February sees the celebration of the Feast of St. Valentine, often represented by pink and red hearts, a burst of greeting cards, and sweet treats. But perhaps the best starting place for finding love is inside ourselves, where that feeling is sure to be noticeable and have a ripple effect in the world around us. Here, we celebrate love in myriad ways.
Love Monster and the Scary Something. Rachel Bright. 2016. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
In the fourth title featuring her signature solar etchings and the adorably fetching Love Monster, this author-illustrator from England shares a story of love found amid fear. Ready for a sound sleep, Love Monster is frightened because of the terrible “crunch-crunch-crunchety-crunch” sounds he hears after heading for bed, and he imagines fierce creatures on the way to his room. Eventually, Love Monster can’t stand not knowing what is out there hiding in the dark, and he shines a flashlight on his fears. As it turns out, someone else is sleepless and nervous about being all alone. Two new friends cuddle up and face the unknown together. This is a perfect read-aloud to chase fears away. Love Monster will surely steal every reader’s heart while still leaving room for the not-so-scary Scary Something, who slips into his bed as well.
Samson in the Snow. Philip C. Stead. 2016. Roaring Brook.
A tender story of a most unlikely friendship and how love can bloom in the most unexpected places and in the worst kind of weather is complemented by lovely illustrations rendered with oil pastels, charcoal, and cardboard printing. As he rests in a field, Samson, a woolly mammoth, watches a friendly red bird gather yellow dandelions for a special friend. Although their encounter is brief, Samson worries about the bird when snow starts to fall. When he looks for her, Samson stumbles upon a mouse almost buried in the snow, and together they continue the search. Thanks to the bright flowers the bird plucked earlier for her friend, they spot her. Had it not been for that red bird’s initial friendly gesture to Samson—or the love that prompted her to gather a bouquet—she most likely would have escaped his notice and perished in the snow.
Everyone Loves Cupcake. Kelly DiPucchio. Ill. Eric Wight. 2016. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
In the same stylish fashion in which this creative duo delivered Everyone Loves Bacon (2015), this picture book explores the dark side of the seemingly irrepressible Cupcake. Although everyone seems to love Cupcake, her focus on perfection becomes annoying, and several of the other baked goods get tired of her. Eventually, she confesses her honest feelings about birthday parties and the true nature of her frosting. Honesty about her imperfections encourages the others to share their feelings as well, setting up an oh-so-sweet ending. The digital illustrations are filled with yummy depictions of food, and several of the food-related lines are clever: a loaf of bread blames being “an early riser” for its reluctance to spend time with Cupcake, and a tea bag demurs because it has to “take a bath.” Readers should take care when reading this book because its images and descriptions are likely to send them scavenging for their own sweet treats, possibly even a chocolate cupcake with sprinkles that has plenty of love to go around.
The Rat Prince. Bridget Hodder. 2016. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Told in alternating chapters by Prince Char, a royal rat, and the human he has grown to love, Cinderella or Rose de Lancastyr, a beautiful girl whose feeble-minded father’s remarriage to a cruel woman bent on bleeding him dry reduces her to a servant state, this Cinderella story with a twist features extreme cruelty and greed, leavened by acts of kindness. When the father of the prince of the kingdom hosts a ball for the prince to find a marriageable woman, Cinderella regards the ball as a possible chance to reach out to her father’s friends and persuade them to help him get away from his new wife. But Cinderella may be in danger from deranged, violent Prince Geoffrey. Although it might be odd to conceive of a girl and a rat falling in love, the two had bonded long before Cinderella had any idea Prince Char was royalty. In the end, Geoffrey is less princely than Cinderella’s rat friend.
The Warden’s Daughter. Jerry Spinelli. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Twelve-year-old Cammie O’Reilly loves the notoriety that comes her way due to her proximity to the inmates of Two Mills, Pennsylvania’s Hancock County Prison, where she lives in an apartment with her father, the warden. Cammie is something of a pistol, though, engaged in a desperate search for someone who can love her like her own mother, who died saving Cammie’s life when she was a baby. Her quest for a mother sends Cammie in self-destructive directions and causes her to be blind to her father’s love and the affection of many of the inmates, especially Eloda Pupko, the trustee caregiver who keeps an eye on her. In his sure-handed way, blending pathos and humor, Spinelli weaves an enticing story that shows how an unexpected love saves one girl with a broken heart.
100 Days. Nicole McInnes. 2016. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Fifteen-year-old Agnes has progeria, a disease that speeds up the aging process in her body, and as her final 100 days wind down, life is viewed through the lenses of Agnes and two friends: Moira, Agnes’s best friend and protector, and Boone, who has been forced to shoulder much more responsibility than one teen should ever have to face. Because the book alternates these three perspectives, readers learn the characters’ personal secrets as well as their turbulent history together, which at times led to mistrust instead of friendship. Through the poignant stories of these three teens, the author raises questions about friendship, taking risks, and living life to the fullest. Although Agnes realizes that she will never grow up and experience romance, she desperately wants her companions to fall in love with each other while also knowing that they both love her as well.
Lucky Strikes. Louis Bayard. 2016. Henry Holt.
Fourteen-year-old Amelia Hoyle comes up with a desperate plan to keep her family together after her mother, Brenda, dies during the Great Depression. She and her two siblings are living in a little house with a gas station in Walnut Ridge, Virginia, when a vagabond named Hiram Watts literally rolls off a truck and Amelia pretends he is her father. Readers’ hearts will ache for all the responsibilities this young woman must bear, the deceitfulness of her enemy, Blevins, and the lengths to which Blevins is willing to go to have what he wants. When it looks as though all is lost, it turns out that the townspeople have big hearts and more love for Amelia and the memory of her mother than she could ever have imagined, and they save the day. Readers will be reminded that family and love come in different shapes and sizes that may have nothing to do with being related.
