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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Review of the Week, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 53
1. Review of Here Comes the Easter Cat

underwood here comes the easter cat Review of Here Comes the Easter CatHere Comes the Easter Cat
by Deborah Underwood; 
illus. by Claudia Rueda
Preschool    Dial    80 pp.
1/14    978-0-8037-3939-0    $16.99    g

Cat discovers an advertisement for the Easter Bunny’s arrival on the front endpapers of this witty offering, and from the very first page he is unhappy about it. The text addresses Cat directly throughout the book, and he responds using placards, humorous expressions, and body language to convey his emotions to great effect. When asked what’s wrong, Cat explains that he doesn’t understand why everyone loves the Easter Bunny. To assuage Cat’s jealousy, the text suggests that he become the Easter Cat and “bring the children something nice too.” Intrigued, Cat plans his gift idea (chocolate bunnies with no heads), transportation method (a motorcycle faster than that hopping bunny), and a sparkly outfit (complete with top hat). But multiple naps are an important part of Cat’s daily routine. When he discovers that the Easter Bunny doesn’t take any naps while delivering all his eggs, a forlorn Cat devises an unselfish way he can instead assist the hard-working rabbit. Rueda expertly uses white space, movement, and page turns to focus attention on Cat and the repartee. The combination of Underwood’s knowledgeable authorial voice and Rueda’s loosely sketched, textured ink and colored-pencil illustrations make this an entertaining, well-paced tale for interactive story hours. And if he isn’t going to usurp the Easter Bunny, then clever Cat will just have to take over another ho-ho-holiday.

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2. Review of Feral Curse

smith feral curse Review of Feral CurseFeral Curse [Feral]
by Cynthia Leitich Smith
High School    Candlewick    259 pp.
2/14    978-0-7636-5910-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7040-5    $17.99

Secret werecat Kayla chooses Valentine’s Day to reveal her true nature to her boyfriend, Ben. He reacts badly, to put it mildly: he runs away from Kayla, is hit by lightning on the antique carousel in Town Park while staging a ritual to “cure” her, and dies. Her small town of Pine Ridge, Texas, decides to dismantle the carousel and sell off its wooden animal figures. Soon after, Yoshi, the hottie Cat from Feral Nights (rev. 3/13), touches the hand-carved cougar for sale in his Grams’s antiques store in Austin and is instantly transported to Pine Ridge. He’s not the only shifter to suddenly appear there. Darby, a Deer; Peter, a Coyote; and Evan, an Otter, show up within a few days—each having touched the carousel animal corresponding to his shifter form—and they’re all inexplicably drawn to Kayla. This second entry in the Feral series (a spin-off of Smith’s Tantalize quartet) features as kooky a cast of supernatural characters as ever (including a juvenile yeti in addition to the various werepeople and the occasional human), but they’re all relatable in various ways and easy to root for. Debut character Kayla — level-headed, religious, but also quietly proud of her shifter nature — holds her own, nicely complementing Yoshi’s swagger, Wild Card shifter Clyde’s newfound confidence, and human Aimee’s resourcefulness. Witty banter peppered with pop-culture references keeps the tone light even as the stakes ramp up.

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3. Review of You Can’t Have Too Many Friends!

gerstein you cant have too many friends Review of You Cant Have Too Many Friends!You Can’t Have Too Many Friends!
by Mordicai Gerstein; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Holiday    32 pp.
4/14    978-0-8234-2393-4    $16.95    g
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-3101-4    $16.95

This retold French folktale (“Drakestail”) stars a farmer duck who, in this absurdist version, is wealthy in the jelly beans he has grown. When the little-boy king “borrows” his jelly beans and doesn’t return them, Duck sets off on a quest to get them back. Along the way, he meets a large, friendly, shaggy green dog who “shrinks and hops into Duck’s pocket”; “Lady Ladder” who does the same; a burbling brook that Duck carries in his gullet; and some wasps transported in Duck’s ear. These new friends all come in handy when the king declines to give back the candy. Listening children will anticipate the role of each of Duck’s pals and will enjoy seeing the king’s nasty acts rightfully rewarded, especially when he’s chased naked out of his bathtub by the wasps. This is anything but a heavy-handed moral treatment, though — Gerstein’s pen-and-ink, acrylic, and colored-pencil illustrations employ a cheerful palette, with scribbly lines and dialogue bubbles. Each picture includes humorous details such as the web-footed claw bathtub and the queen’s fuzzy slippers. And in the end, the king makes reparations, sitting down to a jelly-bean feast with Duck and his odd group of friends.

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4. Review of More of Monkey & Robot

catalanotto more of monkey robot Review of More of Monkey & RobotMore of Monkey & Robot
by Peter Catalanotto; illus. by the author
Primary    Jackson/Atheneum    58 pp.
3/14    978-1-4424-5251-0    $14.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4424-5253-4    $9.99

Monkey and Robot are back (Monkey & Robot, rev. 1/13) in four stories for new readers. Monkey continues to make a mess, and Robot patiently helps him fix things. First Monkey worries about what to be for Halloween. No one wants a repeat of last year when he went as a dentist and stuck his fingers into people’s mouths. He ends up putting a pot on his head, pretending to be Robot (he wants to dress up as “something that everybody likes”). In the second chapter, Monkey and Robot are at the beach, but Robot can’t go into the water, and Monkey won’t go swimming without his friend. In the third, the two figure out the best use for a tire Monkey finds in the front yard. In the final story, Monkey is confused by the clock and unsure whether it is morning or nighttime. Catalanotto weaves humor into each easy-to-read story, inviting the reader to help Monkey with his confusion…and to feel a little superior at the same time. It’s unusual to see such clear personalities in a book for the very young, but Catalanotto has created two distinct and likable characters — unlikely pals who understand each other. Black-and-white pencil illustrations that provide helpful visual cues and lots of easy-to-decode text fill each page, making this the perfect bridge to chapter books for new readers looking for the next book.

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5. Review of Eye to Eye

jenkins eye to eye Review of Eye to EyeEye to Eye:
How Animals See the World

by Steve Jenkins; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Houghton    32 pp.
4/14    978-0-547-95907-8    $17.99    g

The origins of the eye lie in the need for animals to detect light, as Jenkins explains in the opening to this excellent presentation of the structures animals use to see. After a brief description of the four major types of eyes that have evolved in animal species (eyespots, pinholes, compounds, and cameras), we get to the eyes themselves, prominently featured in well-designed layouts that serve both as study guide and display for the beautifully rendered and reproduced cut-paper artwork. Each page features a single organism in two images: a main close-up of the animal’s eye area(s), carefully framed to illustrate position and function relationships; and a smaller, full-body image of the animal itself. The juxtaposition is very useful — readers can use both images to make sense of the text, filled with fascinating information about eyes that are large (colossal squid), odd (stalk-eyed fly), all over the head (jumping spider), and extremely mobile (ghost crab). Additional field guide–like facts about the twenty-two featured animals are listed at the end of the book.

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6. Review of He Has Shot the President!

brown he has shot the president Review of He Has Shot the President!star2 Review of He Has Shot the President!He Has Shot the President!:
April 14, 1865: The Day John
Wilkes Booth Killed President Lincoln [Actual Times]
by Don Brown; illus. by the author
Intermediate    Roaring Brook    64 pp.
4/14    978-1-59643-224-6    $17.99    g

This fifth entry in Brown’s Actual Times series (including All Stations Distress, rev. 9/08) begins on April 14, 1865, the day Lincoln was assassinated. Brown introduces both major actors, Lincoln and Booth, and then begins the tricky task of chronologically following each man to his death. He does so successfully, switching back and forth between the actions of both men with impeccable transitions. The text is matter-of-fact and detailed. “At about 10:00 PM, Booth reentered Ford’s through the front entrance and made his way to the second floor and the president’s box.” The illustrations, in Brown’s slightly impressionistic style and rendered in somber shades of brown, blue, and gray, create drama. There’s the despair on Dr. Charles Leale’s face as he attends Lincoln and sadness in the posture of mourners watching Lincoln’s funeral train moving slowly through America’s farmlands toward its final destination. But there’s also menace in Lewis Powell as he attempts to kill Secretary of State William Seward and in the stance of a soldier questioning eleven-year-old Appolina Dean, an innocent boarder at Mary Surratt’s house. A bibliography completes this fine book.

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7. Review of The Scraps Book

ehlert scraps book Review of The Scraps Bookstar2 Review of The Scraps Book The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life
by Lois Ehlert; illus. by the author
Primary    Beach Lane/Simon    72 pp.
3/14    978-1-4424-3571-1    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4424-3572-8    $10.99

In a generously illustrated picture book memoir, Ehlert speaks directly to her audience, particularly readers who like collecting objects and making things. Aptly titled, the book is jam-packed with art from her books and photos from her life, beginning with pictures of her parents, the house she grew up in, and the small wooden table where she was encouraged to pursue her own art projects. Along the way, we see how autobiographical her books have been. There are her mother’s scissors and her father’s tools (used in Hands, rev. 9/97), and her sister’s cat (the star of Feathers for Lunch, rev. 11/90). The small, 
square volume uses the same distinctive typeface seen in most of Ehlert’s books and serves as a reminder of her unique color sense and recurring subjects: 
flowers, leaves, fruits and vegetables, cats and birds. In addition to the large text for children, she includes smaller hand-written notes to fill in details, much as her books use a smaller sans serif text to label birds, plants, etc. We are treated to a description of her creative process including reproductions of thumbnail illustrations and detailed sketches. In the final stage of building collages, she uses whatever is at hand and enjoys making messes. “I use old tools to create texture; I splash paint with a toothbrush or rub a crayon over my grater.” Ehlert emerges as a woman who lives a good life surrounded by the objects and colors that make her happy. She wants the same for her readers, ending the book with “I wish you a colorful life!”

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8. Review of Stella’s Starliner

wells stellas starliner Review of Stellas StarlinerStella’s Starliner
by Rosemary Wells; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.
3/14    978-0-7636-1495-9    $15.99

Somewhere in the mountains, Stella the fox and her parents live in a mobile home by the side of the road. The Starliner meets all their needs. “Inside was a room for sleeping and a room for being awake. There was a kitchen and a radio and a sofa that turned into a bed.” Daddy comes home from work on the weekends, and there are pancakes on Sunday mornings and fishing on Sunday afternoons. During the week there are trips to the market and visits to the bookmobile. This peaceful life snags for Stella when a gang of weasels mock her home and call her “poor.” She tries to hide her hurt to protect Mama’s feelings, but her intuitive mother sees. Meanwhile something magical happens as the Starliner, hitched to Daddy’s truck, flies through the night sky toward palm trees, the ocean, and new bunny neighbors who see value in this “sterling silver” house. Packaged within silver starry-sky endpapers, the illustrations (in watercolor, gouache, pastel, ink, and colored pencil on sanded paper) vary in size from spot art to a striking double-page spread of the flying Starliner. Backgrounds are full of symbols that deepen the story, and words and images work effectively together to develop the setting and this loving family looking out for one another.

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9. Review of Beyond Magenta

Beyond Magenta:kuklin beyond magenta Review of Beyond Magenta
Transgender Teens Speak Out
by Susan Kuklin
High School    Candlewick    182 pp.
2/14    978-0-7636-5611-9    $22.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7035-1    $22.99

Rather than attempting to convey the spectrum of transgender experience through a multitude of voices, Kuklin tries something different here, focusing on just six young people whose gender identity is something other than what it was labeled at birth. All six take gender-altering hormones; four were birth-designated male and two female, but in all cases there is no confusion about who they are now. Christina, born Matthew, looks forward to a complete transition (“It would be so great if I could get an operation, if I could get my vagina”), while Cameron says, “I like to be recognized as not a boy and not a girl. I’m gender queer, gender fluid, and gender other.” In her edited transcriptions of the interviews, Kuklin lets her subjects speak wholly for themselves, and while their bravery is heartening, their bravado can be heartbreaking. But who expects teenagers to be tentative? Photographs (of most of the subjects) are candid and winning; and appended material, including Kuklin’s explanation of her interview process, a Q&A with the director of a clinic for transgendered teens, and a great resource list, is valuable.

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10. Review of Ballad

blexbolex ballad Review of BalladBallad
by Blexbolex; trans. from the 
French by Claudia Z. Bedrick; 
illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Enchanted Lion    280 pp.
11/13    978-1-59270-137-7    $22.95

The French illustrator (Seasons, rev. 7/10; People, rev. 9/11) is as provocative as ever in this graphic celebration — and parody — of the very idea of story. Like Dr. Seuss’s And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937), Ballad compounds the fantastical — literally, here: each chapter has twice the pages, less two, of its predecessor (4, 6, 10, 18…); at 130 pages, the seventh and last chapter is half the book — just one instance of Blexbolex’s intricate crafting. Meanwhile, the story expands from chapter one’s uneventful walk (“The school, the road, home”) to closer observation of the real world before entering an imagined world and its characters (“the stranger” — storyteller, musician, hero; “bandits” resembling Pinocchio’s Cat and Fox; “the witch”). Each chapter begins with a précis, but it is Blexbolex’s square illustrations, captioned with just a couple of nouns, that convey the action and accumulate references—a queen, a kidnapping, a dragon, a volcano, mountains, a waterfall, a castle, a captive elf, night, storm, rescue, escape. Ultimately, at dawn, the stranger and queen arrive “home.” Blexbolex’s simple forms range in colors from gentle blues and greens to the arresting yellow of the stranger’s raincoat and his trouser’s fluorescent pink; coarse grids of halftone dots add modeling and subtlety to the elegantly composed scenes. An intriguing book — one to unravel, decode, and ponder in successive re-readings.

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11. Review of The Children of the King

hartnett children of the king Review of The Children of the Kingstar2 Review of The Children of the King The Children of the King
by Sonya Hartnett
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    266 pp.
3/14    978-0-7636-6735-1    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7042-9    $16.99

Continuing her string of novels exploring the effects of war on innocents (The Silver Donkey, rev. 9/06; The Midnight Zoo, rev. 9/11), Hartnett’s latest book tackles the home front. In the early days of World War II, twelve-year-old Cecily Lockwood, her older brother Jeremy, and their mother flee London for the safety of Uncle Peregrine’s country manor. Jeremy chafes at being packed off to the country, since he desperately wants to contribute to the war effort, and tensions escalate between mother and son. Meanwhile, Cecily and an evacuee named May discover two boys dressed in fifteenth-century clothing hiding in the nearby ruins of Snow Castle, as Uncle Peregrine begins to recount the legend of Richard III and the young “Princes in the Tower.” As always, Hartnett’s gift for language deftly conveys both the sublime and the mundane in life. “[The sun’s] heatless light reached over miles of marsh…and finally crawled, with a daddy-longlegs’s fragility, up the walls of Heron Hall to Cecily’s window.” Hartnett grounds the relatively minor fantasy presence in the book with a heartfelt examination of the pain and hardships, endured by civilians in wartime. Cecily is a naive, spoiled, but well-intentioned heroine, effectively contrasted by the quietly independent and mature May and impetuous, brave Jeremy. Over the course of the story, Hartnett’s characters waver between feelings of helplessness, anger, and fear; ultimately, they find the necessary resolve to carry on.

