February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ Reviews of the YMA Winners | ALA Midwinter 2018

At a press conference held at the American Library Association’s midwinter conference in Denver this morning, the Youth Media Awards (YMAs) winners were announced. Below are SLJ’s reviews of nearly all the titles that won medals or honors, in addition to past interviews with authors and illustrators. Many of our Best Books of 2017 were also acclaimed by the various committees, and most of the winning titles received positive or even starred reviews.

John Newbery Medal

redstarKELLY, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe. illus. by Isabel Roxas. 320p. ­HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062414151.

MG-SL-Kelly-HelloUniverseGr 3-7 –The universe comes together unexpectedly when a unique set of circumstances cause four tweens to cross paths. Central to the story is Virgil, an 11-year-old Filipino American whose grandmother, Lola, helps him to come out of his shell and face the world. When Virgil and his pet guinea pig, Gulliver, end up trapped in a well in the woods at the hands of a bully, Chet, it is up to the stars to align before it’s too late. Coming together like spokes on a wheel, everyone converges in the woods—Valencia, a Deaf girl on whom Virgil has a crush; Kaori, an adolescent fortune-teller and free spirit; Kaori’s sister, Gen, her jump-roping apprentice; a feral dog Valencia has befriended; and a snake, which is the only thing Chet fears. Unlikely friendships are formed and heroism abounds as the group of young people try to find their way in the world. Plucky protagonists and a deftly woven story will appeal to anyone who has ever felt a bit lost in the universe. VERDICT Readers across the board will flock to this book that has something for nearly everyone—humor, bullying, self-acceptance, cross-generational relationships, and a smartly fateful ending.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

John Newbery Honors

redstarREYNOLDS, Jason. Long Way Down. 320p. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481438254.

Gr 8 Up –Fifteen-year-old Will’s big brother has been shot and killed. According to the rules that Will has been taught, it is now his job to kill the person responsible. He easily finds his brother’s gun and gets on the elevator to head down from his eighth-floor apartment. But it’s a long way down to the ground floor. At each floor, a different person gets on to tell a story. Each of these people is already dead. As they relate their tales, readers learn about the cycle of violence in which Will is caught up. The protagonist faces a difficult choice, one that is a reality for many young people. Teens are left with an unresolved ending that goes beyond the simple question of whether Will will seek revenge. Told in verse, this title is fabulistic in its simplicity and begs to be discussed. Its hook makes for an excellent booktalk. It will pair well with Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and Reynolds’s previous works. The unique narrative structure also makes it an excellent read-alike for Walter Dean Myers’s MonsterVERDICT This powerful work is an important addition to any collection.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarWATSON, Renée. Piecing Me Together. 272p. Bloomsbury. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781681191058.

piecing-me-togetherGr 7 Up –High school junior Jade is an “at-risk” student from a rough neighborhood in Portland, OR. She is also a talented collage artist, and she attends an elite private school on scholarship. More than anything, she wants to go on a study abroad week offered at her school to use her Spanish skills. Instead, she is given an invitation to join Woman to Woman, a mentorship program for young women like her: poor and black. Her mentor, Maxine, is from a more privileged background, and Jade doesn’t see what she can learn from her. But in spite of her early resistance to Maxine, Jade begins to open up and gain confidence, and, eventually, she is able to express the importance of her family, her community, and her art. The two strong female characters and the ways in which they struggle with and support each other form the center of this tale. Most young people will relate to Jade’s search to find her voice and learn to advocate for herself in appropriate ways. The lack of a romantic lead may leave some young teen readers disappointed, but there is a real, refreshing strength in a fully fleshed-out female character whose story is her own. This is a memorable novel that demonstrates that a happy ending doesn’t require a romantic subplot. VERDICT This unique and thought-provoking title offers a nuanced meditation on race, privilege, and intersectionality. A first purchase for YA collections.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarBARNES, Derrick. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. illus. by Gordon C. James. 32p. Agate/Bolden. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781572842243.

K-Gr 3 –Rhythmic text describes the feeling of a young African American boy as he gets a “fresh cut” and how a trip to the barbershop changes the way he feels about the world and in turn how the world perceives him. He might just “smash that geography exam” or “rearrange the principal’s honor roll” and, of course, the cute girl in class won’t be able to keep her eyes off of him. The protagonist spends time looking at black men in chairs next to him and creating vivid stories about their lives: “the dude to the left of you with a faux-hawk…looks presidential…maybe he’s the CEO of a tech company.” Oil paintings illustrate the intricacies of the haircuts, details in the characters’ faces, along with the sense of well-being that is conveyed along the way. While a trip the barbershop is the main story line, the themes of confidence-building, self-esteem, and joy of young black boys are the important takeaways, and the illustrations jump off the page and invite readers to share in the experience. VERDICT A super fun read-aloud, this title is a recommended purchase for all picture book collections.–Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY

Randolph Caldecott Medal

redstarCORDELL, Matthew. Wolf in the Snow. illus. by Matthew Cordell. 32p. Feiwel & Friends. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250076366.

wolf-in-the-snowK-Gr 2 –In this mostly wordless picture book, a girl gets lost in a snowstorm while walking home from school. At the same time, a wolf pup gets separated from its pack. The girl discovers the pup and carries it through dangerous and icy terrain to reconnect with its pack, and the wolves assist the girl by howling to attract her searching family. Cordell’s artistic approach is a little more free-form than in his past titles. It works well in depicting the twisting trees in the snowstorm but is more challenging to pull off with the characterization of the girl. Yet he succeeds. Only her eyes are visible in her large red triangular parka, with a scarf across her mouth and nose, as she trudges through the snow; there is so much emotion in her eyes that viewers know all that they need to know about this almost comically bundled, shapeless figure. Cordell’s landscapes do a wonderful job showing the vastness and desperation of the girl’s journey, his blended watercolors of the snow and trees adding eloquence to the experience. VERDICT A heartwarming adventure about helping others, best shared one-on-one to pore over the engaging images.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

Randolph Caldecott Honors

redstarCOOPER, Elisha. Big Cat, Little Cat. illus. by Elisha Cooper. 40p. Roaring Brook. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781626723719.

PB-Cooper-BigCatLittleCatPreS-Gr 1 –Bold and simple illustrations perfectly depict life with cats. Elegant, expressive black line drawings on white backgrounds capture the essence of all things feline and call to mind the work of Clare Turlay Newberry and Nikki McClure. The book follows a lone white cat who gains a small black companion, their life together, and the eventual loss of the elder cat (“Years went by—and more years, too—”) and ends with the addition of a new kitten. The spare text does an excellent job of conveying the story from the animals’ point of view. Readers are told that “the older cat got older and one day he had to go…and didn’t come back. And that was hard. For everyone.” VERDICT A gentle, loving look at the life cycle of pets; young readers will be able to gain confidence in retelling the story using the text and the pictures. A must-have for all collections.–Paige Mellinger, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, GA

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarBARNES, Derrick. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. illus. by Gordon C. James. 32p. Agate/Bolden. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781572842243.

K-Gr 3 –Rhythmic text describes the feeling of a young African American boy as he gets a “fresh cut” and how a trip to the barbershop changes the way he feels about the world and in turn how the world perceives him. He might just “smash that geography exam” or “rearrange the principal’s honor roll” and, of course, the cute girl in class won’t be able to keep her eyes off of him. The protagonist spends time looking at black men in chairs next to him and creating vivid stories about their lives: “the dude to the left of you with a faux-hawk…looks presidential…maybe he’s the CEO of a tech company.” Oil paintings illustrate the intricacies of the haircuts, details in the characters’ faces, along with the sense of well-being that is conveyed along the way. While a trip the barbershop is the main story line, the themes of confidence-building, self-esteem, and joy of young black boys are the important takeaways, and the illustrations jump off the page and invite readers to share in the experience. VERDICT A super fun read-aloud, this title is a recommended purchase for all picture book collections.–Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY

redstarPHI, Bao. A Different Pond. illus. by Thi Bui. 32p. Capstone. Aug. 2017. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781623708030.

K-Gr 2 –This gorgeous tale about a father/son fishing trip shows the interconnectedness of family and the inexorable way that generational history impacts the present. The story is told from the boy’s perspective, as his father wakes him long before dawn to go fishing. Although the child enjoys the outing as a special adventure with his dad, they are fishing for food, not sport, and they must be home in time for the father to leave for work. The quiet time together provides opportunities for the man to talk about his past life fishing with his brother in a different pond in Vietnam, long ago before the war and before coming to America. After they return home, triumphant, with a bucket of fish, the boy contemplates his role as the youngest in the family—no longer a baby—and even though he is sad that both his parents have to work, he knows there will be a happy, love-filled family dinner later that night. Bui’s cinematic illustrations make use of panels and weighted lines, evoking the perfect background or facial expression for each piece of text. The text placement and composition of the illustrations allow each occurrence or observation to be its own distinct event, stringing together the small, discrete moments that make up a life, a memory, and a history into a cohesive whole. VERDICT This gentle coming-of-age story is filled with loving, important aspects of the immigrant experience and is a first purchase for all libraries.–Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County Library, MN

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarCHIN, Jason. Grand Canyon. illus. by Jason Chin. 56p. bibliog. diag. further reading. websites. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. Feb. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596439504.

grand-canyonGr 3-5 –A breathtaking walk through multiple habitats and deep time. Beginning at the banks of the Colorado River, a child and her adult companion hike up the South Kaibab trail from 1.84 billion-year-old “basement rocks” past the layers of the Grand Canyon Supergroup, the Bright Angel Shale, and other major formations to the Kaibab Limestone layer at the top. At the same time, the two pass through riparian greenery, sun-baked desert scrub, and pinyon juniper woodland to reach the South Rim’s ponderosa pine forest. In Chin’s cleanly drawn scenes, viewers who follow along will catch glimpses of characteristic flora and fauna (with other wildlife lined up along the margins) at each elevation, plus clear looks at each distinctive rock layer. Better yet, occasional fossils in the rocks, seen through cutouts, temporarily transport the child with a page turn to prehistoric mudflats, sand dunes, and sea floor. A double gatefold vista vividly underscores Chin’s opening proposition that the canyon is “much more than just a big hole in the ground,” and the author supplements his information-rich running commentary with further notes and illustrations covering the canyon’s history, human settlement, ecology, and geology. It’s all Grand. VERDICT An outstanding introduction to one of the world’s greatest outdoor wonders, with much to offer elementary students about Southwestern biomes, sedimentary geology, and the profound pleasures of observing nature.–John Peters, Children’s Literature ­Consultant, New York City

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

Michael L. Printz Award

redstarLACOUR, Nina. We Are Okay. 240p. Dutton. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525425892. POP

ya-hs-lacour-weareokayGr 8 Up –Her first semester of college behind her, Marin stays alone in the dorms over break, even with the threat of a snowstorm looming, rather than return to San Francisco, where bad memories lurk. Her best friend Mabel comes to stay with her, and over the next few days, Marin contemplates the events of last spring and summer and deals with her complicated relationship with Mabel. Slowly, readers learn more about Marin’s life: the surfer mother who drowned when Marin was young, the father she never knew, the loving grandfather who raised her but whose concealed secrets kept a wall between them, and the painful events that sent Marin fleeing San Francisco. LaCour’s use of settings is masterly: frigid and desolate upstate New York reflects Marin’s alienation, while vibrant San Francisco evokes moments of joy. Though there’s little action, with most of the writing devoted to Marin’s memories, thoughts, and musings, the author’s nuanced and sensitive depiction of the protagonist’s complex and turbulent inner life makes for a rich narrative. Marin is a beautifully crafted character, and her voice is spot-on, conveying isolation, grief, and, eventually, hope. With hauntingly spare prose, the emphasis on the past, and references to gothic tales such as The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre, this is realistic fiction edged with the melancholy tinge of a ghost story. VERDICT A quietly moving, potent novel that will appeal to teens, especially fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Michael L. Printz Honors

redstarREYNOLDS, Jason. Long Way Down. 320p. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481438254.

