April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Much-Anticipated Sequels and the Latest from Avi, Suma, and Wein | SLJ Sneak Peek

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From the new installment in the beloved “Penderwicks” series (Knopf) to the long-awaited follow-up to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt, 2009) to the sequel to E.K. Johnston’s The Story of Owen (Lerner, 2014), the titles featured in SLJ’s March issue will delight fans and create new ones. Check out the latest sneak peek of reviews appearing in the next print issue, and subscribe to SLJ today to get all of our reviews every month!

Fiction: Preschool to Grade 4

Barnett_The_Skunk_FCredstarBarnett, Mac. The Skunk. illus. by Patrick McDonnell. 40p. Roaring Brook. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596439665.

K-Gr 3 –A man is stalked by a silent skunk in this charmingly neurotic offering. Leaving his home one day, a bespectacled, tuxedo-clad gentleman discovers a small skunk sitting on his doorstep. As the man makes his way about town, the creature remains close on his heels (“…after a mile I realized I was being followed.”) He speeds up, he slows down, he takes many wild turns, but to no avail. Still the skunk remains. Barnett’s text is delivered in short, clipped sentences that convey the man’s annoyance and increasing paranoia. McDonnell’s distinctive pen-and-ink illustrations (the little skunk bears a striking resemblance to a couple of familiar mutts) harken back to classic comic strip humor, with expressive body language, dynamic action lines, and thoughtful compositions, creating tension and drama. The majority of the book uses a limited palette of black, peach, touches of red (notably for the skunk’s oversized nose and the man’s posh bow-tie), and smart use of white space. The man finally outruns his striped admirer, purchasing a new house in a different part of the city. He throws himself a fancy party with dancing and dessert. But he finds himself wondering about that skunk (“What was he doing? Was he looking for me?”) Roles reverse and the pursued becomes the pursuer, as the man now slinks around corners and behind trees, surreptitiously following the skunk—who, on the last page, looks anxiously over his shoulder at the man. Why did the skunk follow the man initially? Is this a tale of regret and missed opportunities, a lesson on the dangers of letting potential friends slip away? Of not knowing what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone? Barnett and McDonnell offer no explanations, but invite readers to ponder the possibilities. Here’s hoping this talented duo pair up for many more picture book collaborations. VERDICT Clever visual motifs, sly storytelling, and tight pacing make this a picture book that will be enjoyed by children and their grown-ups.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Miyares_floatredstarMiyares, Daniel. Float. illus. by Daniel Miyares. 40p. S. & S. Jun. 2015. ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481415255; Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481415248. LC 2014016404.

PreS-Gr 3 –A boy clad in a bright yellow raincoat and hat graces the cover, recalling Ezra Jack Keats’s A Letter to Amy (Viking, 1968). This homage to Peter’s dance with an invitation has its own tale to tell, but those in the know will enjoy noticing the connections: the attire, fence, special effects with water, and paper journeys. Miyares’s wordless adventure, employing panels of varying sizes, opens with a father and son forming an origami boat from a newspaper. The setting is monochromatic except for the child’s clothing and significant spots of pink and blue on the newsprint. Soon after the child rushes outdoors for the launch, rain forces him to shield the boat inside his slicker. Long, gray digital strokes create an impressionistic shower around the blurry boy; clarity resumes as the storm recedes. The artist plays with aerial views and simultaneous succession, e.g., six sun-colored, puddle-jumping protagonists in one scene, until the current sweeps the boat through several pages to a sewer-fed stream. The soppy page is returned to Dad, who has hugs, cocoa, and a new idea for the next sheet of paper. This time when the door opens, sunshine floods the room and a plane is about to lift off. This warm family story models rainy-day fun and just the right amount of parental intervention. Endpapers provide directions for both forms of transportation. VERDICT The thoughtful use of color, perspective, and texture makes following this young “maker’s” projects a visual pleasure.–Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library

Van Biesen_RogerVan Biesen, Koen. Roger Is Reading a Book. illus. by Koen Van Biesen. 42p. Eerdmans. Mar. 2015. Tr $16. ISBN 9780802854421.