The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet. Natasha Farrant. 2016. Chicken House/Scholastic.
Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will be thoroughly amused by this book, which gives youngest sister Lydia’s version of the story. Readers will still encounter all the familiar characters and events from the classic, but Lydia so obviously longs to be out from under the control of her older sisters, even as she admires their grace and beauty. Farrant remains faithful to the original story, offering an explanation for how Wickham, the attractive villain who is determined to marry an heiress, and Lydia end up together. Lydia is refreshingly honest and open—and incredibly naïve about Wickham and affairs of the heart. The diary format enables readers to see inside Lydia’s head and smile at her foolishness. Although love comes to Lydia in a very different form than she expected, it comes.
Because of the Sun. Jenny Torres Sanchez. 2017. Delacorte/Random House.
After her mother is mauled to death by a bear in the backyard of their suburban Florida home, Dani Falls moves to New Mexico to live with Shelly, her maternal aunt, a woman she hadn’t even known existed. As she deals with the past that continues to haunt her and tries to make sense of her unsatisfactory relationship with her mother, Dani basks in the desert heat, reads Albert Camus’s The Stranger, and finds acceptance by opening herself up to others, including a young man who is coping with his own losses.
It’s Not Me, It’s You. Stephanie Kate Strohm. 2016. Point/Scholastic.
When popular senior Avery Dennis is dumped by her boyfriend right before the school prom in San Anselmo, California, she is understandably shocked. But, being a take-charge young woman, she examines her life and dating history for clues as to why this happened and ends up submitting her findings as a lengthy oral history project for her grade in an American history class. Through the observations of her best friend, Coco Kim, and comments from other friends, foes, and scorned boyfriends, Avery presses on to uncover why so many of her romantic entanglements have ended. Her lab partner, James “Hutch” Hutchinson, also helps her mine the data she’s collecting. Because the book is told in a series of interviews, readers must sort out facts from fallacies, but it’s clear from the start that Avery had overlooked someone who’s had her back all along. It is neat to have some perspective on Avery’s actions from those who know her best (or think they do), including some of her romantic victims. Watching Hutch get more upset and protective as the project unfolds is particularly entertaining. This might be the perfect book to read for Valentine’s Day because it demonstrates that true love does find a way—even if it takes four years for the couple to realize that they are perfect for each other.
Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school, as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's degree in Communications, a master's degree in English Education from the University of Tennessee, and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
Getting the first look at January releases is one of the most exciting times of the year for book reviewers. The selection of hot-off-the-press books so far suggest 2017 will be a terrific year for children’s and young adult literature and readers can look forward to a year of great books from which to choose. Happy reading to all in this new year!
Mighty, Mighty Construction Site. Sherri Duskey Rinker. Ill. Tom Lichtenheld. 2017. Chronicle.
After the five hard-working construction vehicles from Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site (2011), Excavator, Bulldozer, Crane Truck, Dump Truck, and Cement Mixer, review plans for a supersized, complex building, they know they’ll need help to get the job done. Fortunately, they have five good friends to call on. “Rolling, rumbling, revving hard, / ten big trucks meet in the yard. / A mighty, massive SUPERCREW— / there is nothing they can’t do!” The rhyming text and sunny, earth-toned illustrations on double-page spreads playfully show the teamwork of the new machines (Skid Steer, Backhoe, Flatbed, Front-End Loader, and Pumper) and the original crew. “Cooperation got it done; / teamwork made it fast—and fun!” Project completed. Young fans will hope a new construction site project is being planned.
Rabbit Magic. Meg McLaren. 2017. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Houdini the Rabbit, the most perfect assistant of all, and a gang of backstage chubby bunnies work hard to help “Monsieur Lapin Presents Heads or Tails…Feeling Lucky?” succeed. When M. Lapin injures himself onstage by slipping on a banana peel, Houdini makes sure that the show goes on—and accidentally transforms M. Lapin into a rabbit. Now the boss, Houdini creates a daring show (with allusions to feats performed by the legendary Houdini) with M. Lapin as his assistant, but it isn’t long before he realizes M. Lapin is the one who needs the spotlight more. During the grand finale of his sold-out tour, Houdini restores Monsieur Lapin to his human status. A lesson on generosity and teamwork is acknowledged by M. Lapin when his new billboard reads “Monsieur Lapin & Friends Present EVERYONE IS MAGIC featuring Houdini and the Hoppers.” The softly colored digitally created illustrations featuring portly, mustached Monsieur Lapin and Houdini, a white rabbit outlined in blue (which makes him clearly distinguishable from the large supporting cast of cute rabbits) extend the humor of this role-reversal story. Compare the front and back endpapers to visually capture the gentle moral of this magical picture book.
Short Stories for Little Monsters. Marie-Louise Gay. 2017. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
This collection of 19 short stories, presented in paneled cartoon format, invites young children to consider all sorts of things that their imaginations might lead them to ponder as they explore the world about them. What do cats see? What nightmares do snails have? Do rabbits have a secret life in their underground tunnels? The text is presented primarily in speech bubbles. Although most of the text involves conversations among children, there are also clever comments from nonhumans, such as witty banter among various species of trees in “What Do Trees Talk About?” The brightly colored, detailed artwork (done in watercolor, colored pencil, and collage) is childlike. The stories, which vary from silly to whimsical to wry, make this an engaging, thought-provoking picture book to read again and again.
Matylda, Bright & Tender. Holly M. McGhee. 2017. Candlewick.
Sussy and Guy, best friends since kindergarten and now in fourth grade, buy a leopard gecko they name Matylda, who immediately bonds with Guy. At the end of the school year, Guy dies when he heroically saves Sussy from a dog attack. Staggering through a summer of grief, Sussy makes a deal with Matylda to keep Guy’s memory alive by finding better ways to love her. That’s when Sussy hears a voice in her head (“the stealing girl”) directing her to shoplift worms, mealies, and toys from the pet store for Matylda. After the already-ailing gecko rejects a load of stolen toys, Sussy goes into a rage, scaring the gecko so much that her tail falls off. Sussy finally realizes that Guy is truly gone and that she might also lose Matylda. When her crimes are uncovered, Sussy finds herself loved and understood by her mother and father as well as Mike, the owner of the pet store. In a brave move forward, Sussy begins fifth grade and discovers she can have a new life with new friends and a new relationship with Matylda.
Revenge of the Green Banana. Jim Murphy. 2017. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
It is the 1950s, and sixth grader Jimmy Murphy is determined to turn over a new leaf. Within a few minutes of his entry into Sister Angelica Rose’s class, his plans are dashed. He’s sure his teacher, who has a red folder detailing his past crimes, is out to get him when he is sent to the second grade to help students prepare for a production of the Green Banana play. After Jimmy reveals a plan of revenge to his friends (to murderlate his teacher at the school production where she will be introducing a new bowling alley for girls), they jump in with enthusiasm to build a weapon of destruction. In the meantime, Sister Angelica Rose enlists Jimmy to help teach her basketball skills so she can begin a girls’ team, and he realizes that she is more than just a stern teacher and nun—she is a caring person, too. Is it too late to derail the plan? Readers are bound to chuckle throughout their madcap ride with a rollercoaster turn of events at the end, in this story told from Jimmy’s point of view. A warning on the opening page states that events in the story actually happened to the author as a child.
Factory Girl. Josanne La Valley. 2017. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
To save her family’s farm from government seizure, 16-year-old Roshen leaves her Muslim Uyghur family in East Turkestan to work as an indentured servant for one year in a factory that makes uniforms in south China. The restrictive nature of life at the Hubel Workwear Company, where the Uyghur girls are not permitted to wear headscarves and must speak only Mandarin, and the harshness of conditions at the factory (long hours, starvation diets, no privacy, severe punishment for breaking rules enforced by a cruel matron, and bosses who exploit them) are physically, psychologically, and culturally damaging. Roshen, who becomes a leader among the other Uyghur girls, finds solace in writing poetry secretly and resisting the injustices they face in any way she can. An author’s note on the government of the People’s Republic of China’s suppression of the Uyghurs’ culture and Muslim religion and silencing of dissent in East Turkestan provides a context for the novel.
Midnight Without a Moon. Linda Williams Jackson. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Thirteen-year-old African American sharecropper Rose Lee Carter toils long days in the fields during the summer of 1955 in the Mississippi Delta, where she lives with her grandparents (hardworking Papa and stern Ma Pearl), who are beholden to the Robinsons’ plantation for their measly wages and nicer-than-usual home. Life isn’t fair for Rose, as her lazy and light-skinned 15-year-old cousin, Queen, spends her days lounging around, and not much is expected of Rose’s not-so-bright younger brother, Fred Lee, either. Deserted years earlier by her mother and aware of the increasing numbers of racist-related murders, Rose is no stranger to hardship and death. At the same time, changes are on the horizon, and not everyone embraces them (including Ma Pearl), but Rose, who is at the top of her class, has dreams of moving up north and graduating from college one day. In August, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy, is murdered in Mississippi for reportedly whistling at a white woman. When his white assailants are acquitted by an all-white jury, the community is split between fear and activism. Rose, forbidden by Ma Pearl to return to school, is assigned permanently to the fields. When she has the opportunity to move up north, however, the consequences could be costly. For all middle school readers this historical novel can be a window for learning about the lives of those who struggled before them through segregation and Jim Crow laws and a mirror for reflecting on their own family histories during the pre–Civil Rights period of the 1950s.
The Truth of Right Now. Kara Lee Corthron. 2017. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
Privileged Jewish girl Lily, who is back at school after a suicide attempt following an affair with a teacher, and Dariomauritius (“Dari”), a mysterious transfer student whose Trinidadian father is a domineering and cruel tyrant, are drawn together by their love of the arts, cynicism against the hypocrisy of their privileged high school, and repercussions of broken families. An unlikely friendship during their junior year blooms into something more while each of them fights to find meaning and truth. Lily’s and Dari’s personal stories are told in alternating chapters. Lily (speaking in first person), once popular but now shunned by friends, has cut herself off from the music she once couldn’t stay away from. With the help of her therapist, she may finally be able to journal about the disastrous events of the previous year and begin to heal. Dari (whose story is delivered in third person), who carries a sketchpad everywhere he goes and has issues with authority and institutional racism, faces a disaster that may be too big to surmount. After a horrific misunderstanding triggers a series of events that lead to tragedy, Lily and Dari must figure out if their friendship can survive.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies. Louise Gornall. 2017. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin.
Seventeen-year-old Norah suffers from agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and she hasn’t been out of her home for four years. Her only face-to-face interactions are with her mother and a therapist. She attends online school and lives life vicariously (on social network) through friends who have forgotten her. When she accidentally meets the cute new neighbor, Luke, while she is literally reeling in a bag of groceries from the porch—and he brings them into her home—she bravely invites him into her world. Slowly, they develop a relationship, which is difficult considering that she can’t leave her home, is terrified of germs, has no control over panic attacks, doesn’t like anyone touching her, and shoulders constant self-doubt like a palpable weight. Luke is kind, sensitive, and patient as their friendship blossoms ever-so-slowly into romance. When Norah must escape from her home during an emergency, she draws on her strength to get to Luke’s home for help and, in the aftermath, decides to finally seek alternative remedies to her conditions that she had previously turned down. A realistic portrayal of mental health and illness, this poignant novel will resonate not only with readers who suffer from some of Norah’s symptoms but also those simply wanting to understand more about them.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
The last quarter of 2016 went by so quickly that the year ended with books still on the to-be-read stack. This week, we review some of these books we’ve been reading in January that are just too good to miss.
All the World a Poem. Gilles Tibo. Trans. Erin Woods. Ill. Manon Gauthier. 2016. Pajama.
Poems about poems, written from children’s points of view, describe their feelings and experiences of reading and writing them. Some of Gilles Tibo’s poetry is decidedly child friendly (“I love poems sweet and silly. / I love poems long and frilly— / All the poems dreaming on the shelf.”) and some is sophisticated (“To write poetry / is to pluck silence like a flower / and press it gently between the pages / of a notebook / made of light.”). Manon Gauthier’s collage art featuring childlike drawings of girls and boys cut out and placed on mixed-media backgrounds will draw the attention of young children to this picture book that invites them to explore the world of poetry through both reading and writing.
Lucky Lazlo. Steve Light. 2016. Candlewick.
Lazlo is in love, and he is lucky to buy the flower seller’s last red rose, which he plans to present to his lady love, who is starring as Alice in the production of Alice in Wonderland at the Peacock Theater. On the way, Lazlo has some bad luck. He runs into a post and drops the rose. A cat snatches it up, and the chase is on through the stage door and past actors, musicians, and stagehands backstage. Both the cat and Lazlo have moments on stage. The cat disrupts the Mad Hatter’s tea party scene, and once Lazlo recovers the rose that the cat drops to pursue a mouse, he steps on a ball and steals the show by wobbling on it across the stage. All ends well with Lazlo presenting the rose to his Alice (and winning a kiss) and the cat having caught the mouse. In an author’s note, Light explains theatrical superstitions shown in his intricately detailed pen-and-ink illustration that have been broken by the cast and crew and challenges readers to find them.
Story Worlds: Nature. Thomas Hegbrook. 2016. 360 Degrees/Tiger Tales.
“Every picture tells a story. What do you think that story is?” on the title page leads readers into this oversize volume, in which Thomas Hegbrook creates scenes from the world of nature that are wordless stories. A note on the publication page suggests how to explore this book: Observe each scene, inquire by becoming the narrator for each visual story, and wonder about the amazing animals and their behavior the scenes reveal. The arrangement of the 100 scenes vary, with a few spreads, some full-page scenes, and pages with two to five rectangular panels in different layouts on a page. After telling their own stories, readers can refer to Hegbrook’s notes identifying the animals and explaining the scenes. Readers of all ages will enjoy exploring nature in this intriguing wordless picture book.
Teddy & Co. Cynthia Voigt. Ill. Paola Zakimi. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
In a magical community, the lives of lost toys (a deep-thinking paraplegic teddy bear, two charming pigs, a hungry snake, an elephant who bakes, and a hermit penguin) revolve around baked muffins and gentle (a picnic at the beach) and not-so-gentle (a dangerous trek that reveals they live on a small island) adventures until a rabbit, who is not what he seems, washes up on shore followed by the arrival of a bossy, beautiful doll who declares herself queen—and demands a castle. These distinct characters with childlike personalities slowly meld into a community, with some of them evolving a little, and others a lot, in their individual journeys of self-discovery. All the toys learn that it is OK to be who they are as long as they respect one another’s differences. The short chapters, complemented by black-and-white illustrations, can serve as stand-alone stories perfect for reading aloud in one sitting.
The Dog, Ray. Linda Coggin. 2016. Candlewick.
Twelve-year-old Daisy dies in a tragic car accident and finds herself in an afterworld job center. Although she is assigned to return to Earth as a dog, she still thinks like the human Daisy. Beginning her new life as Misty, she is adopted and mistreated by a boy named Cyril but escapes from her collar after being abandoned by him at a park. Driven to locate her paralyzed father who, she reads in a newspaper, survived the accident, she longs to be reunited with her parents. After meeting Pip, a runaway boy, who renames her Ray and who is also looking for his father, they join forces and are assisted by a kind elderly woman in locating Pip’s father. After surviving a string of unfortunate events, Daisy realizes that her human memory is quickly fading while her dog nature takes over. Although Daisy’s dreams don’t come through in the way she first imagined, Pip’s do. This is a heartfelt story for readers who will appreciate the authentically voiced first-person girl/dog points of view.
Time Traveling With a Hamster. Ross Welford. 2016. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
The novel begins with “My dad died twice. Once when he was 39 and again four years later, when he was 12.”On his 12th birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his dead father with a mission to go back to 1984 to prevent the go-cart accident that will lead to his death at 39 (when Al is 8). However, life for Al has changed. His mom is remarried, his stepfather tries to relate to him through sports (which Al hates) and gives him a hamster named for a sports hero for his birthday, and a stepsister doesn’t like him at all. Al must get to his former home, circumvent the current families living there, and locate a time machine hidden in a bunker. Concerned about him, Grandpa Byron teaches Al the Indian Memory Palace method to keep him rooted to present times. As Al travels to the past several times to carry out his father’s instructions, he uses his hamster to help keep track of when he is and the Memory Palace to keep track of what he is doing. If he can’t prevent his father’s childhood accident, or if he runs into his (younger) grandfather in the past, will Al even exist? This complicated time-travel story ends with a quick twist that will surprise readers.
