May 28, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Counting Down to SLJ’s Popular Picks: Part 3

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In advance of the print debut of SLJ’s Popular Picks in the April 2016 issue, SLJ editors have chosen must-have works for kids and teens that appeared in the March 2016 issue.

1603-PBks-POP-CVsPicture Books

Barton, Chris. Mighty Truck. illus. by Troy Cummings. 32p. HarperCollins/Harper. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062344786.

PreS-Gr 2 –Clarence is an ordinary, dusty four-wheeler, until a truck wash during a lightning storm transforms him into an extraordinary, “really, wheely powerful” superhero. No one recognizes this glistening, “shiny-clean stranger” who comes to the aid of those in need. With a turbo-charged push, he gets his friend Bruno out of a mud jam. He revs his engine and rescues a kitten stuck in a tree, and he even scales tall buildings with his inflated tires and saves the town from impending doom by welding a falling steel girder with his headlight laser beams. Back down on the ground, covered in dirt again, Clarence doesn’t reveal his alter ego, content in knowing that transformation is “only a wash away.” Cummings’s bright cartoons are full of energy and excitement, and the monster vehicle’s emotions are written all over his windshield. VERDICT Here’s hoping there are more adventures to come for this Mighty Truck champion.–Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ontario, Canada

Bell, Cece. Chuck and Woodchuck. illus. by Cece Bell. 32p. Candlewick. Mar. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763675240.

K-Gr 2 –Caroline is excited to show off her grandfather’s ukulele at show and tell. Her classmates have cool stuff to show, too, but no one’s item tops Chuck’s. Chuck brings a…woodchuck to first grade. When the woodchuck turns out to be fun to spend time with, the class begs their teacher to let him stay. Caroline knows that he is always kind and generous to her, but she doesn’t exactly know why. When Caroline loses her cupcake, Woodchuck replaces it with Chuck’s. And it’s Chuck’s hat Woodchuck gives Caroline when she is cold during recess. It turns out that Woodchuck has been doing some friend-matching for Chuck, who is too shy to approach Caroline himself. Bell’s charming cartoon illustrations are humorous and have a retro feel to them. Readers will go back and review the illustrations after catching on to Woodchuck’s plan, and see Chuck hovering nervously at the edge of the page while Woodchuck takes the initiative. The story is told from Caroline’s point of view, and it is pitch-perfect. This will be a fun classroom read-aloud, since it goes through the whole school year. VERDICT Children will be clamoring for their own woodchuck once they read this tale—where did Chuck find his?–Susan E. Murray, formerly at Glendale Public Library, AZ

Cummins, Lucy Ruth. A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals. illus. by Lucy Ruth Cummins. 40p. S. & S./Atheneum. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481448895; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481448901.

K-Gr 3 –With its macabre humor and delightfully scribbly illustrations, this tale is sure to delight a wide audience of children. Using a metafiction style, the author starts the book withOnce upon a time, there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a brown mouse, those two rabbits, etc.,” but must stop and repeatedly revise the list as the bevy of animals slowly dwindle to one smugly grinning lion and “that turtle.” With several surprises, and some truly extraordinary full-page illustrations, this story winds itself to a laugh-out-loud ending that will tickle the unconventional funny bone. VERDICT Highly recommended for any library, sure to be a favorite read-aloud.–Jasmine L. Precopio, Fox Chapel Area School District, Pittsburgh, PA

Elmquist, Laurie. Beach Baby. illus. by Elly MacKay. 24p. ebook available. Orca. Apr. 2016. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781459809543.

Toddler-PreS –This simple beach story opens with a sleepy-eyed toddler in his mother’s arms and her reassurances that “everything will be here when you wake.” The litany that follows—a purple starfish, a waddling goose, sand dollars, a seal, a sandpiper, etc.—introduces the familiar sights and sounds at the beach and lulls the baby to sleep. As one might expect, the illustrator employs a lot of earth tones and the artwork is minimalist, using one or two images per page. The cover is engaging—it features a healthy and alert baby enjoying all of the things he thinks that he will miss when he is asleep (pelicans, a sand castle, a moon snail). The soft focus of the internal mixed-media artwork has a dreamlike feel. VERDICT This lovely introduction to a beach environment is a good read for naptime and evening sharing.–Gwen Collier, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, NY

Mack, Jeff. Playtime? illus. by Jeff Mack. 32p. Philomel. May 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399175985.