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12. Review of Pure Grit

farrell pure grit Review of Pure GritPure Grit:
How American World War II
Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific

by Mary Cronk Farrell
Middle School, High School    Abrams    160 pp.
2/14    978-1-4197-1028-5    $24.95

There are many books written about young people enlisting in the military, being unprepared for the horrors of battle or tortures of capture, serving bravely, and coming home. But women? In direct fire? In POW camps? During World War II? Not so many, a void Farrell admirably fills with this account of the more than one hundred army and navy nurses who served in the Philippines during the bombing and evacuation of Manila, the Battle of Bataan, and the evacuation and surrender of Corregidor. During every battle and every retreat, and even within the walls of the POW camps (where many were incarcerated from 1942 to 1945), these nurses cared for the injured under the most primitive of conditions. Using information taken mainly from historical interviews and modern correspondence with the subjects’ relatives, Farrell directly confronts the horrors of war and the years of inhumane treatment in the POW camps. These women — malnourished, ill with diseases such as malaria, dysentery, and beriberi —
 established multiple hospital sites and often shouldered doctors’ medical duties. Many returned home with disabilities and lifelong medical problems; though many suffered from PTSD, no mental health services were available to them. The book design is double-columned utilitarianism; archival photographs vary in effectiveness: many are posed group shots while others are (understandably) grainy, offering context over clarity. The account concludes with a timeline, glossary, list of nurses, documentation, bibliography, suggested websites, and an index.

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13. Review of Sophie Sleeps Over

russo sophie sleeps over Review of Sophie Sleeps OverSophie Sleeps Over
by Marisabina Russo; 
illus. by the author
Primary    Porter/Roaring Brook    32 pp.
3/14    978-1-59643-933-7    $16.99    g

Sophie and Olive are BBFFs (best bunny friends forever). When Olive announces a sleepover birthday party, Sophie is excited to go (“‘Sleepover parties are my favorite kind,’ said Sophie, even though she had never been to one”). She packs her overnight bag, puts on her tiara, and heads over to Olive’s. She gets a rude awakening, though, when she knocks on Olive’s front door and it’s opened by Penelope, who purports to be “‘Olive’s best friend.’ ‘No, I’m her best friend,’ said Sophie, but all of a sudden she wasn’t so sure.” During the party Penelope undercuts her at every turn (“You could just keep score,” Penelope suggests during ping-pong), and things come to a head over Sophie’s best-friend birthday gift to Olive. After lights-out, though, the competing bunny girls reach détente over their inability to sleep and missing their favorite dolls, paving the way for a new three-way best-friendship. Russo knows her way around drawing rabbit-children (The Bunnies Are Not in Their Beds; A Very Big Bunny, rev. 1/10), and in her tidy gouache illustrations these three bunnies, dressed in their birthday party best, display clear emotions that will be immediately recognizable to young readers and listeners. Friendship bliss, anticipation, hurt feelings, homesickness — all are familiar to (human) kids and are all conveyed with respect and sensitivity.

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14. Review of Caminar

brown caminar Review of Caminarstar2 Review of Caminar Caminar
by Skila Brown
Middle School    Candlewick    197 pp.
3/14    978-0-7636-6516-6    $15.99    g

“Forest sounds / all around / but on the ground / the sound / of Me / grew. Echoed. / I heard a path I could not see.” Exquisitely crafted poems are the basis of an unusually fine verse novel set in 1981, in the middle of the Guatemalan civil war. When the government helicopters appear in the air over the small village of Chopán, young Carlos obeys his mother when she tells him to go into the forest to hide. When all is quiet, he climbs down from his tree and soon comes across a group of four guerrilla rebel soldiers, lost in the forest. They confirm his greatest fears — that Chopán was burned to the ground, and that the people there were massacred by the government soldiers. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, Carlos begins to walk — caminar — on a mission to reach his grandmother’s village at the top of the mountain, to warn them about the helicopters. The poems, all written from Carlos’s point of view, are emotional, visceral, and lyrical. Layered and varied, some are shape poems; some can be read in more than one way, as if written from two perspectives; and all are accessible to young readers. When Carlos first encounters Paco, the rebel soldier his own age, their meeting is described in a poignant mirror poem. All combine to give us a chillingly memorable portrait of one child surviving violence and loss in a time of war.