League of Archers (League of Archers #1). Eva Howard. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
Twelve-year-old Ellie Dray’s mother sent her to the local nunnery and then was hanged. Orphaned Ellie and her friends, members of the League of Archers (a kind of Robin Hood fan club), meet up to hunt in secret. Imagine her horror when a stranger she meets one night in the woods is shot by a poisoned arrow and dies shortly after she drags him back to the convent—and he turns out to be Robin Hood. Imagine her surprise when her beloved abbess (who turns out to be Maid Marian) is arrested and sentenced to death by the nefarious Baron. Imagine her shock when, as the scapegoat, she is charged with the murder, and the villagers turn against her. Ellie ends up on the run, with the League helping her to free Maid Marian and find the murderer of Robin Hood. As the League of Archers learns that some of the actions of their hero and his Merry Men had serious repercussions that ended in his death, they vow to fight the Baron’s injustices and care for the villagers, just like Robin Hood did.
Merrow. Ananda Braxton-Smith. 2016. Candlewick.
Twelve-year-old Neen, an orphan who lives on Carrick Island in the Irish Sea, seeks to learn who she really is. She knows that people consider her different because she suffers from a scaly-skin disease, and they whisper behind her back that her mother, who mysteriously disappeared after Neen’s father’s death, was a merrow, or mermaid, who returned to her people under the sea. If that is true, is Neen a merrow, too? Her stern Auntie Ushag, with whom she lives, never speaks of the past, and Neen suspects she knows more than she is telling her. Neen gathers every clue she can, including revelatory information from Skully Slevin, the blind fiddler, and when she explores a local cave, she is more confused than enlightened. After an earthquake cleaves the cliffs and exposes unexplored territory, the answers it brings Neen aren’t the ones she expected. The beautifully written prose, sometimes with a raw edge, in this historical fantasy will resonate with readers who are also trying to discover their own identities in this confusing world.
The Door That Led to Where. Sally Gardner. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.
Almost-17-year-old Londoner AJ Flynn failed major exams so he can’t qualify for college, but he has been offered a job as a junior clerk at a law firm where others know more about him, his dead father, and his mother than he does. After overhearing a conversation between two men (one of whom is found dead the next morning), finding a mysterious key with his birthdate on it, and learning more about his family history from an eccentric professor, AJ’s life makes a 180-degree turn. When he opens a door with the key, he steps into 1830 London, discovers the missing son of a neighbor, and unexpectedly meets the love of his life, Esme. On subsequent trips to the past, he takes along two troubled childhood friends who have fallen on tough times. In a dangerous turn of events, they help him solve mysteries involving murder and smuggling to clear AJ’s family’s name before deciding to make the 1830s their home. Free to return to the law firm, AJ must choose the century he wants to live in, with, or without, Esme. This time-travel mystery will intrigue thoughtful readers. What happens in 1800s doesn’t always stay in the 1800s!
Heartless. Marissa Meyer. 2016. Feiwel and Friends.
In this prequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Marissa Meyer tells the story of Lady Catherine (Cath) Pinkerton, whose love of baking and dreams of opening her own shop with her maid are at odds with the intent of her mother, the Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, to have her become the Queen of Wonderland. In Meyer’s fantasy, many of the characters from Carroll’s classic tale, including the Cheshire cat, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Jabberwock, have roles to play as Cath’s abhorrence of the bumbling King of Hearts’ courtship intensifies after she falls for the king’s new court jester, Jest. The subsequent adventures, or rather misadventures, of Cath in Wonderland reveal how she becomes the tyrannical and heartless “off with their heads” Queen of Hearts.
I live in a teeny-tiny apartment, so in anticipation of new releases that will be arriving, one of my end-of-2016 tasks was to go through the many books I read during the year and decide which ones I would add to my personal collection of children’s books. My goal was to keep only 10 books from 2016. Here are reviews of the 10 including notes on why I chose them. You’ll notice, however, that I cheated a bit by including a few pairings of a chosen book with other 2016 releases—in one case, getting eight picture books in one volume.
Curious George (75th Anniversary Ed.). H.A. Rey. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
George, the good but curious little monkey, gets into a great deal of trouble between the time of his capture by the man with the yellow hat in Africa and his arrival at the zoo. Curious George,a picture book favorite from my childhood, will be shelved next to the new 2016 young readers edition of Louise Borden’s The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey, originally published in 2005, which tells the story of how the Reys escaped Paris with the manuscript for Curious George in 1940, and Justin Martin and Liza Charlesworth’s Keep Curious and Carry a Banana: Wisdom From the World of Curious George (2016), a small book of pithy words to live by paired with illustrations from the original Curious George books.
My Very First Mother Goose (20th Anniversary Ed.). Iona Opie (Ed.). Ill. Rosemary Wells. 2016. Candlewick.
In the introduction, folklorist Iona Opie refers to Rosemary Wells as Mother Goose’s second cousin, a believable relationship for those who share this oversize collection of nearly 70 well-loved and lesser known traditional rhymes with young children. Wells’s whimsical watercolor illustrations feature her signature lovable animals (bunnies, cats, pigs, mice, and more, as well as an occasional human) taking on the roles of such characters as Jack and Jill, Little Boy Blue, Wee Willie Winkie, and the brave old duke of York. On its 20th anniversary, My Very First Mother Goose remains the perfect volume for introducing young children to the rhythms and words of Mother Goose. It will stay on my bookshelf until it becomes a baby gift.
Tomi Ungerer: A Treasury of 8 Books. Tomi Ungerer. 2016. Phaidon.
This beautifully formatted collection of eight of Tomi Ungerer’s picture books presented in a slipcase is indeed a treasure. After reading the eight books—The Three Robbers, Zeralda’s Ogre, Moon Man, Fog Island, The Hat, Emile, Flix, and Otto—readers new to his work will recognize Ungerer’s ability to craft picture book stories (some with unexpected choices of characters such as weapon-wielding robbers and ogres with an appetite for children) that are witty and thought provoking. Ungerer does not talk down to children even when his stories deal with important issues such as prejudice, social injustice, and war. The collection is introduced with a personal letter to readers from Tomi Ungerer. An appended “Behind the Scenes” section includes a conversation between Ungerer and his Phaidon editor about each of the books, along with preparatory sketches, storyboards, and photographs for the book, and a brief biography of the author. While serving on the United States Board on Books for Young People’s Hans Christian Andersen Award committee several years ago, I read as a widely as I could on the work of previous award winners. I learned that Ungerer, who won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration in 1998, had written more than 100 books, but I had access to only a few in English. How delighted I am to now have this treasury of Tomi Ungerer’s books to add to my children’s book collection.
Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie’s Chick? Pat Hutchins. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Rosie, the clueless hen who goes for a walk and unknowingly escapes from a fox again and again to arrive safely back home in Rosie’s Walk (1968), is once more meandering through the farmyard, this time searching for the newly hatched chick that she has lost. As the patterned illustrations in bright, fall colors show, Rosie, who is unaware that her chick (with half of the shell covering its head) is following her, unwittingly saves the chick from danger again and again. All ends well as the other hens inform Rosie that the chick is right behind her, and Rosie and her little chick go for a walk together. My copy of Rosie’s Walk now has the perfect companion.
A Celebration of Beatrix Potter: Art and Letters by More Than 30 of Today’s Favorite Children’s Book Illustrators. 2016. Frederick Warne.
Thirty-two children’s book illustrators join in creating a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of beloved children’s book author–illustrator Beatrix Potter. Introductory notes and excerpts of nine of Potter’s tales (presented chronologically by publication date) from The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) to The Tale of Mr. Tod (1912) are followed by original reimagined portraits of characters from the books by some of today’s favorite author–illustrators and reflective notes on early experiences with Beatrix Potter’s little books and how she inspired their work. Seeing which character the various illustrators selected to portray is interesting. My favorite entry: Tomie dePaola’s portrait of elderly Beatrix (Mrs. Heelis), who dePaola describes as resembling “the lovely, slightly cranky Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle,” having tea with the hedgehog laundress. This book is special to me because it includes the artwork of many of my favorite contemporary children’s book illustrators celebrating Beatrix Potter, whose books were my childhood favorites—and remain so to this day.
Find the Constellations. H.A. Rey. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In Find the Constellations (first published in 1954), H.A. Rey uses a clear, accessible text and labeled diagrams and sky view maps to present a step-by-step guide on recognizing how groups of stars are arranged to form constellations and locating these constellations in the night sky. Sections of the book have been revised to include updated information on the solar system (including why astronomers now identify Pluto as a dwarf planet), and the Planet Finder chart now covers the years 2017–2026. Find the Constellations and Rey’s The Stars: A New Way to See Them (1952), which also has a new 2016 edition, remain the best introductions to astronomy for young people (and, in my opinion, for people of all ages).
Under Water, Under Earth. Aleksandra Mizielińka & Daniel Mizieliński. 2016. Big Picture/Candlewick.
With brief text and detailed mixed-media cartoon illustrations with labels and captions, diagrams, and cross sections, this oversize volume takes readers on journeys of exploration of the worlds below the surface of our planet. As pages of Under Water are pored over, readers learn about the variety of creatures that inhabit the Earth’s lakes and oceans; properties of water related to underwater exploration such as buoyancy and pressure; special features such as coral reefs, sinkholes, underwater chimneys, and the Mariana trench; and the history related to diving suits, submarines, and other inventions that make underwater exploration possible. Each page takes readers deeper and deeper until the Earth’s core is reached. Then, flipping the book over to Under Earth, readers take a journey deep inside the Earth, exploring underground features, both natural and manmade, such as caves, tunnels, pipes and cables; creatures as varied as worms, ants, and burrowing mammals; archaeological and paleontological finds; mining operations; and explanations of tectonic plates, volcano and geyser formation, and the Earth’s layers. Under Water, Under Earth is too big to fit on a bookshelf, but it has a place nearby so that I (and inquisitive guests) can continue exploring below the Earth’s surface.
