March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

New Middle Grade Fiction Features Miniature Heroes | SLJ Spotlight

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SLJ1404-Spotlight-MiniHeros-stripThough tiny in stature, these miniature heroes pack courage, determination, and tons of heart. From a transatlantic flight to a subterranean rivalry to a crime-fighting team of chickens, the characters in these books prove that big adventures sometimes come in small packages.

CrOnin, Doreen. The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure. illus. by Kevin Cornell. 112p. S. & S./Atheneum. Apr. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781442496767; ebk. ISBN 9781442496781.

Gr 1-3 –Those cheeky chicks are back—this time in a series all their own. Fresh on the heels of their adventures in The Trouble with Chickens (2011) and The Legend of Diamond Lil (2012, both HarperCollins), Dirt, Sugar, Sweetie, and Poppy must now contend with a cowardly squirrel named Tail and a “big and scary” something that has landed in the backyard. Using deductive reasoning and some strangely creative camouflage, the chickens hatch a plan to investigate the mysterious object. The curmudgeonly ex-police dog, J.J. Tully, lends his deadpan observations to the humorous text, while Cornell’s black-and-white illustrations bring Cronin’s oddball characters to life with a goofy charm. Kids who enjoyed the first two books in the “J.J. Tully Mysteries” series will be delighted that the four intrepid chicks take center stage in this laugh-out-loud new chapter book series.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

redstarKuhlmann, Torben. Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse. illus. by Torben Kuhlmann. 96p. NorthSouth Books. May 2014. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780735841673.

Gr 2-6 –In this gorgeous sepia-toned adventure, a heroic little German mouse must escape the terrifying and fatal clutches of the mousetraps in his homeland. He decides to make his way to America. The notion of a sea voyage is quickly abandoned when he narrowly escapes the sharp claws of a hungry cat guarding the pier. Soon after, he is inspired by his flying cousins—bats—and decides to invent an apparatus to fly across the sea to the land of freedom. After several failed attempts and a close call with a formidable owl, the mouse succeeds—piloting a tiny aircraft, goggles atop his diminutive head, map in hand. His daring flight becomes famous in his new country and inspires a young boy named Charles Lindbergh. Kuhlmann’s stirring illustrations are the true star here—capturing the darkness and danger of the creature’s native land as well as the light and breadth of his transatlantic journey. Minute details in the intrepid rodent’s facial expressions and body language will immediately draw in readers who gravitate to animal stories, while the careful attention to machinery and architecture will encourage repeated viewings. So strong is the visual narrative that the text is almost superfluous; this book can be enjoyed wordlessly. Back matter that includes a short history of aviation rounds out this rich offering. –Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Fiedler, Lisa. Mouseheart. illus. by Vivienne To. 336p. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry. May 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442487819; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442487840.

Gr 4-8 –Fiedler reinvigorates the “small but courageous mouse” literary trope with this captivating animal fantasy set in the subway tunnels of modern-day Brooklyn, NY. Hopper escapes from a pet shop and tumbles into the subterranean rat empire of Romanus. Aided by his new friend Zucker, rascal prince of the rat empire, he longs to find his missing siblings and understand his role in a war between Romanus and the mysterious Mus tribe. Good and evil are not as they seem, and through careful structure and rounded characterizations, Fiedler keeps readers engaged, revealing important plot details at just the right moment and using varying sentence lengths to great dramatic effect. Rich vocabulary and sly references to New York sports history (Dodger, Ebbets, Rangers) add depth. Older readers may pick up on hints about government control and the dangers of trading freedom for safety. In the end, the stage is amply set for book two as Hopper seeks to reunite with his found-yet-lost-again siblings and explore his destiny as the rodent world’s “Promised One.” Mouseheart will please fans of novels by Erin Hunter, Brian Jacques, and Kathryn Lasky.–Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY