SLJ's April 2018 Popular Picks

A bilingual animal adventure; life advice from Cookie Monster; R.L. Stine's ill-fated romance; a lyrical dedication to dreamers from Jason Reynolds; and much more in this month's Popular Picks!

Picture Books

Angleberger, Tom. The Princess and the Pit Stop. illus. by Dan Santat. 48p. Abrams. Jul. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781419728488. POP

Gr 1-3 –Out of the way, Danica Patrick! Princess is coming through! Bombed with bad pit stop news—she’s in last place with a mere lap to go—this gutsy gal puts the pedal to the metal, burning rubber, and peeling past a pack of familiar rivals. She catches the Gingerbread Man, “made the Seven Dwarfs grumpy,” “beat Jack and Jill down the hill,” and just plain “smokes the Three Little Pigs!” Angleberger’s nitro-fueled terse text is announced by a goggle-eyed frog called Prince and all is ratcheted up by Santat’s brilliant, turbo-charged signature illustrations. The culmination is a whirl of track-donuts and a victory ball. A fun rip for those who have enjoyed Caldecott-winner Santat’s illustrations in books like Corey Rosen Schwartz’s Ninja Red Riding Hood and Angleberger’s “Inspector Flytrap” series. VERDICT Rev those engines and buckle that seat belt—readers are in for a bumpy ride. A high-octane storytime selection.–Patricia Manning, ­formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY

Broach, Elise. My Pet Wants a Pet. illus. by Eric Barclay. 40p. Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250109279. POP

PreS-Gr 2 –There was a boy who wanted a pet. He begged and begged for a puppy of his own to take care of and do fun things with. The boy’s mom finally relents and get the boy a puppy. He and puppy are such good companions that the boy decides his pet needs a pet. Thus begins a whole chain of pet acquisitions in the boy’s house. This sweet story with beautifully vivid illustrations demonstrates how caring for others leads to personal happiness. While the story structure and repetition are similar to many classic children’s tales, this book’s kind message and colorful illustrations set it apart from the rest. VERDICT A winning choice for storytime and family sharing.–Nicole Detter-Smith, Homestead High School, IN Dominguez, Angela. How Are You?/¿Cómo estás? illus. by Angela Dominguez. 32p. Holt. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250126863. BL POP PreS-Gr 1 –Two charismatic giraffes explore emotions with a new bilingual friend. Dominguez’s giraffes, first featured in How Do You Say?/¿Cómo se dice?, meet a seemingly stoic ostrich and try to guess how it is feeling. The giraffes, who speak Spanish and English respectively, shoot off questions about emotions ranging from shy/tímida to excited/emocionada, their curiosity growing each time the ostrich replies with a simple “no.” Despite speaking different languages, the giraffes understand each other, and ultimately discover that the ostrich can understand both of them when it finally responds to their inquiries using Spanglish (“Because I have new amigos!”). This light allegorical touch adds depth to the playful narrative and is a nod to bilingual readers. Dominguez adds charm and humor to her signature pencil and tissue paper illustrations by depicting the giraffes’ attempts to act out what each possible emotion would look like, such as hiding behind a tree to show feeling scared/miedo, or a close-up of their furrowed stares to depict annoyed/irritada. Readers familiar with Dominguez’s previous title will be delighted by the familiar celebratory ending. VERDICT This amusing and accessible bilingual read-aloud is a great addition to picture book collections.–Jessica Agudelo, New York Public Library

Hillenbrand, Will. First Star: A Bear and Mole Story. illus. by Will Hillenbrand.32p. Holiday House. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780823437603. POP

PreS-K –When Mole wants to see the stars, Bear suggests they go camping. Once there, Mole becomes scared of the approaching night. Bear, always encouraging and brave, tells Mole about the First Star, better known as the North Star. Throughout the text, repetitive words are set in caps. In shades of blue, purple, and black, the First Bear family look on in fear as it becomes dark out. Mole and Bear watch from the corner of the pages as First Father Bear, First Mother Bear, and First Little Bear create the moon and the stars. All the facial expressions relax as they are lit by the gentle white light of the sky and Mole’s lantern. On a full vertical spread, First Father Bear pushes “HARD, HARD, HARD” to affix the North Star that will never move. At the end, the illustrations are still in dark hues, but the stars, body language of the characters, and dialogue make the story playful and lovely. Parents and caregivers will appreciate the book’s message to children afraid of the dark. This is a gentle alternative to mythological creation stories and scientific explanations. VERDICT Another empowering message for fans of Bear and Mole that is perfect for bedtime and small group sharing.–Elissa Cooper, Helen Plum Memorial Library, Lombard, IL