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15. Review of A Confusion of Princes

nix confusion Review of A Confusion of Princesstar2 Review of A Confusion of Princes A Confusion of Princes
by Garth Nix
Middle School, High School    Harper/HarperCollins    337 pp.
5/12    978-0-06-009694-6    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-06-009695-3    $18.89    g
Nix’s gaming-inspired, sci-fi fantasy is a pleasing mix of high-adventure space drama, total bunkum (e.g., “it’s functioning on the tertiary backup level, without a holo…”), and wry, boyish charm. Khemri’s coming-of-age story begins with his emergence from years of genetic and technical “remaking” to take up his title of Prince. But he’s only one of millions of Princes in the Empire, and immediately finds that Princely life isn’t the easy, glamorous ride he’d imagined. Instead he has to join the Navy, suffer manifold humiliations, and, if he wants to live, heed his personal Master of Assassins. But Khemri’s telepathic intelligence is above average, and eventually he moves into a new sort of training that involves him becoming an almost normal human. That experience and his native intelligence cause him to reinterpret everything he’s been taught about the Empire. Nix’s fantasy has enough gadgets, escapes, battles, duels, deaths, and near-death experiences to keep die-hard adventure story readers enthralled. Happily, Khemri is also a thoughtful, winsome, and somewhat complex character, and his cheerfully self-deprecating tone and unpredictable choices make this romp entertaining on multiple levels.

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16. Review of Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas

bang oceansunlight 255x300 Review of Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the SeasOcean Sunlight:
How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas

by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm; illus. by Molly Bang
Primary    Blue Sky/Scholastic    48 pp.
5/12    978-0-545-27322-0    $18.99    g
Although it stands alone well, this book is a companion to Bang’s My Light (rev. 5/04) and Bang and Chisholm’s Living Sunlight (rev. 5/09). The authors bring a fresh perspective to the topic of food chains, focusing here on the critical and voluminous ocean-based plant life—plankton—and the transfer of energy and nutrients from the sun to these microscopic plants to ocean animals and back. After a brief overview of food chains and photosynthesis using a more-familiar land-based example, the narrative moves to the ocean. At the surface of the water, sunlight is absorbed by microscopic phytoplankton and eventually transferred to ocean animals through consumption of plankton by those in the shallower layers; for those where light cannot reach, energy is transferred through consumption of the animal and plant remains that drift downward. Energy-filled illustrations use glowing, brilliant colors—pulsing yellow sunlight hitting an electric blue sea; the delicate green skeletal spikiness of the microscopic plankton—and also contrast the “marine snow” (the remains of animals and plankton that sink down) with the inky depths where intriguing, transparent red and blue animals reside. These are sophisticated concepts for the target audience, but the authors employ clear and age-appropriate explanations, well-chosen text and visual analogies, and a series of rhetorical questions to excellent effect. Several pages of notes will be included in the final book.

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17. Review of A Bus Called Heaven

