As an avid fan of fantasy and science fiction, I have had a wealth of good reading in the genre throughout 2016. Here is a sample of those books I found particularly engaging. They introduce readers to traditional characters, including fairies, griffins, and Bigfoot, as well as to humans who have fantastical adventures in the past, present, or future. These books offer readers the opportunity to exercise their imagination.
A Fairy Friend. Sue Fliess. Ill. Claire Keane. 2016. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.
A gentle rhyming text and dreamy, soft watercolor illustrations by a Disney animator present the story of a young girl who has read in her Fairies book that “Friendly fairies soar the skies. / Ride the backs of dragonflies.” She doesn’t see any fairies even though they are all around. However, as the illustrations show, her bulldog sees them flitting everywhere. She follows the directions in her book for attracting a fairy by building a special house of twigs and blooms, and a fairy friend comes to her. The girl also learns that when it’s time to let her forever friend go “...if you’re thoughtful, kind, and true, / Your fairy will return to you!” Young children are sure to want to make their own fairy houses after enjoying this imaginative tale.
Henry & Leo. Pamela Zagarenski. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
This evocative read-aloud about friendship and love is accompanied by enchanting mixed-media illustrations. Henry has loved Leo, his stuffed lion and his best friend, since he got him on his second birthday. For Henry, Leo is real. After Henry and his family return home from a walk in the Nearby Woods, Henry realizes that Leo is no longer with him. He tells his mother, “Leo will be scared.” She replies, “He is real only in your imagination,” and promises that they will search for Leo in the morning. That night, Henry dreams (shown in exquisite wordless double-page spreads) that other stuffed animals—a bear, a fox, and a hare—from his bedroom come alive and search for Leo in the woods. They leave Leo by the front door, where Henry is reunited with him in the morning. There is more for children to discover and to think about with each rereading of Henry & Leo.
Nobody Likes a Goblin. Ben Hatke. 2016. First Second/Roaring Brook.
Goblin lives in his homey dungeon with bats and rats. After a band of adventurers kidnap his best friend, Skeleton, from the Treasure Room, Goblin goes on a quest to bring back Skeleton—and the stolen treasure. Along the way he meets trolls, villagers, and elves who don’t like him. When Goblin finally finds Skeleton, they hide in a cave that houses a crowd of goblins who, seeing him wearing Skeleton’s crown, proclaim him their King of the Goblins. The new goblin friends defend Goblin and Skeleton, chase away their tormentors, and retrieve the stolen treasure. Goblin and Skeleton return home together, demonstrating that true friends accept you for who you are without judgment. The artful placement of text alongside watercolor-and-ink illustrations in interesting layouts in separate frames in this grand adventure story give young children the feel of reading a graphic novel.
Hatched (The Enchanted Files #2). Bruce Coville. 2016. Random House.
Timid griffling Gerald Overflight (a triplet) from the Enchanted Realm, on his quest for a treasure for his important Tenth Hatchday Ceremony, is spurred on by his gnome tutor, Abelard Chronicus, who has ulterior motives for traveling to the human world. Bradley Ashango is spending the summer at his grandmother’s farm in the Catskill Mountains where he and Gerald meet by accident in the barn. They unite to save nearby New Batavia—home to a colony of gnomes living underground—from being developed into wetlands by capturing two dozen large pink bunnies from the Enchanted Realm and transplanting them as an endangered species. Gerald not only earns his tenth treasure, a gold medal, but also recognition for his bravery in confronting a dragon and saving the gnomes. The humor of this adventure story of bravery and friendship between human and magical worlds (told from multiple points of view with “authentic” documentation) will surely entertain fantasy-loving middle-grade readers.
The Imagination Box (The Imagination Box #1). Martyn Ford. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.
Lonely 10-year-old Tim lives at Dawn Star Hotel with his adoptive parents, Lisa and Chris, who pretty much leave him to entertain himself. When he meets scientist and inventor Professor Eisenstone and accidentally harnesses his imagination to the professor’s mind-harnessing machine, creating a burnt sausage, the professor declares him a genius (with an admonition to keep this a secret). Emboldened, Tim corrals his fertile thoughts and produces a miniature monkey as a play companion. His best creation, however, is an Imagination Box that comes with its own nightmare consequences. When Professor Eisenstone disappears, Tim enlists the aid of the professor’s granddaughter, Dee, to search for him. In a horrific turn of events with several narrow escapes, Tim uncovers a complicated, sinister plot against Professor Eisenstone that began decades earlier. The cliffhanger ending, fueled by Tim’s glimpse into the soul of evil and his unbridled imagination, sets readers up for the next book in this science fiction trilogy.
The Littlest Bigfoot (Littlest Bigfoot #1). Jennifer Weiner. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
Twelve-year-old Alice has never fit in with her socialite parents at home or at any of her prior seven schools. Even though her new boarding school, The Experimental Center for Love and Learning, strives for inclusivity, she is bullied for her large size and mass of unruly hair. Millie, a young member of the Yare (Bigfoot) tribe, feels unappreciated by her family and yearns to sing on television with No-Furs (humans), but contact with humans is strictly forbidden. The two become friends when Alice saves Millie from drowning in a lake. When outcast Jeremy and his techy wheelchair-bound friend Jo, intent on discovering a Bigfoot, stumble across compelling evidence that threatens to expose Millie’s secrets, Alice and Millie heroically execute a plan to save the Yare community. An unexpected revelation will pull middle-grade readers into the next book in the series.
Children of Exile (Children of Exile #1). Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
The children of Fredtown, a simple, peaceful, polite, and well-run society, learn they are not orphans after all and will be returned home to their parents, who were forced to give them up at birth. Rosi, the oldest girl at age 12, does her best to make the transition smooth for the younger children. However, from the beginning of the disastrous flight home to their reception by their poor, damaged parents who don’t know what to do with them, nothing bodes well. Rosi soon discovers scary and monstrous things afoot at night, and she is arrested and incarcerated when she stands up to injustice. Just as she realizes her parents do love her, Rosi uncovers the unbelievable reality of who the Enforcers and the Freds are. On the run with her brother and another child, Rosi must decide where they belong, leaving readers in suspense and eager for the sequel.
The Haunting of Falcon House. Eugene Yelchin. 2016. Henry Holt.
Twelve-year-old Prince Lev Lvov leaves his beloved mother to travel to czarist Saint Petersburg in 1891 to claim his title as master of Falcon House. Instead of being greeted as a long-lost relative and leader, he is treated oddly and nothing is what it appears to be. Lev aspires to be like his grandfather, who was a powerful general in the Russian army, but he soon discovers that Grandfather had a dark side. He wonders why his aunt is so harsh with the staff that is terrified of her. Lev begins drawing cryptic pictures in his sleep, uncovers a ghost story, and slowly unravels many secrets surrounding Falcon House. This compelling mystery is unveiled through Lev’s narrative insights, sketches, endnotes, and footnotes which may lead readers to historical, research, and other literary connections.
The Seventh Wish. Kate Messner. 2016. Bloomsbury.
It was one thing when 12-year-old Charlie Brennan laughed in class at silly wishes people made in stories, but she learns the hard way that it is difficult to wish in the moment when she catches a talking fish that promises to fulfill wishes if she releases it. Charlie discovers the challenge of choosing the exact right wording when her first two wishes (that Roberto Sullivan would fall in love with her and that she would lose her fear of walking on the icy lake) come true in a literal sense, but with unexpected consequences. She rehooks the fish to gain more wishes but becomes increasingly nervous about her secret resource. When her college-age sister Abby’s crisis with heroin addiction affects the well-being of Charlie’s family and her dream of winning at an Irish dance competition, she goes back to the fish for a final wish—and her plan backfires in a dangerous way. In this book about what is ultimately important in family and friendship, Charlie learns that accomplishing things on her own is better than wishing for easy fixes.
The Game (Genius #1). Leopoldo Gout. 2016. Fewiel and Friends.
Two hundred of the world’s smartest teenagers are invited to compete in the Game, created by Kiran Biswas, India’s youngest CEO and visionary. Meet three likeable contenders and heroes: Mexican American Rex, programmer (who hacked his way into the game); Nigerian Tunde, self-taught engineering genius; and Painted Wolf, anticorruption activist blogger from Shanghai. They are already Internet buddies, but when they meet in person at the Game, they become family who will fight for each other. As they work to win the competition, they also help each other deal with weighty personal problems that led them to enter the Game. The text is augmented with detailed maps, drawings, and diagrams. Rotating points of view move the action forward at a fast pace as the trio face moral choices at every turn and discover that the Game is not at all what they thought it was.
Swarm (Zeroes #2). Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Three award-winning authors team up to write this fast-paced cinematic second book in the Zeroes science fiction series. The Zeroes, a group of six supernaturally gifted adolescents who fight crime, have opened an underground teen nightclub in their hometown of Cambria, California, to hone their amazing powers. When two interlopers with crowd-chaos powers crash the nightclub, create mass confusion, and then disappear into the night, the Zeroes follow their trail to a mall in the desert. They encounter another ominous evil teen, Swarm, who can manipulate crowds to commit bloodthirsty murderous deeds. The Zeroes become Swarm’s next target. Swarm takes control of the police in a funeral procession, directing them to march zombie-like to the nightclub, where the Zeroes must fight for their lives. Told from the distinctive viewpoints of members of the Zeroes, this thrilling novel takes readers on a wild ride, ending with a cliffhanger that will propel them into the sequel.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA.
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.
Parents, teachers, and librarians have come to recognize the sophisticated skills needed to read graphic novels; they are certainly not just for struggling readers. With an increased emphasis on visual literacy, along with the rise of quality fiction and nonfiction titles, the comic art form claims a legitimate place in personal, classroom, and school libraries, and this year has already given us a bevy of quality choices.
Duck, Duck, Porcupine! Salina Yoon. 2016. Bloomsbury.
Big Duck fancies herself the authority, but Little Duck’s knowing glances and nonverbal cues as he looks incredulously out of the pages tell perceptive readers that he knows a thing or two. Simple dialogue appears in easily identifiable speech bubbles in three short stories in which three best friends go on a picnic, remember a forgotten birthday, and camp out. The colorful, digitally created illustrations appear on double-page spreads outlined with a thick, black frame, creating a single comic book panel. Duck, Duck, Porcupine is an excellent introduction to the comic art form for the youngest readers.
A Goofy Guide to Penguins. Jean-Luc Coudray. Ill. Philippe Coudray. (TOON Level 1). 2016. Toon/Raw Junior.
With tongue firmly in cheek, this graphic novel is indeed goofy. Penguin chick narrators pose questions about penguins that are answered via illustration rather than text. Factual questions are interspersed with setup questions for penguin jokes. Observant readers will delight in distinguishing between the two and in deciphering the answers and punch lines. Back matter includes “Amazing But True: 100% Genuine, Real Facts About Penguins” and resources for further reading. For teachers ready to introduce graphic novels into the classroom, this series include Tips for Parents and Teachers: How to Read Comics With Kids.
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea! (Narwhal and Jelly #1). Ben Clanton. 2016. Tundra.
Narwhal, who introduces himself as “Unicorn of the Sea,” makes new friends as he creates his own “pod of awesomeness.” Narwhal’s enthusiasm is contagious. By the end of the book, he has gathered five new friends in his pod, each sporting a horn-like tooth. Narwhal and his jellyfish buddy, Jelly, roam the sea looking for their favorite kinds of adventures. These involve “super awesome” parties, a blank “imagination book” for creating pretend stories, and, of course, waffles. Clanton’s genre-bending graphic novel is organized into five chapters, including one filled with “really fun facts” about narwhals and jellyfish. This first book in a new series about Narwhal and Jelly is rendered in colored pencil and digitally colored. Narwhal fans can look forward to a sequel in 2017: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt.
The Real Poop on Pigeons! (TOON Level 1). Kevin. McCloskey. 2016. Toon/Raw Juniors.
A group of kids dressed as pigeons successfully debunks the opinion that pigeons are “rats with wings” and shows “there’s more to pigeons than poop!” Readers learn that pigeons carried the first airmail, view a diagram of a pigeon’s body, and are introduced to fantastic breeds of pigeons. In an “About the Author,” astute readers discover that the illustrations are on pigeon-blue Fabriano paper (the same paper used by Picasso, who was fascinated with pigeons). Although most pages comprise a single panel with speech bubbles, there are also double-page spreads and two-panel pages perfect for children just beginning to read.
Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #6). Nathan Hale. 2016. Amulet/Abrams.
The latest installment in Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series investigates Texas’ fight for independence from Mexico. As in the other historical graphic novels in the series, the story is narrated by Revolutionary War hero, Nathan Hale. Author Hale examines the exploits of famous historical figures during this tumultuous time in Texan history: Jim Bowie, Stephen Austin, and Davy Crockett. Imbued with Hale’s signature brand of humor, this book will both educate and entertain readers. Each book in the series features its own limited color palette; Alamo All-Stars is rendered in a muted olive green.
Bera the One-Headed Troll. Eric Orchard. 2016. First Second/Roaring Brook.
On a tiny island, in a secret cove, lives Bera, a small troll. Bera is the official pumpkin gardener for the troll king. She is content with her role until she finds and rescues a human baby stolen by an evil witch. Bera and her owl friend, Winslowe, set out on a dangerous quest to return the baby to its family. They encounter friends and enemies along the way, and Bera learns that she is destined for a role far more important than that of pumpkin gardener. Orchard used a dip pen and sepia-toned watercolors and gouache to render the art. Readers fascinated by folklore will delight in this dark and heroic fable.
Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean (Science Comics). Maris Wicks. 2016. First Second/Roaring Brook.
This “get-to-know-your-universe” book begins with an introduction by marine scientist Dr. Randi Rotjan followed by two six-panel pages that zoom in from the universe to a close-up of coral. The panels are clearly delineated, and the color palette reflects life in a coral reef. This graphic novel is jam-packed with facts delivered by the yellow prawn-goby narrator in a conversational tone and with snarky humor that’s sure to delight. Five chapters provide organization. Chapter 3 is a beautifully illustrated field guide to coral and coral reef inhabitants, and Chapter 5 suggests actions even young readers might take to protect the reefs. Back matter includes a glossary, diagrams of coral polyps, a bibliography, and additional resources. Other books in the Science Comics series are Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers (2016) and Volcanoes: Fire and Kite (2016).
The Sandwich Thief. André Marois. Trans. Taylor Norman. Ill. Patrick Doyon. 2016. Chronicle.
This school mystery is the first installment in a planned series. The graphic illustrations and limited yet vibrant palette create a frenetic tone as Marin tries to trap a lunch-stealing culprit. Is the thief Big Bobby, Poor Marie, Benjamin the Annoying, Mathias the Jealous, Mr. Mars the Janitor, Mr. Geiger the Principal, or Mrs. Ohls the Teacher? Rather than diminish the story, these stock characters are perfect for this melodramatic, madcap adventure. It is of note that Marin’s mother turns to chemistry to help him catch the thief. With a font based on the illustrator’s handwriting and white space that effectively focuses the reader’s attention, The Sandwich Thief will appeal to middle-grade readers, who will relate to Marin’s personality and quirky quest.
The Nameless City (Nameless City #1). Faith Erin Hicks. 2016. First Second/Roaring Brook.
Eisner award-winning author and artist Hicks does not disappoint in this first novel in a planned trilogy. A series of invaders have conquered the city because of its desirable location, and each has renamed the city. Set in an unspecified time and place, but with Tibetan or Chinese feudal overtones, the storyline examines classic themes of power and privilege. The action begins when Kaidu, a Dao who has come to the city to train as a warrior, meets Rat, a street urchin whose parents were killed by the Dao. Kaidu convinces Rat to teach him to run the city’s rooftops in exchange for food, and they develop a tenuous friendship. When Rat overhears men plotting an assassination, her loyalties shift to the Dao, and the action and tension escalate. Hick’s world building is accomplished through vibrant, detailed illustrations and well-written dialogue. The cliff-hanging ending will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel. Matt Phelan. 2016. Candlewick.
Winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for The Storm in the Barn (2009), acclaimed graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a haunting retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale. The setting is New York City during the time of the roaring ‘20s and the stock market crash in the 1930s. Samantha White’s mother called her Snow, not to be funny, but because “the snow covers everything and makes the entire world beautiful.” Samantha’s father is the King of Wall Street. His wealth catches the attention of the Queen of the Follies, who becomes Samantha’s stepmother following her mother’s death. In Phelan’s version, the enchanted mirror is a stock ticker, which magically delivers threatening messages. When her stepmother learns that Samantha is to inherit the bulk of her father’s fortune, she hires a thug to kill her. The thug, like the classic huntsman, warns Samantha to run and hide. She is rescued and protected by a gang of seven young street urchins. Prince Charming wears the guise of a police detective. Phelan’s muted gray tones and shadows, interspersed with splashes of red, evoke a classic film noir atmosphere.
Ages 15 +
Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box. Leonard S. Marcus (Ed.). 2016. Candlewick.
Leonard Marcus, esteemed children’s literature historian, interviews 13 of “the most talented comics creators working today.” Organized in a question-and-answer format, each interview is tailored to that particular storyteller’s unique experience as a prominent graphic novelist. Each novelist also provides a self-portrait, a full-color comic, and a preliminary sketch in response to an open-ended prompt: “the city.” Fans of graphic novels will welcome the opportunity to learn more about their favorite comic artists and to be introduced to others. David Small wrote the foreword, and Marcus provides an introduction outlining a brief history of comics. Back matter includes source notes, art media notes, selected reading (books by the 13 graphic novelists), and an index.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties. Neil Gaiman. Ill. Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon.
2016. Dark Horse.
Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, twin brothers from Brazil, bring Neil Gaiman’s Locus Award-winning short story to life. Winners of multiple Eisner Awards, the artists use ink and watercolor to create the story’s color-saturated graphic panels. Two teenage boys stumble into a wild party populated with gorgeous girls. As the evening progresses, however, they come to realize that the girls are not quite what they seem; they are not wholly human. The story is infused with Gaiman’s signature sense of the surreal. The film adaptation of this story, directed by John Cameron Mitchell, will be released in theaters in 2017.
Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride. Lucy Knisley. 2016. First Second/Roaring Brook.
From the best-selling author of Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (2013) comes a new graphic memoir. While Relish explored Lucy Knisley’s passion for the culinary arts, in Something New, she applies her creative spirit to cooking up a wedding. Cartoonist Knisley delivers an honest portrayal of the drama involved with trying to manage the minutia of wedding planning. With her signature wit and colorful cartoons, Knisley documents her unique experience: “a wedding story about how nuts weddings are, but, at the same time, how great.” Her captivating graphic art is interspersed with personal photographs.
Linda T. Parsons is an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning on the Marion Campus of The Ohio State University where she specializes in middle childhood literacy and young adult literature. Lisa D. Patrick is a literacy coach trainer at The Ohio State University’s Literacy Collaborative where she specializes in children’s literature and early literacy.
I enjoy reading the life stories of individuals that focus on how their lives were shaped by the times and places in which they grew up. These are some of my favorite recently published biographies, written in various formats and covering different periods of history to the present. A common thread of these biographies is the importance of childhood experiences in lifetime achievements.
Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer. Diane Stanley. Ill. Jessie Hartland. 2016. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.
Lady Byron feared Ada had too much imagination. She wanted her daughter to be “calm and rational, not emotional and creative like her father [Lord Byron].” She hoped that having Ada study science and math would curb her wild imagination. An engaging narrative and witty gouache illustrations introduce readers to the life and accomplishments of Ada Byron Lovelace (1815–1852) who, at the age of 24, developed an algorithm for inventor Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a calculating machine he had designed. Back matter includes an author’s note on Babbage’s invention and Lovelace’s algorithm, the first computer program ever published; a timeline; a bibliography; and a glossary.
Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure. Jennifer Thermes. 2016. Abrams.
Thermes’s picture book biography of Charles Darwin (1809–1882) focuses on the five-year voyage of the HMS Beagle, which began in 1831. Colorful, detailed watercolor-and-pencil illustrations depict Darwin’s journey of discovery in which he collected animals, plants, fossils, and rocks and recorded his observations in a journal. Numerous maps throughout the book chart the Beagle’s journey. A map and timeline of the departure route is on the front endpaper; the return is on the back endpaper. Back matter includes notes on how the voyage shaped Darwin’s ideas about evolution and the publication of The Origin of Species (1859), sources, suggestions for further reading, and a spread of “fun facts.”
Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist. Susan Wood. Ill. Duncan Tonatiuh. 2016. Charlesbridge.
Juan García Esquivel (1918–2002), who discovered his love of music as a young child in Mexico, went on to a stellar career as an innovative composer, orchestra leader, and pioneer of stereo sound in the 1950s and 1960s. Both Wood’s lively text (“He might tell the trumpets and trombones to HONK! BLAP! BLEEP like blaring car horns.”) and Tonatiuh’s signature Mixtec codices-inspired illustrations are peppered with onomatopoeia, expressing the way in which Esquivel captured the sounds of the world around him in his music. Back matter includes an author’s note; an illustrator’s note; resources, including books and periodicals, websites, and videos; and a photograph of Esquivel.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. Debbie Levy. Ill. Elizabeth Baddeley. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
“You could say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been...one disagreement after another.” This picture book biography chronicles the life and career of a determined young Jewish girl, who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s disagreeing with prejudice and objecting to limitations placed on girls. Against societal expectations, Ruth went to college and law school and became a law professor, and later a judge, all the time fighting for equality for everyone, while also being a wife and mother. In 1993, she was appointed by President Clinton to be a justice on the United States Supreme Court, where through her judicial opinions she often dissents. Back matter includes a “More About Ruth Bader Ginsburg” section, including photographs of Justice Ginsburg; notes on the Supreme Court cases mentioned in the text; and a bibliography.
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille. Jen Bryant. Ill. Boris Kulikov. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Left blind at the age of 5 by an accident and infection, Louis Braille attended the village school but wanted to read and write like other children. While attending the Royal School for the Blind in Paris, at the age of 15, he invented a reading and writing system for the blind by modifying a complex punched-paper military coding system into a six-dot alphabet system. Mixed-media illustrations, including some images done with blue lines on black backgrounds, complement the text of this biography, told from the perspective of young Louis. The front endpaper has a quote from Helen Keller, “We, the blind, are as indebted to Louis Braille as mankind is to Gutenberg,” written in Braille, and a chart of the Braille alphabet. Back matter includes an author’s note, a Q&A section, and references.
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science. Jeannine Atkins. 2016. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
With spare lyrical poems, Atkins tells the stories of three women, born in three different countries in three different centuries, who made important contributions to science. As a child, Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717), born in Germany, was fascinated by insects. When she was not busy mixing paints for her artist father, she was collecting and observing insects. Maria is noted for her study of the metamorphosis of butterflies, at a time when people believed that caterpillars were shape-shifters who arose spontaneously from mud. Additionally, her naturalist paintings of insects were a major contribution to entomology. British Mary Anning (1799–1847) shared her father’s enthusiasm for fossil-collecting and discovered the first fossil of an ichthyosaur and other fossils that changed scientific ideas on prehistoric life. American Maria Mitchell (1818–1889), who grew up stargazing with her father, discovered a new comet in 1847, and was the first woman to be elected to the Academy of Arts and Science. Back matter includes an author’s note, a brief “Reading Past These Pages” essay by Atkins on biographies that influenced her writing of Finding Wonders, and a bibliography.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Javaka Steptoe. 2016. Little, Brown.
With a simple, lyrical text and expressive mixed-media illustrations, Javaka Steptoe has created a stunning biography of young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988). Early in his childhood, Jean-Michel was a serious and prolific artist, who dreamed of becoming a famous artist. His art was everywhere in his family’s home in Brooklyn. Moving to New York City in his teens, he painted on paper during the day and spray-painted walls downtown with poems and drawings at night. Gaining recognition, his collage paintings began to appear on art gallery walls. “People describe him as RADIANT, WILD, A GENIUS CHILD.” Back matter includes additional information on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s family, childhood experiences, success as a young artist, and death from a drug overdose at the age of 27; a note on motifs and symbolism in Basquiat’s work; and a note from Steptoe on his use of materials and motifs that Basquiat used in his artwork in creating the illustrations for this picture book biography of an artist who has inspired him.
Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse. Catherine Reef. 2016. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Florence Nightingale (1820–1910), best known as the compassionate Lady with the Lamp for her tireless efforts to improve the care of wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, was determined to become a nurse in spite of the expectations of her family and Victorian society for a privileged young woman. She went on to train nurse—to change hospitals into clean, comfortable, and healing places—to work with doctors and hospital administrators to provide better treatment for patients, and to work with government officials to improve community health standards. Reef presents a balanced portrait of Nightingale as intelligent, courageous, and caring while also being controlling, demanding, and uncompromising in her reform efforts. An abundance of quotations in the text and captioned archival photographs and prints add interest to this well-researched account of the life and work of Nightingale. Back matter includes source notes, an extensive bibliography, and an index.
The Tudors: Kings, Queens, Scribes and Ferrets! Marcia Williams. 2016. Candlewick.
On the front endpaper, there is a note on the origin of this history of the Tudor Dynasty. According to Arthur Inkblott, before her death Queen Elizabeth I asked him, her favorite scribe, “to write down tales, both tragical and comical, from Tudor times.” A PS notes that there will be scenes from the lives of Tudor common folk along the bottom border and a PPS introduces Inkblott’s pet ferret, Smudge, who will be adding commentary in the margins of the tales. Marcia Williams’s colorful, richly detailed signature comic-book panels filled with witty comments in dialogue balloons are succinct portraits of Tudor royalty—Henry VII; Henry VIII; Henry VIII’s six wives, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Katherine Parr; Edward VI; Queen Jane (queen for only nine days); Queen Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I—and other key figures of the Tudor period such as Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, and William Shakespeare. Smudge’s parting words are “But Bess left no Tudor heir! So it was out with the Tudors...and in with the Stuarts!”
Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights. Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace. 2016. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
In March 1965, Jonathan Daniels, a student at Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, answered Martin Luther King’s plea to the country’s white clergy to join the Selma-to-Montgomery March. Jonathan stayed on in Alabama to work to register black citizens to vote. He was murdered on August 20, when he shielded a young black coworker, Ruby Sales, from a bullet fired by segregationist Thomas Coleman. Charged with first-degree murder, Coleman was acquitted by an all-white and all-male jury. The not-guilty verdict led to the filing of the White v. Crook lawsuit, which successfully challenged the exclusion of blacks and women from Alabama juries. This well-researched biography, which includes numerous primary source documents, including letters, newspaper articles, and captioned archival photographs, is both a tribute to civil rights activist Jonathan Daniels and an accessible introduction to this important period of the Civil Rights movement in the United States.
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
Whether fiction or nonfiction, adventure and survival stories are welcome additions to classroom and library collections. This collection of reviews includes humans, other animals, and even a few fantasy creatures in adventures—large and small—and incredible stories of survival that are good choices for either reading aloud or reading independently.
Lucy & Company. Marianne Dubuc. 2016. Kids Can.
In three episodic stories, Lucy and Company share mini-adventures. In “The Snack,” Lucy makes four new friends—Marcel, a mouse; Henry, a rabbit; Dot, a tortoise; and Adrian, a snail—when they share snack time on a tree branch. In “The Treasure Hunt,” Lucy finds a treasure map, and after mistaking sleeping Anton, a bear, for the rock by the red X on the map, they dig up a surprise, a birthday treasure for Henry. In “The Hatchlings,” when chicks hatch from three eggs Adrian has discovered, the friends need to find a cozy spot to keep them warm, and this time the surprise is on Anton. Sunny pencil-and-watercolor illustrations show Lucy and her animal friends, with rosy cheeks and smiles, enjoying their time together in the woods.
Poles Apart. Jeanne Willis. Ill. Jarvis. 2016. Nosy Crow/Candlewick.
On an outing, the Pilchard-Browns, a penguin family, become lost and end up at the North Pole (a 12,430-mile wrong turn), where they meet Mr. White, a polar bear wearing a tiny, red bowler. When Mr. Pilchard-Brown admits to his map-reading mistake, Mr. White says, “Don’t think of it as a mistake. Think of it as the start of a big adventure.” When he offers to help them get back home, the penguins follow Mr. White over land and sea, visiting the United States, England, Italy, India, and Australia, before reaching the South Pole. Once he’s back, Mr. White is happy to have fulfilled his dream of being the first polar bear to reach the South Pole, but sad that he’ll never see another penguin. What follows will be a surprise except for those who have been paying close attention to the details of the clever illustrations (Hint: Keep an eye on Mr. White’s hat.).
Return (Journey #3). Aaron Becker. 2016. Candlewick.
In this conclusion to his wordless trilogy, Becker’s spectacular watercolor-and-ink artwork invites readers to join the lonely girl who fails to get the attention of her preoccupied artist father as she uses a red crayon to draw a door through which she returns to a fantastical kingdom. This time, however, her father follows, and they share adventures in which he becomes a hero by thwarting a villain who is wielding a contraption that destroys crayon magic. With crayon magic restored in the kingdom, father and daughter return to their home. The final page suggests that their time together in this fantasy world has resulted in a bonding that will have them spending more time together.
I Survived: The Hindenburg Disaster, 1937 (I Survived #13). Lauren Tarshis. Ill. Scott Dawson. 2016. Scholastic.
It is 7:25 p.m. on May 6, 1937. Tarshis begins this I Survived book with a dramatic statement: “In seconds, the Hindenburg would explode.” The story of the three-day journey of the Hindenburg, a German zeppelin, across the Atlantic Ocean that ended in disaster in New Jersey is narrated by 11-year-old Hugo Ballard. Hugo’s family is traveling to America, seeking a cure for his 4-year-old sister, Gertie, who contracted malaria in Kenya. Also aboard is Nazi Colonel Kohl, who is searching for a spy. When Gertie takes a turn for the worse and asks him to bring their dog, Panya, to her, Hugo, who has had a tour of the airship, sneaks into the cargo area. There he encounters and befriends the spy whom Kohl is trying to capture. Hugo’s story is fictional, but it is based upon historical facts related to the Hindenburg disaster in which some passengers and crew members did survive. Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline of events leading up to the Hindenburg’s explosion, a Q & A section with the author, a bibliography, and a list of resources.
The Kidnap Plot (The Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie #1). Dave Butler. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Ten-year-old Charlie Pondicherry is living a sequestered life in Victorian England when his father, an inventor and clockmaker, is kidnapped by the underground Anti-Human League. On a quest to find his father, Charlie bravely enlists the aid of two aeronauts (customers of his father), a gigantic troll, and a pixie. Thrown headfirst into a steampunk adventure, Charlie and his motley crew unexpectedly uncover an even more nefarious scheme against Queen Victoria that they must stop. In this fast-paced adventure, Charlie finds that courage, family, and friendship are necessary for overcoming evil and also discovers something unbelievable about his own identity.
Survivors: Swamp: Louisiana, 1851. Kathleen Duey & Karen A. Bale. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
It’s 1851 in the Bayou Teche in Louisiana, and life isn’t fair for 12-year-old Lily LeGrand or her Cajun community. Lily, born with a lame foot, has been cruelly bullied by the twin sons, William and Mark, of the Courville plantation, who follow in their father’s prejudiced footsteps. After Paul Courville, the youngest son, befriends Lily against the twins’ latest painful prank, they haul him to the swamp where they abandon him, only to find themselves lost, too. When Lily hears that Paul has gone missing, she knows she can use her knowledge of the swamp to save him. Against her father’s orders, Lily sneaks out into the treacherous terrain filled with danger at every turn to rescue Paul—and finds even more than she expected. Young readers will be drawn into this thrilling story about a young heroine who selflessly fights to save her friend’s life.
Girl on a Plane. Miriam Moss. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In September 1970, 15-year-old Anna boards a British Overseas Airways plane in Bahrain to fly back to boarding school in England. The plane is hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the pilot is forced to land on an isolated airstrip in the Jordanian desert. The guerillas threaten to blow up the plane and kill all the passengers in three days if their demand for the release of a PFLP member imprisoned in England is not met. In addition, with the plane’s power cut off, passengers suffer from extreme daytime heat and nighttime cold, and as food and water supplies are exhausted, Anna faces the possibility that she may not live to see her family again. This novel is based on Moss’s personal story of surviving the hijacking of a plane by Palestinian terrorists in 1970.
A Storm Too Soon: A Remarkable True Survival Story in 80-Foot Seas (True Storm Rescues). Michael J. Tougias. 2016. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.
This adaptation for young readers of A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and an Incredible Rescue (2013) is the story of three sailors who set out from Florida on May 2, 2007, to cross the Atlantic Ocean to France on a 44-foot sailboat named Sean Seamour II. Three weeks before the official start of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, they encounter the fury of the unpredicted extratropical cyclone that evolved into subtropical storm Andrea. When the Sean Seamour II sinks, the three are set adrift on a life boat in 80-foot waves. The story of their life-threatening ordeal and the heroism of their rescuers, the four members of a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter crew, takes readers on an unforgettable adventure at sea.
To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party. Skila Brown. 2016. Candlewick.
Nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves, an actual survivor of the ill-fated crossing of the Sierra Nevada range by members of the Donner Party, is the narrator of this novel in verse. In the spring of 1846, Mary Ann is excited to set out with her family as they leave their home in Illinois to travel west to California. The lyrical language of Brown’s poetry conveys the hardships the wagon train encounters as it moves across the vast wilderness and then the unexpected harshness of an early winter, which brings a shift from enthusiasm for a trailblazing adventure to despair among the starving and freezing pioneers. Back matter includes an author’s note on historical context and a list of the families in the Donner Party.
Invisible Fault Lines. Kristen-Paige Madonia. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Callie’s father inexplicably disappears one day. No one knows where he is, and she is in mourning for him. Her mind runs over possibilities: Did he have an accident at the construction site where he worked? Is he wandering somewhere with amnesia? Because authorities can’t locate him, Callie decides to investigate on her own. She stumbles across an exhibit on the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake with what appears to be a photograph of her father in it. Is this a coincidence? Did he have an ancestor living during that time? Told from both Callie’s point of view and that of the man in the photo, this novel blends historical fiction with the reality of bereaved Callie, a 16-year-old girl living in present-day San Francisco and searching desperately for her father.
Learning to Swear in America. Katie Kennedy. 2016. Bloomsbury.
Disaster is imminent. The stakes are life or death for 17-year-old Dr. Yuri Strelnikov, a Russian physics prodigy in the running for the Nobel Prize, whose work on antimatter could save Southern California from being destroyed by an asteroid. Yuri is assigned to a team of middle-aged NASA scientists in Pasadena, California, who refuse to listen to him or consider his solution. Dismayed to discover that a colleague in Russia has absconded with his work, Yuri is anxious to return home to defend his research but discovers that the United States, which is practically treating him like a prisoner, does not plan to release him to Russia after D-Day (if they don’t all perish in the collision). When he meets Dovie and her brother, lonely Yuri learns there is more to life than math and science. He finally has a personal reason to survive, but will he be able to circumvent NASA’s ill-conceived plans in time—and is he right?
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.
War and its aftermath can be hard to tackle in the classroom. Rather than glorifying military might, many recently published books for young people highlight the enormous costs of conflicts, whether they occur in a small region or globally. And sometimes, courage and heroism can come in small packages—and even on four feet.
Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (with Tuan Ho). Ill. Brian Deines. 2016. Pajama Press.
After the U.S. military left South Vietnam, many Vietnamese who had befriended Americans were worried about their fate. They were so desperate for safety that some took huge risks to leave the region. In this visually stunning picture book—the first to explore this troubling time—readers learn of the dangerous journey taken by 6-year-old Tuan Ho and his family in 1981. Slipping away under cover of darkness, the family ends up on an overcrowded fishing boat that breaks down, leaving them stranded and suffering from thirst and punishing heat for four days before being rescued by an American aircraft carrier. The evocative text and powerful illustrations, painted with oils, enable readers to feel as though they, too, are refugees adrift at sea during this risky journey to freedom. Back matter includes family photographs, showing Tuan Ho’s family then and now, as well as a brief discussion of the events that led to the family's flight from Vietnam to Canada.
The Three Lucys. Hayan Charara. Ill. Sara Kahn. 2016. Lee & Low.
Luli, a young Lebanese boy, worries about his three cats, Lucy the Fat, Lucy the Skinny, and Lucy Lucy. He and his family are unable to return to their home on the border between Lebanon and Israel during bombing raids between the Israelis and Hezbollah, so they seek refuge with Uncle Adel and Aunt Layla in Beirut. When the family returns home after a month, Luli is heartbroken by the loss of one beloved feline. As he watches his town being rebuilt and mourns his lost cat, Luli finds joy in remembering her and imagining a world in which there are no wars and no wartime casualties. The text and watercolor illustrations of this story, based on the experiences of the author’s family in Lebanon during the July War of 2006, perfectly depict this confusing time and Luli’s feelings about what he has lost.
Tuesday Takes Me There: The Healing Journey of a Veteran and His Service Dog. Luis Carlos Montalván (with Bret Witter). 2016. Post Hill.
This stunning photo essay follows veteran Luis Montalván and his service dog, Tuesday, on a typical day. Using various forms of transportation, the two travel from Staten Island to Manhattan and across New York City, on to Washington, DC, and finally to Maryland for a visit to a library. Because the story is told from Tuesday’s point of view, it is easy to see the trust and affection between the golden retriever and Luis as they embrace new experiences and navigate busy streets. In a vivid reminder that, for many, war doesn’t end when the battles are over, readers observe how Tuesday helps Luis cope with PTSD from his time in Iraq. The book, which features colorful photographs throughout, casts their journey as a mission. The book ends with the two companions sharing their story to an enraptured storytime audience. Pair this book with Montalván’s Tuesday Tucks Me In (2014).
Paws of Courage: True Tales of Heroic Dogs That Protect and Serve. Nancy Furstinger. 2016. National Geographic.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes those heroes have fur coats and four paws. In this photo-filled volume, readers meet 22 dogs that have served their country during wartime or during peacetime, sniffing out drugs, locating bombs, and finding lost individuals. Describing how dogs suited to this particular type of work are identified and trained, the book also makes note of the strong bond that often exists between war and service dogs and their human companions. Readers will be touched by the stories featuring Bretagne, one of the canines that searched for survivors at the World Trade Towers in 2001; Layka, a Belgian Malinois that saved the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan; and Mas, a Newfoundland that leaps from helicopters to rescue drowning swimmers. Providing a different perspective on our furry friends, the book also includes historical notes about other dogs that have been celebrated for their feats of courage.
The Boy at the Top of the Mountain. John Boyne. 2016. Henry Holt.
After the deaths of his parents, 7-year-old Pierrot Fischer moves from Paris to an orphanage and then to the Austrian retreat of Adolf Hitler, where his paternal Aunt Beatrix is the housekeeper, in 1936. Because of his desire to please, Pieter becomes the Führer’s special pet, and he learns about power, arrogance, prejudice, and betrayal from Hitler’s example. Readers will watch in horror as Pieter transforms from a naïve, innocent child, grateful for the smallest attentions, into an adolescent who betrays those who have had only the best intentions for him and provided love and kindness during his time with the power-mad Hitler. Although the book's ending shows that Pieter has learned some important lessons, those lessons come far too late to atone for his actions.
The Enemy Above: A Novel of World War II. Michael P. Spradlin. 2016. Scholastic.
As the Germans move irrevocably closer, 12-year-old Anton Bielski and the remaining members of his family seek refuge in a cave near their small Ukrainian village, but their safety does not last. Major Karl Von Duesen, who has made his career on the basis of rounding up Jews, captures Anton's beloved grandmother, the fierce and outspoken Bubbe, and two others hiding in the cave. Anton concocts a risky plan to rescue them. Told from the alternating perspectives of Anton and the Major, the book offers insight into the characters’ thought processes. There are few books for middle graders about the war being fought on the Russian front during World War II, and this one effectively prompts readers to wonder about their own actions had they been faced with the might of the German army.
Vietnam: A History of the War. Russell Freedman. 2016. Holiday House.
Today’s history textbooks spend little time on the divisive war that took place in the small country of Vietnam. This balanced account introduces readers to several important figures in Vietnam's complex history and chronicles the increasing involvement of United States. Drawing from newspaper and first-hand accounts of the war from the front lines and comments from insiders, Freedman covers the involvement of the United States, whose own soldiers weren’t sure why they were in Vietnam. Illustrated with archival photographs, the book contains many important stories and perspectives, including reflections on the U.S. military's last days in Vietnam, that offer a lens through which to consider some of this country’s more recent military action overseas.
The Darkest Hour. Caroline Tung Richmond. 2016. Scholastic.
Sixteen-year-old Lucie Blaise volunteers for the Office of Strategic Services during WWII after her brother Theo’s death. She joins a group of female spies in France who learn about a secret weapon being developed by the Nazis. The fast-paced novel is filled with action and suspense that will have readers feeling as though they are right alongside those young spies, racing through the fields, hiding in farmhouses, and crossing the mountains—and possibly leaving them speculating about a very different outcome of the war had the Nazis' secret plans succeeded. Theo's treasured letters to his sister offer a personal glimpse into the war and prompt readers to redefine the term heroism. As Lucie’s story concludes, she is a very different girl from the one readers meet at the start of the book, reminding them that war affects civilians as well as those on the front lines.
The Last Full Measure (Divided We Fall #3). Trent Reedy. 2016. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.
Danny Wright, who accidentally started the Second American War in Boise, ID, is sick of fighting and tired of various sides trying to make him part of their propaganda machine. When he and his fiancée, JoBell Linder, go back home to Freedom Lake, they quickly realize that the leaders of the Brotherhood of the White Eagle, a group of vigilantes who opposed the federal government’s attempts at controlling the states, are racist and intolerant of anyone who disagrees with their values. Alongside his steadfast friends, Danny and more than 100 others flee to the Alice Marshall School, buried deep in the Idaho mountains. Their subsequent decision to liberate a nearby Brotherhood slave farm leads to unexpected consequences. Danny’s friends are the lucky ones, however. As the infrastructure of the country fractures, U.S. citizens begin starving to death, and priorities about what matters shift. Ultimately, Danny realizes that what matters most is loyalty to family and friends, being true to himself, and doing the right thing.
Poppy. Mary Hooper. 2016. Bloomsbury.
Fifteen-year-old Poppy Pearson leaves her life as a servant to a wealthy British family and joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1914 as England plunges deeper into World War I. She is motivated to escape the feelings she has for Freddie, the younger son in the family, and to make her own contribution during the war while her brother Billy volunteers for military service. Although Poppy’s journey of self-discovery is intriguing in its own right, the story has added appeal because of its focus on the effects of war on both its combatants and those back home. As the body count mounts and the conflict rages on, wounded veterans fill the hospital beds where Poppy works, bringing with them terrible memories and extremely painful physical damages. Billy returns home but under suspicion for the actions that brought him there. The author’s thorough research is evident in every line, and readers can sense the social changes that are coming on the heels of this war. This is no celebration of the acts of courage or fighting the good fight or having a stiff upper lip; instead, readers are treated to the unsavory reality of war and how no one was left unscathed by this fierce global conflict.
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 in Communications, a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.