The Joy of Cookies: Cookie Monster’s Guide to Life. 160p. Imprint. Apr. 2018. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781250143419. POP

PreS-K –Fans of the big blue guy will love this title, which, just like a warm chocolate chip cookie, oozes joy and happiness. Throughout the fun and lively pages, Cookie Monster espouses his life philosophy of seizing the moment and loving the people in his life. For example one page says, “Love means never having to say me sorry...for eating last cookie. But still, me sorry.” Text and illustrations work well together. For example, one pages says, “Fill life with people you love.” The photo above shows a group shot of Grover, Big Bird, Cookie, and Elmo. On the opposite page is the text “Fill tummy with cookie you love.” Above the text is a heart-shaped, yummy-looking cookie. This title is true to the essence of Cookie Monster, but does give an occasional nod to healthy eating without being heavy handed. The book also has some recipes including sugar and double chocolate cookies. The book signs off in true Sesame Street style with the acknowledgement, “Me would like to thank the letter C and number 2. Because two cookies always better than one.” VERDICT A sweet story that will appeal to children and adults. A solid addition to any library collection that serves young children.–Robin Sofge, Prince William Public Library System, VA

Patricelli, Leslie. Bigger! Bigger! illus. by Leslie Patricelli. 32p. Farrar. May 2018. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763679309. POP

Toddler-PreS –This deceptively simple story stars a little pigtailed girl in a hard hat building progressively larger buildings, initially from blocks. But after the first page, the illustrations enter her imagination, as she builds a dog house (“Big!”), a house (“Bigger!”), skyscrapers (“Bigger! Bigger!”) and ultimately a whole city (“Biggest!”), which is then knocked down by an enormous, bald baby in a diaper (“Boom! Boom! Crash!”). Her fantasy crashes down with the buildings and she is left with a pile of blocks and downcast expression, until the baby holds out a block in offering and the book ends with them building cooperatively (“Stronger! Stronger!”) The story is told almost entirely with illustrations, and just single words of text. Patricelli’s trademark round-faced, oval eyed tots are in full evidence here, with lots of primary colors and textured pastel-style art. She emphasizes the increase in size of the buildings both by switching points of view and increasing the size of the font. The story is quite simple, but youngsters will need to make the leap to fantasy. The idea of building is always popular, and the concepts of forgiveness and cooperation are imbedded seamlessly into the story. VERDICT Patricelli fans, teachers looking to explain concepts of size and behavior, as well as libraries looking for simple books that leave lots of room for interpretation will find a lot to enjoy here. A worthwhile addition.–Amy Lilien-Harper, The Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT Percival, Tom. Perfectly Norman. illus. by Tom Percival. 32p. Bloomsbury. May 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681197852. POP PreS-Gr 2 –Percival celebrates the differences among children to challenge the concept of normal. In digital artwork with hand-painted textures, a brilliantly hued Norman stands out in a black-and-white world. He is “perfectly normal” until he grows wings. He hides them under a coat and in a series of vignettes and full-page layouts, Norman becomes increasingly miserable. His white mother and black father recognize that something is wrong, and Percival’s illustrations clearly show they’re supportive and caring. It is because of their encouragement that Norman finally reveals his wings and flies, which prompts his friends, who are wearing coats of their own, to throw them off and join him in the sky in a vibrant full-color spread. Bold and varying text size along with punctuation provide clever clues for how to read this to best effect, which makes this an ideal selection for storytimes. The repetition of the word normal provides wonderful opportunities for discussion about the meaning of the word. VERDICT A very discussable title for most picture book collections.–Rachel Zuffa, Racine Public Library, WI Reynolds, Aaron. Dude! illus. by Dan Santat. 40p. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. Apr. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626726031. POP

PreS-Gr 2 –Two friends, a beaver and a platypus, have a big adventure in the sun and the surf. The largely visual story line repeatedly subverts readers expectations with sight gags. For example, the friends are excited to see a pelican in the sky until it poops on platypus’ head. With the exception of the word splat for the pelican scene, the entire text of the book is either “dude” or “dudes” with different punctuation throughout. Working in tandem with the expressive illustrations, it is obvious that the single word can mean different things depending on the context. Fear overtakes the friends as they see a shark in the water. When the giant shark tries to approach, they paddle as fast as they can in the opposite direction. But when the shark catches up to them, he is crying and says, “dude…?” Quickly they all end up becoming good friends. VERDICT Score one for visual literacy with this wacky read-aloud adventure sure to make a splash in storytime and small group settings.–Robin Sofge, Prince William Public Library System, VA

Middle Grade

redstarApplegate, Katherine. Endling: The Last. 400p. HarperCollins/Harper. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062335524. POP

Gr 4-7 –Byx has always thought of herself as last: last-born sibling, the youngest in her whole family, and least adept at all the skills valued by the caninelike “dairnes.” But when her family, the last-known group of dairnes in Nedarra, is hunted down and murdered by humans under the rule of the villanous Murdano, she truly becomes the last—an Endling, the sole survivor of a species. Byx sets out on a desperate but hopeful journey in search of Dairneholm, a mythical settlement of dairnes. Along the way she is joined by an increasingly unlikely group of adventurers including Khala the human, a girl disguised as a boy with a mysterious past, and Tobble, the small and fiercely loyal wobbyk. Their mission becomes more dangerous as they discover the true machinations behind the dairnes’s eradication. Fantasy lovers are in for a treat with this smartly paced, enthralling adventure that pairs novel and exciting world-building with classic high fantasy tropes and political intrigue. Applegate’s characters feel fresh and modern, and their questioning of the status quo will resonate with today’s middle graders. Illustrations and maps will help young readers imagine the rich setting filled with fantastical creatures that vie for power in Nedarra. The heart and courage Byx and her companions must find within as they stand up against unimaginable odds will inspire and delight. VERDICT A sweeping fantasy epic for the middle grade set that will have readers clamoring for a follow-up. A first purchase.–Darla Salva Cruz, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Lupica, Mike. Team Players. 304p. S. & S. Apr. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481410076. POP

Gr 5-8 –It’s the summer after middle school and Cassie Bennett is gearing up for the all-star softball season. Cassie is a strong all-around athlete, having made waves as a standout on the boys’ basketball team. Now she’s looking forward to leading her Walton Red Sox through another undefeated season and competing for a chance to play for a regional championship in Fenway Park. The biggest challenge comes from the rupture of her friend group with the arrival of a new player, Sarah Milligan, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. While several of the girls reject Sarah because her disability makes them uncomfortable, Cassie takes her on as someone to “fix.” Alongside the softball story is a complementary one about Cassie’s friends, Jack, Teddy, and Gus, and the plight of their baseball team after the removal of their overbearing coach and the related tension with his high-strung son, Sam. Through an eventful summer both on and off the field, Cassie and the others learn much about themselves and what kind of commitment it takes to maintain both a friendship and a team, while Cassie gets an insightful lesson from Sarah’s mom about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Lupica describes game play with appropriate detail that should please fans but avoids letting the social plot get lost in the weeds. Periodic explorations into the psychology of pitching will be intriguing even to readers not interested in the game. VERDICT A compelling read with important lessons, Lupica’s latest is highly recommended for libraries serving middle graders.–Bob Hassett, Luther Jackson Middle School, Falls Church, VA

redstarMass, Wendy & Rebecca Stead. Bob. illus. by Nicholas Gannon. 208p. Feiwel & Friends. May 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250166623. POP

Gr 3-6 –Five years ago, Livy left her friend Bob, who she describes as a zombielike creature, in the closet of her grandmother’s house in Australia without saying goodbye. Bob has loyally awaited Livy’s return, dressed in the chicken suit she made to disguise him, and hopeful about the promise she made to help him find his way home, wherever that may be. As Livy gradually eases back into the rekindled friendship, vague memories return to her that could lead to the discovery of Bob’s home. Livy’s separation anxiety about her mother’s upcoming trip with friends and the drought in her grandmother’s town round out the story for a full plot line. Mass and Stead’s brilliant collaboration has produced a beautiful tale of friendship, love, and the magic of childhood. Livy and Bob’s points of view alternate chapters, and each character’s personality is wonderfully realized with subtle nuances of emotion and humor. A perfectly paced plot, supported by secondary characters to whom readers will relate and luminous artwork by Gannon, fill out a story that readers will eagerly embrace. VERDICT A must-have for libraries serving middle grade readers, this novel delights.–Amy ­McInerney, Falmouth Elementary School, ME


Banghart, Tracy. Grace and Fury. 320p. Little, Brown. Jul. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316471411. POP

Gr 9 Up –From a pageant of nine, Serina is selected to go to the capital city of Bellaqua to compete to become a Grace. Graces are the most beautiful women of Lanos, chosen to adorn the palace and produce children for the Superior and now the Heir. Serina has studied for this her entire life, while her sister Nomi has served their family and will continue as her sister’s handmaiden. Elaborate descriptions of decor and dress set the scene for the twists that follow. When Nomi is selected as a Grace instead of Serina, the momentum builds. Nomi is thrust into a role for which she is unprepared; worse, Serina is accused of reading a book Nomi stole from the palazzo library. For women, reading is a capital offense, and Serina is banished to a ruined island where inmates must endure gladiator-style fights to survive. The sisters’ parallel stories are told in alternating chapters as they suffer their separate forms of bondage. Banghart’s prose is florid and engaging, and she expands the drama explosively: Nomi becomes a pawn in a deadly plot while Serina begins to build a coalition among the prisoners. A final twist may bring the sisters back together but under far more dangerous circumstances. Fans of “The Hunger Games” will appreciate the similar plotting in this first installment of a planned trilogy. VERDICT An easy hand-sell that will find a willing audience in those who have enjoyed Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles and Stephanie Garber’s Caraval.–Janet S. Thompson, Chicago Public Library Hawkins, Rachel. Royals. 304p. Putnam. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524738235. POP

Gr 9 Up –Daisy Winters plans to spend her summer with her best friend, Isabel, working at the Sur-N-Save in her quiet hometown of Perdido, FL. The highlight will be a trip to Key West for Key Con with an opportunity to meet their favorite science fiction author. However, plans change when a blogger gets an interview with Daisy’s ex-boyfriend who claims she dumped him for a prince in Scotland. Daisy’s sister, Eleanor, is engaged to Alex, the heir to the Scottish throne. The interview threatens to distract from the palace’s controlled message about the upcoming wedding, so Daisy is whisked off to Scotland for a summer of immersion and “optics” control. Not only does Daisy resent losing her summer of fun, she is not looking forward to spending time with the notorious Royal Wreckers, the blogosphere’s term for the teenage royals. Almost immediately, Daisy finds herself in hot water with the queen and has to fake a relationship with the handsome but stoic courtier, Miles. Teens will see the romantic relationship coming from a mile away but will happily continue reading to the satisfying conclusion. The plot moves along at a compelling pace and the characters, though clichéd, are entertaining. Daisy’s voice is at times laugh-out-loud funny and very relatable. VERDICT Teens won’t need to be fans of the royal gossip columns to enjoy this light, funny take on the fairy-tale world of royalty.–Lynn Rashid, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, MD

Henry, April. Run, Hide, Fight Back. 256p. Holt. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627795890. POP

Gr 7 Up –The author brings to life modern-day teen concerns in this suspense-filled depiction of an active shooter situation. Through the perspectives of six main characters, the story touches on current issues for teens, including religion, drug use, immigration, cancer, guns, and families. Miranda, the main character, kicks off the story, shoplifting as the shooting at a Portland shopping mall begins. As the narrative evolves, so do the characters, and their relationships to one another. They set aside their differences as their common goal of survival brings them together. Well-done character development, even pacing, and the gripping premise will keep teens turning pages. VERDICT Purchase multiple copies of this timely thriller.–Margo Fryling, ­Eastvalley ­Elementary School, Marietta, GA

Kristoff, Jay. LIFEL1K3. 416p. (Lifelike: Bk. 1). Knopf. May 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781524713928. POP

Gr 9 Up –Eve is a 17-year-old girl living in a postapocalyptic world after a failed robot uprising. She spends her days working on fighting robots in an organized “robot wars” competition. The teen is on the run from gangsters and loan sharks while trying to care for her ailing grandfather. The memories of her past are murky; all she knows is that the robot uprising changed her life forever. After a particularly brutal robot war battle, Eve and her best friend Lemon Fresh discover a handsome android named Ezekiel in a pile of rubble. Ezekiel is a special android called a “LIFEL1K3” because they look exactly like humans. Much to their surprise, the android comes to life and starts to interact with them, despite the fact that androids have been outlawed since their unsuccessful attempt at taking over humankind. Ezekiel holds the truth to what really happened with the robot uprising and may hold the key to Eve’s lost memories. Kristoff has crafted a fast-paced adventure full of energy and verve that will leave readers breathless. Fans of such popular sci-fi movies like Blade Runner and Mad Max: Fury Road will devour this series opener and will wait on the edge of their seats for the next installment. VERDICT A first purchase where fantasy titles thrive and for fans of Kristoff’s “Illuminae Files.”–Christopher Lassen, BookOps: The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library

Stine, R.L. You May Now Kill the Bride. 352p. (Return to Fear Street: Bk. 1). HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Jul. 2018. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780062694256. POP

Gr 7 Up –Two sisters, separated by decades, chafe at their prettier, more popular sisters and covet their love interests. In revenge, they dabble with their family’s largely forgotten supernatural powers and deadly consequences ripple across time. In 1923, Ruth-Ann tries not to feel bitter about her “princess perfect” older sister Rebecca, and finds happiness with boyfriend Peter. When Peter and Rebecca betray her, not even Ruth-Ann understands the extent of the curse unleashed at their Colorado wedding. Fast-forward to modern times and another Fear sister, Harmony, is at the same doomed location for the wedding of her flawless sister Marissa. When Marissa disappears, is it due to Harmony’s meddling spells or something worse? Stine’s short paragraphs and an increasingly frenetic pace and mood make it a great pick for reluctant readers. Told in four parts, the narrative’s repetitive last section may have readers skipping pages to get back to the action. There are echoes of The Shining and plenty of red herrings to keep teens guessing at the outcome. The cover has a retro feel, but the continual equation of the “prettiest” sister as always the “good” one feels anachronistic. VERDICT A must-have for middle and high school libraries; a great transition series for students entering high school.–Lee De Groft, Jamestown High School, Williamsburg, VA

Wilde, Jen. The Brightsiders. 304p. Feiwel & Friends. May 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250189714. POP

Gr 9 Up –Set in the fast pace of Hollywood, rockstar drummer Emmy King, 17, just can’t seem to get it right. Always caught up in drama with her parents and friends, the paparazzi have a field day when Emmy ends up in the hospital after a hard night of underage drinking. A few months later she is on stage and coming out as a bisexual. She eventually falls for Alfie, her irresistible, genderfluid band mate, which leads to a relationship that is physically mature. Emma is a complex, multifaceted character who doesn’t always make the right decisions, but she proves that relationships can be complicated regardless of one’s sexuality. The author adeptly captures the essence and confusion that young people may go through when trying to figure out their identities. This inclusive romance features multiple LGBTQ+ protagonists, including a nonbinary character who uses the pronouns they/them. The frankness and details of Emmy’s sexual experiences make this a better choice for older readers. VERDICT Perfect for collections seeking high drama and romance.–Karen Alexander, Lake ­Fenton High School, Linden, MI  


redstarReynolds, Jason. For Every One. 112p. S. & S./Atheneum. Apr. 2018. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781481486248. POP

Gr 7 Up –Reynolds dedicates this lyrical masterpiece “to the dreamers, to the courageous, and everyone who wants to be,” though in his author’s note he admits the book-length poem began as a letter to himself “to keep from quitting.” He writes “from a place of raw honesty/and love/but not at all/a place of expertise on/how to make your/dreams come true.” This same humility and vulnerability permeates the entire work. Reynolds intersperses his own internal battles and unattained hopes as he validates the compulsion to achieve big goals, but that the slog toward them (rather than “making it”) may be all there is (and maybe that’s enough). The book’s unconventionality, tone, spirit, and design will remind Reynolds’ most dedicated fans of his first book, My Name Is Jason. Mine, Too: Our Story. Our Way. The notion that even a successful author can doubt themselves will be revelatory to teens. Those seeking a neatly packaged graduation gift book littered with platitudes would be wise to look elsewhere; this latest from Reynolds will challenge readers and undoubtedly inspire, comfort, and validate anyone aspiring to make or do, especially those who have a long road ahead of them. VERDICT A powerful and affirming book-length poem for teens.–Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ  


Blanchard, Rowan. Still Here. 176p. Penguin/Razorbill. Feb. 2018. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9780448494661. POP

Gr 6 Up –In Blanchard’s Tumblr-esque memoir, the young artist is able to genuinely capture the many complexities of being a young adult. With clear inspiration from the Riot Grrrl zines of the early ’90s and Rookie Mag, there is a patchwork quality to Blanchard’s collection, complete with snapshots, quotes, feminist inspiration, midnight scribbles, and verse penned by Blanchard and other artists. Photographs and art are well placed and often paired with complementary text, and the visual component of Blanchard’s work is very compelling. What stands out the most is the writing. Blanchard’s journey in trying to figure out the world and her place within it is a struggle that feels universal and palpable. This volume runs the gamut of existentialist queries and unforgettable nights of joy with friends, but there are shocking moments, too, particularly with tales of children in adult situations. These stories and the angst that follows don’t feel manufactured but absolutely genuine. VERDICT A wonderfully captured snapshot and love letter to the teen experience; stock YA and browsable nonfiction shelves with multiple copies.–Maria Alegre, The Dalton School, New York

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Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


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