PreS-Gr 2 –Mack opens with a single word, and it’s not playtime. “Bedtime,” says a boy in blue-striped pajamas to a wide-awake, toy-laden gorilla. As the boy leaves, his tucked-in friend opens one eye and grins. While the gorilla juggles alphabet cubes under the purple blanket in his dark room, the title—and the only other word in the book—reemerges: PLAYTIME. The boy races in, shushing and whispering, “Bedtime. Bedtime.” The exchange intensifies as the room alternates between dim and bright, with the gorilla ever more frenetic and the boy more nettled. Will there be recriminations, bitterness, even war? Luckily, a think-outside-the-box idea resolves the conflict…or does it? Children will adore the subtleties that the two-word story contains. Mack, who gave us the four-word masterpiece Good News Bad News and the two-letter story Ah Ha! (both 2010, Chronicle), pulls out all the stops in his latest illustrations. Using collage, mixed media, pencil, watercolor, and some prestidigitation, he makes the walls look like fuzzy blankets, with different patterns on every page. The two characters are expressive, kinetic, and always likable. The gorilla’s naughty, sneaky smile is a thing of beauty. The author’s brilliant decision to put a child in the parent’s role may help those enduring bedtime to empathize a little bit with those enforcing it. VERDICT Just try saving this book for evening! Both younger and older readers will be looking and laughing throughout the day.–Susan Weitz, formerly at Spencer-Van Etten School District, Spencer, NY

O’Brien, Anne Sibley. Abracadabra, It’s Spring! illus. by Susan Gal. 24p. Abrams Appleseed. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781419718915.

PreS –Like magic, the seasons change. White snow melts away into green grass. Bare tree limbs are suddenly dotted with buds. Abracadabra! Alakazam! Winter has transformed magically into spring! Isn’t it amazing? O’Brien and Gal use delightful rhymes and brilliant illustrations to take readers on a magical journey of seasonal changes. Crocuses appear! Birds begin building a nest for their eggs. Those eggs hatch into excited chicks. The starkness of winter suddenly comes to life with an abundance of colors and sounds. Along with the illustrations and rhymes, the layout of the book encourages exploration. Text appears on one page, but in order to find out what the magic words have wrought, readers must unfold the pages. This picture book would be an excellent addition to collections and a great choice for a storytime themed around the seasons. VERDICT An excellent purchase.–Paige Garrison, Augusta Richmond County Library System, GA

Preston-Gannon, Frann. Sloth Slept On. 32p. Sterling. 2015. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781454916116.

PreS-Gr 2 –Three young siblings go on a knowledge quest to identify the mysterious animal asleep in their yard. They start with their dad, but he is too busy. Turning to the books in the house, they peruse titles such as Animals of the Ocean, Wonders of the Desert, and The Rainforest—all while an adult in the room is reading a newspaper with the headline “Zoo Breakout!” The siblings—two boys and a girl—work together to brainstorm: “We knew he wasn’t an elephant. He didn’t have a trunk. He wasn’t a tiger, either. He didn’t have any stripes. He wasn’t a horse or a bear. He let out a loud snore. He was still asleep.” Leave it to the youngest of the bunch to find a picture in the rainforest book that perfectly matches the mysterious creature snoring away! Delightful artwork, rendered in warm watercolors displayed with plenty of white space to allow the illustrations to pop off the page, helps tell this comical tale tinged with environmentalism. After the older siblings imagine that perhaps the mysterious creature is a pirate, an astronaut, or a knight, the youngest shouts out, “LOOK!” and proudly displays his reference book, identifying the creature as a sloth. A clever spread weaves factual information into the story, as the young boy shows his older siblings his book. A nice big box covered with stamps and packed with “lovely leaves to eat and toys for the journey” sends the sloth back to where the siblings think he belongs, the rainforest…where the sloth finally wakes up, looks around, and says, “Excuse me. Which way is the zoo?” VERDICT A crowd-pleaser for preschool storytimes.–Lisa Kropp, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Tullet, Hervé. Let’s Play! illus. by Hervé Tullet. 68p. Chronicle. Mar. 2016. Board $15.99. ISBN 9781452154770.