Gr 8 Up –Fifteen-year-old Will’s big brother has been shot and killed. According to the rules that Will has been taught, it is now his job to kill the person responsible. He easily finds his brother’s gun and gets on the elevator to head down from his eighth-floor apartment. But it’s a long way down to the ground floor. At each floor, a different person gets on to tell a story. Each of these people is already dead. As they relate their tales, readers learn about the cycle of violence in which Will is caught up. The protagonist faces a difficult choice, one that is a reality for many young people. Teens are left with an unresolved ending that goes beyond the simple question of whether Will will seek revenge. Told in verse, this title is fabulistic in its simplicity and begs to be discussed. Its hook makes for an excellent booktalk. It will pair well with Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and Reynolds’s previous works. The unique narrative structure also makes it an excellent read-alike for Walter Dean Myers’s MonsterVERDICT This powerful work is an important addition to any collection.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarTAYLOR, Laini. Strange the Dreamer. 544p. ebook available. Little, Brown. Mar. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316341684. POP

YA-Taylor-StrangetheDreamerGr 9 Up –Lazlo Strange is a foundling who has grown up alone and unloved, sustained only by his fantasies and stories of a city known as Weep. As an adult, Lazlo finds his way to the Great Library of Zosma and becomes a librarian, tasked with supporting scholars in their work. His fixation with Weep continues, and he searches for scraps of information about it and its inhabitants and even teaches himself its language from books in the library. Then Eril Fane, the liberator of Weep, pays a surprise visit to Zosma. Lazlo seizes the chance to join an expedition to the city he has dreamed of for so long, and he is caught up in an old conflict between Weep’s mortal residents and blue godlike beings who had terrorized the city until Eril Fane slew them. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants of Weep, five children of these magical beings have survived and live in the giant seraph that hovers over the city, blocking the light. When Sarai, one of these Godspawn, visits Lazlo in his dreams, their growing relationship leads to the revelation of long-hidden secrets and opposition from other Godspawn, who desire revenge on mortals. This is the first in a pair of planned companion novels by the “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” author, and it has all the rich, evocative imagery and complex world-building typical of Taylor’s best work. There is a mythological resonance to her tale of gods and mortals in conflict, as well as in Lazlo’s character arc from unassuming, obsessed librarian to something much more. VERDICT This outstanding fantasy is a must-purchase for all YA collections.–Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ

Check out our interview with Laini Taylor

redstarTHOMAS, Angie. The Hate U Give. 464p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062498533.

YA-HS-Thomas-TheHateUGiveGr 8 Up –After Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, leave a party together, they are pulled over by a white police officer, who kills Khalil. The sole witness to the homicide, Starr must testify before a grand jury that will decide whether to indict the cop, and she’s terrified, especially as emotions run high. By turns frightened, discouraged, enraged, and impassioned, Starr is authentically adolescent in her reactions. Inhabiting two vastly different spheres—her poor, predominantly black neighborhood, Garden Heights, where gangs are a fact of life, and her rich, mostly white private school—causes strain, and Thomas perceptively illustrates how the personal is political: Starr is disturbed by the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer, and Starr’s father is torn between his desire to support Garden Heights and his need to move his family to a safer environment. The first-person, present-tense narrative is immediate and intense, and the pacing is strong, with Thomas balancing dramatic scenes of violence and protest with moments of reflection. The characterization is slightly uneven; at times, Starr’s friends at school feel thinly fleshed out. However, Starr, her family, and the individuals in their neighborhood are achingly real and lovingly crafted. VERDICT Pair this powerful debut with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys to start a conversation on racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Check out our interview with Angie Thomas

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarHEILIGMAN, Deborah. Vincent and Theo: The van Gogh Brothers. 464p. bibliog. chron. ebook available. index. notes. reprods. Holt. Apr. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780805093391.

NF-Heiligman-VincentandTheoGr 7 Up –Central to understanding the artist Vincent van Gogh was his relationship with his younger brother Theo, recorded for posterity in the nearly 700 surviving letters they wrote to each other. Here, Heiligman delivers an exquisitely told, heartfelt portrayal of that deep emotional and intellectual bond. It was an attachment solidified in the brothers’ youth and, at times, a volatile one, given the artist’s passionate, often obsessive connection to his work and his financial insecurity. Despite Vincent’s fluctuating moods and fragile mental health, Theo’s support and love never flagged, even when his other responsibilities and personal health issues intervened. The author frames their lives in “galleries,” from their childhoods to their early deaths, delicately detailing their work, frustrations, successes, differences, and difficulties. Interspersed are croquis—impressionistic sketches of events and family members, friends, lovers, and fellow artists. Despite knowing how this story ends, readers will be deeply moved by Heiligman’s portrayal of the brothers’ poignant relationship, experiencing with them its highs and lows. Reproductions of van Gogh’s sepia ink drawings open the sections, and a color insert of reproductions is included. An extensive bibliography and source notes conclude this well-documented title. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s compelling Vincent van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist takes a more straightforward approach to the artist’s life and features quality reproductions. VERDICT A breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more. Libraries would be wise to purchase a volume of the brothers’ letters along with this book.–Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

Check out our interview with Deborah Heiligman

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award

redstarWATSON, Renée. Piecing Me Together. 272p. Bloomsbury. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781681191058.

piecing-me-togetherGr 7 Up –High school junior Jade is an “at-risk” student from a rough neighborhood in Portland, OR. She is also a talented collage artist, and she attends an elite private school on scholarship. More than anything, she wants to go on a study abroad week offered at her school to use her Spanish skills. Instead, she is given an invitation to join Woman to Woman, a mentorship program for young women like her: poor and black. Her mentor, Maxine, is from a more privileged background, and Jade doesn’t see what she can learn from her. But in spite of her early resistance to Maxine, Jade begins to open up and gain confidence, and, eventually, she is able to express the importance of her family, her community, and her art. The two strong female characters and the ways in which they struggle with and support each other form the center of this tale. Most young people will relate to Jade’s search to find her voice and learn to advocate for herself in appropriate ways. The lack of a romantic lead may leave some young teen readers disappointed, but there is a real, refreshing strength in a fully fleshed-out female character whose story is her own. This is a memorable novel that demonstrates that a happy ending doesn’t require a romantic subplot. VERDICT This unique and thought-provoking title offers a nuanced meditation on race, privilege, and intersectionality. A first purchase for YA collections.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

Check out our interview with Renée Watson

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

Coretta Scott King (Author) Honors

redstarBARNES, Derrick. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. illus. by Gordon C. James. 32p. Agate/Bolden. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781572842243.

K-Gr 3 –Rhythmic text describes the feeling of a young African American boy as he gets a “fresh cut” and how a trip to the barbershop changes the way he feels about the world and in turn how the world perceives him. He might just “smash that geography exam” or “rearrange the principal’s honor roll” and, of course, the cute girl in class won’t be able to keep her eyes off of him. The protagonist spends time looking at black men in chairs next to him and creating vivid stories about their lives: “the dude to the left of you with a faux-hawk…looks presidential…maybe he’s the CEO of a tech company.” Oil paintings illustrate the intricacies of the haircuts, details in the characters’ faces, along with the sense of well-being that is conveyed along the way. While a trip the barbershop is the main story line, the themes of confidence-building, self-esteem, and joy of young black boys are the important takeaways, and the illustrations jump off the page and invite readers to share in the experience. VERDICT A super fun read-aloud, this title is a recommended purchase for all picture book collections.–Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY

redstarREYNOLDS, Jason. Long Way Down. 320p. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481438254.

Gr 8 Up –Fifteen-year-old Will’s big brother has been shot and killed. According to the rules that Will has been taught, it is now his job to kill the person responsible. He easily finds his brother’s gun and gets on the elevator to head down from his eighth-floor apartment. But it’s a long way down to the ground floor. At each floor, a different person gets on to tell a story. Each of these people is already dead. As they relate their tales, readers learn about the cycle of violence in which Will is caught up. The protagonist faces a difficult choice, one that is a reality for many young people. Teens are left with an unresolved ending that goes beyond the simple question of whether Will will seek revenge. Told in verse, this title is fabulistic in its simplicity and begs to be discussed. Its hook makes for an excellent booktalk. It will pair well with Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and Reynolds’s previous works. The unique narrative structure also makes it an excellent read-alike for Walter Dean Myers’s MonsterVERDICT This powerful work is an important addition to any collection.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarTHOMAS, Angie. The Hate U Give. 464p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062498533.