PreS-Gr 1 –In this enchanting Belgian import, bespectacled Roger, clad in a vest, a bow-tie, and a tweed cap, settles down to enjoy a book in peace and quiet. His reverie is repeatedly interrupted by Emily, an energetic youngster next door with loud hobbies—singing, drumming, juggling, and even boxing. With each disturbance, an increasingly irritated Roger knocks louder and louder on the wall, until in utter exasperation, he brings Emily a gift—a book of her own. When they both settle down to read, the story reaches its true crescendo—Roger’s long-suffering dog demands to be taken for a walk, and Roger and Emily oblige. Van Biesen’s mixed-media illustrations are somewhat reminiscent of the work of Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunksy, but have a whimsical style of their own. Ingenious use of the book’s gutter as the dividing wall between the apartments, clever changes in typography to signal sound volume, and the hilarious visual elements, such as the plight of Roger’s basset hound, are but a few examples of Van Biesen’s sophisticated use of visual effects. VERDICT This winsome story deserves a place in most collections.–Yelena Alekseyeva-Popova, formerly at Chappaqua Library, NY

Fiction: Grades 5 to 8

Avi Catch You Later_redstarAvi. Catch You Later, Traitor. 304p. Algonquin. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781616203597.

Gr 4-6 –Pete Collison’s dad is a commie sympathizer: that’s the accusation Pete’s teacher makes in front of his entire seventh grade class. It’s 1951 Brooklyn, during the height of the Red Scare, so Pete is instantly shunned at school, his best friend avoids him, and the only person who wants to talk to him is an FBI agent. Unsure of whom to trust, Pete decides to emulate his detective hero Sam Spade. He will investigate his father’s past—could his dad really be a communist?—and find out who reported his family to the FBI. Avi, a master of historical fiction, vividly recreates not only the neighborhoods and pop culture of period Brooklyn, but the runaway paranoia that dominated daily life in the early years of the Cold War. With each clue Pete uncovers, the tension picks up, engaging readers in solving the dual mystery of his father’s past and identifying his accuser whose name is kept a well-concealed surprise until the last moment. In clever digressions, detective Pete mentally rewrites mundane observations with hard-boiled hyperbole. He describes the sunlight in his bedroom: “It didn’t promise much and left early.” Strong supporting characters add subtle but important details about a period in American history that may not be fully studied in classrooms. Insightful readers will pick up on warnings about the abuse of government power. VERDICT As a mystery, historical fiction, and love letter to 1950s Brooklyn, this novel succeeds on every level.–Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

SLJ1503-Fic58-Birdsall-The PenderwicksBirdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks in Spring. 352p. (The Penderwicks). Knopf. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375870774; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375970771; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780307974594. LC 2014023537.

Gr 4-7 –The Penderwick family is back in the fourth book of Birdsall’s popular series. With the addition of younger sister Lydia and the recent death of beloved dog Hound, the cast of characters has changed a bit. Though told from the perspectives of Batty and Ben—the younger brother added to the clan in The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Knopf, 2008)—this is truly Batty’s story. Rosalind is in college, and Skye and Jane are both in high school. In this volume, Batty discovers that she has a talent for singing, which she keeps a secret from the rest of her family so that she can plan a Grand Birthday Concert. Jeffrey, their family friend, will be visiting for Skye’s birthday, and Batty wants to ask him to be her mentore. She also takes on a job walking dogs to pay for voice lessons. She’s conflicted about this because she believes that it was her fault that Hound died and she doesn’t want to “curse” any more dogs. Fans of the series may find the time jump jarring—Batty, who was only four during the first book, is now 10—and the lack of OPS (Older Penderwick Sisters) dismaying. Throughout the series, Birdsall has demonstrated considerable skill at crafting a modern classic, merging modern-day wit with an old-fashioned charm. Birdsall is a master at making the everyday exciting. VERDICT This latest addition to the beloved series ends on a satisfying note, and readers will eagerly await the final book.–Jessica Ko, Los Angeles Public Library

SLJ1503-Fic58-Kelly- The Curious World of Calpurnia TateredstarKelly, Jacqueline. The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. 352p. Holt. Jul. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780805097443.