PreS-Gr 2 –Fans of Tullet’s Press Here (2011) and Mix It Up (2014, both Chronicle) will be entranced by his latest interactive offering. This time, readers are invited to follow a yellow blob through a variety of travails. Kids will be busy tracing their fingers along a curling black line, pressing the dot, and searching for it. Though simple—most of the pages are dominated by white space—Tullet’s design is masterly, with the images and text artfully placed, and there’s a beguiling charm to the childlike aesthetic. Spreads where the tone takes a slightly darker turn—a Jackson Pollock–esque one, for instance, dominated by smudges of black—add a bit of menace but never threaten to overwhelm. The text, rendered in Tullet’s signature all-caps font, is enthusiastic and encouraging, perfect for this age group. The interactive elements make this selection ideal for reading alone or with an adult and are sure to invite plenty of repeat use. VERDICT Tullet proves once more that apps are no match for his savvy and kid-friendly vision. A delightfully whimsical addition, especially where the author’s other titles are popular.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Chapter Books

CHAP-Brown-LL-Drama-QueenBrown, Monica. Lola Levine: Drama Queen. illus. by Angela Dominguez. 112p. Little, Brown. 2016. Tr $15. ISBN 9780316258432; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780316258395.

Gr 2-5 –Effervescent seven-year-old Lola Levine tackles life with energy, bubbling-over enthusiasm, and her best friend, Josh, at her side. In this second book in the series, Lola and her classmates learn that they will attend drama class two days a week and perform in a play. Although she has been called dramatic, Lola isn’t quite sure what she thinks of acting. When she auditions for a part, she is struck by stage fright and has to settle for the nonspeaking role of Squirrel #2. Thankfully, her artistic parents and her visiting Bubbe are right there to cheer her on. Readers will find much to love in Lola and her nurturing family. Dominguez’s illustrations provide just the right touch to enhance the story. VERDICT This multicultural chapter book is a wonderful addition to public and school libraries. Highly recommended for fans of Sara Pennypacker’s “Clementine” series (Hyperion).–Laura Fields Eason, Parker Bennett Curry Elementary School, Bowling Green, KY

CHAP-Doodler-Super-Fly-Revenge-ofRoachDoodler, Todd H. Super Fly: Revenge of the Roach! illus. by Todd H. Doodler. 128p. (Super Fly: Bk. 2). Bloomsbury. Jun. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781619633827; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781619633810.

Gr 2-4 –In this second installment of the comical and fast-paced series, Eugene Flystein returns in his nerd-turned-superhero role. Thanks to the Ultimo 6-9000 pie he consumed, he is 9,000 times stronger, faster, and better than the average bug. Being a superhero helps him keep evil at bay in Stinkopolis. Just when he thought he had seen the last of the villainous Cornelius Cockroach, he is back at Brown Barge Elementary. At first, Cornelius seems oddly benign, but then his nefarious scheming becomes apparent. Super Fly and his sidekick, Fantastic Flea, team up to stop the evil Cornelius and his henchmen, Dee and Doo Dung, from taking over the world with a hypnotic video game, Butterfly Bombers. Eugene’s little sister Elle gets in on the silly antics after she also takes a bite of the Ultimo and becomes Fly Girl. Readers whose funny bones are tickled by all things icky and disgusting are bound to fall in love with Super Fly. Black-and-white illustrations throughout help bring the story and characters to life. VERDICT Fans of the first book and connoisseurs of potty humor will happily devour this sequel.–Laura Fields Eason, Parker Bennett Curry Elementary School, Bowling Green, KY

1603-MiddleGr-POP-CVs-revisedMiddle Grade

redstarDiCamillo, Kate. Raymie Nightingale. 272p. Candlewick. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763681173.