The Book Thief (10th Anniversary Ed.). Markus Zusak. Ill. Trudy White. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Death, the narrator, introduces The Book Thief as a story about a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fantastical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. The girl, Liesel Meminger, picks up her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, in a snowy graveyard following the death of her younger brother, who has died while they are traveling to a foster home placement near Munich in 1939 Nazi Germany. Learning how to read with the help of her foster father, Hans Hubermann, is the beginning of Liesel’s love of words and her book thievery. This elegant 10th anniversary edition of Australian author Markus Zusak’s beautifully crafted novel includes a new introduction, excerpts from notebooks, handwritten notes on the manuscripts, and his original sketches for illustration, in addition to a Q&A. The “Anniversary-Edition Bonus Material” section at the end of this 2016 edition, which adds a wealth of information related to Zusak’s crafting of the book, left me looking forward to my next rereading of The Book Thief.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (10th Anniversary Ed.). John Boyne. Ill. Oliver Jeffers. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Oliver Jeffers’s illustrations add haunting visual images to this historical fable that explores the horrors of the Nazi death camps through the eyes of naïve 9-year-old Bruno, who moves in 1942 from Berlin to Auschwitz, where his father is the new Commandant. In his introduction to this 10th anniversary edition of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne references his interest in writing about “the manner in which war affects and destroys the experience of childhood, which is supposed to be a happy and carefree period, and what it means for a child to be thrust into an adult situation far ahead of time.” Boyne does this beautifully in his writing of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and in The Boy at the Top of the Mountain (2016), the story of a young boy living in Adolf Hitler’s Austrian retreat.
Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1). Neal Shusterman. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
In a post–Age of Mortality world, death has been conquered. No one dies from hunger, disease, aging, or accidents. To control overpopulation, professional scythes (or reapers) “glean” citizens randomly following a set of commandments, the first of which is “Thou shalt kill.” In this first book in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova are chosen by Honorable Scythe Faraday to be apprentice scythes. As the two teens are pitted against each other in their training (only one will become a scythe; the other will be gleaned), they become aware that all is not perfect in MidMerican Scythedom. Scythe is a dark, disturbing thriller that raises moral and ethical issues for readers to ponder as they wait for the next book in the series. I’m keeping Scythe on my bookshelf, knowing I’ll want to reread it before I read the second book in the Arc of a Scythe series.
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
A common theme of this week’s titles is a well-told story revolving around books and reading to take readers on imaginative adventures, to whet the appetite for more books, and to kindle the desire to share the joy of reading with others. As book lovers, we know the power of books, but these works of literature bring home that belief and will inspire others.
Book Uncle and Me. Uma Krishnaswami. Ill. Julianna Swaney. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
Nine-year-old Yasmin considers Book Uncle’s Lending Library on the corner of St. Mary’s Road and 1st Cross Street to be the best library in all of India. His sign reads, “Books. Free. / Give One. / Take One. / Read-read-read.” For Yasmin, who intends to read one book every day, forever, Book Uncle’s motto, “Right book for the right person for the right day” is perfect. And so, when the mayor shuts down Book Uncle’s bookstand for not having a permit, which he can’t afford, Yasmin knows she must do something. Inspired by the old Indian folk tale that Book Uncle selected for her, she enlists her friends, neighbors, and the entire community in what becomes a political campaign to oust Mayor S.L. Yogaraja (Mayor SLY) and elect a new mayor sympathetic to the importance of Book Uncle’s library to the town. This short chapter book offers a gentle lesson on how the initiative of one child may be an influence for change in a community.
Dragon Was Terrible. Kelly DiPucchio. Ill. Greg Pizzoli. 2016. Farrar Straus Giroux.
A chatty unseen narrator tells the tale of a “super terrible” (but, as the cartoon illustrations show, cute rather than fearsome) dragon, whose behavior in the kingdom becomes so intolerable that the king finally declares, “Enough!” and posts a reward for taming the terrible dragon. As knights and then “ordinary blokes and lassies” from the kingdom fail, the dragon becomes even more terrible (popping birthday balloons, painting graffiti on the drawbridge, and burping in church) until a young boy comes up with a clever dragon-taming plan involving a good book. His reward: a new friend—“A nice dragon, of course.”
Madeline Finn and the Library Dog. Lisa Papp. 2016. Peachtree.
Madeline Finn does not like to read, especially out loud, because “sometimes the sentences get stuck in my mouth like peanut butter.” Although she desperately wants a star from her teacher for being a good reader, she gets only “Keep Trying” stickers. One day at the library, she meets Bonnie, a big white dog who encourages Madeline to patiently keep practicing. When she’s stuck on a word, Bonnie puts her big paws in Madeline’s lap and lets the young girl pet her until she figures it out. Every Saturday, Madeline returns to read to Bonnie. One day, when her teacher asks her to read aloud in class, Madeline pretends that she is reading to Bonnie, and she earns her first star. The realistic illustrations, rendered in watercolor, pencil, and digital coloring, capture the emotions of Madeline as she gains in experience and confidence through sharing stories with a library dog.
The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read. Curtis Manley. Ill. Kate Berube. 2016. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.
Nick loves to read. He wants his cats, Verne and Stevenson, to read with him, but they won’t. He even makes word flashcards to hook them. It’s only after Nick prints “Fish” that Verne is interested, practices reading words every day, and even gets his own library card. When Nick finds Stevenson’s secret stash of drawings, Verne and he write the narrative for a pirate story, The Tale of One-Eyed Stevenson and the Pirate Gold, and Stevenson becomes a reader, too. Wanting to have someone read aloud to him, Nick says to his cats, “Maybe I should teach you how to speak…How hard could that be?” Expressive, gently humorous illustrations, rendered in ink, Flashe paint, and acrylic paint, catch the spirit of Nick, his cats, and the joy of reading.
Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar. Emily MacKenzie. 2016. Bloomsbury.