Gr 4-6 –Thirteen-year-old Callie Vee returns in this stand-alone sequel to the Newbery Honor–winning The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt, 2009). Callie’s thirst for scientific discovery remains strong, as does her parents’ disregard for any plans for the future that don’t involve debutante balls and marrying a well-respected gentleman. In between recording questions and observations in her journal, Callie and brother Travis attempt to make pets of an armadillo, a blue jay, and a coyote mix, to mostly disastrous results. Humor and little heartbreaks abound as Callie learns animal care under the tutelage of Dr. Pritzker, the town’s veterinarian, but her accomplishments are ignored and even ridiculed in favor of Travis’s smaller contributions. The devastating 1900 Galveston hurricane drops 17-year-old cousin Aggie, traumatized by the storm, into their household. Relationships with secondary characters, such as the family’s cook, Viola, and Dr. Pritzker, are charming and well developed. Mother remains cold and lacking in fondness for Callie. A brief overview of Callie’s relationship with her grandfather and their scientific inquiries provide a basic background for readers unfamiliar with the story. Aggie is not a particularly sympathetic character, but her business and financial sense are great influences on Callie. Chapters are introduced by quotes from Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle. Callie and Travis’s relationship is tender and believable yet still reflects the imbalance and unfairness of the gender divide. The conclusion leaves open the possibility for further adventures. VERDICT Recommended for fans of the original novel and strong readers who enjoy character-driven narratives.–Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA

SLJ1503-Fic58-Smith- Return to Augie HobbleSmith, Lane. Return to Augie Hobble. illus. by Lane Smith. 288p. Roaring Brook. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781626720541.

Gr 4-6 –Smith’s first novel begins with a scattered and zany atmosphere. That’s entirely appropriate, given its setting at a struggling New Mexico amusement park. It may, however, present as much of a problem in attracting and retaining readers as Fairy Tale Place has in luring in customers. Augie’s failed his Creative Arts class at the aptly named Gerald R. Ford Middle School and must complete a project over the summer. His story is interspersed with his cartoon ideas for the assignment, which make it clear that Augie lacks decisiveness more than creativity. These pieces, along with frequent insertions of Smith’s illustrations, break up the text in ways which will appeal to kids who enjoy art-heavy, journal-form novels. About a quarter of the way through, intersections of the folkloric and the paranormal combine to give a more coherent direction to the narrative, despite our view through the scrim of implausibility. Werewolves, UFOs, and communications from the world beyond are prominently featured, but it’s the fate of Augie’s best friend and Augie’s struggle to cope with responsibility for it that deepen the book and make it more touching than it initially seems. VERDICT Readers who persevere through the broad comedy will find a story with heart within.–Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NY

Fiction: Grades 9 & Up

Johnston_Prairie FireJohnston, E.K. Prairie Fire. 304p. ebook available. Carolrhoda Lab. Mar. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781467739092. LC 2014008995.

Gr 8 Up –There is a little something for everyone in this sequel to the acclaimed The Story of Owen (Carolrhoda Lab, 2014). Fantasy fans will love returning to an alternate world in which the armed forces slay dragons. History fans will get a kick out of the way Johnston intermixes actual U.S. and Canadian history with a dragon-friendly story line. Eco-aware fans are unlikely to miss the underlying sentiment that oil brings nothing but trouble in both titles. This time around Owen, Sadie, and Siobhan have enlisted in the Oil Watch (think the U.S. Army, but with more fire drills). While Sadie and Owen excel with ease, troubadour Siobhan struggles to prove her worth. When the three are stationed in separate locations, Siobhan must learn to find her role without the reassurance of her two best friends. VERDICT A fantasy YA novel that steers clear of love triangles, teen angst, and a tidy ending is hard to come by; Prairie Fire and its prequel are must-haves.–Jennifer Furuyama, Pendleton Public Library, OR

Lopresti_Bright Coin MoonLopresti, Kirsten. Bright Coin Moon. 272p. Sky Pony. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781629147512; ebk. $16.95. ISBN 9781632202048.