Gr 4-7 –Raymie Clarke has a plan. Her father has run off with a dental hygienist without a word, but Raymie is certain that if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, her father will see her picture in the newspaper and return. To this end, she begins baton-twirling classes with two other girls, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Both girls have their own reasons for entering the competition: Louisiana needs the prize money, and Beverly wants to sabotage the event. While they never actually learn to twirl, the classes are nevertheless invaluable because of the unlikely friendship the girls form. All three have lost people close to them, and each girl deals with her loss in different ways. With each small adventure, whether it’s finding a lost book or rescuing a beloved pet, their friendship grows into an undeniable bond. In short, precisely crafted chapters, DiCamillo once again demonstrates her ability to create unique characters that touch readers’ hearts. Raymie, in particular, is observant, thoughtful, and sensitive as she struggles to make sense of the world around her. Her story unfolds in uncomplicated prose, even as the themes explored are complex. Surrounded by the fully realized Louisiana and Beverly, not to mention the adults in her town, Raymie searches for meaning, a search that will resonate with readers. VERDICT Poignant, insightful, and ultimately uplifting.–Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL

Jung, Mike. Unidentified Suburban Object. 272p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. May 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545782265; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545782289.

Gr 4-6 –Chloe Cho is curious about her cultural heritage. Her parents were born in Korea but never speak of their time or families there, no matter how often Chloe asks. The only Asian American in her school, Chloe is excited when her new history teacher is also Korean, but alarmed to learn of an assignment where she needs to interview her parents to share a family story. She is finally able to convince her father to tell her one but receives an F on the assignment and is accused of plagiarism. When Chloe confronts her father, showing him a website that retells the account he claimed happened to his uncle, he must finally tell her the truth. A game-changing family secret is revealed that alters Chloe’s perception of herself and the genre of the novel. Jung spends a lot of time hammering home how unwilling Chloe’s parents are to speak of their past, making their secret a very welcome and original surprise and giving the novel some needed energy. Chloe’s response to her parents’ news ripples into every corner of her life. Furious she’s been lied to, she rebels against not only her parents but her friends and teachers as well. While Chloe herself is a gifted student, the book has enough twists and humor to broaden the audience to include reluctant readers. VERDICT Part realistic fiction and part fantasy, this novel takes a hilariously unpredictable turn that will stun and ignite readers.–Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Library, OR

Lloyd, Natalie. The Key to Extraordinary. 240p. Scholastic. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545552745; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545552752.

Gr 3-6 –A young girl from a long line of special women fights to save her home. Emma, like all of the women in her family, is a Wildflower. Each woman is destined to live an extraordinary life, experiencing a Destiny Dream that reveals her unique path. Shortly after the death of her ex-rocker mom, Emma feels a deep emptiness, but she consoles herself by helping out in the Boneyard Cafe, the family business situated on the edge of a cemetery, and giving tours of the cemetery to tourists. The café has fallen on hard times, and when it looks like Granny Blue, her tough, tattooed, ex-boxer grandmother, might sell the place to a developer, Emma looks for answers within the local folklore about a hidden treasure and a ghost. When she finally has her own Destiny Dream, it seems to point to the treasure, but the clues are frustratingly vague. With the help of a small cast of quirky characters and magical flora, Emma finds her true destiny and eases her troubles through the journey. The prose is bubbly and light, with a cheerful, optimistic tone despite some of the seemingly darker elements. Though not as multilayered as Ingrid Law’s Savvy (Dial, 2008), this novel will be appreciated by younger middle grade readers who enjoy mysteries with an ample dose of magic and whimsy. VERDICT Fans of Lloyd’s first book, A Snicker of Magic (Scholastic, 2015), will be pleased with this frothy, pleasant tale.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Patterson, James & Chris Grabenstein. Jacky Ha-Ha. illus. by Kerascoët. 384p. Little, Brown. Mar. 2016. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780316262491; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316303026.