Ralfy, a prolific reading rabbit, “borrows” most of his books from people’s homes while they are sleeping. When he takes young Arthur’s favorite book, The Biggest Book of Monsters Ever, something must be done. After using his surveillance kit to catch Ralfy in action, Arthur reports the robbery to Officer Puddle only to be met with laughter until Ralfy pops up later in the officer’s home looking for more books. After identifying Ralfy in a hysterically funny lineup, Arthur comes up with a solution: They become book buddies at the public library, where books can always be borrowed (but must be returned). The cartoonlike artwork and clever wordplay (“Officer Puddle…told him he had caught the culprit read-handed!”) of this humorous picture book will delight young readers.
A Child of Books. Oliver Jeffers. Ill. Sam Winston. 2016. Candlewick.
A young girl sitting aboard a raft reading a book identifies herself: “I am a child of books. I come from a world of stories.” She floats across a sea of words (lines from classic stories such as The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle and Gulliver’s Travels) to arrive at the home of a boy, who she invites to join her in an adventure around the world, scaling mountains, discovering treasure in a dark cave, playing in forests of fairy tales, escaping monsters in haunted castles, sleeping in clouds of lullabies, and shouting in outer space before finally ending in an explosion of colorful objects and characters from stories as they spin on a globe. She ends with an invitation to explore the imaginative power of reading books. The titles of all the books that are used in the typographically created landscape the children travel through are listed on the endpapers.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone. Delia Sherman. 2016. Candlewick.
In this unusual hero cycle story, 12-year-old Nick runs away from his cruel uncle and cousin and right into Evil Wizard Smallbone and his magical bookstore, where he becomes an unwilling apprentice who grudges through each day doing anything but magic. After failed attempts to escape from Smallbone, Nick forms a bond with the bookstore and teaches himself magic by reading the books it systematically nudges his way. He realizes that there is something desperately wrong in Smallbone Cove—with breaches in its magically protected boundaries by Smallbone’s archrival, the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and comes up with a solution. There is a magical twist, however, that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the last word of this satisfying fantasy.
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard (Peter Nimble Adventure #2). Jonathan Auxier. 2016. Amulet/Abrams.
Twelve-year-old Sophie Quire, who lives a quiet life repairing books in her father’s bookstore, is worried about upcoming Pyre Day, on which Inquisitor Prigg intends to rid the town of Bustleburg of “nonsense” by burning all storybooks, when a strange blindfolded boy, Peter Nimble, and his furry, enchanted companion, Sir Tode, show up with a mysterious book, The Book of Who, in need of mending. Following clues from the magical book, Sophie and Peter, pursued by Inquisitor Prigg and his henchman, Torvald Knucklemeat, set out to find the book’s companion volumes (The Book of What, The Book of Where, and The Book of When). This fast-paced, action-packed adventure, in which Sophie must find and protect the books that contain all the magic that ever existed and use them to save stories and the world, ends with the promise of more adventure as she leaves a note on her work bench: “My tale is not yet told. I will return. Fondly, Sophie Quire, the Last Storyguard.”
The Most Frightening Story Ever Told. Philip Kerr. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Twelve-year-old Billy Shivers, recovering from a car accident, spends his days at the Hitchcock Public Library until he discovers the creepy Haunted House of Books and its thematic rooms rigged with spooky traps. Billy soon convinces the owner, eccentric Mr. Rapscallion, to take him on as an unpaid apprentice. When Billy accompanies him to a conference, a child psychologist proposes that Mr. Rapscallion read a terrifying old manuscript to children at his bookstore so she can study how they respond. He agrees to combine this experiment with a midnight reading of the scariest-story-ever-written-in-the-whole-history-of-the-world contest as publicity for his bookstore and chooses five children (with Billy as one of them) to compete to win $1,000. After four of the contestants scurry out during the night, Billy is declared the winner. With the bookstore saved, Mr. Rapscallion attempts to deliver the prize money to Billy only to uncover an unbelievable secret. Young readers will be intrigued by short, scary stories that are interspersed throughout the novel.
The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1). Traci Chee. 2016. Putnam/Penguin.
Sefia has been on the run with her Aunt Nin since her father was murdered. When her aunt is kidnapped, Sefia goes on the hunt for her and the truth about her father’s death, with only a knapsack holding a wrapped package, a book. Unbeknownst to her, she is pursued by assassins working for a secret society that wants the book returned at any cost. Sefia frees an imprisoned mute boy, and surviving brutal circumstances, they become a team. Although she grew up in a society in which literacy is banned, Sefia teaches herself to read the book, and finds herself caught up in complex stories of pirates and others she doesn’t understand. As she reads to the boy, Sefia eventually discovers they are in a just-in-time magical story that is unfolding before her eyes (literally). In this multilayered novel with three shifting time frames and things that are most likely not what they seem, Sefia learns secrets about her parents, herself, and her world as she negotiates through a dystopian landscape where forbidden words control the future.
Every Exquisite Thing. Matthew Quick. 2016. Little, Brown.
Privileged senior Nanette O’Hare is a college-bound dutiful daughter, straight-A student, and soccer star, but after she reads the mysterious cult classic The Bubblegum Reaper that her favorite teacher, Mr. Graves, gives her, she changes her life 180 degrees and becomes a rebel misfit. When her relationships with her parents, whose marriage is failing, and friends, from whom she alienates herself, spiral out of control, Nanette seeks out the author, Nigel Booker, for answers to questions the book has aroused in her. He won’t answer them but instead points her toward other writers. He also introduces her to a troubled young poet, Alex, with whom she falls in love. Together Nanette and Alex, along with a young boy they befriend, attempt to solve the mystery of why Booker wrote the book in the first place. Twists and turns in the labyrinth of self-discovery lead to tragedy, guilt, and, ultimately, to Nanette discovering her authentic self and what it is that she wants in her future.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.