Gr 8 Up –“What kind of people are we?” Lindsey Allen wonders as she takes stock of her life midway through her senior year of high school. Lindsey is used to living precariously with her mother, who earns a living as a psychic, supplemented with a variety of other jobs, honest or otherwise. But the teen is disturbed when her mother forces her to flee their Oregon home in the middle of the night, changes Lindsey’s name, and relocates to California, determined to finally make it big as a psychic to the stars. While Lindsey’s mother’s interest in the stars is astrological, Lindsey’s interests lie with astronomy; an A student, she was hoping to attend college but now worries that her mother has put this dream in jeopardy. As Lindsey settles into a new life, she attracts the attention of Joan, a wealthy widow who sponsored her school scholarship, only to watch in horror as her mother eyes Joan up as her big mark, the one who will finally make her rich. Lopresti deftly portrays Lindsey’s conflicted emotions as she attempts to maintain loyalty to her mother while despairing of the pain her mother’s plans will cause her friends. In addition, the young woman struggles with the realization that her mother is not just a carefree spirit but may be mentally unstable. Readers will share Lindsey’s anguish as she gathers the courage to discover that her identity is more than a name. VERDICT Lopresti’s sparse yet elegant prose and strong, well-developed protagonist make this a priority purchase.–Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA

SLJ1503-Fic9up-The-Walls-around-Us-Nova-Ren-SumaredstarSuma, Nova Ren. The Walls Around Us. 336p. ebook available. Algonquin. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781616203726.

Gr 9 Up –This haunting and evocative tale of magical realism immerses readers in two settings that seem worlds apart. The book is told in alternating first-person voices from the perspective of two teenagers: lonely Amber, who at age 13 was convicted of murdering her abusive stepfather and sent to Aurora Hills, a juvenile detention facility, and Vee, an insecure yet ruthlessly ambitious Julliard-bound ballerina. Through Vee’s and Amber’s recollections, readers learn about talented, kind-hearted Ori, Vee’s former best friend and a dancer herself, who after being convicted of a heinous crime is sent to Aurora Hills, where she becomes Amber’s roommate—and where soon after a strange tragedy occurs. Though the plotting of this taut, gripping suspense leans heavily on ghosts and murder and will easily attract teens, this is no mere thriller. The prose is mesmerizing, laced with visceral, gorgeous figurative language, and draws subtle parallels between the disciplined, constricting world of ballet and the literal prison in which Amber and Ori find themselves. Believable and well developed, Vee and Amber have strong, unforgettable voices that ring true. Suma’s unflinchingly honest depiction of the potentially destructive force of female friendship and skillful blending of gritty realism with supernatural elements is reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls (Viking, 2009), and the eerie mood she evokes is unnervingly potent. VERDICT A powerful story that will linger with readers.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

SLJ1503-Fic9up-Wein_Black Dove White RavenredstarWein, Elizabeth. Black Dove, White Raven. 368p. Disney-Hyperion. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781423183105; ebk. ISBN 9781484707807.

Gr 8 Up –In her latest World War II–era novel, Wein returns to themes of aviation and the enduring bonds of platonic love and friendship. Best friends Rhoda, a white Quaker, and African American Delia were “barnstorming” pilots, a team who performed in air shows across the United States as White Raven and Black Dove, their children, Emilia and Teo, in tow. When Delia is killed in a plane crash, Rhoda commits to fulfilling Delia’s dream for Teo—to live in a land where he wouldn’t be judged by the color of his skin—and moves them all to Ethiopia, where Teo’s father was born. Life on the coffee farm at Tazma Meda is wonderful, especially since Rhoda is teaching the children to fly, but rumors of invasion by Italy become reality, and bureaucratic snafus mean that the family can’t leave the country. Then the war becomes even more personal when all young men of Ethiopian heritage are conscripted. Wein continues to present multidimensional characters within her effortless prose. VERDICT Highly recommended for all libraries, especially where her previous titles have flown off the shelves.–Stephanie Klose, School Library Journal

Nonfiction: PreSchool to Grade 4

Gibbons_fruits we eat_Gibbons, Gail. The Fruits We Eat. illus. by Gail Gibbons. 32p. diag. ebook available. websites. Holiday House. 2015. RTE $17.95. ISBN 9780823432042; ebk. $17.95. ISBN 9780823433483. LC 2014007379.

K-Gr 3 –Gibbons, the author of The Vegetables We Eat (Holiday House, 2007), now turns her attention to fruit. She begins by stating the importance of incorporating it into a healthy diet, the difference between annual and perennial varieties, and various ways to consume them (fresh, juices, sauces). The author provides details about how fruits grow: on plants, bushes, trees, and vines. Each section contains an informative, eye-catching heading; succinctly presented text; and delightful, cheery watercolor illustrations. Gibbons depicts examples of fruits that grow on different kinds of vegetation (for instance, pineapple plants, cherry trees), provides labeled cutaways of their parts, and describes how they are harvested. Readers learn the differences between wild and cultivated berries and what parts of various fruits are planted to produce more. The text also briefly covers large industrial farms and small fruit growers, fruit processing and transportation, and the fresh produce available in stores and farm stands. Kids will learn some surprising facts (for instance, olives are fruits), and a trivia section at the end may encourage further research. Stoke children’s enthusiasm by pairing this useful overview with April Pulley Sayre’s rousing Go, Go Grapes!: A Fruit Chant (S. & S., 2012). VERDICT A charming addition to nutrition and food units.–Marianne Saccardi, Children’s Literature Consultant, Greenwich, CT

Rotner_FamiliesRotner, Shelley & Sheila M. Kelly. Families. photos by Shelley Rotner. 32p. Holiday House. May 2015. RTE $17.95. ISBN 9780823430536; ebk. $17.95. ISBN 9780823433308. LC 2013032957.

PreS-Gr 2 –In this cheerful exploration of different families. Rotner and Kelly describe all kinds of familial units: those with only one parent or one child, those in which the parents and children resemble one another, those with members of different races, those with same and opposite sex parents, and those with adopted children. Winsome, clear photographs are accompanied by brief, large-font text. This celebration of differences is further enhanced by the inclusion of women in head scarves, a dad in a wheelchair, and multigenerational groupings. The individuals portrayed take part in a variety of activities—making music, building things, playing outdoors, and gardening—and an upbeat theme of unity runs through the entire book. Only one page presents a difficult aspect of family life, with a subtle reference to divorce: two photos of the same group of children sitting on different porches with each parent are accompanied by text that reads, “The people in a family may not all live in the same place.” The book invites conversation with the closing question “What about yours?” Extend the discussion with Mary Hoffman’s The Great Big Book of Families (Dial, 2011), which includes homeless families and information on family religious practices and customs. VERDICTT A great way to introduce the concept of diversity among families.–Marianne Saccardi, Children’s Literature Consultant, Greenwich, CT

Nonfiction: Grades 5 & Up

SLJ1503-NFic5up-DebunkIt-FC_WEBredstarGrant, John. Debunk It!: How to Stay Sane in a World of Misinformation. 288p. bibliog. index. Zest. 2015. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781936976683.

Gr 9 Up –This enlightening new title not only successfully debunks myths and commonly held beliefs—it’s an essential primer for encouraging critical thinking skills. Grant explains that individuals are constantly under siege from misinformation spread by bloggers, politicians, talking heads, pundits, and those who believe the lies and repeat them without questioning. He describes some of the dangers of disseminating misinformation; defines logical fallacies, such as ad hominem or straw man attacks; and gives a basic explanation of the scientific method. Once teens are armed with a healthy sense of skepticism, Grant moves on to tear apart some of what he considers to be the worst examples of misinformation: creationism, alternative medicine, the claim that vaccines lead to autism, and climate change denial, among others. Teen readers will appreciate Grant’s brutal honesty and snarky tone, as well as his liberal use of the term bullshit (to describe distorted or fabricated info). However, he never stoops to merely mocking those he believes to be spreading erroneous information, instead using logic and evidence to dismantle poor arguments piece by piece. Grant’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious, and students and educators alike will appreciate both his style and substance. Pair this one with Paul Fleischman’s Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines (Candlewick, 2014) for a lesson on questioning authority, recognizing bias, and vetting sources. VERDICT This can’t-miss title is great recreational reading for budding skeptics as well as an outstanding addition to units on science, current events, or debate. A must-have.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal