SLJ’s October 2017 Popular Picks

An aspiring ninja tries to catch Father Christmas in the act; 16-year-old Ruby Karp pens a guide to teenage survival; a new action-packed fantasy from Holly Black in this month's Popular Picks!

Picture Books

Chung, Arree. Ninja Claus! illus. by Arree Chung. 40p. Holt. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627795524. POP PreS-Gr 2 –Aspiring ninja Maxwell vows to catch Santa Claus with a series of clever traps. Chung’s illustrations combine traditional picture book and comic book elements; add pitch-perfect comic characterization to the mix and you have a read-aloud that kids (and adults) will put on repeat. Maxwell leaves a letter for Santa with some weighty questions (“Are elves taller than kids? Can you read minds? Is your sleigh energy renewable?”), and falls asleep waiting. When crashing noises wake Maxwell, he grabs a flashlight and his dog Brutus to invesitgate, and discovers his terrified papa trapped by hula hoops and covered in cookie crumbs! All the while, Santa (a master ninja himself) hides behind the Christmas tree. As the family sleeps, he easily evades Maxwell’s traps. On Christmas morning, Maxwell finds a letter from Ninja Santa answering his previous questions and complimenting his engineering and ninja skills. He also leaves him some sneaky Santa shoes! Maxwell’s closing note, promising a “big SURPRISE!” next year, will inspire giggles as readers imagine the high jinks to come. VERDICT Hilarious, action-packed, read-aloud gold. Maxwell’s ninja traps will inspire young ones to engineer their own. An easy purchase for all libraries.–Shanna Kim, Los Angeles Public Library

Griswell, Kim T. Rufus Blasts Off! illus. by Valeri Gorbachev. 40p. Sterling. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454920991. POP PreS-Gr 2 –Rufus the pig’s pirate shipmates are tired of all his books and want new stories. He comes up with a plan—he’ll find new tales in space!—but his voyage has a firm opponent. “No pigs in space,” says Commander Luna, who has good reasons: pigs leave nose prints on the view screens. They do cabin loop-the-loops. And they always want to press the buttons. Rufus tries and tries to win the commander over, but it’s not until his reading skills are needed aboard that he finally blasts off. This amusing tale of a blankie-toting piglet will win over readers galore, even those who haven’t read Griswell’s and Gorbachev’s Rufus Goes to School and Rufus Goes to Sea. It is gorgeously accompanied by bright, whimsical watercolors of the little astronaut, illustrations in which kids will find plenty of details to point out and savor. Persistent kids will love the vindication here; the book is also perfect for fans of Where the Wild Things Are, as it too features a voyage by a kid who doesn’t play by the rules. VERDICT A great storytime choice for young book lovers and adventurers.–Henrietta Verma, National Information Standards Organization, Baltimore

Iwai, Melissa. Pizza Day. illus. by Melissa Iwai. 40p. Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks. Oct. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781627797900. POP PreS-Gr 2 –The farm-to-table movement has swept the U.S., and everyone, whether they’ve spent time tending their garden and eating its bounty or not, will relate to this charming story about a young boy and his family on the day they harvest their tomatoes, basil, carrots, onions, and peppers and make a pizza from scratch. The story captures all the stages of making pizza—from preparing the dough and the sauce to assembling and baking the pizza. A recipe for “Garden Pizza” is included at the back. The color red is used liberally throughout, rendering vibrant illustrations that are happy and bright. They perfectly depict the exuberance of the boy and his father while they are cooking, and their enjoyment when playing outside in the backyard with their dog while waiting for the dough to rise and the sauce to simmer. Not only does the story capture the pleasures of growing, harvesting, and eating homegrown food, it also celebrates a slower pace of life where a father and his son have the time to cook and play together without a barrage of obligations. The family’s mother returns from work to join in the backyard picnic at the end, and readers can almost taste the delectable meal they are savoring. A wonderful summertime companion to Iwai’s Soup Day about a mother and daughter preparing soup in the wintertime. VERDICT A delightful and delicious story that will be enjoyed by all.–Sally James, South Hillsborough Elementary School, Hillsborough, CA p. 76.

Lee, Suzy. Lines. illus. by Suzy Lee. 40p. Chronicle. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452156651. POP

PreS-Gr 3 –An unseen artist sketches a deft ice skater making beautiful lines on the ice. Straight lines, squiggles, and curls, the combinations are endless. Then, suddenly, the ice skater falls, disrupting the fluidity and gracefulness of the story. The artist seems displeased with this development and starts anew on the following page. In this wordless picture book by Lee, readers can tell when the artist is changing the story line by the crinkled sketch paper and erasure mark illustrations. Through drawings alone, the message that everyone falls, but it is important to get back up and try again is delivered flawlessly. Supremely crisp, clean, and appealing, this is the kind of artwork that will entice readers to return to the pages again and again to see what detail they may have missed. The pages of the book are mostly a bright white, touched by the gray lines of the pencil drawings. The tiny splashes of color pop in the wintry hats and coats of the ice skaters as more figures emerge and the scene unfolds. Somehow, even with the cool white pages and cold, wintry landscape, this picture book for all ages will make readers feel warm inside. VERDICT Any lover of picture books will appreciate this graceful wordless gem. A great discussion starter and drawing prompt to see where a single line might lead.–Amy Shepherd, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middleton, DE


Chapter Books

Selfors, Suzanne. Wedgie & Gizmo vs. the Toof. illus. by Barbara Fisinger. 192p. (­Wedgie & Gizmo). HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Apr. 2018. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780062447654. POP

Gr 2-4 –Spunky corgi Wedgie and Gizmo, the genius guinea pig, are back for more entertaining exploits with their fun-loving blended family. The kids want to put their rambunctious dog in the school pet parade but Mom and Dad aren’t totally on board. Wedgie’s always rolling in stinky stuff and he’s got quite the reputation for running amok in social situations. Plus, the neighbor’s adorable, crown-wearing, itty-bitty pig, who may also be in the parade, is a major distraction for their goofy pooch. Then there’s Gizmo, a computer-savvy cavy who is possibly trying to take over the world with his online shopping. Hopefully Abuela, the only family member who seems to understand the little critter, will keep an eye on him. VERDICT This fast-paced chapter book, with its delightfully amusing illustrations, is an inviting read for elementary kids who appreciate zany animal stories.–Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA


Alsberg, Sasha & Lindsay Cummings. Zenith. 384p. (The Androma Saga: Bk. 1). Harlequin Teen. Jan. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780373212590. POP

Gr 10 Up –From a beginning that draws heavily on elements of the early “Star Wars” movies, with characters whose over-the-top shtick would fit right into Guardians of the Galaxy, this series opener morphs unexpectedly into a dark and complex sci-fi drama. Androma Racella has been on the run for four years since escaping a death sentence for the purported murder of her best friend. She stole her former boyfriend’s star ship and, along with three other teen runaways, became a space pirate. Known throughout the galaxy as the Bloody Baroness, Androma has managed to keep ahead of would-be captors. But to former boyfriend, Dex, who taught her how to evade capture, Androma is easy prey. Dex is hired to bring her in, then blackmailed into joining forces with her to find and return Valen, the kidnapped son of the leader of the Arcardian system. The tortured and imprisoned Valen is barely hanging onto life when Dex and Androma finally rescue him. Shortly after their harrowing escape from the prison planet, what at first appear to be devastating but isolated coincidences are discovered to be part of a well-planned plot to take over the galaxy that only Dex and Androma may be able to stop. An action-packed, semi-romantic sci-fi adventure/drama that will have broad appeal. VERDICT Purchase where sci-fi romps are popular.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

redstarBlack, Holly. The Cruel Prince. 384p. ­Little, Brown. Jan. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316310277. POP

Gr 9 Up –Human Jude has been raised along with her twin, Taryn, and half-sibling, Vivi, in Faeireland by Madoc, the faeire who murdered her parents. This intricate realm is filled with beautiful, blood-thirsty, playful, and powerful fairies who seem to have no patience or use for humans beyond enslaving them with magic. Despite this, Jude is determined to earn respect and a place in it all by becoming a knight. First in a planned trilogy, this YA fantasy features a political scramble reminiscent of Game of Thrones, with spies, manipulation, romance, swordplay, betrayal, and an intoxicating darkness that manages to enrapture Jude and readers. Black has created a brutal and captivating world, filled with complex characters and their intricate and layered relationships. Jude is a mighty heroine; strong, smart, cunning, and yet completely vulnerable. Teens meet her as she’s no longer interested in restraining her emotions and actions and is willing to give up anything in order to work for what she wants, which makes for a powerful and dangerous damsel getting herself out of distress. VERDICT Another fantastic, deeply engaging, and all-consuming work from Black that belongs on all YA shelves.–Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ

Blackburne, Livia. Rosemarked. 400p. Disney-Hyperion. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484788554. POP

Gr 9 Up –When early symptoms of the dreaded Rose plague are discovered among the Amparan soldiers occupying her small village, Zivah volunteers to help. Despite having just finished her apprenticeship, Zivah is a gifted and compassionate healer. Sadly, her contact with the infected troops doesn’t leave her unscathed. She contracts the disease and remains alive but Rosemarked, a sign that she is a carrier and will not live more than a few more years. No longer able to perform her duties as a healer, Zivah goes into seclusion until the commander of the soldiers she aided sends word that her services are needed at the Capitol, where many people have contracted the same illness. Meanwhile Dineas, a Shidadi tribesman whose people have spent years in prolonged combat with Capitol troops, has been given a mission—infiltrate the Amparan troops and pass vital information to his clan. After a chance and near-deadly encounter, Zivah and Dineas reluctantly join forces and travel together to the Capitol. Though they couldn’t be more different, Zivah and Dineas gradually overcome their mutual distrust and find common ground in their desire to protect their people. This is a fast-paced, well-written, can’t-put-down fantasy that will appeal to a wide audience. A sequel will be in high demand. VERDICT Fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in Ashes will be clamoring for more adventures with Zivah and Dineas.–Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK

Hurwitz, Gregg. Last Chance. 384p. Tor Teen. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780765382696. POP

Gr 7 Up –Following phase one of the spore invasion that turned everyone 18 and older into vicious inhuman beings in The Rains, this sequel is an edge-of-your seat test of constant survival. The Hosts, adults transformed into unrecognizable monsters, paved the way for the invaders and turned the small town of Creek’s Cause into a world only found in nightmares. Finding refuge in the local high school after the invasion, Chance and Patrick Rain continue the struggle to survive and keep the rest of the “under eighteen-year-olds” safe and orderly. Facing opposition, the two brothers, along with Alex, Patrick’s girlfriend, work together to tfind a “cure” that will save the others from being turned into ferocious monsters the minute they turn 18. Not only do the survivors of the first attack have to fight the Hosts; now a new breed of predatory creatures has spawned and spread across the world, devouring all living things in its path. Chance is discovered by alien rebels who reveal how to stop the invasion and its required cost. This installment continues the fast-paced action of the first book in the series. Fresh writing and characterization sets this work apart from other zombie novels. VERDICT A definite purchase where the first book is popular. If the first book isn’t already in the library, it should be.–Amy Caldera, Dripping Springs Middle School, TX

Johnson, Maureen. Truly Devious. 432p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062338051. POP

Gr 8 Up –Stevie Bell is a dyed-in-the-wool true-crime buff. And what better place to deepen her understanding than at Ellingham Academy, the Vermont private school founded in the 1930s by wealthy eccentric Albert Ellingham? Partly because the custom courses of study are tailored to students’ passion—writing, engineering, film, math—but also because the school was the scene of a notorious crime not long after it opened: Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped, ostensibly for ransom, and a student was killed. His wife’s body was found eventually, but his daughter, Alice, never was. Stevie plans to solve the case. But when a classmate is killed, everything changes. There is a lot to love here. Stevie is a smart, relatable, self-aware protagonist. The cast is racially diverse and includes teens on various parts of the gender, sexuality, and neurotypical spectrums. The setting is fully realized, and the adults are as well characterized as the students. Johnson excellently sets up both mysteries as well as Ellingham’s love of puzzles, riddles, and secret passageways, but very little is resolved at the end of this series launch. VERDICT Fans of puzzles, boarding school stories, and true crime will tear through this book and love every minute, but those who are easily frustrated by cliff-hangers may want to wait until more books in the series are available.–Stephanie Klose, Library Journal


Graphic Novels

Asher, Jay & Jessica Freeburg. Piper. illus. by Jeff Stokely. 140p. Penguin/Razorbill. Oct. 2017. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9780448493664.POP

Gr 6 Up –Maggie, who lives in a small village in the woods, is a dreamer. Ignored and abused by the other villagers because she is deaf, she takes refuge in her imagination, making up stories of forging a better life and finding love. Maggie becomes attracted to the handsome, magical stranger who arrives in town, and hopes that her dreams might come true. He appears to return her feelings, and they form a bond, but however kindly he treats her, the piper must still be paid. In this vivid reimagining of the Pied Piper legend, the artwork features rich, saturated hues with noticeable color differences among everyday life in Hameln, the muted shades of Maggie’s daydreams, and Piper’s and Maggie’s dark backstories. The characters’ dynamic body language and expressive faces speak volumes, especially during dramatic sequences. During quieter moments, the illustrations and dialogue shine. Asher, Freeburg, and Stokely take a fresh look at an intriguing, centuries-old legend. However, the protagonist’s lip-reading abilities are not always realistically portrayed. ­VERDICT A moving graphic novel about isolation, love, and retribution, this dark version of a familiar tale will remain with readers long after the last page is turned. Fans of the authors and Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods will adore this tempting piper’s song for the eyes.–Kelley Gile, Cheshire Public Library, CT

redstarMedina, Tony. I Am Alfonso Jones. illus. by John Jennings & Stacey Robinson. 176p. Tu Bks. Oct. 2017. pap. $18.95. ISBN 9781620142639. POP

Gr 9 Up –Alfonso Jones loves to play trumpet and is thinking of trying out for his class’s hip hop–themed Hamlet. On a shopping trip with his crush Danetta, the African American teen, who is looking for his first suit to wear in celebration of his father’s release from jail, is shot by a white off-duty cop who incorrectly assumes the suit hanger is a gun. The rest of the graphic novel jumps among Alfonso’s past, the aftermath of the shooting, and his experience on a possibly never-ending train ride with other victims of police violence, including Amadou Diallo as his guide. Medina’s juggling of the three threads isn’t always graceful, but the variation of Robinson and Jennings’s panels and design pushes the narrative forward. A teacher’s dialogue with Alfonso’s classmates is illuminating and realistic. The outrage and grief are palpable, and the black-and-white illustrations enforce the gut-punching pull of each character’s journey. And as Alfonso meets the historical figures who preceded him, readers will understand the systemic racism that underlies these violent cases. VERDICT A brutally honest and bleak but necessary selection for all graphic novel collections.–Shelley M. Diaz, School ­Library Journal



Furstinger, Nancy. Unstoppable: True Stories of Amazing Bionic Animals. 128p. bibliog. glossary. index. photos. websites. HMH. Oct. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544879669. POP Gr 4-7 –Divided into two sections, this book provides examples of animals being helped through the use of prostheses and adaptive devices. The first section, “The Comeback Animals,” shares stories of a number of individual creatures, ranging from large (Chouk the elephant) to small (Estella the guinea pig). Descriptions of their physical challenges are juxtaposed with the ways in which they have been fitted with atificial limbs or orthopedic devices to improve their quality of life. The second section, “The Wizards of Prosthetics,” focuses on a few of the people who design the technologies that assist these animals. Insight into the devices’ conception give mention of STEM-related processes, which may motivate readers to do further research and try some creative problem-solving of their own. The short narratives are heartwarming, expanding on the animals’ personalities and sharing a few details about the ways in which their caretakers have made their lives more enjoyable. VERDICT This book is sure to appeal to animal lovers and future veterinarians. A must-have for nonfiction shelves.–Sarah Reid, Four County Library System, NY

Karp, Ruby. Earth Hates Me: True Confessions from a Teenage Girl. 288p. Running Pr. Oct. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780762462605. POP Gr 9 Up –For 16-year-old Karp, life consisted of going to school, practicing for the ACT, performing improv comedy, and writing this book for her peers to help them navigate high school. Karp uses her story as a template for those who want to make it out of their teens with their dignity and self-esteem intact. Raised by a single mom, Karp is Jewish, lives in Manhattan on the upper west side, and attends a huge public arts school in the city. She states quite frankly that she can only speak to what she knows and what she has experienced, but she provides advice on many subjects including: social media and bullying; love and unrequited love; pressure from family, school, and peers; feminism; friendships; and family life. She encourages readers to find their own voice and use it to be a changemaker; she has strong opinions and does not fear expressing them. The writing is clear and straightforward with a voice that will appeal to young people. There are many current pop culture references as well as mentions of older TV shows and movies that Karp loves. VERDICT Teen readers seeking an irreverent memoir/self-help book written from the perspective of a fellow high schooler will find this work captivating.–Elizabeth Kahn, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy, Avondale, LA Kelly, Scott. My Journey to the Stars. illus. by André Ceolin. 48p. photos. Crown. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524763770. POP K-Gr 2 –Astronaut Kelly recalls the early experiences that led up to his joyful return to Earth in March 2016,after spending nearly a year in space. This picture book biography introduces the wiggly, unfocused student who, with his twin brother Mark, enjoyed risk-taking adventure and learned to stay calm in the face of parental storms. It was Tom Wolfe’s biography of the Mercury Seven, The Right Stuff that inspired Kelly to become an astronaut. Both brothers joined NASA in 1996 and flew into space four times—separately, “in case something went wrong.” Kelly’s long sojourn in the International Space Station (ISS) offered a unique scientific opportunity because Mark remained on Earth as a comparison. The first-person narrative is immediate and relatively simple. It opens with the astronaut entering the tiny space ship that will take him back to Earth, flashes back through childhood and training, and ends with a happy splash in his home swimming pool. Photographs from the Kellys’ childhood as well as Scott’s time in the ISS are reproduced on appropriate backgrounds. Their realism makes an interesting contrast with Ceolin’s smooth digital illustrations and almost featureless figures. Timed to appear alongside his adult memoir, Endurance: A Year in Space, this story of his preparation and his experience has well-chosen details and just the right amount of information for his intended audience. VERDICT Pair with Carmella van Vleet’s To the Stars!: The First American Woman To Walk in Space to inspire a new generation of space ­travelers.–Kathleen Isaacs, Children’s Literature ­Specialist, Pasadena, MD

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