, and she’s running low on gum, since her brother got into her stash. Meanwhile, she has a new archnemesis, RoboChef. Scorned on public television for tripping over gum, he naturally hates Gum Girl and is bent on taking over the world. Can Gabby stop him before it’s too late? Will she ever tell her parents about her secret identity? The illustrations in this book are detailed and comic book–like. The characters are fairly well developed for an early chapter book, and the humor adds depth to the story. The plot is unique and engaging. However, some attempts at inserting Spanglish are more successful than others. VERDICT Fans of superheroes, strong heroines, and comic books will love this title. Although readers don’t necessarily need to have read the first book, Chews Your Destiny, it is recommended that they do so.–Kira Moody, Whitmore Public Library, Salt Lake City

Middle Grade

redstarKorman, Gordon. Restart. 256p. Scholastic. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781338053777. POP
Gr 3-6 –What would it be like to forget your whole life, your family, your friends, and even who you are? After falling off his roof, 13-year-old Chase Ambrose learns the hard way that reinventing himself can be pretty hard, especially when his past is not what he wants for his future. Before his fall, Chase was a jock, captain of the football team, following in his father’s footsteps. He was also the biggest bully in his middle school, had made many students’ lives miserable, and was serving a community service sentence for the damage that his bullying had caused. Even Chase’s little stepsister was afraid of him. If it were up to his dad and his former best friends, Bear and Aaron, Chase would go right back to his bully-jock ways. However, the new Chase is a kinder, more sympathetic person who struggles with his past and becomes friends with his former victims. As he works with the video club geeks, he forms a relationship with elderly Mr. Solway. Korman juxtaposes Mr. Solway’s sharing of his Korean War memories with Chase’s search for his own past. Despite the strong antibullying theme, the story is never preachy or trite but thoughtfully presents questions about loyalty, identity, and the possibility of a new start in a way that appropriately fits the middle school setting. VERDICT A fresh approach to the familiar topic of bullying, kept credible by believable characters and events, with typical Korman humor and just the right touch of mystery. An excellent addition for all middle grade collections.–MaryAnn Karre, Binghamton, NY

Levine, Gail Carson. The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre. 400p. HarperCollins. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062074669. POP
Gr 5-8 –Action and adventure abound in this fantasy novel about a young woman whose life is upended when she learns the truth about her past. Set in the same world as Levine’s The Two Princesses of Bamarre, but generations earlier, this story follows the struggles of 15-year-old Peregrine (Perry), the adopted daughter of the powerful Lord Tove and Lady Klausine. Perry is socially awkward but athletically gifted and craves attention from her stern Lakti parents, members of the ruling class who dole their affection out in small doses. Just before her first trip to the battlefield, Perry is visited by a fairy who tells her that she is not part of the Lakti ruling class but Bamarre born. Bamarre people are oppressed by and made to serve the Lakti, who treat them with disdain and tell stories of their weakness. When Lord Tove discovers the truth about Perry’s birth, he imprisons her in a tower. Armed with magical seven league boots, Perry escapes and begins a new life. While living in disguise with her Bamarre birth parents, she resolves to rescue her newfound people from the tyranny of the Lakti, eventually sparking a rebellion. Levine plays with the “Rapunzel” story here, giving Perry magical hair and placing her in a familiar medieval setting. Despite a few moments of awkwardness in the text, the action moves along swiftly and Perry’s moral awakening is ultimately satisfying. VERDICT With its relevant commentary on race and prejudice and its strong female lead, this newest addition to Levine’s oeuvre will appeal to the author’s followers and fantasy fans.–Kristy Pasquariello, Wellesley Free Library, MA

O’Donnell, Tom. Hamstersaurus Rex vs. Squirrel Kong. illus. by Tim Miller. 304p. (Hamstersaurus Rex: Bk. 2). HarperCollins. Jun. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780062377562. POP
Gr 3-6 –The story of Sam Gibbs and the mutant classroom pet who acts as his sidekick continues. In this volume, Sam and Hamstersaurus Rex face off against a giant squirrel who appears to have ties to the shady SmilesCorp, which, in turn, seems to be linked to everything from Sam’s school (especially one suspiciously cool teacher, Mr. Duderotti) to the Antique Doll Museum to Sam’s mom (she works for SmilesCorp, and she’s a very nice lady). O’Donnell includes even more jokes and action this time around and also cleverly reprises the most memorable characters, such as Hamster Monitor Martha Cherie and bully Kiefer “Beefer” Vanderkopf and his pet snake Michael Perkins. Sam’s drawings are less prominent on this go-round, while O’Donnell’s spoofs of adult behavior—including the maniacal, vengeful delusions of former SmilesCorp employee Roberta Fast and the latest lifestyle choices of the deeply sad Coach Weekes—are funnier and more pointed than ever. Like Louis Sachar and Dav Pilkey, O’Donnell writes joyful silliness for readers with a budding adolescent sense of humor, and Squirrel Kong’s absurdism may resonate even with grumpy, neurotic adults. VERDICT A pure blast of fun for readers who want something amusing and fast-paced.–Abigail Garnett, Brooklyn Public Library

Oh, Ellen. Spirit Hunters. 288p. HarperCollins. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062430083. POP
Gr 4-6 –Harper Raine suffered through a series of accidents but has no memory of them. She and her family have just moved to Washington, DC, but this is no fresh start: Harper begins hearing rumors that their new home is haunted. Is that why her little brother Michael is acting so strangely? The mysteries build into a truly frightening thriller, with some brutal scenes that may scare more sensitive readers not familiar with horror tropes. A spirit attacks Harper by throwing her down the stairs and stabbing her with a toy truck. In a memorable scene, the walls pulse with dark liquid and a ghost presents himself as a rotting corpse. The straightforward, direct language tempers the drama, though it occasionally results in stilted dialogue. For instance, Harper’s new friend Dayo invites her to eat “jerk chicken with rice and callaloo, which are delicious Jamaican stewed greens.” Dayo’s Jamaican background and Harper’s Korean culture aren’t the main subjects of the story, but they add depth. Harper’s pride in her grandmother’s Korean traditions helps her defeat the house’s evil spirit, and she learns that racial divisions can exist even after death: the white ghosts in a segregated graveyard don’t trust a ghost who is buried in the neighboring African American graveyard. VERDICT This mystery thriller infused with diverse characters and intriguing themes will appeal to horror fans and to reluctant readers who enjoy a good scare.–Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library

YA

Ahdieh, Renée. Flame in the Mist. 368p. Putnam. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399171635. POP
Gr 10 Up –Rich in magical realism and cultural nuance of feudal Japan, Ahdieh’s series starter begins with a girl-power bang. Mariko is bound to the empire’s center as part of an arranged marriage to a royal son: a union she dreads. Her caravan is set upon by raiders who slash and kill their way through the convoy. Only through cunning does Mariko emerge from the ashes relatively unscathed. No longer content to please her family by marrying a prince, Mariko now sets out with a vengeance upon the Black Clan, whom she holds responsible for her attempted assassination and the murder of her convoy. Her plan, not well thought out at first, involves infiltrating the ranks of the Black Clan, so she disguises herself as a boy and successfully meets up with the Black Clan. However, the leader of the clan, Takeda Ranmaru, suspects her—of something. The clan’s best fighter, Okami, or “The Wolf,” is more complex than Mariko originally thinks. And when she is forced to choose between her famed samurai brother, who is searching for her, and the clan, her decision becomes complicated by unexpected factors. Ahdieh’s strength lies in her intricate characterizations and detailed descriptions, all of which are perfectly showcased in feudal Japan. Elements of magic run through this Mulan-inspired tale as young boys turn into beasts and back into boys again. VERDICT A wonderful choice for YA shelves, especially where lush fantasy is popular.–Amanda C. Buschmann, Carroll Elementary School, Houston

Alsaid, Adi. North of Happy. 304p. Harlequin Teen. Apr. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780373212286. POP
Gr 8 Up –Carlos, 18, lives a sheltered, affluent life in Mexico City. His future is all set out for him by his well-intentioned father. But when his older brother Felix comes for a visit, he encourages Carlos to follow his dream of cooking instead. Suddenly, Felix is tragically killed by a stray bullet, and Carlos begins to question everything in his life. But Felix hasn’t completely left him; his ghost keeps Carlos company, pushing him to follow his heart. Carlos buys a one-way plane ticket to the United States, to eat at a famed restaurant on a tiny island near Seattle, something the brothers had dreamed of doing. There Carlos meets Emma, the chef’s daughter, and they instantly connect. His time with Emma is a respite from his solitary pain. The protagonist is given a dishwasher job at the restaurant, and he begins to learn the ins and outs of the kitchen, eventually securing early morning cooking lessons with the chef. But there’s a catch—Carlos must end his relationship with Emma. As Carlos pursues his dreams, the visits from Felix become fewer and fewer. This is a story of how tragedy can make us question the things that matter most in life. Alsaid has created a quiet, introspective novel dealing with love, loss, and the spaces in-between. Readers will appreciate the peek at a small Washington island and a fine restaurant. This title will also appeal to budding chefs and fans of the popular culinary arts movement. VERDICT Recommended for all YA collections.–Emily Valente, Brooklyn Friends School

Charbonneau, Joelle. Dividing Eden. 336p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062453846. POP
Gr 7 Up –As the youngest members of the royal family of Eden, 17-year-old twins Carys and Andreus do not expect that either of them will ever become their kingdom’s monarch. However, when tragic events leave Eden without a ruler, the two unprepared siblings are forced to participate in a series of trials to determine who will be the successor to the throne. Carys is sure that nothing could ever break the special bond she has with her brother, but it doesn’t take long for secrets, jealousy, and betrayal to come between them. Charbonneau establishes the strong connection between Carys and Andreus early on, leading readers to feel invested in their relationship. While romance plays a role in the plot, familial relations remain the chief focus here. The narrative is split to include each twin’s point of view, and individual personalities and motivations are fairly well developed throughout. Toward the end of the story, one sibling’s disappointing actions feel out of character, and the conflict is rushed, despite Charbonneau’s best efforts to lay groundwork. Weak world-building and limited secondary character development are likely to leave readers with lots of questions, which will hopefully be answered in the next installment. VERDICT Despite some flaws, the trendy plot—filled with royal intrigue, romance, and a dangerous competition—is sure to make this new fantasy series a popular choice in middle and high school libraries. Hand this one to fans of Sarah J. Maas, Kiera Cass, and Evelyn Skye.–Liz Overberg, Zionsville Community High School, IN

Dessen, Sarah. Once and for All. 368p. Viking. Jun. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780425290330. POP
Gr 9 Up –Louna’s broken heart and her mother’s cynical views on love and marriage have soured her on the idea of everlasting love. While working at her mother’s wedding planning business, she meets Ambrose, whom she had to drag away from a girl so that he could escort his mother down the aisle. Louna is not thrilled when her mother hires Ambrose for the summer, but he is charming and spices up her usual summer routine. Louna prefers to date only when forced to by her best friend Jilly, while Ambrose plays the field nightly. Louna’s disdain for Ambrose’s escapades leads to a friendly wager—for the next seven weeks she will date around and he will commit to one person; the winner will choose the loser’s next date. As the story unfolds, the truth of Louna’s heartbreak is revealed one piece at a time, just as she admits her real feelings for Ambrose. Can she open her heart to love again? The answer is obvious, but nevertheless it is an enjoyable journey getting there. Secondary characters, such as Louna’s mother, Jilly, and William, her mother’s best friend and business partner, are well developed and add depth to the protagonist’s past and present. However, an attempt at racial diversity falls flat with three separate descriptions of peripheral characters as black, while there is no other mention of race or ethnicity for any other character. VERDICT There is no question that this title will be popular with Dessen fans and romance lovers.–Kefira Phillipe, Nichols Middle School, Evanston, IL

de la Cruz, Melissa. Alex & Eliza: A Love Story. 368p. Putnam. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524739621. POP
Gr 7 Up –With the popularity of the musical Hamilton still going strong, de la Cruz has struck while the iron is hot and shone a light on the extraordinary wife of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, Eliza Schuyler. The writings about Eliza are sparse, but the author puts that limited knowledge to good use and imbues her fictional version with a strong-willed and charming personality that will instantly have readers cheering for her. Though the research involved here is evident, the historical accuracy still ends up being a bit shaky. By focusing only on the initial courtship between Eliza and Alexander, de la Cruz turns Hamilton into something of a dashing white knight but never acknowledges the interest that existed between him and Eliza’s sister Angelica—in fact, Angelica acts quite coldly toward him. This depiction is only enforced during an imagined arranged engagement between Eliza and another real-life figure named Henry Livingston that results in him drunkenly trying to take advantage of her the night before the wedding. This relationship never existed, and adding an attempted assault just so that Alexander can swoop in and save the day feels not only clichéd but irresponsible. The seeds of potential are peppered throughout the story, but they unfortunately become too overshadowed by unnecessary characterizations. VERDICT Fans of the musical will be excited to see this novel, even though it plays fast and loose with the facts. Purchase only where Hamilton frenzy is still strong.–Kate DiGirolomo, Library Journal

Maberry, Jonathan. Mars One. 448p. S. & S. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481461610. POP
Gr 8 Up –The year is 2026, and the world is preparing for its first manned mission to Mars. Forty individuals have been chosen to be the first Martians, and genius 16-year-old Tristan Hart is one of them, along with his brilliant parents, despite having to leave his high school sweetheart, Izzy, behind forever. Everyone’s eyes are upon Tristan and the others participating in Mars One, but there are those who don’t want them to go, including a radical religious terrorist group called the Neo-Luddites, who will attempt anything to sabotage the mission. On the flight to the Red Planet, the protagonist must deal with his feelings for Izzy, the weight of advancing humankind by becoming one of the first people to set foot on Mars, and the suspicion that someone on board is the enemy, trying to send them all to their death. Maberry’s latest takes a while to get going (the Mars One crews lift off halfway through the hefty volume), but once it does, it cranks through a series of misfortunes on board that dial up the tension. Tristan is a believable narrator, and readers feel his distress and excitement. A diverse group of characters add to the overall feeling of unity that shines through the story. VERDICT A popular choice for sci-fi shelves, this is a thrilling albeit slow-starting adventure that will satisfy teens—if they can get through the first half before they make it to space.–Tyler Hixson, School Library Journal

Nonfiction

Paquette, Ammi-Joan & Laurie Ann Thompson. Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! illus. by Lisa K. Weber. 176p. bibliog. index. photos. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062418791. POP
Gr 4-7 –The authors have essentially created a kid’s version of the popular NPR program Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me (in which adults compete to determine which news story is false); however, in this case, the emphasis is on science rather than current events. There are nine chapters in total, each devoted to quirky stories related to a different topic (e.g., plants, animals, humans). Each chapter contains three tales: two true and one false. Readers are instructed to use their research skills in order to differentiate between fact and fiction, and to that end a “Research Guide” is included, offering tips such as how to evaluate Internet sources for authority, accuracy, and reliability. An “Answer Guide” explains which of the three stories in each chapter is false and why, and an extensive bibliography cites sources. Kid-friendly text and colorful sidebars and images combine to create an overall attention-grabbing effect. VERDICT Providing a framework from which to develop the tools necessary to think critically about information, this title is a fun and potentially useful curricular tool for teachers and librarians, as well as an entertaining read for tween science fans.–Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn

Prager, Sarah. Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World. illus. by Zoë More O’Ferrall. 272p. bibliog. further reading. glossary. notes. websites. HarperCollins. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062474315. POP
Gr 7 Up –Short and straightforward profiles of queer figures throughout history, ranging from ancient and obscure to modern and well known. The people profiled represent a diverse set of ethnicities and gender and sexual identities, living up to the term queer in its full meaning. The historical background provided is very readable but cursory and occasionally inconsistently presented. Some profiles focus on the individuals’ queer identity, while others put the emphasis on their historical impact. For example, Joan of Arc’s military career is thoroughly explained while her preference for men’s clothes is only mentioned. The tone of the book is positive and lighthearted despite the many unhappy endings but at times can come across as glib (“The relationship between queer people and the Catholic church was…um, strained during Father Mike’s life, to say the least”). With the exception of a few references to sexual acts, the content is appropriate for a wide range of ages, particularly if the book is used in a guided or teaching context. Each chapter opens with a graphic novel–like line portrait of the subject by O’Ferrall. Overall, the title distinguishes itself from materials that take a traditional approach to history that often ignores or omits mention of sexual or gender identity. VERDICT An enjoyable and accessible, if inconsistent, introduction to an important side of history. Public and school libraries will strongly want to consider, both for re-creation and education.–Amy Diegelman, formerly at Vineyard Haven Public Library, MA

Stewart, Melissa. Can an Aardvark Bark? illus. by Steve Jenkins. 32p. bibliog. further reading. S. & S./Beach Lane. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481458528. POP
K-Gr 3 –Students will be surprised to learn that though an aardvark can’t bark, it can grunt. Stewart opens every other spread with a query about what noise an animal might make (“Can a dingo bellow?… No, but it can growl.”). After answering, the author organizes groups of creatures that make similar sounds on the following spread, often with surprising results (platypuses will softly growl when disturbed). These groupings are fascinating for their diversity, and noises covered include greetings, sounds made out of fear or to attract food, and mating calls. Jenkins’s cut and torn paper illustrations provide not only texture but also an incredible amount of detail. For instance, students can almost count every quill on the African crested porcupine. Overall, the layout is smart, as animal names are in boldface and the communication style (growl, hiss, etc.) is in a larger font size, signaling its importance. VERDICT A terrific title for elementary-age kids to help them draw comparisons between animals and sounds—libraries can’t go wrong.–Susan E. Murray, formerly at Glendale Public Library, AZ

Suen, Anastasia. Up! Up! Up!: Skyscraper. illus. by Ryan O’Rourke. 32p. Charlesbridge. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781580897105. POP
PreS-Gr 2 –From the concrete foundation to the final spire, this nonfiction picture book shows young audiences the basics of building the exterior of a skyscraper. Each spread depicts one step in the process, from digging the initial trench and pit to installing rebar and concrete to building floors skyward with beams and glass. A small inset box included on each spread provides a cutaway view of the skyscraper’s gradual progress. Two separate blocks of text describe each stage of construction, one with a simple rhyme for reading aloud and the other providing a sentence or two of descriptive prose. O’Rourke’s digital illustrations have a charming cartoon quality yet successfully depict tools and machines with detail and accuracy. Additionally, a green wall along the top of the construction site acts as a reference point as the building progresses, and color-coding between the inset box and the larger illustration makes it easy to pick out each of the key elements, from gray concrete piles to orange beams. Labels abound for those curious about the different parts of a cement mixer or the names of the various large vehicles digging, drilling, and hauling. The diverse cast of male and female construction workers all wear hard hats, safety goggles, and vests, and safety netting and harnesses are frequently pictured. VERDICT An illuminating primer on a perennially favorite topic that will please budding engineers and construction fanatics.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

Wallmark, Laurie. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code. illus. by Katy Wu. 48p. bibliog. chron. further reading. Sterling. May 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454920007. POP
Gr 2-4 –Grace Hopper (née Murray), a girl with a keen mind and a determined attitude, grows up to become the “queen of computer code.” Wallmark shares incidents and stories from the scientist’s remarkable life that illustrate “Grace being Grace,” and with these anecdotes, the author paints an engaging portrait of a unique woman in this bright and informative biography. At age seven, Hopper dismantled several clocks in her house to find out what made them tick. Finishing high school two years early, she overcame difficulties with Latin before she was admitted to Vassar College. Convinced she could make a difference to the war effort, Hopper enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and embarked on a lifelong military career writing computer programs. After finding a moth trapped inside a navy computer, she coined the phrase computer bug. Colorful and crisp digital illustrations accompany the text. The vibrant palette and straightforward composition are eye-catching, and Hopper’s curiosity, love of learning, and ambition shine through in her expressive features. Be sure to examine the endpapers, which offer supplemental information. VERDICT Inquisitive readers who, like Hopper, “want to understand how things work” will appreciate this upbeat biography of a woman who was ahead of her time. A sound purchase for most collections.–Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston

DVD

Wild Kratts: Triple Feature. (Wild Kratts). 3:25 hrs. PBS. 2017. $14.99. ISBN 9781627896498. POP
Gr 1-4 –These cartoon adventures explain animal behavior and biology. Filmed all over the world, the eight episodes cover three categories: predators, the sea, and the rain forest. The animation in each segment is bookended by live-action footage of the Kratt brothers interacting with animals and exploring various biomes. “Predator Power” discusses how sharks give birth, the lives of wolves, the different kinds of raptors (birds of prey), and how mimicry helps animals hide from predators and successfully stalk prey. “Lost at Sea” examines dolphin intelligence and communication skills and how blowfish defend themselves. “Rainforest Rescue” offers an overview of this habitat and also takes a close look at jaguars, specifically black jaguars. A small cast of revolving bad guys want to capture, cook, or wear various creatures, but the Kratt brothers easily defeat them by working with their teenage helpers and relying on common sense and fantastical technology (armored suits imbued with animal powers, for example). There are wacky high jinks and humor, but the programs never talk down to viewers, and students will learn a lot about animals and their habitats. VERDICT You cannot go wrong using PBS’s science series in the classroom, and Wild Kratts is no exception.–Geri Diorio, Stratford Library, CT

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. Anne DeVault says:

    Re: Danny McGee

    I got through page 12 of Danny McGee with delight. Then . . . “weather girl.” Ugh. Then, a few pages later, the Inuit man (no, they don’t have eyes that tilt upward, and even if they did, this drawing would still appear racist) standing in front of the stereotypical Japanese woman with chopsticks in her hair. Double ugh.

    I’m a bookseller, and I just can’t recommend this book to my customers, despite the fact of it’s being an otherwise funny, fun, creative story. I can’t imagine reading it to my own child. It’s going back to the publisher.

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