The hot, hazy days of early August signal the end of summer vacation is near. But there’s still time for having a few more adventures with friends and family—and to enjoy final days of having “nothing to do” but read a few more good books before busy fall schedules kick in.
Painting Pepette. Linda Ravin Lodding. Ill. Claire Fletcher. 2016. Little Bee/Bonnier.
Young Josette loves to wander through the streets of Paris with her stuffed rabbit, Pepette, in tow. One day, Josette realizes that there is no portrait of Pepette on the wall with the rest of the family members, and so she walks to Montmartre, where she encounters four renowned artists. Each takes a turn at painting Pepette, but none can capture Pepette’s “wonderfulness.” Returning home, Josette realizes who can paint the perfect portrait of Pepette. Black ink-and-watercolor illustrations beautifully express the idea that artists see the world through many lenses. An author’s note identifies the artists who are inspired to paint Pepette—Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse—whom Josette and Pepette meet on the streets of Montmarte.
It Came in the Mail. Ben Clanton. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Liam LOVES to get mail, only nothing ever seems to come for him. One day, he gets the bright idea to write a letter asking his mailbox for something to come in the mail for him. The next thing Liam knows, a dragon pops out of the mailbox. Excited by his new discovery, Liam writes more letters and more surprising things—a shark, some pigs, and even a whale with wings—come in the mail. When Liam realizes he has too much stuff, he decides to share his new treasures with his friends. Cartoon-style illustrations, rendered in colored pencil and watercolor, add to the child appeal of this fun story.
Jack’s Worry. Sam Zuppardi. 2016. Candlewick.
Jack is excited to play the trumpet in his first concert, but he has a Big Worry. What if he makes a mistake? Jack frets all day long until he just about bursts. It takes some reassuring words (and a hug) from his mom to shrink Jack’s Worry back down to size so that he can enjoy playing his performance—even if he does play some wrong notes. Illustrated with cartoon-like pencil drawings colored with acrylic paint, this book reminds readers of all ages that it’s all right to make mistakes.
Wolf Camp. Andrea Zuill. 2016. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
Homer is a dog who has always wanted to embrace his “wolfish side.” Lucky for him, a flier arrives inviting Homer to Wolf Camp for a week. He jumps on the camp bus with his fellow canine friends and goes off to camp. The Wolf counselors teach the dogs how to hunt, howl, and live like a wolf. The colorful, cartoon-style illustrations add to the humor in this book. Young readers will enjoy finding out how Homer and the rest of the dog campers fare during their week away from home.
Alpha, Bravo, Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes. Sara Gillingham. 2016. Phaidon.
A fascinating “ABC” book, it describes the International Code of Signals alphabet flags. This nonfiction text requires readers to closely examine each spread that carefully details the meaning of the flag as well as how that nautical code is signaled using Morse code and the semaphore system. Full-page renditions of each flag are also provided featuring only the colors used for this visual language system: black, white, red, blue, and yellow. Back matter includes a glossary as well as the full phonetic, semaphore, and Morse Code alphabets.
The Girl in the Well Is Me. Karen Rivers. 2016. Algonquin.
When 11-year-old Kammie falls into an abandoned well during a secret club initiation gone wrong, she has plenty of time to ponder the events of her life that have led her to this moment. As the hours stretch on and Kammie starts to wonder if anyone is ever going to come and rescue her, the reader learns that Kammie’s father is in jail for embezzlement and she and her brother and mother are trying to adjust to their new circumstances. Rivers perfectly captures the voice of a tween who is trying to figure out what kind of person she really wants to be.
Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. Susan Cain, with Gregory Mone and Erica Moroz. Ill. Grant Snider. 2016. Dial/Penguin.
Cain transforms her popular book for adults (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) into a young reader’s edition for tweens and teens. This nonfiction self-help book presents Cain’s research on how introverts and shy people can be just as effective in leadership roles as their chattier and outgoing peers. In 14 chapters, Cain and her cowriters use real-world examples of quiet kids’ strategies for excelling in school, social situations, sports, and more. The inclusion of comic-style illustrations and diagrams to the text help convey Cain’s message. Additional text features include a table of contents, detailed end notes from Cain’s research, and an index.
Slacker. Gordon Korman. 2016. Scholastic.
Thirteen-year-old Cameron (“Cam”) Boxer knows that he’s a slacker. If he could, he’d play video games all day in his basement in pursuit of his quest to be a world champion at Rule the World, his favorite online video game. However, when Cam’s pursuit of gaming almost leads to burning down the house, his parents proclaim that it’s time for Cam to get out of the basement and find something else to do. Cam and his gaming friends create a fake “do-gooders” club to give Cam’s parents the idea that he’s actively involved in something worthwhile. Things quickly spiral out of control as the club gains interest from fellow students, teachers, and community members. Written in Korman’s typical fast-paced, action-packed style, this novel is told from alternating perspectives of characters and will engage middle-grade readers and gamers.
Love and Gelato. Jenna Evans Welch. 2016. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
Carolina (“Lina”) is a sophomore in high school when her mom drops two bombshells: (1) Mom’s cancer has progressed swiftly, and she does not expect to live out the year and (2) After she dies, Mom wants her to go to Italy and stay with a friend, Howard. This is a lot for Lina to process. Is Howard really just an old friend of her mom’s, or is he her biological father? Readers will be captivated by this summer story of life, love, loss, friends, family—and gelato.
The Serpent King. Jeff Zentner. 2016. Tundra.
Lydia, Dill, and Travis are three high school friends who lead very different lives. Lydia is an only child from a middle class family with two loving parents. She runs a popular fashion blog but is not popular with the girls in her high school. Dill is the son of the local Pentecostal preacher, known as “The Serpent King” because of his ability to handle venomous snakes, who has recently been imprisoned for child pornography. Travis lives with an alcoholic and abusive father who doesn’t understand his dreams of becoming a writer. Told in the alternating voices of the three friends during their senior year, this novel explores issues of friendship, social class, and tragedy.
With Malice. Eileen Cook. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In this gripping psychological thriller, fiction emulates real life in a story of a school trip gone bad. Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron doesn’t remember the terrible accident that landed her in a hospital bed and left her best friend, Simone, dead while on a school trip to Italy. As Jill regains her memory, events surrounding the tragedy slowly begin to be revealed in a text that includes blog posts, police interviews, e-mails, and social media posts. Did Jill kill Simone over a guy, or was it all a tragic accident? This novel will keep readers up all night to get answers.
Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for pre-service and practicing teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.
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.
The ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits in Boston featured many authors of children’s and young adult books. Attendees who registered an Author Meetup session had the opportunity to spend 10 minutes with each of seven authors in a chosen level (primary, mid-level, or young adult). Each of these authors has recently published books that will engage, intrigue, and inspire readers.
Listen to Our World. Bill Martin Jr. & Michael Sampson. Ill. Melissa Sweet. 2016. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.
Opening with good-morning kisses and a “Can you hear the sounds of our world?” and ending with good-night kisses and wishes for sweet dreams, this picture book extends an invitation to young children to “Listen! Listen! Listen!” to the world. Martin and Sampson’s spare, lyrical text and Sweet’s warm, colorful illustrations—rendered in watercolors, handmade papers, and mixed media—introduce 11 parent–offspring pairings of animals in their natural environments. The repetition of the sounds made by each animal is incorporated into double-page spreads, oriented horizontally or vertically to best present the animals in their habitats. For example, an adult crocodile and two young ones spread across a horizontal double page, showcasing their elongated bodies as they glide through algae in their marshland world. “SNAP! SNAP! SNAP!” End notes present brief facts, including habitat and range, for each of the animals in the book. —CA
Our Food: A Healthy Serving of Science and Poems. Grace Lin & Ranida T. McKneally. Ill. Grace Zong. 2016. Charlesbridge.
Following a “Why We Eat” introduction, this nonfiction book, illustrated with colorful acrylic paintings featuring five inquisitive children visiting a farm to learn about the foods we eat, devotes three double-spread pages to each of the five food groups: fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy products. Each double page opens with a question, followed by a poem in free verse and, in a column of text, an answer to the question. Lin and McKneally answer questions such as “What makes grain a grain?” and “What are protein foods?” but also more intriguing questions such as “Why do beans make you gassy?” and “What makes popcorn pop?” They provide numerous examples as they explain the nutritional value of particular foods and encourage young readers to make sure they eat nutritious food to power their bodies. The back matter includes a glossary. —SW
Playing From the Heart. Peter H. Reynolds. 2016. Candlewick.
As a young boy, Raj discovers the piano in the house where he lives with his father. Fearlessly, he explores making music and, as he grows taller, discovers the effects of using the pedals. When his father finds him a piano teacher, Raj works hard as a student but over the years, tired of the practice, he closes the piano. Marking the passage of time, the illustrations, warm and earth-toned at the beginning when Raj is a young child, become blue and gray when he ceases to make music. Years later, when Raj learns his father is ill, he returns home and, in playing the nameless song that his father loves and requests, Raj finds renewed joy in playing the piano for himself and his father. The illustrations—rendered in pen, ink, watercolor, gouache, and tea—are playful and delicate, reflecting the heartfulness of the story. —SW
Child of Spring. Farhana Zia. 2016. Peachtree. Basanta is a servant for the demanding Bibi, the young girl in the Big House, and has to learn many rules for serving in the house. Basanta’s mother encourages her to be kind, generous, and honorable in spite of the criticism of Memsaab, the lady of the house, and the pranks of other children in the busti, the community of huts where Basanta lives. Accused of stealing a precious ring, Basanta redoubles her efforts of doing good work that will bring her and her family credit in the Big House. She creates a problem for herself when she finds the beautiful ring, lost under a bookcase, and, instead of telling her Amma about the find, she hides it in the box holding her family’s treasures, arguing to herself that it will be replaced and not missed. In the context of daily activities in her community, her chores in the Big House with Bibi, the rescue of a little dog, and Divali festivities, Basanta has to reckon with her worried heart and consequences of her actions. —SW
Forest of Wonders (Wing & Claw #1). Linda Sue Park. Ill. James Madsen. 2016. Harper/HarperCollins.
When 12-year-old Raffa Santana, a talented young apothecary, uses a rare crimson vine he and his cousin Garith discover in the Forest of Wonders to heal a bat that has been severely injured by an owl, something strange and unexpected happens. The bat, that Raffa names Echo, can now talk. Fearing that Garith might use a cutting from the vine carelessly, Raffa sets off to Gilden, where his uncle is the government’s official apothecary for a secret project. Uncle Ansel wants Raffa to use the vine to increase the potency of infusions being used to make it easier to train animals from the Forest of Wonders to do routine tasks normally done by people. Raffa’s discovery of the cruelty of the experiments and the evil intent of the government sets up the exciting ending of this first book in Park’s new fantasy trilogy and will leave readers eagerly waiting to following Raffa and Echo’s adventures as they continue in the second book. —CA
Time Stoppers. Carrie Jones. 2016. Bloomsbury.
Annie Nobody (who has just been placed in her 12th worst-ever foster home) and Jamie Alexander (who lives with his father and grandmother under the threat of being eaten by them if he doesn’t turn into a troll like them as he turns 13) are rescued from their unhappy situations by Eva Beryl-Axe, a scrappy dwarf who whisks them away to Aurora on a flying snowmobile. Aurora is a hidden safe-haven for magical beings of all sorts, including dwarfs, giants, witches, vampires, and hags. Annie, who has always been told she is nothing special, is surprised to have the citizens of Aurora welcome her as a magical human with the power to stop time and whose destiny is to save Aurora. With the help of Jamie, Eva, and an elf named Bloom, Annie sets out on a dangerous mission to recover the stolen magical gnome that protects Aurora from detection. But with the gnome back within the town’s borders, does Annie finally have a safe, happy-ever-after home? The ending of this first book in the Time Stoppers series forecasts more adventure and danger for Annie and her friends. —CA
The Girl I Used to Be. April Henry. 2016. Henry Holt.
Olivia, an emancipated 17-year-old living alone in Portland, has always believed that, when she was only 3, her father killed her mother in a Southern Oregon woods where they had gone to get a Christmas tree, abandoned her at Walmart, and fled. Now remains of her father’s body have been found in the same woods. Olivia moves to Medford, never letting anyone know that she is Ariel Benson, the young girl who survived. Although Police Chief Spaulding, who has reopened the case, seems to accept that a serial killer was responsible, Olivia, through a variety of research avenues, comes to believe that several of her parents’ friends are likely suspects. The first chapter, in which a girl is chased through the same woods by a killer, foreshadows the danger into which Olivia’s investigation places her in this fast-paced, well-plotted thriller. —CA
The Last Boy and Girl in the World. Siobhan Vivian. 2016. Simon & Schuster. The river coursing through the centuries-old town of Aberdeen floods from ongoing torrential rains; yet Keeley and her friends Morgan and Elise eagerly set out for the spring dance at their high school gym. Keeley’s romance with Jesse, whom she has always adored, begins as her father’s campaign to resist the construction of the dam that will obliterate Aberdeen takes shape. To financially support her parents, Keeley takes a job helping Sheriff Hamrick’s son, Levi, close up condemned houses. As Keeley comes to understand the role her relationship with fun-loving Jesse has in her life, her longtime friendship with Morgan unravels through a series of misunderstandings, secrets, and betrayals. Morgan’s moving away from Aberdeen with her mother leaves Keeley wondering what is to become of their friendship. During a celebration of the opening of the dam, Keeley paddles a kayak to the nearly underwater town and discovers Levi, who, in another kayak, has returned to retrieve a note in one of the houses that might answer Keeley’s question. Friendship lost and found, community action, and environmental disaster inspire Keeley to rethink her relationships and what is important in her life. —SW
Unexpected Everything. Morgan Matson. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Andie Walker is ready to start a summer internship but loses it when her Congressman father announces he will take a leave of absence from his office during an internal investigation into misuse of funds. Having to adjust to the constant presence of her father, who has been absent from her life since she was three in his role as politician, and needing a summer activity, Andie takes a job as a dog walker. As a dog walker she meets Bertie, a Great Pyrenees, and develops a friendship with Bertie’s guardian, Clark McAllister, a writer who is two years older than she is. Her friends, fascinated by the books McAllister has written, influence Andie as she rethinks what she always believed she wanted. Andie creates new dreams as the relationships with Clark and her father change, and she reconciles her past with her future in ways she does not expect. —SW
Sandip Wilson serves as associate professor in the College of Health and Education of Husson University in Bangor, ME. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA.
Every year I eagerly await the release of the lists of books up for discussion at the ALSC Notable Children’s Books and YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults committees at the American Library Association Annual Conference. I want to see which of the books I have read and thought worthy of “best books” recognition are up for discussion, but I am most interested in the books on the lists I haven’t read. I’m now busy catching up on reading these books that leave me asking, “How did I miss this one?”
Glow: Animals With Their Own Night-Lights. W.H. Beck. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Stunning color photographs and a fascinating text in white print against a black background introduce young readers to some of the strange living things that glow—things that make their own light. From fireflies that flash their lights in the air and one-celled dinoflagellates that float in the ocean to a wide variety of small and large animals that live deep underwater, these life forms share the special adaptation of bioluminescence. Beck covers how these organisms glow and what scientists have discovered as to why they glow. An appended chart includes outline drawings of the life forms, highlighting where the bioluminescence occurs, common and scientific names, sizes, and where they are found in nature.
¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z!: Descubriendo el Bosque Nublado=Olinguito, from A to Z!: Unveiling the Cloud Forest. LuLu Delacre. 2016. Lee & Low.
With an alphabetical format, this bilingual picture book invites readers to explore the cloud forests of the Ecuadorian Andes. The alliteration of the Spanish text presents the beauty of the flora and fauna to be discovered—“Alto, allá arriba en los Andes brilla un bosque bordado de bromelias...”—as it takes the reader through the alphabet. The English text—“High, high up in the Andes blooms a brilliant forest embroidered with bromeliads...”—is also lyrical and expressive. Both serve as a guide to the animals and plants to be discovered in the colorful, exquisitely detailed mixed-media illustrations in which Delacre uses plant specimens that she gathered in the Andes to create printed patterns and collages. Back matter includes extensive notes on both the discovery in 2003 of a new species of a raccoon-like carnivore, the olinguito, and the cloud forest, a glossary of plants and animals featured in the book and other Spanish/English words used in the text, and author’s sources—books, articles, websites, and interviews.
Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs. Linda Sue Park. Ill. Jennifer Black Reinhardt. 2016. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“Yaks yak.” “Flounders flounder.” “Badgers badger.” Young readers are introduced to these and 15 other homographic pairs of animal names and action verbs. The meanings of the animal word pairs are made clear in the humorous watercolor-and-ink illustrations showing the animals in scenes in which they are taking the actions expressed by the verbs. Succinct definitions of the verbs are included on the double-page spreads. For example, “to yak = to talk” appears in a picture frame hung above a table around which two yaks are chatting—yakking—while having tea. A table of the word pairs that presents the origins of each of the animals’ names and their actions encourages interest in the etymology of words.
When Mischief Came to Town. Katrina Nannestad. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In 1911, 10-year-old Inge Maria Jensen travels by boat from Copenhagen to the island of Bornholm to live with her grandmother. Life is not easy for high-spirited Inge Maria as she faces the challenges of a new home, new neighbors, a new church, and a new school while still grieving the death of her mother. Inge Maria is going to have to do chores on the farm and attend to lessons on manners from stern Grandmother and follow the tedious rules of proper behavior at Svaneke Folk School. Inge Maria definitely has a talent for getting into mischief. She has a bucket-kicking competition with Levi the donkey that leaves Henry the turkey unconscious from a head bonking. She joins the rough-and-tumble of the boys on the “No Girls Allowed” area of the schoolyard. She makes the mistake of hiding in the stinky smokehouse where herring is cured when she runs away from school after confronting the strict schoolmaster with her opinion on all things wrong with the school. However, the mischief that Inge Maria brings to town is just what Grandmother and the community need. Irrepressible Inge Maria will remind readers of mischief-maker Pippi Longstocking.
The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century. Sarah Miller. 2016. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
If asked, “What do you know about the Borden murders?” most individuals today would likely respond with “Nothing” or by reciting the verse associated with the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden on August 4, 1892, in Fall River, Massachusetts: Lizzie Borden took an axe, / Gave her mother 40 whacks. / When she saw what she had done, / She gave her father 41. Sarah Miller gives an account of events leading up to Lizzie’s arrest, her imprisonment, her trial, and what came after her acquittal in a readable narrative format. Sidebars include sensational newspaper articles that presented conflicting interviews and edited court transcripts that fueled rumors and divided opinions on whether Lizzie was guilty or innocent of murdering her stepmother and father. Inserts of photographs add interest. Back matter includes Miller’s “Researching the Bordens” notes, sources of quotes, a bibliography of primary sources, books, articles, and online sources, and an index. The Borden Murders reads like a true crime thriller. The book leaves readers not only making their own opinions about Lizzie’s guilt or innocence but also considering what might have happened if the murders had been committed in the 21st century with the advances in forensic science and criminal investigation and changes in trial procedures.
The Steep and Thorny Way. Cat Winters. 2016. Amulet/Abrams.
In the small town of Elson, OR, in the early 1920s, life is troubling for Hanalee Denney, the 16-year-old biracial child of an African American man and a white mother. When Joe Adder, the teen who was convicted for killing her father in a drunk-driving accident, returns from prison, Hanalee (with pistol in hand) confronts him. Joe professes his innocence and tells Hanalee he suspects that Clyde Konig, the town’s white doctor and her new stepfather, poisoned her father when he was called in to treat him. Against the backdrop of a small town in which the livelihood of many depends on bootlegging and the Ku Klux Klan is fueling racism and prejudice, Hanalee persistently seeks the truth (with the guidance of the ghost of her father and the help of Joe) as too is responsible for her father’s death. In doing so she uncovers a web of community secrets. This is historical fiction at its best. The inclusion of archival photographs of the period, a “Post-1923 Changes to Oregon Laws” section, and an author’s note on her approach to plotting and characterization and use of Hamlet as a template for the novel enriches the reading experience.
Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories. Stephanie Perkins (Ed.). 2016. St. Martin’s Griffin/St. Martin’s.
Twelve popular contemporary authors—Leigh Bardugo, Nina LaCour, Libba Bray, Francesca Lia Block, Stephanie Perkins, Tim Federle, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Brandy Colbert, Cassandra Clare, Jennifer E. Smith, and Lev Grossman—contribute well-crafted short stories for this anthology. Whether the genre is realistic fiction, fantasy, or science fiction and whether the teens who find love do so in expected or unexpected ways and settings, all the stories feature protagonists with distinct voices navigating life-changing summertime encounters. The collection is a balance of stories that are heartfelt, humorous, and haunting. Teens will not be able to stop with the reading of just one of these stories; they are likely to keep reading day and night until they reach the end of the book. Seeking out other works by these authors is a terrific way to extend the pleasures of summer reading.
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
Literature can take readers on fantastic journeys of discovery, including these selections that explore new worlds, solve problems, invite creativity, and ignite the imagination.
Through creative images, characters, events, and settings, books foster inspiration and help readers shape new understandings of their world.
Are We There Yet? Dan Santat. 2016. Little, Brown.
From the cloth cover that looks like a wrapped present with a bow, to the endpapers featuring progressive images of the sky as the car proceeds from early morning through to darkness, every element of this book is designed to create a visual experience for readers. The premise of the story is introduced on the copyright page showing an invitation to a birthday party, and then the full title page shows two already aggravated parents in the front seat while a child in back asks, “Are we there yet?” As the road trip begins, the page layouts feature both panel art and narrative text, and the story quickly leaps into fantasy. The next few pages of the book are positioned upside down and include a locomotive, pirates, knights, the pyramids, and a dinosaur. The brightly colored mixed-media illustrations create a larger-than-life feel as readers travel through the imagination of the kid in the backseat. This book will appeal to anyone who has endured a long road trip (as either a child or parent) because of the playful art, intriguing fantastic elements, and hilarious dialogue.
Let Me Finish! Minh Lê. Ill. Isabel Roxas. 2016. Disney-Hyperion.
Finding a quiet place to read a good book should be an easy task, but not for the young boy in this humorous, metafictive picture book. In his search to find the perfect spot to read, a series of well-intentioned animals share spoilers even though he continues his plea, “Let me finish!” Just when he thinks that he has circumvented all the animals, a dinosaur greets him with, “Have you gotten to the dinosaur at the end of the book yet?” The young boy flees again but lands inside the pages of the physical book. With an intriguing end that will puzzle readers, Minh Lê’s debut picture book exudes creativity and cleverness. Accented by Isabel Roxas’s eye-catching and synergistic illustrations, this funny and imaginative story will surely delight young readers (as long as we let them finish). —MN
The Night Gardener. Terry Fan & Eric Fan. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Vivid. Imaginative. Magical. These are just a few words to describe this collaborative debut picture book written and illustrated by the Fan brothers. When a mysterious stranger arrives at Grimloch Lane with an assortment of gardening tools, something enchanting happens. One morning, William, the young protagonist of the story, is amazed that the owl he had sketched in the dirt the previous day has appeared overnight, as if by magic, as a topiary. The gorgeous topiary owl delights William, but more important, it brings people together. As the story continues, so does its magic with the appearance of stunning topiaries of animals and a majestic Chinese dragon. Bright ink colors grace the pages as the community gazes in merriment and wonder at the transformation of Grimloch Park. Together, the Fan brothers have created an impactful story, told with spare text and gorgeous illustrations that celebrate art, community, and imagination.
Turn on the Night. Geraldo Valério. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
In this wordless picture book, readers join a young girl on an imaginative journey. The first double-page spread shows an aerial view of an unlit majestic sky and a lush green landscape filled with houses, followed by a close-up of one house bearing a reindeer weather vane, a chicken coop, and a doghouse. Inside the house, a young girl is asleep in an unlit room with her stuffed chicken toy and a book. In the ensuing pages, the girl transforms into a wolf-like creature (like the one on the cover of her book) and soars out the window, beaming with happiness. In a dream-like sequence, the wolf, chicken, and reindeer fly through the night sky until they reach a bright star. The animals collect and transport the star back to the girl’s room, transforming it into a celestial wonder. Created with acrylic paint and colored pencil, Valério’s illustrations communicate emotion while celebrating the power of imagination and visual storytelling.
Withering-by-Sea. Judith Rossell. 2016. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Stella Montgomery lives with her three aunts in an old seaside hotel known for its magical water with healing powers. Stella’s aunts spend most of their time scolding her, teaching her French and deportment, and warning her against curiosity. When Stella sneaks out of her room one night to retrieve her beloved atlas, she encounters The Professor and thus begins her adventure. She witnesses a murder, a severed hand that keeps people asleep, and a boy being forced to read minds. Then she finds herself entrusted with a mysterious package. The package contains a small bottle and inside “a sinuous shape seemed to move.” Can Stella protect the bottle from the Professor? Is she really “fey” as the boy who reads minds says? Why do her aunts sometimes call her “a half”? With cliff-hanger chapter endings, intriguing blue-toned illustrations, magical elements, and a fantastical setting, this book begs for a sequel.
The Apple Tart of Hope. Sarah Moore Fitzgerald. 2016. Holiday House.
Set in Ireland, this book opens with a “service” for Oscar Dunleavy, who has been missing and is now presumed dead. His brother, Stevie, holds out hope that Oscar is coming back. Meg, Oscar’s neighbor, best friend, and possible love interest has been away in New Zealand with her parents. She can’t imagine that Oscar would have killed himself, but she struggles to support Stevie in his belief that Oscar is still alive. The book offers a treatise on hope: “Hope is never destructive. Hope is the thing that keeps you going.” As the story unfolds, readers learn the history between Oscar and Meg, who spent hours talking at their windows and may have been falling in love. The chapters (numbered as slices of pie) shift between Meg’s and Oscar’s perspectives, telling the stories of the accident that left Oscar’s mother dead and his brother disabled, a twisted trick played by the girl living in Meg’s house, the man whose suicide Oscar may have prevented, and the magic of Oscar’s baking. The international setting and magical elements make this a unique read, but ultimately readers will remember this book as a love story.
Saving Montgomery Sole. Mariko Tamaki. 2016. Roaring Brook.
Montgomery (Monty) lives with her two moms, Mama Kate and Momma Jo, and her little sister, Tesla, in Aunty, CA. She runs the Mystery Club at school with her two best friends, Thomas and Naoki. Author Mariko Tamaki has created a smart, sarcastic character in Monty, whose perspective on high school, food, family, and “unexplained phenomena” is both refreshing and convincing. Monty, Thomas, and Naoki are outsiders at their high school, and the usual suspects show up to bully and antagonize them. Thomas is gay but seems much less troubled by homophobic teasing and the anti-gay Reverend White, a newcomer to town, than Monty, who rails against both. Monty rips down crosses and posters put up by Reverend White and decides that his son, Kenneth, is as homophobic as his father. When Naoki befriends Kenneth, Monty’s assumptions are tested as she learns how to trust her friends and family and embrace “the big strange universe, and all the mysteries in it.”
Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses in children’s/adolescent literature. Mary Napoli is an associate professor of reading at Penn State Harrisburg, where she teaches literacy courses.
Readers have many choices of modern fantasy and science fiction books. Here we review just a few of the recently published books that take readers into the future and worlds of fantasies and the unanswerable question, what if.
Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep. Robin Newman. Ill. Chris Ewald. 2016. Creston.
Hildie Bitterpickles is a sleep-deprived young witch. Her giant neighbor’s beanstalk elevator keeps her awake with its loud clunking, and an old woman has moved in next door with a gazillion noisy children who play loudly all night. When a wolf blows the roof off a nearby brick house in the middle of the night, Hildie decides it is time to move and seeks help from Monty the Rat, a local realtor, who sends her off to houses with their own issues: blind mice that tinker all night and black sheep that want to sleep with her. She returns home with her own creative solutions for her sleeping problems (such as inviting the blind mice to fix the noisy elevator) until, at last, when she turns out the lights, she hears “Nothing!” Discerning young readers are sure to scour the humorous illustrations for clues to familiar tales and nursery rhymes. —NB
Ollie’s Odyssey. William Joyce. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
In the world of toys, the highest honor is to be a favorite of a human child. Ollie, a homemade plush stuffed toy, has been 6-year-old Billy’s “fave” since Billy’s birth. When Ollie is toy-napped by the Creeps, who work for the evil Zozo (the Clown King of the Dark Carnival), the odyssey begins: Billy to find Ollie, and Ollie to escape from Zozo to return home. Through a wild series of “A-ventures,” Billy and Ollie are finally reunited at the Dark Carnival, where they confront Zozo, who retaliates by destroying the crumbling carnival and bringing it down on them. Through a magical turn of events, Zozo loses the hate in his heart for faves and sacrifices himself to save them. his is an excellent read-aloud with eerie,epia-toned illustrations that will have readers clutching their own faves while they shiver with anticipation of what will happen next. —NB
Girl in the Tower. Lisa Schroeder. Ill. Nicoletta Ceccoli. 2016. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.
Queen Bogdana, an ugly witch who has bewitched a kingdom to become ruler, has everything she wants except beauty. According to her ancient spell book, she needs a feather from a living hummingbird and a strand of black hair from the head of an 11-year-old girl with lavender eyes to cast a spell that will make her beautiful. To acquire these items, Queen Bogdana has imported hummingbirds for her garden and kept Violet and her mother locked in a tower since the lavender-eyed girl’s birth 10 years ago. As Violet’s 11th birthday approaches, the queen plans to make her a princess. Bogdana frees Violet’s mother, but bars her from the castle and contact with her daughter. Violet, who is as clever as she is beautiful, outwits Queen Bogdana, breaks all the queen’s spells, and is reunited with her family in a perfect happily-ever-after fairy tale ending. —CA
Grayling’s Song. Karen Cushman. 2016. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The cottage where Grayling lives with her mother, Hannah, who is a healer and wise woman, has burned. Hannah is rooted to the ground and turning into a tree, and her grimoire, a book of magic spells, has disappeared. The same thing has happened to others with magical powers. With only t magical songs learned from her mother and a basket of herbs and potions, shy Grayling sets out to find the grimoire, hoping it will reveal how to undo the malevolent magic. Along the way, Grayling is joined by a mouse, who, as a result of eating the contents of her basket, can talk and shapeshift. Grayling’s songs gather around her Auld Nancy, a weather witch, and Pansy, her pouty great-niece, as well as a self-centered enchantress and a wizard who tells the future with cheeses. Grayling is determined to thwart the evil force at work and is surprised to find she’s become a leader as the group survives numerous misadventures. Master storyteller Cushman gives readers a lively-paced tale of magic and adventure with an engaging heroine and a host of intriguing secondary characters. —CA
Greenling. Levi Pinfold. 2016. Templar/Candlewick.
When Farmer Barleycorn finds a strange baby Greenling growing near his farm, he takes it home only to have bizarre things happen overnight: Melons grow out of the kitchen floor, red peppers sprout from the cupboards, and apple trees bloom in the living room. When a train on a nearby track is brought to a stop by wild vines and the branches of mango and plum trees, there’s nothing that can be done except for the passengers to eat their way out. In the fall, the youngster suddenly disappears, leaving a bounty of fruits and vegetables for winter behind and fallow fields—and the wonder of what the next year might bring. Told in a rhyming, folktale style, this picture book, with its ecological fable and haunting illustrations, is sure to stir discussion among readers young and old. —NB
Princess Between Worlds (A Tale of the Wide-Awake Princess #5). E. D. Baker. 2016. Bloomsbury.
Princess Annie of Treecrest and Prince Liam, future King of Dorinocco, are ready to begin their honeymoon, a Grand Tour, when a wood witch gives them a special wedding gift: a collection of postcards from the Magic Marketplace that will literally send them to different places in the world. Touching one of the cards by accident, they are transported to the frozen outpost of Delaroo Pass, where they are forced to leave in a hurry as trolls attack. Aided by the magic cards, the couple travels from kingdom to kingdom in search of a way home and discovers their arrivals are always preceded by lies and warnings about them from an evil wizard. After facing near-fatal encounters with hostile beings, including yetis, dragons, and monsters, they are more determined than ever to return home. Readers will be eager to find out if there will really be a happily-ever-after for Princess Annie and Prince Liam. —NB
Black River Falls. Jeff Hirsch. 2016. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
On October 16, the town of Black River is devastated by a mysterious virus that causes the loss of memory. Months later, the town is now a heavily guarded Quarantine Zone. Seventeen-year-old Cardinal Cassidy has avoided being infected by wearing a mask and gloves and living in the mountains above the town with limited contact with “infected.” With no memories, infected individuals begin to make new lives. Cardinal, however, cannot escape memories of his family and what happened to them when the virus struck. Perhaps allowing himself to become infected would be a blessing. When Cardinal learns he is immune to the virus, he is faced with some difficult choices, choices that will affect not only his future but that of Black River. Told as a letter written by Cardinal to his brother, a form that provides flashbacks about family relationships, this is a complex and thought-provoking story of survival and identity. —CA
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. Janet Fox. 2016. Viking/Penguin Random House.
When 12-year-old Kat Bateson and her two younger siblings are sent to Rookskill Castle Children’s Academy in Scotland to escape the London Blitz, Great-Aunt Margaret gives Kat a precious family heirloom, a chatelaine she says is magical. Kat is soon aware that all is not right at Rookskill Castle. The castle is full of bewildering passages and secret rooms, ghostlike children are seen on the grounds, and the students, locked in their rooms at night, hear frightening noises. Strangest of all is the behavior of Lady Eleanor, the headmistress, who also has a chatelaine, one with unusual charms that disappear one by one as students disappear. In this complex thriller/historical fantasy involving ancient magic and mystery, readers become aware of what is actually happening at Rookskill Castle before Kat does through the author’s use of flashbacks to earlier times as far back as 200 years. —CA
Flawed. Cecelia Ahern. 2016. Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan.
In a futuristic society where perfection is valued above all else, Celestine North is a model daughter, sister, student, and citizen until she makes a spontaneous decision that changes everything: She helps a “flawed” person in a society where it is against the code of conduct to aid the flawed in any way. Her boyfriend’s father, Bosco Crevan, is head committee judge for the Guild, which oversees the inquisition and punishment of those accused of moral or ethical mistakes. When Celestine goes before his committee, she is sentenced to five brands, the most ever administered to a guilty recipient (and she also receives an illegal sixth brand during the marking process). Released back to her family, she has to live with the punishments that accompany her brands. A rebellious faction wants Celestine to become their spokesperson, but she is not willing to become their hero. The upcoming sequel, Perfect, follows Celestine as she seeks the truth about the sacrifices she is asked to make. —NB
Truthwitch (Witchlands #1). Susan Dennard. 2016. Tor Teen/Tom Doherty.
Witchlands is in the 19th year of The Truce, but war is afoot and deadly politics abound. All that Safiyand Iseult, threadsisters (individuals who are closer than family), want is to live freely. Safi, a Truthwitch, can tell when someone lies, and her powerful magic makes her a pawn for her enemies if captured. Iseult, a Threadwitch, uses logic to balance Safi’s fiery personality and sees the invisible relationships of those around her. When they are involved in a holdup that goes wrong, they find the revenge-bound Bloodwitch Aeduan hot on their trail. Shortly after, Safi escapes from an unexpected betrothal with the aid of reluctant Prince Merik, a Windwitch, and the young women are separated from each other. This novel, the first of four books in a new fantasy series that provides non-stop action with an unforgettable cast of characters as these two ferocious females fight emperors, mercenaries, and witches to find each other and work together to prevent the eruption of war. —NB
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.