Gr 4-6 –The jokes fall flat in this mediocre tale of family, middle school mishaps, and personal acceptance. Jacky recounts her life during the 1990s, when George H.W. Bush was president and Nintendo was popular. Jacky Hart, the fourth of six sisters, uses her quick wit to disguise her speech impediment. Although she makes herself a promise to behave differently in middle school, she unfortunately ends up, once again, being the class clown. This stems from her home life. There, she needs to be a personal cheerleader to her sisters, as their father is mysteriously missing during family dinners and their mother is off serving in Operation Desert Shield. When Jacky finds herself in big trouble for being a jokester, Mrs. O’Mara, a new English teacher, helps her realize that she has talent far beyond collecting detentions. Readers will find Jacky entertaining, but her character is ultimately unoriginal. Cartoon illustrations are interspersed throughout the novel, similar to those in Patterson’s I Funny (Little, Brown, 2013) and Rachel Renee Russell’s “Dork Diaries” series (S. & S.). While the art is playful and fun to look at, it never feels essential to the text. Readers may find Jacky’s grown-up narration confusing, as she recounts her life as a middle schooler. The ending is unrealistic. VERDICT Despite its many shortcomings, this title is sure to have high circulation among fans of Patterson’s previous works.–Jessica Bratt, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, MI


Alexander, Kwame. Booked. 320p. ebook available. HMH. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544570986.

Gr 6-10 –Twelve-year-old Nick loves soccer, and he and his best friend Coby have big plans for winning the Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup, the renowned world youth soccer tournament, even though they will be playing on opposing teams. Besides the big game, Nick has a lot of other things on his mind. For one thing, his mother wants to move away to pursue her dream of training race horses, and his linguistics professor father is pressuring him to improve his vocabulary by reading the dictionary. Throw in the twin eighth-grade tyrants who relentlessly want to pound him and weekly lessons at Miss Quattlebaum’s School of Ballroom Dance & Etiquette, and his life at Langston Hughes Magnet School of the Arts is pretty hectic. But school is also where “the Mac” can be found, Langston’s resident rapping, dragonfly-loving, red mohawk–wearing librarian and Nick’s favorite adult. And then there’s April, Nick’s current crush. Newbery-winning poet Alexander once again brings to life a novel in verse that equally captures the rapid-fire excitement of a soccer match and the palpable pain of a young boy whose family is falling apart. Peppered throughout are useful and amusing vocabulary words as well as wise-cracking yet sage life lessons from a beloved librarian. Authentic characters and amusing situations abound, making this story one that will be welcomed by readers of all levels. VERDICT Another winning goal for Alexander and middle school readers alike.–Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH

Chima, Cinda Williams. Flamecaster. 544p. (Shattered Realms: Bk. 1). ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Apr. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062380968.

Gr 8 Up –Set in the same world as the “Seven Realms” books (Disney-Hyperion), this series opener starts with Adrian sul’Han (Ash) fleeing into exile after the death of his sister on the battlefield and the murder of his father before his eyes. He is determined to kill the person behind it all, the king of Arden—a goal he unwittingly shares with Jenna, a girl from an oppressed mining town who bears a strange birthmark. Jenna’s two closest friends were killed in a confrontation with the king, and now she will stop at nothing to take him down. But when Ash must escape the place he has been hiding and the king begins to hunt down a girl with Jenna’s birthmark, fate flings the two together and catapults them into greater danger. Readers do not have to be familiar with Chima’s other books to jump right into this new series, but those who love the world she built in the “Seven Realms” will enjoy getting to live in it once more. The pacing seems uneven at points, and the final conflict is surprisingly emotionally flat. More nuanced looks at good vs. evil and the ethics of wartime are forgone in favor of two heroes facing off against an evil king, but the world the author creates is as immersive as ever, and the primary characters’ initial motivations are satisfied, but the author still opens up further conflicts and mysteries to fuel the next installment. VERDICT A solid fantasy story for fans of the genre.–Gretchen Kolderup, New York Public Library

Lee, Stacey. Outrun the Moon. 400p. ebook available. Putnam. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399175411.

Gr 7 Up –Mercy is ambitious: she wants to own her own tea importing business, but the options for a young Chinese American girl in San Francisco in 1906 are severely limited. Mercy uses her cunning and business sense to bribe her way into St. Clare’s, an elite school for girls. Not long after her arrival, the teen finds out that she will be learning comportment, not business. Mercy’s disappointment compounds with a hostile roommate, skeptical classmates, and her end of the bribe she must uphold to stay enrolled. Everyone seems to be hiding secrets, and the 1906 earthquake is coming. Will Mercy be able to outrun and outwit her fate as a laundryman’s daughter? Lee creates characters full of depth and nuance that seem historically accurate but still relatable to today’s teens. Mercy is a strong protagonist full of determination and adventure who moves the story and will compel readers. Her drive to succeed; her love of her brother, Jack; and her goodness will endear her to readers. VERDICT A diverse, engaging historical fiction that should not be missed.–Cyndi Hamann, Cook Memorial Public Library District, Libertyville, IL

Mead, Richelle. The Glittering Court. 416p. ebook available. Penguin/Razorbill. Apr. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781595148414.

Gr 8 Up –When the young Countess of Rothford is forced into an unwanted marriage with a despicable distant relative, she runs away and decides to leave the beautiful country of Osfrid behind in search of a new life. She follows a dashing student named Cedric to a place called the Glittering Court, where his family trains ordinary girls to act like nobility, ships them overseas to the New World, and profits from their marriage contracts to up-and-coming young men. It’s there that she assumes the identity of her maid, Adelaide Bailey, and does her best to blend in with the other girls. But as she falls in love with Cedric and becomes tangled in a web of secrets and lies, she is cast out of the Glittering Court and forced into a radically different life working the land in search of the gold they desperately need to start a better life together. With a full cast of bold and original characters, Mead does a superb job of building a world that teens will be excited to enter into and disappointed to leave. The plot is intricately woven, and the ending promises future installments from other characters’ points of view. VERDICT Brilliant and original, Mead’s new series starts off with a bang and will leave readers on the edge of their seats until the very end.–Candyce Pruitt-Goddard, Sno-Isle Libraries, Marysville, WA

Skye, Evelyn. The Crown’s Game. 416p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062422583.

Gr 8 Up –In an alternate 19th-century Russia, the tsar can call upon the abilities of an enchanter. Normally, only one exists at a time. In the rare case that two are born, they must compete, because Russia’s inherent magic will allow only one to remain alive. Vika is an expert at controlling the elements and has been training her whole life to serve her country, unaware that another enchanter exists. Nikolai, best friend to the tsar’s son, Pasha, who does not know of Nikolai’s ability, has been training with his mentor explicitly for the Crown’s Game. When the game begins, Vika and Nikolai take turns showing off their magical prowess for the tsar, creating wonders that get more powerful with each turn. Friendships, budding romances, and betrayal among Nikolai, Vika, and Pasha make the stakes even higher in a Game that will cost Nikolai or Vika their life. The forefront of this speculative fiction title, the action-packed, magical duel, is set against the backdrop of a richly detailed world. It is not surprising that Pasha and Nikolai fall for Vika, though Vika’s pragmatism stops anything from developing. The book ends with one winner remaining, but the final sentence hints that the loser has not disappeared forever. Readers will eagerly await the next installment. VERDICT A blend of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011) and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone (Holt, 2012), this work will make a solid addition to young adult collections.–Marissa ­Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

Thomas, Kara. The Darkest Corners. 336p. ebook available. Delacorte. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553521450; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780553521474.

Gr 9 Up –Ten years after leaving the state and losing touch with everyone she knew and loved, Tessa Lowell returns to small-town Fayette to say goodbye to her father, who’s dying in prison. She is too late to see her father but ends up with too many questions about her past to return home to Florida right away. Joining forces with her childhood best friend, Callie, Tessa begins looking for answers in this exciting psychological thriller. Callie and Tessa haven’t talked since Tessa left after the strain testifying in the trial of Wyatt Stokes when she was eight years old, a trial that ended with him on death row. Working through the pain of lost friendship and unshared secrets, the girls collaborate to search for the truth when another girl is killed. Did they help convict an innocent man? Has the real killer returned to Fayette? How does Tessa’s long-lost sister fit into all this, and what happened to her mother? The world of a working-class town in Pennsylvania comes alive as Callie deals with her pain through hard partying and Tessa attempts to escape her guilty disquiet by immersing herself in her sleuthing. Through strong character development and thrilling reveals, readers become as engrossed as Tessa as she searches for the truth and deals with the emotions of her past. VERDICT As a dark psychological thriller with a compelling story and an unexpected but satisfying ending, this novel is a sure bet.–Genevieve Feldman, San Francisco Public Library


Graphic Novels

redstarGerstein, Mordicai. I Am Pan. 80p. Roaring Brook. Mar. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781626720350.

Gr 1-4 –Pan is a loud, energetic, and mischievous little god. Born to Hermes, he is the apple of his parents’ eye, as well as a joy to all in Olympus…for a while. The other gods begin to tire of his wild antics and silly ways, so they suggest he head off to Arcadia, where there are pigs, goats, hills, streams, waterfalls, bees, beekeepers, fountains, and more to keep him entertained. Pan thinks this is a fabulous idea, and the people are thrilled with his arrival. Pan promises to protect the animals and people of the kingdom but makes one small requirement: that they are quiet when he takes his nap. This delightful retelling of the origins of the Greek god Pan is told in graphic picture book format. The story is very easy to understand and is a terrific introduction into Greek mythology. The text is humorous, fast-paced, and exciting; kids are sure to wish that the story would go on. The illustrations are fun and blend seamlessly with the text, making the story engaging. The format is perfect for packing tons of humor, whimsy, and action on every page. VERDICT An irresistible introduction to the god and to Greek mythology in general.–Amy Shepherd, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middleton, DE

Grunberg, Greg. Dream Jumper: Nightmare Escape. illus. by Lucas Turnbloom. 208p. (Dream Jumper: Bk. 1). Scholastic/Graphix. Jul. 2016. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780545826037; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780545826044; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9780545826051.

Gr 5-8 –Ben has a gift, or maybe it’s a curse—he hasn’t decided yet. He can jump into other people’s dreams. Unfortunately, more often than not, he ends up jumping into someone’s nightmare instead. When some of Ben’s classmates, including the girl of his own dreams, fall prey to a sleeping sickness, he knows he may be the only one who can save them. It won’t be easy, though; someone or something in the dream world wants Ben’s abilities for his own and will stop at nothing to get them. Ben will have to work with some strange new companions and learn to navigate the dream world before it’s too late. Being the first in a series, the story is a little heavy on exposition, but it does do a good job of making the information enjoyable and creating a believable dream world as well as setting the stage for volumes to come. Turnbloom’s art is reminiscent of Jeff Smith’s and suits the tone and the characters nicely. Though there are a few inconsistencies, Grunberg’s characters are all interesting and enjoyable. This is a quick, entertaining tale that will find a middle school audience. VERDICT A fun ride for middle schoolers looking for their next series.–Erik Knapp, Davis Library, Plano, TX

McCloskey, Kevin. The Real Poop on Pigeons. illus. by Kevin McCloskey. 40p. (TOON Level 1). Toon Books. Apr. 2016. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781935179931.

Gr 2-5 –McCloskey turns his eye from the ground (We Dig Worms!, Toon, 2015) toward the heavens, revealing the wonder—and even beauty—of the common city pigeon. A man shoos and poo-poos a couple of cooing “rats with wings,” only to be confronted by a group of kids in pigeon costumes bearing interesting facts about the maligned birds. Through a series of panels and full spreads, readers learn that before the invention of airplanes, pigeons carried mail; that they are faster than a car; that they mate for life; and that they come in a wide variety of breeds, some of which are quite fancy, such as the Victoria Crowned, named for Queen Victoria. In a brief author’s note, McCloskey explains that his painted, cartoon-style illustrations are done on pigeon blue Fabriano paper, the kind used by Pablo Picasso, an artist so enraptured by the birds that he named his daughter Paloma (the Spanish word for pigeon). Complementing the paintings are well-integrated reproductions of historic pigeon prints from the author’s personal collection. Some facts are presented in a simple and straightforward manner (“When two pigeons make a family, that’s called mating…. If a human picks the two pigeons to mate, that is called breeding.”), while other tidbits, presented in speech bubbles, lend the title a more informal, humorous tone (“Picasso’s dad kept pigeons…and young Pablo cleaned the poop in the coop.”). VERDICT Funny and informative, this attractive work of graphic nonfiction offers emerging comics readers an intriguing look at a commonly dismissed and ignored animal.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Winick, Judd. Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World. 208p. (Hilo: Bk. 2). ebook available. Random. May 2016. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780385386234; lib. ed. $16.99. ISBN 9780385386241.

Gr 3-6 –DJ and Gina, just ordinary kids, are back with their friend, Hilo, an extraordinary robot, in this second installment. Hilo is just settling into life on Earth, learning about bowling and knock-knock jokes, when strange portals begin opening up all over town. Bizarre creatures, like a giant mutant chicken, a Viking hippo, a magical warrior cat, and one million killer vegetables, come through the portals, and the people of Earth are in danger. Hilo, DJ, and Gina must figure out how to send these creatures back to their worlds before they destroy the planet. As in the first installment, this book has diverse characters, loyal friends, full-color illustrations, fast-paced adventure, humorous text, and a cliff-hanging ending that will have readers cheering for these graphic novel heroes and eager for the third volume. VERDICT For readers who enjoy “Big Nate” (HarperCollins), “Bone” (Image Comics), “Jedi Academy” (Scholastic), and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (Abrams), this series is a must-have next read.–Paula Huddy, The Blake School-Highcroft Campus, Wayzata, MN


redstarGuiberson, Brenda Z. The Deadliest Creature in the World. illus. by Gennady Spirin. 32p. Holt. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627791984.

K-Gr 3 –Another beautiful collaboration from the team responsible for The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea (Holt, 2015). Fourteen animals vie for the title of deadliest creature in the world by highlighting special adaptations and abilities that enable them to go after prey or protect themselves. Short, detailed paragraphs describe how toxic venoms or powerful punches allow these animals to paralyze or even kill their enemies; each explanation ends with the simple statement “That’s why I am the deadliest creature in the world.” Gorgeous, remarkably realistic full-spread paintings depict these creatures in their habitats, sometimes in the throes of battle. Together, the intriguing facts and the mesmerizing artwork create a lush book worth poring over again and again. VERDICT Young animal enthusiasts will find this to be a wonderful introduction to some of the world’s most frightening creatures and will be inspired to seek out more information.–Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

Harris, Robie H. Who We Are!: All About Being the Same and Being Different. illus. by Nadine Bernard Westcott. 40p. (Let’s Talk About You and Me). Candlewick. Mar. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763669034.

K-Gr 2 –Presenting several diverse families enjoying the various attractions at an amusement park, Harris explores the numerous ways that people are alike and different. Many examples are presented; for instance, while we all have many of the same body parts, those parts come in different shapes and sizes. The author provides an explanation of some of the causes of similarities and differences, such as genetics. Her concluding message is that no matter how different we may be, we all have feelings and that it is wrong to use differences put people down. Westcott’s signature child-friendly cartoon illustrations support and expand the theme of the text. Crisp and clear, the images depict a variety of individuals—children in wheelchairs, a woman in a hijab, a man wearing a turban, and a boy wearing a yarmulke—and add charm and invite repeated examination. VERDICT A valuable addition to most collections and particularly useful as a springboard to antibullying discussions.–Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ

redstarOsborne, Linda Barrett. This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration. 128p. bibliog. chron. index. notes. photos. reprods. Abrams. Apr. 2016. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781419716607.

Gr 6-10 –This exceptional work explores the history of American immigration from the early colonization of the continent to the contemporary discussions involving undocumented aliens. The so-called American melting pot has a history of exclusion, discrimination, and strife that has resulted in anti-immigration laws, segregation, and, in the case of the Japanese during World War II, unjustified internment. The author combines comprehensive history with anecdotal case studies to present the human side of the issue. Outstanding archival photographs and illustrations complement the comprehensive text and encourage thoughtful discussion. The author conveys the attitudes toward new waves of immigration. As each new ethnic or national group arrived, it faced exclusion, aversion, and hostility from those who came earlier. The author outlines the motivations for these barriers and the political circumstances behind them. She also distinctly demonstrates the benefits immigrant populations have brought to the growth of this country. An excellent time line and end notes and a thorough bibliography make this an effective research tool. VERDICT Highly recommended for general purchase.–Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, formerly at Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling, NY


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