YA-HS-Thomas-TheHateUGiveGr 8 Up –After Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, leave a party together, they are pulled over by a white police officer, who kills Khalil. The sole witness to the homicide, Starr must testify before a grand jury that will decide whether to indict the cop, and she’s terrified, especially as emotions run high. By turns frightened, discouraged, enraged, and impassioned, Starr is authentically adolescent in her reactions. Inhabiting two vastly different spheres—her poor, predominantly black neighborhood, Garden Heights, where gangs are a fact of life, and her rich, mostly white private school—causes strain, and Thomas perceptively illustrates how the personal is political: Starr is disturbed by the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer, and Starr’s father is torn between his desire to support Garden Heights and his need to move his family to a safer environment. The first-person, present-tense narrative is immediate and intense, and the pacing is strong, with Thomas balancing dramatic scenes of violence and protest with moments of reflection. The characterization is slightly uneven; at times, Starr’s friends at school feel thinly fleshed out. However, Starr, her family, and the individuals in their neighborhood are achingly real and lovingly crafted. VERDICT Pair this powerful debut with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys to start a conversation on racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Check out our interview with Angie Thomas

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award

ALEXANDER, Kwame with Chris Colderley & Marjory Wentworth. Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. illus. by Ekua Holmes. 56p. Candlewick. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763680947.
Gr 4-7–Newbery Award winner Alexander has collaborated with Colderley, a poet and elementary school teacher, and Wentworth, the poet laureate of South Carolina, to produce a collection of verse that pays tribute to notable poets. The 20 pieces presented are each crafted specifically in homage to a famous wordsmith, often incorporating key tenets of their style. The spotlighted poets include ancient writers (e.g., Basho and Rumi), 20th-century lyricists such as Robert Frost and Langston Hughes, and contemporary figures such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, and more. In his preface, Alexander writes, “A poem is a small but powerful thing.” The carefully chosen and arranged selections take readers on a wondrous journey through a number of lyrical forms, from haiku to free verse, accompanied by illustrations by Caldecott honoree Holmes. The bold mixed-media and layered collage–style paintings creatively capture each poem’s essence. To continue the celebration, back matter offers biographical sketches of those featured. However, it perhaps would have been optimal to incorporate samples of original works by the honored poets for immediate comparison. VERDICT This unusual and successful volume is a valuable addition to school and classroom libraries for writing workshops and reading pleasure.–Carole Phillips, Greenacres Elementary School, Scarsdale, NY

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Honors

redstarBARNES, Derrick. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. illus. by Gordon C. James. 32p. Agate/Bolden. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781572842243.

K-Gr 3 –Rhythmic text describes the feeling of a young African American boy as he gets a “fresh cut” and how a trip to the barbershop changes the way he feels about the world and in turn how the world perceives him. He might just “smash that geography exam” or “rearrange the principal’s honor roll” and, of course, the cute girl in class won’t be able to keep her eyes off of him. The protagonist spends time looking at black men in chairs next to him and creating vivid stories about their lives: “the dude to the left of you with a faux-hawk…looks presidential…maybe he’s the CEO of a tech company.” Oil paintings illustrate the intricacies of the haircuts, details in the characters’ faces, along with the sense of well-being that is conveyed along the way. While a trip the barbershop is the main story line, the themes of confidence-building, self-esteem, and joy of young black boys are the important takeaways, and the illustrations jump off the page and invite readers to share in the experience. VERDICT A super fun read-aloud, this title is a recommended purchase for all picture book collections.–Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY

redstarCLINE-RANSOME, Lesa. Before She was Harriet. illus. by James E. Ransome. 32p. Holiday House. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780823420476.

Gr 3-6 –Before and after Harriet Tubman became the stalwart conductor leading enslaved people to freedom on the Underground Railroad, she played many remarkable roles during her long life. Cline-Ransome honors Tubman in lyrical verse, beginning when the heroine is “tired and worn/her legs stiff/her back achy.” In each stanza, Tubman looks back to the time “before she was an old woman.” She recalls speaking out against injustice as a suffragist providing “a voice for women/who had none/in marriages/in courts/in voting booths.” She recollects everything she accomplished during the Civil War, spying for the Union and nursing the wounded. Looking back even farther, she remembers leading her people out of bondage and then her own arduous years in the slave owners’ fields. Before all of this, Tubman was a little girl named Araminta who dreamed of the time she would “leave behind slavery/along with her name/and pick a new one/Harriet.” Each episode in her compelling life is illustrated by a luminous watercolor. The expertly done expressive paintings evoke Tubman’s strength and integrity showing “the wisp of a woman with the courage of a lion.” VERDICT This lovely tribute effectively communicates Tubman’s ­everlasting bravery and resolve, and will ­inspire curious readers to learn more.–Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award

redstarMOORE, David Barclay. The Stars Beneath Our Feet. 304p. Knopf. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524701246.

Gr 5-8 –Twelve-year-old Lolly, a resident of Harlem’s St. Nicholas projects, has had a tough few months. His older brother, Jermaine, died as the result of gang-related violence. Still reeling from grief, Lolly now must contend with two neighborhood teens who’ve begun following, threatening, and stealing from Lolly and his best friend Vega. Following in his brother’s footsteps and taking violent revenge is tempting. His obsession with LEGOs and a burgeoning dream of becoming an architect just might see Lolly through, though, especially after his mother’s girlfriend starts bringing him garbage bags full of bricks from her job in a toy store. This gift prompts Lolly to begin building a huge LEGO city, one that quickly outgrows his apartment and has to be moved to the storage room of the community center, where he strikes up a friendship with Rose, a girl with autism who shares his passion for building. This well-honed debut novel paints a vivid picture of Lolly and the choices that he must make, but beyond that, it introduces a cast of memorable, fully realized characters, each of whom will stay with readers long beyond the closing page. What’s more, it offers a three-dimensional portrayal of a neighborhood too frequently shown in one-dimensional terms. As this novel makes clear, it is a vibrant community, home to a majority of people who care deeply about their neighbors. VERDICT A strongly recommended purchase for all middle grade collections.–Eileen Makoff, P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School, NY

CORETTA SCOTT KING/JOHN STEPTOE NEW TALENT ILLUSTRATOR AWARD

ERSKINE, Kathryn. Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song. illus. by Charly Palmer. 48p. bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. photos. Farrar. Oct. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780374303013.
Gr 2-5–Miriam Makeba was a South African singer who used her talent to challenge apartheid and to encourage South Africans to rail against injustice. Early in her career, Makeba decided to sing in Setswana, IsiXhosa, and IsiZulu precisely because the white ruling class did not speak those languages. A sense of rising tension is unmistakable throughout the text, and each of Makeba’s  hopeful successes is followed by further struggle, finally culminating in Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the slow end of apartheid in South Africa. Debut illustrator Palmer’s painterly spreads shine in rich colors and bold brushstrokes, capturing the passion of Makeba mid-song. In other spreads, scenes of an armed white police officer demanding the transit pass of a black man who has stepped outside of his neighborhood boundary, and a lone child who has survived the massacre of school children at Soweto, all speak acutely to the landscape of apartheid that shaped Mama Africa’s career. Erksine spent some of her childhood living in apartheid South Africa, and she shares her own experiences and connection to Makeba’s music at length in the back matter. VERDICT A welcome addition to picture book biography collections.–Lauren Younger, New York Public Library

Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement

Eloise Greenfield

Schneider Family Book Award (Ages 0-10)

redstarSAY, Allen. Silent Days, Silent Dreams. illus. by Allen Say. 64p. bibliog. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Oct. 2017. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780545927611.

Gr 3-7 –In this fascinating longform “imagined” biography about James Castle, author-illustrator Say plays with artistic and literary formats. Castle was born deaf and premature in Idaho, was considered to be autistic and dyslexic, and was abused and bullied for his inability to speak or read. He was discouraged from creating art by his parents and principal, and had his art supplies confiscated and artworks destroyed many times, yet he still created a huge and compelling body of work. The biography is written from the perspective of Castle’s nephew, Bob Beach, and the back matter provides detailed information about the artist and Say’s connection to him. Say’s art, inspired by the many styles of James Castle, vibrates on the page in a variety of media, including matchsticks, shoe polish, liquid laundry bluing, and cardboard, and he even switched hands to imitate Castle. Just as Castle’s art leapt in styles and emotions, Say’s work shows the trials of a beleaguered and prolific artist. VERDICT A phenomenal and profoundly artistic and biographical work.–Lisa Nowlain, Nevada County ­Community Library, CA

Schneider Family Book Award (Ages 11-13)

GREEN, Shari. Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess. 240p. Pajama. May 2017. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781772780338.
Gr 4-6–Eleven-year-old Macy McMillan, who is deaf, is struggling with a few challenges: accepting her mother’s new marriage, moving to a new house, adjusting to a stepfather and six-year-old twin stepsisters, and completing a genealogy project. When Macy’s mother arranges for her to help elderly neighbor Iris pack up her belongings before moving to an assisted living facility, Macy is annoyed, then intrigued. While Macy sorts and packs boxes of books, Iris writes notes to answer Macy’s questions (Iris doesn’t know sign language) and bakes cookies to lift Macy’s spirits. Discovering interesting facts about Iris (for instance, her name translates to “Goddess of the Rainbow”) and her life story helps Macy realize that everyone makes mistakes, misjudges others, gets angry, feels alone at times, and ultimately changes “in ways you never imagined.” The genealogy project she dreads ultimately evolves into the story of the people who have impacted Macy’s life. The novel-in-verse structure is clever, engaging, and accessible. Macy’s deafness is skillfully woven into the story, adding depth and complexity to her characterization and relationships with others. Her first-person narrative appears in regular type, sign language is spaced in bold type, and written communication is in italics. With candor and angst, Macy shares her sorrow over an argument with her best friend, her desire to stop her mother from getting married, her determination not to like her stepfather, and her affection for aging Iris. VERDICT Macy’s coming-of-age anxieties, observations, and insights will resonate with middle grade readers. A strong purchase for public and school libraries.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC

Schneider Family Book Award (Ages 13-18)

GARDNER, Whitney. You’re Welcome, Universe. 304p. ebook available. Knopf. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399551413.
Gr 8 Up–After executing her best-ever graffiti, to cover up an insult written about her friend, Julia is kicked out of her Deaf school and mainstreamed. Frustrated by trying to connect with her hearing peers, Julia delves deeper into her art, only to find a rival defacing her finest creations. This debut novel is a dive into self-discovery for Julia and a compelling, engaging read for a wide variety of teens, including those interested in graffiti and street art. The author has clearly done her research on both Deaf and graffiti culture, and she incorporates details about both communities organically into the narrative. The translation of American Sign Language and Deafspeak to the page is done effectively, although it takes a backseat to native English narration. Julia, who has two mothers and resembles her parent of South Asian descent, inhabits many minority identities (disabled, a person of color, the child of same-sex parents, an English language learner) without any one of them being the engine for the story. She is a complex protagonist, and the secondary characters are well-developed, too. A few plot threads aren’t fully explored, but overall, this is a well-told, artsy coming-of-age tale that is also an excellent representation of a Deaf protagonist. VERDICT The rich characterizations and focus on often underrepresented cultural communities make this a noteworthy debut for both school and public libraries.–L. Lee Butler, Hart Middle School, Washington, DC

Laura Ingalls Wilder Award

Jacqueline Woodson

Margaret A. Edwards Award

Angela Johnson

2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award

Debbie Reese

Mildred L. Batchelder Award

WEGELIUS, Jakob. The Murderer’s Ape. tr. from Swedish. 624p. ebook available. Delacorte. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101931752.
Gr 4-8–An engagingly accessible but quirky mystery featuring a gorilla named Sally Jones who not only narrates the story but can also read and write. She just doesn’t talk. Sally Jones is an engineer working for Chief Koskela on his ship, the Hudson Queen, in this suspenseful and well-plotted adventure. In Lisbon, Portugal, while carrying what they think is a crate of tiles, Sally Jones and the Chief are attacked by robbers, and the ship is sunk. Things go from bad to worse when the Chief is shortly thereafter arrested for the murder of the man who hired them to transport the cargo. Sally Jones is on her own, decried by passersby as “the murderer’s gorilla.” Attracted to the music of a factory worker named Ana Molina, Sally Jones forges a new life but is determined to prove the Chief’s innocence. It’s her ability to work mechanical miracles—even with accordions—and her hard work ethic that help her find friends who support her on her quest for answers. A circuitous journey leads her to India and a completely fabulous maharaja. All events occur in the early part of the 20th century, when cars, planes, and typewriters were newfangled inventions. The book has been translated from Swedish and contains a series of portraits of the main cast of characters filling the opening pages, and there is surprisingly little to deter readers from immediately falling for Sally Jones and eagerly cheering her on. There are moments that are a little over-the-top or stereotypical, such as the abilities of the ape, the maharaja’s wealth, and Ana’s captivating voice. A new animal heroine has arrived on the scene, and while she may not rival Charlotte for her wisdom, her writing is just as engaging and her persistent loyalty equally admirable. VERDICT An unusual and oddly charming adventure. A solid purchase for medium to large middle grade collections.–Carol A. Edwards, formerly at Denver Public Library

Mildred L. Batchelder Honors

FRIER, Raphaële. Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education. tr. from French by Julie Cormier. illus. by Aurélia Fronty. 48p. chron. further reading. maps. photos. websites. Charlesbridge. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781580897853.
Gr 1-3–Most recent biographies of Malala Yousafzai are for early readers. This French import stands out for its vivid, naive illustrations, its present-tense narration, and the pages that stress Yousafzai’s ongoing, post-Nobel efforts to bring education to girls in other nations. The paintings and folk designs are bright and positive, and the shooting scene is depicted sensitively. Translator Cormier’s clear text uses mostly simple sentences and vocabulary. Five spreads (with photos and a map) at the end provide excerpts from Yousafzai’s speeches and writing, her inspirations, a time line, a short reading list, and additional information about girls’ education in Pakistan and elsewhere. Initially, the Taliban is called “a violent group.” Only in the back matter is Islam briefly mentioned, along with Yousafzai’s rejection of fundamentalism. The book does not present her as a victim and emphasizes her family’s support and the help she received from others: she isn’t fighting cultural traditions alone. VERDICT Although similar to Rebecca Langston-George’s For the Right To Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story and Karen Leggett Abouraya’s Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words, this work surpasses them in contextual scope.–Patricia D. Lothrop, formerly at St. George’s School, Newport, RI

NAUMANN-VILLEMIN, Christine. When a Wolf Is Hungry. illus. by Kris Di Giacomo. 34p. Eerdmans. Aug. 2017. Tr $16. ISBN 9780802854827.
K-Gr 2–A hungry and crotchety wolf learns a thing or two about being a good neighbor on his quest to find a fine meal. Edmond Bigsnout lives alone in the woods. One day, feeling hungry for a fancy city rabbit, Edmond sets off with knife in hand. Only, he quickly loses it in the elevator of a high rise apartment building where the perfect meal resides. Undaunted, he runs home to retrieve a chain saw. His mission is yet again thwarted when a neighbor in the building asks to borrow it. Again and again, the wolf returns with a new tool, only to loan it to a neighbor under the guise of being a new and friendly resident. In the end, Edmond realizes that he would prefer to live in a community with good neighbors, rather than continue to be a lone wolf. Set in France, this picture book for older elementary students is a bit of a thriller. The wolf, with his sharp teeth and sharp knife, may be a little surprising for readers at first, but as the story progresses they will realize that the big, bad wolf is not so bad after all. The wolf’s violent plans can be jarring, but the illustrations tone down the imagery. Created with mixed media in dark muted shades and splashes of color, the pictures have a more lighthearted touch. ­VERDICT A big, bad wolf story with a big-hearted ending. Great for read-alouds and small group sharing.–Amy Shepherd, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middleton, DE

MELLO, Roger. You Can’t Be Too Careful. tr. from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. illus. by Roger Mello. 34p. ebook available. Archipelago. Apr. 2017. Tr $18. ISBN 9780914671640.
Gr 2-5–The first book published in the United States by the 2014 recipient of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award is a thought-provoking exploration of the impact of kindness and greed. A barefoot gardener is meticulously guarding “White Rose,” as she “might escape from her pen.” We find out that the gardener’s lack of shoes is the result of a long string of mishaps that are traced through a myriad of characters of all class levels, from workers to rajahs. Readers are propelled forward by text that spreads across the top of the pages’ white background in a handwritten-style font, while the Brazilian author/illustrator’s alluring collage and colored pencil images show the varied characters and their connected worlds. They come to a halt when they realize that everyone’s misfortunes are linked to a missing compass. Someone whispers the suggestion that White Rose has hidden it, but readers are rewarded when they discover that White Rose couldn’t have stolen the compass, as she is still “safely in her pen,” and they are propelled back out, seeing everyone’s fates changed in more positive ways. The story is open-ended, leaving children the chance to imagine what might come next but also wanting to return to the beginning to see how all the different pieces shift and come together. VERDICT A title for contemplative readers and those who like brainteasers while being left to ponder the deeper issues of connections and consequences. This one will warrant multiple readings.–Danielle Jones, Multnomah County Library, OR

Odyssey Award

redstarTHOMAS, Angie. The Hate U Give. 9 CDs. 11:40 hrs. HarperAudio. Feb. 2017. $39.99. ISBN 9781470827137. digital download.

Gr 9 Up –Starr has learned to adapt her personality to fit two worlds. “Garden Heights Starr” helps her ex-gangbanger father in his neighborhood grocery. “Williamson Starr” has a white boyfriend, and is one of the few black students at a tony prep school in an exclusive part of town. When gunshots ring out at a Garden Heights party, Starr and her friend Khalil leave. Soon after, Khalil makes an innocent but unanticipated move at a traffic stop, and Starr witnesses his death by a white officer. In the ensuing weeks and months, Starr deals with reactions: her own, her family’s, and those of her inner-city neighbors and upscale private school friends. Starr’s first-person narration creates an immediacy that draws listeners into the anger and grief.she is feeling, while also acknowledging that Khalil may have been involved with drugs and that gang activity is driving families out of Garden Heights. Debut author Thomas populates her story with true-to-life characters—flaws and all. Starr’s family members are particularly well-drawn. Bahni Turpin perfectly captures dialect, cadence, and slang, providing each individual with nuanced tones. At times, Starr’s voice is thoughtful and gentle; at others, it is spitting out four-letter words in frustration and outrage. ­VERDICT A thought-provoking, highly current, and worthy addition that will enhance most high school collections.–Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

Check out our interview with Angie Thomas

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

Odyssey Honors

redstarPULLMAN, Philip. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage. 11 CDs. 13:08 hrs. Listening Library. Oct. 2017. $60. ISBN 9780525522997. digital download.

Gr 9 Up –This first in a companion series to Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy introduces listeners to a familiar world through the eyes of Malcolm Polstead, an innkeeper’s son in Oxford. Malcolm, a curious, kind, and generally ordinary boy, is quickly swept up in what seems on the surface to be local intrigue—that is, until Malcolm accidentally becomes a spy in a clandestine war between the Magisterium, the religious body seeking to control the populace, and a secret government organization known as Oakley Street. With the sometimes knowing and sometimes unknowing help of many local residents, a local scholar who happens to specialize in reading the alethiometer (a mysterious truth-telling device), and a priory of nuns close to his parents’ inn, Malcolm risks everything to protect Lyra Belacqua, the baby everyone is suddenly intensely interested in. Michael Sheen does a spectacular job narrating this audiobook, pulling listeners in easily and enveloping them in the detailed world that Pullman creates. VERDICT Yes, yes, and yes to anyone and everyone. Highly recommended to those even remotely interested in fantastical stories, the nature of good and evil, or the interplay between science and spirituality.—Jeremy Bright, Georgia State Univ. Lib., Atlanta

HAIG, Matt. A Boy Called Christmas. 4:25 hrs. Audible. Nov. 2016. $30. ISBN 9780735207790.

REYNOLDS, JASON. Long way Down. 103 Min. Audible. Oct. 2017. $9.44. ISBN unavail.

ANDREWS, Troy. Trombone Shorty. Live Oak Media. Sept. 2017. $31.95. ISBN 9781430125969.

COWELL, Cressida. The Wizards of Once. 5:56 hrs. Hachette Audio. Oct. 2017. $30. ISBN 9781478922735.

Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award

redstarELYA, Susan Middleton. La Princesa and the Pea. illus. by Juana Martinez-Neal. 32p. glossary. Putnam. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399251566.

PreS-Gr 2 –The traditional Hans Christian Andersen tale gets a makeover in this modern version with a twist. In her signature style of stories peppered with a liberal dose of Spanish and humor, Elya relates the account of a prince who wants to marry and his mother, the queen, who takes charge of vetting the possible candidates. In rhyming text, the author describes the lonely prince. Then one day “came a maiden, en route to her castle…/She winked at the prince, who fell for her fast./No matter what Mom does, I’ll marry this lass!” The endearing and playful illustrations set the story in Peru. The Spanish words sprinkled throughout the text are in a different color and font, and kids will easily understand them through the context. (Those in need of additional help will appreciate the glossary with definitions and pronunciations.) And the pea under the mattresses test? Let’s just say that the prince makes sure his chosen one passes with flying colors. VERDICT This engaging read-aloud is a fresh reimagining of a classic. A must for all libraries.–Lucia Acosta, Children’s Literature Specialist, Princeton, NJ

PURA BELPRÉ (ILLUSTRATOR) HONORs

GONZÁLEZ,  Xelena. All Around Us. illus. by Adriana M. Garcia. 32p. Cinco Puntos. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781941026762.
Gr 2-4–This philosophical offering opens with a young girl and her grandfather searching for circles. According to him, “circles are all around us,” if only we look for them. He points out a rainbow, explaining that it is half a circle; the other half, unseen, is beneath the ground, “where water and light feed new life.” As they work in the garden, the girl and her grandfather continue their conversation about the cycle of life; during a walk through their suburban neighborhood, the pair finds circles in themselves, each other, and their surroundings. Upon returning home, they visit the trees, under which the family’s ancestral ashes and the girl’s placenta are buried, and the grandfather encourages her to see her own place in the circle of life. An author’s note further discusses her (and, presumably, her characters’) mestizo heritage, as well as the birth and death rituals referenced in the story. Garcia’s art is multilayered and richly textured, if a bit busy at times. The colorful illustrations at once capture the intimate bond between the girl and her grandfather, and suggest movement and vitality with bold, sweeping arcs and energetic lines. VERDICT This quiet, thoughtful offering is ideal for readers seeking to explore cycles in life and nature or familial bonds and traditions. Best shared one-on-one.–Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Elkins Park, PA

BROWN, Monica. Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos. illus. by John Parra. 40p. North South. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780735842694. POP
Gr 1-4–Two well-known children’s book creators present the life of iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo through the kid-friendly lens of her animal friends. Kahlo’s life as a young girl at La Casa Azul was marked by the support of her family, illness, and her “animalitos,” or the many pets and creatures that she loved. Each spread introduces a new animal, from Bonito the parrot to her spider monkeys Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal. The text often makes comparisons between the featured critters and the independent, free-spirited girl and budding artist. Throughout, Brown makes references to Kahlo’s love of and inspiration by her Aztec culture, which was often seen in her art and evidenced by her pets’ names. The picture book biography touches only briefly upon some of the artist’s life-changing events, such as the accident she experienced in her teens or her marriage to Diego Rivera, but instead emphasizes the companionship of the animals with which she surrounded herself. Parra’s lively acrylic paintings pay tribute to the vibrant hues of Kahlo’s paintings, and her ties to her Mexican and Aztec heritage are apparent. A detailed author’s note about the subject’s life, art, and influence concludes the book and lists the many works in which her animalitos appear. VERDICT This unique and gorgeous take on the famous figure’s work will give children an accessible entry point to an important artist. A good choice for picture book biography shelves.–Shelley M. Diaz, School Library Journal

PURA BELPRÉ (AUTHOR) AWARD

BEHAR, Ruth. Lucky Broken Girl. 256p. ebook available. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399546440.
Gr 4-6–Ruthie’s English skills have finally gotten her promoted to the “smart” fifth grade class, and she’s the “hopscotch queen of Queens” this week. Her family are still struggling with their recent move from Cuba, but she has a strong family network, some new friends, and a pair of brand-new white go-go boots. When a car accident leaves her in a body cast, Ruthie is scared, lonely, angry, and confused. The year that she spends healing in bed is one of growing up, of hard times and good friends, and of new skills and the determination to be herself in her new country. Behar’s first middle grade novel, a fictionalized telling of her own childhood experiences in the 1960s, is a sweet and thoughtful read, slowly but strongly paced, and filled with a wealth of detail that makes the characters live. Both poetic and straightforward, this title will appeal to young readers with its respect for their experiences and its warm portrayal of a diverse community. In addition to Ruthie’s realistic and personal voice, the novel’s strength is in its complex portrayal of the immigrant experience, with overlapping stories of who goes and who comes and the paths they travel. VERDICT Recommended and relatable. Hand this to fans of Rita Williams-Garcia and those who loved The Secret Garden​.–Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library

PURA BELPRÉ (AUTHOR) HONOR

Cartaya, Pablo. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora. 256p. ebook available. Viking. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101997239.

Spot-MG-Cartaya-TheEpicFailofArturoZamoraGr 5-8 –Arturo Zamora is determined to save his family’s Cuban American restaurant, the decades-old hub of their Miami neighborhood, from an unscrupulous developer who seems to have bought city council approval for his land grab. Cartaya treats this subject with a mixture of humor and heartfelt nostalgia. The warmth and solidarity of Arturo’s family and their deep relationships within their community are palpable. Arturo’s confusion as he experiences his first pains of love for their summer houseguest leavens the sense of impending doom. Eventually, the neighborhood pulls itself together to preserve La Cocina de la Isla. Sprinkling his writing with Spanish, Cartaya incorporates mouthwatering descriptions of Cuban cuisine, the poetry of José Martí, and the general wackiness of young teens’ friendships effortlessly into his narrative. VERDICT Touching and funny, this is an excellent middle grade novel about Cuban American life. For most collections.–Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NY

redstarPÉREZ, Celia C. The First Rule of Punk. 336p. Viking. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780425290408.

Gr 3-6 –A fun romp through the awkward years of middle school that examines themes of identity and culture. When Malu has to move away from her dad and everything she knows, she takes her love of punk music with her. Following the rules of punk, she embarks on a new school journey, full of misadventures and hilarious life lessons. Malu is happy not to fit in with the crowd yet cannot bring herself to tell her mom that her passion for punk is not a rebellious phase—it’s who she is. When classmates label Malu a coconut (brown on the outside and white on the inside), she is determined to prove to her school and herself that she is proud of her Mexican roots. With tenderness and humor, Pérez explores the joys and challenges of being biracial. Readers will connect with Malu, a strong protagonist who leaps off the page and whose zine-inspired artistry boldly illustrates how she deals with life. VERDICT Those who enjoy vivacious, plucky heroines, such as the protagonists of Brenda Woods’s The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick’s Two Naomis, and Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger, will eagerly embrace Malu.–Jessica Bratt, Grand Rapids Public Library, MI

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

redstarBRIMNER, Larry Dane. Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961. 112p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. websites. Calkins Creek. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781629795867.
Gr 5 Up –An engaging and accessible account of the 13 original Freedom Riders as they attempted to make their way from Washington, DC, to New Orleans, LA, to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The riders, “men and women, young and old, black and white,” planned to sit anywhere they liked on the buses and to make use of all facilities available at bus stations. Despite federal laws prohibiting segregated seating and facilities serving interstate passengers, many parts of the South ignored these laws and continued to enforce Jim Crow segregation. As they traveled, white Freedom Riders used “Colored” facilities and black Freedom Riders used “White” facilities. The farther south they went, the more intense and violent the opposition they faced. Despite their commitment to nonviolence, the Freedom Riders were attacked and beaten, and by the time they made it to Alabama, their bus was fire bombed and several riders sustained serious injuries. Brimner, author of several other books about civil rights in this era, knows the material well and presents a straightforward narrative approach to the subject that will appeal to readers. The stark, black-and-white design of the text emphasizes the directness of the prose, while the riveting, full-page photos and descriptive captions enhance the reading experience. VERDICT An essential part of civil rights collections and a worthy addition to all nonfiction shelves.–Kristy Pasquariello, Wellesley Free Library, MA

ROBERT F. SIBERT INFORMATIONAL HONORs

redstarMARTIN, Jacqueline Briggs & June Jo Lee. Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix. illus. by Man One. 32p. bibliog. further reading. photos. websites. Readers to Eaters. May 2017. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9780983661597.

NF-Martin-ChefRoyChoiandtheStreetFoodRemixGr 1-5 –Spicy, sweet, colorful, tangy—all the words that authors Martin and Lee use to describe Roy Choi’s Korean Mexican cuisine apply just as accurately to the book they’ve created along with L.A. street artist Man One. Choi’s parents came to the United States from Korea when he was two years old, opening a family restaurant in Los Angeles. After stints as an aimless street kid and a cooking school–trained chef, he combined his local knowledge, Korean heritage, and chef skills to open a taco truck, serving Korean barbecued short ribs wrapped in corn tortillas and loaded with Roy’s “awesome sauce.” One truck turned into many, which led to his first stationary restaurant, Locol, in the Watts neighborhood of L.A. Choi’s dedication to bringing wholesome, flavorful fast food to low-income neighborhoods is reflected in every word and stroke of this colorful book. The jaunty text has the rhythm of a griot’s story (“What? Chefs cook in kitchens, not on trucks!”) without sacrificing readability. Graffiti tags and airbrushed landscapes are the background for energetically warped cartoon illustrations. Lots of diagonals and brilliant colors capture the speed and flavor of street food served hot. One particularly effective sequence juxtaposes Choi in his chef’s whites garnishing a plate of lamb chops with Choi, wearing headphones and a backward baseball cap, scratching a record while mixing up “awesome sauce” on the following page. In both spreads, the focus is on his skilled hands, the concentration evident on his face. If you’re not hungry already, this savory array of sizzling words and art will make your mouth water. VERDICT This excellent picture book biography about an inventive chef doing good belongs on all shelves.–Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson

redstarCHIN, Jason. Grand Canyon. illus. by Jason Chin. 56p. bibliog. diag. further reading. websites. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. Feb. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781596439504.

grand-canyonGr 3-5 –A breathtaking walk through multiple habitats and deep time. Beginning at the banks of the Colorado River, a child and her adult companion hike up the South Kaibab trail from 1.84 billion-year-old “basement rocks” past the layers of the Grand Canyon Supergroup, the Bright Angel Shale, and other major formations to the Kaibab Limestone layer at the top. At the same time, the two pass through riparian greenery, sun-baked desert scrub, and pinyon juniper woodland to reach the South Rim’s ponderosa pine forest. In Chin’s cleanly drawn scenes, viewers who follow along will catch glimpses of characteristic flora and fauna (with other wildlife lined up along the margins) at each elevation, plus clear looks at each distinctive rock layer. Better yet, occasional fossils in the rocks, seen through cutouts, temporarily transport the child with a page turn to prehistoric mudflats, sand dunes, and sea floor. A double gatefold vista vividly underscores Chin’s opening proposition that the canyon is “much more than just a big hole in the ground,” and the author supplements his information-rich running commentary with further notes and illustrations covering the canyon’s history, human settlement, ecology, and geology. It’s all Grand. VERDICT An outstanding introduction to one of the world’s greatest outdoor wonders, with much to offer elementary students about Southwestern biomes, sedimentary geology, and the profound pleasures of observing nature.–John Peters, Children’s Literature ­Consultant, New York City

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

BURCAW, Shane. Not So Different: What You Really Want To Ask About Having a Disability. illus. by Matt Carr. 40p. photos. Roaring Brook. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626727717.
Gr 1-3–Burcaw answers the most common questions he gets about having a disability. He was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which makes his muscles grow weaker throughout his life and his body smaller as he ages. A range of questions, from “What’s wrong with you?” to “How do you play with your friends,” are answered in a concise yet thorough way. Burcaw takes a humorous approach towards each topic, such as comparing himself to a T. rex when discussing why his head is bigger than the rest of his body. Additionally, he describes his wheelchair as working with a joystick “sort of like a video-game controller.” This ultimately serves to emphasize that though Burcaw may look different, he is a person whom kids can empathize with. The discussion of his family’s help and how it feels to be made fun of will allow readers to more fully understand what it is like to live with a disability. The pages are visually pleasing, with brightly colored photographs of Burcaw accompanying bold graphics and speech bubbles. An author’s note at the end goes into greater detail about SMA and Burcaw’s work as a disability rights activist. VERDICT This slim book packs a punch and can serve as a good introduction for students about people with disabilities.–Kathryn Justus, Renbrook School, West Hartford, CT

NEWMAN, Patricia. Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem. 56p. bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. Millbrook. Jan. 2017. Tr $31.99. ISBN 9781512426311.
Gr 4-7–With their big eyes; soft, furry faces; and playful behavior, sea otters are a favorite marine mammal among kids and teens. Protective measures have stabilized sea otter numbers after the mammals once came close to extinction. Only recently, through the work of marine biologist Brent Hughes, has their role in maintaining ecosystems come to light. The Elkhorn Slough, an inlet of Monterey Bay in Northern California, is a nutrient-polluted estuary fed by the fertilizers and pesticides used in nearby farming. This work chronicles the mystery of why this ecosystem is far healthier than scientists would expect. Using the tools of scientific research, Hughes has discovered that sea otters, the top predators in the food chain, help keep the sea grass algae-free through their feeding habits, which in turn allows the growth of a fish population and preserves a natural barrier to storms. The step-by-step process of ascertaining that the sea otter was responsible for the thriving ecosystem provides a strong example of the value and excitement of primary research. Clear, full-color photographs show how Hughes confirmed his theory. However, this title resembles a picture book, which may deter older readers. VERDICT A very informative selection for environmental studies.–Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, formerly at Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling, NY

Stonewall Book Award

redstarCOLBERT, Brandy. Little & Lion. 336p. Little, Brown. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316349000.

Gr 10 Up –Suzette has been devoted to Lionel from an early age, and vice versa. At first glance, they don’t look like siblings—a black girl and white boy barely a year apart in age—but their blended family is closely knit. At her parents’ insistence, Suzette has been away at boarding school since Lionel’s mental health began to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Now she’s back in L.A. for the summer, and she finds more complications waiting. Suzette is dealing with the aftermath of a secret relationship with her roommate at school, new feelings for her childhood friend Emil, and an attraction to the same girl her brother likes, and the secrets Lionel wants her to keep are the last thing she needs. Intersectional and honest, this book covers topics of mental health, sexuality, and family without sugarcoating or melodrama. The supporting characters are just as vivid as the leads, with full personalities and backgrounds of their own (for instance, Emil is black and Korean and wears hearing aids) that are never a cheap plot point. Suzette is a sympathetic and flawed character, struggling to overcome her own fears to do right by the people she cares about. VERDICT A moving, diverse exploration of the challenges of growing up and the complicated nature of loyalty. Recommended for all YA collections.–Amy Diegelman, formerly at Vineyard Haven Public Library, MA

redstarSLATER, Dashka. The 57 Bus. 320p. Farrar. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374303235.

Gr 6 Up –On November 4, 2013, Sasha, a high school senior from Oakland, CA, was napping on the 57 bus home from school. Shortly thereafter, Richard, another Oakland teen, boarded the bus with his two friends. When the trio’s jokes took a dark turn, Richard’s and Sasha’s lives were forever changed. Slater, who originally covered the crime for the New York Times magazine, here breaks down the series of events into short and effective chapters, divided into four parts: “Sasha,” “Richard,” “The Fire,” and “Justice.” By investigating the lives of these two teens, their backgrounds, their friends and families, and the circumstances that led to that fateful day on the bus, Slater offers readers a grounded and balanced view of a horrific event. There is much baked into the story of these intersecting lives that defies easy categorization, including explorations of gender identity, the racial and class divisions that separate two Oakland neighborhoods, the faults and limits of the justice system, the concept of restorative justice, and the breadth of human cruelty, guilt, and forgiveness. With clarity and a journalist’s sharp eye for crucial details, Slater explains preferred pronouns; the difference between gender and sex as well as sexuality and romance; and the intricacies of California’s criminal justice process. The text shifts from straightforward reporting to lyrical meditations, never veering into oversentimentality or simple platitudes. Readers are bound to come away with deep empathy for both Sasha and Richard. VERDICT Slater artfully unfolds a complex and layered tale about two teens whose lives intersect with painful consequences. This work will spark discussions about identity, community, and what it means to achieve justice.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

STONEWALL HONORs

redstarGILLMAN, Melanie. As the Crow Flies. illus. by Melanie Gillman. 250p. Iron Circus Comics. Nov. 2017. pap. $30. ISBN 9781945820069.

Gr 6 Up –Charlie, 13, is excited to embark on an all-girls Christian camp’s backpacking trip. However, despite Camp Three Peaks’ commitment to feminism, head counselor Bee and many of the campers are unwittingly racist and homophobic, and Charlie, who is black and queer, grapples with self-doubt. She confides in God, wondering if a feather that follows her on her trek is a sign from above, and her spirits lift as she bonds with the more outspoken Sydney, a trans girl who feels similarly alienated. This contemplative graphic novel, taken from Gillman’s ongoing webcomic, perceptively explores race, gender, faith, and friendship. Elegantly composed, richly hued images vividly portray the lush forest setting and shy, thoughtful Charlie’s inner turmoil as she yearns to voice her opinions. Scenes in which she appears on the periphery of panels or crowded by the speech bubbles of her insensitive fellow campers adroitly capture her isolation. Gillman zeroes in on seemingly small yet achingly relatable moments as Charlie and Sydney’s friendship slowly develops. The book subtly folds in lessons about identity and the danger of assumptions; both girls learn and grow about each other, themselves, and the larger world. VERDICT Heartfelt, stimulating, and sure to spark discussion about feminism’s often less than inclusive attitudes toward marginalized groups. For all graphic novel collections.–Mahnaz Dar,School Library Journal

Check out our interview with Melanie Gillman

redstarLEE, Mackenzi. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. 528p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jun. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062382801. POP

YA-Lee-TheGentlemansGuidetoViceandVirtueGr 9 Up –A trio of high-born, determined, and wildly charismatic teenagers get more than they bargained for in this rollicking 18th-century Grand Tour of the Continent gone awry. Endearing rake Lord Henry Montague (or Monty) and his biracial best friend (and unrequited love), the infinitely patient Percy, leave England to drop Monty’s fiercely intelligent sister Felicity off at finishing school. The friends then spend a year traveling. After the Grand Tour, Monty will return home to help his demanding father run their estate and Percy will go to Holland to law school. If Monty’s dad catches wind of him still “mucking around with boys,” Monty will be cut off from the family. The trip is intended to be a cultural experience. However, no one could have predicted that one seemingly petty theft would set off an adventure involving highwaymen, stowaways, pirates, a sinking island, an alchemical heart, tomb-raiding, and a secret illness. From the start, readers will be drawn in by Monty’s charm, and Felicity and Percy come alive as the narrative unfolds. The fast-paced plot is complicated, but Lee’s masterly writing makes it all seem effortless. The journey forces Monty and friends to confront issues of racism, gender expectations, sexuality, disability, family, and independence, with Monty in particular learning to examine his many privileges. Their exploits bring to light the secret doubts, pains, and ambitions all three are hiding. This is a witty, romantic, and exceedingly smart look at discovering one’s place in the world. VERDICT A stunning powerhouse of a story for every collection.–Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award

SNYDER, Laurel. Charlie & Mouse. illus. by Emily Hughes. 48p. ebook available. Chronicle. Apr. 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781452131535.
K-Gr 2–This early reader series opener offers likable characters but an underdeveloped story. Charlie and Mouse are brothers with loving parents and a diverse group of friends and neighbors. They take part in simple childhood pastimes: a neighborhood party, a money-making plan, a bedtime snack. They do everything together, from the moment they wake up in the morning until they go to sleep in the same bed at night. Snyder infuses each tale with humor, and young readers will enjoy illustrator Hughes’s depictions of each character, especially the facial expressions. Repetitive language supports emergent readers looking to try chapter books. However, the first two chapters fly by without giving readers the opportunity to get to know the characters better. Early events don’t always make sense; for example, there’s no clear reason why the characters have a neighborhood party, and it seems anticlimactic. Charlie and Mouse appear to get along exceptionally well for two young siblings, which doesn’t feel particularly realistic. The last two chapters are much more fleshed out, and readers who have taken to Charlie and Mouse will most certainly look forward to the next book in the series. VERDICT Early reader collections will benefit from this new series, especially if future volumes incorporate stronger storytelling.–Casey O’Leary, Mooresville Public Library, IN

THEODOR SEUSS GEISEL HONORs

MEISEL, Paul. I See a Cat. illus. by Paul Meisel. 32p. (I Like to Read). Holiday House. Sept. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780823436804; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780823438495.
PreS-Gr 1–Another great addition to the series by Meisel (See Me Run and See Me Dig), again featuring the always-popular antics of a dog. The story begins (and ends) with the animated pup barking up a tree. The title page creates interest and draws readers in with the image of an unhappy dog coming inside. The rest of the story depicts the pup’s reactions to various encounters inside and out. Spreads full of bright colors and cartoonish illustrations clearly portray the dog’s feelings through his actions and expressions. The simple text includes merely 10 words. Each sentence begins with, “I see a…” and ends with the latest entry into the dog’s field of vision, including a cat, bird, fly, bee, mice, a boy, and—most frustratingly and more than once—a squirrel. The repetition in the simple text and sentence structure will build confidence for early readers. VERDICT A great choice for early readers that will have wide appeal and could be read individually or with a group. Recommended for general purchase.–­Theresa Muraski, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Library

BUTLER, Dori Hillestad. King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats. ISBN 9781561458776.
––––. King & Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code. ISBN 9781561458783.
ea vol: illus. by Nancy Meyers. 48p. (King & Kayla). Peachtree. Mar. 2017. Tr $14.95.
Gr 1-2–King and Kayla are solving mysteries for a younger generation in this prequel to Butler’s “The Buddy Files” series. The stories are told from the perspective of King, a golden retriever with a nose for solving mysteries. In the Case of the Missing Dog Treats, three treats go missing and Kayla suspects King. Innocent King knows that an intruder has snuck in and must be found out. Is the real culprit Thor, Jillian’s new puppy? Or is it Adam, Jillian’s brother? Or someone else altogether? In the Case of the Secret Code, Kayla receives a strange letter on her doorstep that she cannot read. King smells oatmeal on the letter and knows only of one person who smells like oatmeal. Kayla and her friend Mason work to decipher the secret code, while King keeps trying, unsuccessfully, to tell them he knows who sent the letter. This new series features colorful illustrations and accessible tales told in short, simple sentences. It’s a perfect option for newly independent readers ready to start transitioning from easy readers to beginning chapter books. VERDICT Transitional readers are always in demand, and this series is a worthy contribution to any collection serving brand-new readers.–Lisa Nabel, Tacoma Public Library, WA

YOON, Salina. My Kite Is Stuck!: And Other Stories. illus. by Salina Yoon. 64p. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2017. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9781619638877.
K-Gr 2–The delightful trio from Duck, Duck, Porcupine are back in three short stories of friendship. In the first, Big Duck gets a kite stuck in a tree. Porcupine and Big Duck attempt to knock it free but succeed only in getting more objects—a ball, a Hula-hoop, a ladder—stuck in the branches. In the second tale, Big Duck is jealous when Porcupine befriends Bee, making Big Duck jealous until she meets Ladybug. When a spider lands on Little Duck, the others assume that he has made a new friend, too. In the final tale, Big Duck and Porcupine are so focused on making a lemonade stand that they forget all about the lemonade. Good thing Little Duck is prepared. A step up from Mo Willems’s “Elephant and Piggie” in reading level, Yoon’s beginning reader is thoughtfully designed. The comic book layout of panels bordered in black draws attention to the sequential action. The humorous, full-color digital illustrations feature welcoming, curving black outlines. The all-dialogue black text is printed in a large font in white speech bubbles against solid colored backgrounds. The text is grounded in short, declarative, sight word–heavy sentences. Occasionally, a new word is introduced without a clear visual context clue, but in general the text is strongly supported by illustrations as well as by frequent word repetition. Contractions—“don’t,” “can’t,” “let’s”—are used in a natural way, making for a smooth flow. VERDICT Cheerful, approachable, and thoughtfully created, this beginning reader will find a welcome home in public and school libraries.–Amy Seto Forrester, Denver Public Library

redstarARNOLD, Tedd, Martha Hamilton, & Mitch Weiss. Noodleheads See the Future. illus. by Tedd Arnold. 48p. Holiday House. Jan. 2017. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9780823436736.

GN-Arnold-NoodleheadsSeetheFutureK-Gr 3 –The creator of Fly Guy follows up Noodlehead Nightmares with another hilarious and engaging anthropomorphic book full of wacky slapstick. Brothers Mac and Mac are the titular heroes, and, yes, they are literally pieces of pasta. They are also, well, noodleheads: the literal-minded brothers are incapable of understanding metaphor or grasping simple concepts. The humor is similar to that in the “Amelia Bedeliaseries, and youngsters will laugh knowingly at the noodleheads’ ridiculous antics as they bumble their way through to a happy conclusion. The author’s note explains the worldwide tradition of tales of fools, their use in helping children learn logical thinking, and the specific stories that inspired the noodleheads’ adventures. The cartoonish artwork captures the over-the-top feeling of the narrative perfectly. Children will doubtless ask for more titles starring the hapless brothers. VERDICT A funny and lighthearted addition to early graphic novel and beginning reader collections; fans of all things goofy will devour the noodleheads.–Elizabeth Nicolai, Anchorage Public Library, AK

KÜGLER, Tina. Snail & Worm Again. 32p. HMH. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544792494.

William C. Morris Award

redstarTHOMAS, Angie. The Hate U Give. 464p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062498533.

YA-HS-Thomas-TheHateUGiveGr 8 Up –After Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, leave a party together, they are pulled over by a white police officer, who kills Khalil. The sole witness to the homicide, Starr must testify before a grand jury that will decide whether to indict the cop, and she’s terrified, especially as emotions run high. By turns frightened, discouraged, enraged, and impassioned, Starr is authentically adolescent in her reactions. Inhabiting two vastly different spheres—her poor, predominantly black neighborhood, Garden Heights, where gangs are a fact of life, and her rich, mostly white private school—causes strain, and Thomas perceptively illustrates how the personal is political: Starr is disturbed by the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer, and Starr’s father is torn between his desire to support Garden Heights and his need to move his family to a safer environment. The first-person, present-tense narrative is immediate and intense, and the pacing is strong, with Thomas balancing dramatic scenes of violence and protest with moments of reflection. The characterization is slightly uneven; at times, Starr’s friends at school feel thinly fleshed out. However, Starr, her family, and the individuals in their neighborhood are achingly real and lovingly crafted. VERDICT Pair this powerful debut with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys to start a conversation on racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Check out our interview with Angie Thomas

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

WILLIAM C. MORRIS HONORs

STONE, Nic. Dear Martin. 224p. Crown. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101939499.
Gr 9 Up–Justyce is an African American teen caught between two worlds. He knows that the education he’s receiving at a private school will grant him more economic opportunities; however, he begins to question the effects of his private school education on his own identity. Some of his classmates believe that the racial pendulum has swung too far, giving African Americans an unfair advantage over their white counterparts. The kids he grew up with believe Justyce has assimilated too much and has forgotten where he came from. He questions his blackness, his relationship with his biracial girlfriend, and his attraction to his white debate partner Sarah Jane. Through a series of journal entries, Justyce attempts to figure out his place in the world by exploring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. A violent altercation between a retired white police officer and his best friend causes Justyce to examine what it means to be an African American male in 2017. The length and pace of this well-written story make it a perfect read for reluctant and sophisticated readers alike. The main characters are well balanced and will resonate with teens. However, the voice of African American women is largely absent from the narrative. The characterizations of Justyce’s mother and his girlfriend are one-dimensional compared to some of the other protagonists. Still, this important work should be read alongside Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All-American Boys and Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down. ­VERDICT A good choice for school and public libraries.–Desiree Thomas, Worthington Library, OH

Check out our interview with Nic Stone

HENSON, S.F. Devils Within. 404p. Sky Pony. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781510714564.

redstarALI, S.K. Saints and Misfits. 336p. S. & S./Salaam Reads. Jun. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781481499248.

Gr 9 Up –Life has settled since Janna’s parents’ divorce, but several new obstacles are making things difficult. Her brother, Muhammad, is moving back home as he changes majors and pursues marriage, while Janna silently battles against a respected boy at her mosque who attempted to rape her. To cope, Janna has separated people into categories. Farooq is a monster, but there are also saints, like Muhammad’s fiancée. And then there are misfits, like Janna. This categorization isn’t expressed overtly other than through chapter headings and occasional references, but it allows readers to see the world as Janna views it. Yet where there is darkness, there is also light: Janna has a lovely relationship with an elderly gentleman she cares for weekly, loves Flannery O’Connor, is a focused student, and has a crush on a boy, though he’s non-Muslim. Ali’s writing is balanced between Janna’s inner dialogue and what transpires around her. The structured delivery magnifies the teen’s rich voice in a character-driven novel about identity, highlighting her faith and typical teenage stress. Readers can empathize with Janna’s problems, and the pages will turn quickly. Each secondary character adds depth to the narrative and simultaneously strengthens the diverse portrait that the Toronto-based author shares. VERDICT This timely and authentic portrayal is an indisputable purchase in the realistic fiction category.–Alicia Abdul, Albany High School Library, NY

BOWMAN, Akemi Dawn. Starfish. 352p. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481487726.
Gr 9 Up–Kiko Himura has constantly been made to feel like an outsider by her mother and the majority of her town for being half Japanese. The only things she really has in her life are her best friend, who is going to leave to college this year, and her art. Kiko realizes her ticket to escaping her insufferable mother and feelings of inadequacy is applying to art school in New York. When she does not get accepted to her dream school, she fears she is doomed to drown in her small town. But when she happens to see her childhood best friend at a party, her life begins to spin wildly out of control. Readers living with anxiety or depression will immediately identify with Kiko’s plight to survive in social situations and maintain a functioning lifestyle. The realistic conversations with her narcissistic mother and discussions of childhood trauma might be hard to stomach for some because of their brutal honesty. Teens will root for Kiko and hope she develops the strength to overcome her hardships. The characterization of her childhood best friend and mentor are the only semi-unrealistic aspects of the book, as they continue to remain in the “too-good-to-be-true” camp, but these holes are easy to overlook. Bowman has written a deep and engaging story that will not only entertain but also may encourage readers to live their best lives. VERDICT A worthy first purchase for any public or school library collection.–DeHanza Kwong, Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, NC

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

redstarHEILIGMAN, Deborah. Vincent and Theo: The van Gogh Brothers. 464p. bibliog. chron. ebook available. index. notes. reprods. Holt. Apr. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780805093391.

NF-Heiligman-VincentandTheoGr 7 Up –Central to understanding the artist Vincent van Gogh was his relationship with his younger brother Theo, recorded for posterity in the nearly 700 surviving letters they wrote to each other. Here, Heiligman delivers an exquisitely told, heartfelt portrayal of that deep emotional and intellectual bond. It was an attachment solidified in the brothers’ youth and, at times, a volatile one, given the artist’s passionate, often obsessive connection to his work and his financial insecurity. Despite Vincent’s fluctuating moods and fragile mental health, Theo’s support and love never flagged, even when his other responsibilities and personal health issues intervened. The author frames their lives in “galleries,” from their childhoods to their early deaths, delicately detailing their work, frustrations, successes, differences, and difficulties. Interspersed are croquis—impressionistic sketches of events and family members, friends, lovers, and fellow artists. Despite knowing how this story ends, readers will be deeply moved by Heiligman’s portrayal of the brothers’ poignant relationship, experiencing with them its highs and lows. Reproductions of van Gogh’s sepia ink drawings open the sections, and a color insert of reproductions is included. An extensive bibliography and source notes conclude this well-documented title. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s compelling Vincent van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist takes a more straightforward approach to the artist’s life and features quality reproductions. VERDICT A breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more. Libraries would be wise to purchase a volume of the brothers’ letters along with this book.–Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal

Check out our interview with Deborah Heiligman

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

YALSA AWARD FINALISTs

redstarCHARLEYBOY, Lisa & Mary Beth Leatherdale, eds. #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women. 112p. illus. photos. Annick. Oct. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781554519583; pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781554519576.

Gr 10 Up –According to the foreword, Charleyboy’s intent for this anthology is to provide a “space to not only write a love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way, but also to help dispel those stereotypes so we can collectively move forward to a brighter future for all.” Charleyboy and Leatherdale have selected art, poetry, and prose created by Indigenous teenage girls and women that touch on a plethora of topics, from Standing Rock to ReMatriate, a collective of Indigenous women dedicated to showing the multiplicity of Indigenous identity through social media. Each entry is titled and accompanied by the author’s name and their tribal ancestry or affiliation. In addition to the text, art pieces such as Lianne Marie Leda Charlie’s Tagé Cho (Big River) and Pamela J. Peters’s Real NDNZ Re-Take Hollywood, which recasts iconic movie stars as Indigenous actors/actresses, deepen the conversation and provide alternative ways of looking at identity, history, and inherited trauma. Some entries are in dialogue with readers, while others offer deeply personal insights—and all emphasize the damage that ignoring or changing the rich histories of Indigenous people does, especially in regards to women. This portrait of girlhood is a necessary addition in line with #ownvoices and We Need Diverse Books movements. And with a hashtag as a title, it should garner much-needed attention on social media, in libraries, and on bookshelves. VERDICT A stunning anthology of creative writing and art—a love letter, indeed. All YA collections will want this.–Alicia Abdul, Albany High School, NY

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

ARONSON, Marc & Marina Budhos. Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism. 304p. appendix. bibliog. index. notes. photos. websites. Holt. Mar. 2017. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780805098358.
Gr 7 Up–Robert Capa and Gerda Taro carved out careers as photojournalists, striving to capture the victories and defeats of the anti-Fascist freedom fighters during the Spanish Civil War. As European Jews, they understood the dangers of Nazi ideology. Thus, together with thousands of young idealists and a handful of literary giants (Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda), they fought to defeat Franco and prevent another world war. Though their efforts were thwarted and countless lives (including Taro’s) were lost, their photos, snapped in the middle of the action, were instrumental in bringing the war’s horrors to the forefront of the global community and in firmly establishing a new kind of journalism that remains crucial to news reporting. Aronson and Budhos provide a detailed account of Capa’s and Taro’s sometimes conflicting romantic and professional lives. They also convey the brutality and senselessness of war in descriptions of battles and their aftermath. Original black-and-white photos complement the text, while explanatory charts, notes, and appendixes offer historical context. The use of present tense, interspersed with past tense references, occasionally distracts from the overall powerful content. VERDICT Intriguing and unusual subject matter for this age group; recommended for teen collections that serve patrons with an interest in journalism and history.–Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, formerly at LaSalle Academy, Providence

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarSLATER, Dashka. The 57 Bus. 320p. Farrar. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374303235.

Gr 6 Up –On November 4, 2013, Sasha, a high school senior from Oakland, CA, was napping on the 57 bus home from school. Shortly thereafter, Richard, another Oakland teen, boarded the bus with his two friends. When the trio’s jokes took a dark turn, Richard’s and Sasha’s lives were forever changed. Slater, who originally covered the crime for the New York Times magazine, here breaks down the series of events into short and effective chapters, divided into four parts: “Sasha,” “Richard,” “The Fire,” and “Justice.” By investigating the lives of these two teens, their backgrounds, their friends and families, and the circumstances that led to that fateful day on the bus, Slater offers readers a grounded and balanced view of a horrific event. There is much baked into the story of these intersecting lives that defies easy categorization, including explorations of gender identity, the racial and class divisions that separate two Oakland neighborhoods, the faults and limits of the justice system, the concept of restorative justice, and the breadth of human cruelty, guilt, and forgiveness. With clarity and a journalist’s sharp eye for crucial details, Slater explains preferred pronouns; the difference between gender and sex as well as sexuality and romance; and the intricacies of California’s criminal justice process. The text shifts from straightforward reporting to lyrical meditations, never veering into oversentimentality or simple platitudes. Readers are bound to come away with deep empathy for both Sasha and Richard. VERDICT Slater artfully unfolds a complex and layered tale about two teens whose lives intersect with painful consequences. This work will spark discussions about identity, community, and what it means to achieve justice.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

redstarSANDLER, Martin W. The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found. 176p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. Candlewick. Mar. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780763680336.

NF-Sandler-TheWhydahGr 6 Up –Sandler dispels many popular pirate-related myths and offers a more realistic and factual view of the era of piracy in the New World. Instead of living in abject poverty at the mercy of kings and nobles, many men embraced piracy as a means to support their families and live a comfortable life, though one often filled with barbarous acts. The author weaves a fascinating story about piracy and the legendary 18th-century pirate ship Whydah, which sunk off the coast of Cape Cod on April 24, 1717, during a perfect storm. He delves into the fates of the few survivors, early salvage attempts by poor locals and wealthy governors alike, and the long-term work of explorer Barry Clifford to find the sunken ship. In 1985, Clifford and his crew discovered the inscribed galley bell of the Whydah, and for 30 years, divers, marine historians, and archaeologists have continued to retrieve artifacts from the ocean depths. Occasional sidebars on specific topics, such as the mythic origins of the Jolly Roger flag and artifact restoration, break up the narrative flow but do contain valuable information. Sandler’s approach to the Whydah and other submerged ships as “sunken time capsules” is an interesting angle that is sure to resonate with aspiring archaeologists. VERDICT A captivating read on pirates, with insights into contemporary underwater research techniques. Considering the popularity of the subject, this volume will likely not sit on shelves long.–Anne Jung-Mathews, Plymouth State University, NH

An SLJ Best Book of 2017

Alex Awards

WELLS, Martha. All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries. 160p. Tor.com/Tom Doherty. May 2017. Pap $14.99. ISBN 9780765397539.
WILSON, Daniel H. The Clockwork Dynasty. 320p. Doubleday. Aug. 2017. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780385541787.
June, an anthropologist who specializes in ancient technologies, unwittingly puts herself in danger after she reveals a secret about the relic her grandfather left her when he died. A lethal robot, who will stop at nothing to gain control of the artifact, attacks her, but she is rescued by another mechanical being, Peter, who has been programmed to devote his life to justice. Dual narratives follow June in the present day and Peter throughout his prolonged existence in modern and ancient history as he tries to learn when and why he was created. A hidden world where robots pose as humans conceals in plain sight a centuries-old conflict involving automatons who were each created with a unique passion and code. The chapters are brief, with the rapid pace of a Dan Brown novel. There’s plenty of action here, but Wilson also raises questions about the purpose of life and what makes someone human. VERDICT For followers of the author’s “Robopocalypse” series as well as fans of fast-moving steampunk or anyone who has graduated from Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret.–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

redstarMCGUIRE, Seanan. Down Among the Sticks and Bones. 192p. Tor.com/Tom Doherty. Jun. 2017. Tr  $17.99. ISBN 9780765392039.

Jacqueline and Jillian’s parents were more taken with the idea of having children than the reality of raising them. The Wolcotts are now too busy making sure that the identical twins are the perfect accessories to their perfect lives to see how unhappy the sisters are about the roles they are shoved into. So when they discover a trunk containing a set of stairs instead of old clothes, the siblings take flight. They find themselves in a bleak, desolate, brutal land where good girl Jacqueline can be Jack, the mad scientist’s apprentice, and tomboy Jillian is Jill, the pampered, proper companion to a vampire. This stand-alone prequel to the Alex Award winner Every Heart a Doorway features the same haunting and lyrical prose. Tightly crafted chapters compare the mundane horrors of the girls’ childhood with the horrors of the Moors and invite readers to meditate on what really makes a monster. Coupled with McGuire’s examination of the strained relationship between the sisters in both worlds, this is a work that will deeply resonate with teen readers. VERDICT Beautiful and devastating, this gem of a novel lingers and will garner many more fans for McGuire.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington Public Library, VA

EWING, Eve L. Electric Arches. 120p. Haymarket. Sept. 2017. pap. $16. ISBN 9781608468560.

FLEMING, Melissa. A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea. 288p. Flatiron. Jan. 2017. Tr. $25.99. ISBN 9781250105998.

COMEAU, Joey. Malagash. 182p. ECW. Oct. 2017. Pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781770414075.

LEMIRE, Jeff. Roughneck. 272P. Gallery 13. Apr. 2017. Tr $29.99. ISBN 9781501160998.

HARPER, Jordan. She Rides Shotgun. 272p. HarperCollins/Ecco. Jun. 2017. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062394408.
Eleven-year-old Polly knows little about her father, Nate, who has been in prison for most of her life. When he suddenly appears after school, in a car that doesn’t belong to him, she is wary but goes with him. Nate isn’t a man of many words, but watchful Polly learns that she can never return to her mother’s house. Thanks to Nate’s actions in prison, Polly isn’t safe, and the next few weeks are a whirlwind of robberies, strength training, and brainstorming ways to survive the hit that the prison gang Aryan Steel has put out on the two of them. As in an episode of Breaking Bad, disaster constantly looms on the horizon. Readers will race through this nail-bitingly suspenseful novel as the duo wreak havoc on Aryan Steel establishments around Los Angeles. Harper’s portrayal of the California underworld rings true, and the loving connection that develops between Polly and Nate is full of hope and promise. ­VERDICT This emotional and fast-paced tale will stick with mature teens who appreciate gritty contemporary fare.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

KAVANAGH, Tasha. Things We Have in Common. 304p. Harlequin/Mira. Jan. 2017. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780778326854.
Published in Great Britain in 2015, this suspense novel will surprise readers. Yasmin, a depressed 15-year-old, is still recovering from her father’s death years ago while obsessing over Alice, her school’s “it” girl. Yasmin is bullied by classmates and teachers, but her mom and stepfather are more concerned with getting her to lose weight than with her mental health. When Yasmin notices a man who “only [has] eyes for Alice,” she, too, becomes determined to stalk Alice in order to protect her and be seen as a hero. Yasmin is an unreliable first-person narrator who lives in a fantasy world; periodically, she addresses the stalker through second-person narration. Readers will find themselves thoroughly confused and questioning what’s actually happening until they reach the last sentence. The anticipation and tension that mount as Alice disappears are exhausting—who kidnapped Alice? Is Yasmin involved, or is she a victim? VERDICT Like E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, this title will have its champions. Whether teens love it or hate it, it will nevertheless spark discussion and elicit strong feelings. Purchase where twisted reads are popular.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

HOWARD, Kat. An Unkindness of Magicians. 368p. Saga. Sept. 2017. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781481451192.

 

 

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