graham busheaven 209x300 Review of A Bus Called HeavenA Bus Called Heaven
by Bob Graham; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
3/12    978-0-7636-5893-9    $16.99
“The bus brought change to Stella’s street…Stella changed, too.” It’s quiet, pale Stella who takes her thumb out of her mouth and steps onto the bus that has been abandoned outside her house, claiming it for the whole neighborhood. “‘It could be…ours,’ she whispered.” And it’s Heaven (according to the sign taped on to the front of the bus) that provides this ethnically diverse, lower-middle-class group of people space to build a community. Everyone pitches in: cleaning the broken-down, trash-filled vehicle; giving it a cheery paint job (designed by Stella, carried out by two of the Street Ratz gang caught tagging the bus); and donating furniture, a goldfish and a dog, Mrs. Stavros’s bus-shaped cake, books, and Stella’s old table soccer game. Tough bikers, a rabbi, little kids, old people, an imam—all co-exist companionably in Heaven. Graham’s inviting ink and watercolor illustrations vary perspectives dynamically. Close-up, detailed panels celebrate difference, while expansive single- and double-page views pull back to place this little urban utopia in a bleak industrial landscape. Heaven is threatened when a tow truck shows up in the midst of the “music and dancing…picnics and laughter” to haul the “obstruction” to the junkyard. But Stella’s passion (and her impressive table soccer skills) helps win over the junkyard boss and win back the bus. Here, when a priest, a rabbi, and an imam step onto a bus called Heaven, it’s not a joke. It’s simply the way life should be.

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18. Mini Grey on Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey

grey tractionmanbeach 170x194 Mini Grey on Traction Man and the Beach OdysseyFrom the May/June 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine:
Reviewer Christine Hepperman asks Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey author/illustrator Mini Grey about a new favorite character. Read the full review of Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey here.

Christine M. Hepperman: Will Beach-Time Brenda reappear in future books, maybe headline a series of her own?

Mini Grey: Oooh—there’s an idea. Poor Brenda might have to wrestle with some undignified situations in the ordinary world, but perhaps save the day through the power of cocktail snacks, canapés, and optimism. I can see her battling household appliances and all sorts of other horrors and having to get very very dirty. But she’d need a sidekick—or could she share Scrubbing Brush?

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19. Review of Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey

grey traction man beach odyssey 263x300 Review of Traction Man and the Beach OdysseyTraction Man and the Beach Odyssey
by Mini Grey; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary     Knopf     32 pp.
5/12     978-0-375-86952-5     $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-96952-2     $19.99
The adventuresome duo from Traction Man Is Here! (rev. 3/05) and Traction Man Meets Turbodog (rev. 9/08) hits the beach for a manly day of scuba diving, picnic security duty, and…makeovers? Once again Grey’s action-figure hero and his sidekick Scrubbing Brush inhabit the fanciful world-within-a-world of creative play. Though the boy who totes the pair along in his beach bag is nominally in control of their actions, once they’re underwater exploring a tide pool, or left alone together on the picnic blanket, they take on lives of their own. Traction Man’s valiant campaign to keep Grandma’s dog Truffles away from lunch while the family swims comes to naught when Truffles carries him off and buries him in the sand. Scrubbing Brush digs Traction Man out, but then a wave whisks them both away, landing them in the clutches of another young beachgoer, who has her own ideas of how to play. Grey takes obvious delight in poking fun at Traction Man’s machismo by dressing him in a pink sarong and plunking him into an ice-cream party with some Beach- Time Brenda dolls. As usual, the wry cartoon art is teeming with animate characters—even the picnic quiche has a face. In the end, there’s a refreshingly gender-neutral pooling of resources as Beach-Time Brenda and her pal help the boys dig an “exploration hole to the Center of the Earth,” after which the whole crew floats happily on a “pinkly paisley inflatable dinghy.” Relaxation accomplished!

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20. Review of Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses

koertge lies knives and girls in red dresses1 Review of Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dressesstar2 Review of Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses
by Ron Koertge; illus. by Andrea Dezsö
High School     Candlewick     88 pp.
7/12     978-0-7636-4406-2     $19.99
A much-honored poet and novelist retells, in free verse and from various points of view, twenty-three familiar tales (mostly Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault). With a contemporary sensibility and voice, Koertge pitches directly to teenagers. Beauty’s Beast, though allowing that “her love…transformed me,” is still nostalgic for the time when his teeth were fangs and Beauty “almost wanted / me to break her neck and open her / up like a purse.” For the Ugly Duckling, “Grief is a street he skates down”; the swans, surrogate parents, beg, “Please don’t go away like / that again. We were worried sick.” There are several eager risk takers here, like the queen who outwits Rumpelstiltskin, then exits in a red cape, seeking a wolf. A few stories later, Red Riding Hood’s condescending account to her mother is a perfect parody: “I’m into danger, / okay? What? You said to tell you the truth and be, like, frank.” It’s also a swell mix of the comical, concrete, and macabre: “Anyway, it’s weird / inside a wolf, all hot and moist but no worse than flying / coach to Newark.” Dezsö’s choice of cut-paper illustrations is brilliant, a nod to Hans C. Andersen’s skill in that medium despite the radically different tone. Her stark silhouettes are peculiarly appropriate to such gruesome scenes as “The Robber Bridegroom” dismembering a bride, though the lurid gore is in a comfortably distancing black and white. Need to grab a restive class’s attention? Seek no further. And take note: “Wolf ” has the last word: “This is our forest…Perfect again when all your kind is dead.”

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21. Review of The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to 
Their Younger Selves

moon letterq 197x300 Review of The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to 
Their Younger SelvesThe Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to Their Younger Selves
edited by Sarah Moon, with 
contributing editor James Lecesne
Middle School, High School    Levine/Scholastic    
282 pp.
5/12    978-0-545-39932-6    $17.99
Inspired by mentors in her own childhood, editor Sarah Moon asked sixty-four gay, lesbian, and bisexual writers, illustrators, and publishing professionals to write letters to themselves at a younger age — names such as Marion Dane Bauer, Jacqueline Woodson, Gregory Maguire, Brian Selznick, and a host of others. The resulting letters combine advice, reminiscence, funny stories, and encouragement for readers struggling with their sexuality. As with any collection with such a narrow focus, repetition is a problem, but panels from graphic novel creators help to break up the text and vary the pace, and a few of the writers arouse interest with truly surprising revelations (David Levithan, for instance, writes about bullying, but from the perspective of being the bully; Martin Moran writes about the sexual abuse that led to his award-winning book The Tricky Part). A mostly secular exploration of growing up gay, the book has regrettably little advice for gay and questioning teens grappling with religious dilemmas. Still, with its repeated exhortations to relax more and worry less, this book might be a life-saver for some — and could function as an author list, as well, for teens wanting to read more about People Like Us.

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22. Review of Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics

rush for the gold Review of Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the OlympicsRush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics
by John Feinstein
Middle School, High School     Knopf     314 pp.
5/12     978-0-375-86963-1     $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-96963-8     $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-375-98455-6     $10.99
Timed to coincide with the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Feinstein’s sixth sports mystery novel again features teen reporters Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson—except that this time Susan Carol is a world-class swimmer in the 200- meter butterfly and Stevie is now her boyfriend. Speedo, Nike, Under Armour, and the Disney Channel are all interested in her, and Susan Carol only has to win a gold medal or two to gain lucrative contracts. She didn’t train to be a celebrity or a “show pony for corporations,” but thanks to her father, who falls prey to the agents’ offers, Susan Carol does indeed become a “human billboard” and America’s latest athlete/sex symbol. She is only important to the agents as long as she wins, and Stevie wonders just how far a corporation would go to ensure victory for its client. It turns out that the answer is “too far”; hence the mystery for Stevie to solve—a little too quickly and neatly, perhaps, but Feinstein’s legions of fans will revel in the intrigue at the Olympics and the excitement of Susan Carol’s races.

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23. Review of Why We Took the Car

herrndorf why we took the car Review of Why We Took the CarWhy We Took the Car
by Wolfgang Herrndorf; trans. from the German by Tim Mohr
Middle School, High School    Levine/Scholastic    250 pp.
1/14    978-0-545-48180-9    $17.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-545-58636-8    $17.99

Two teens abandon their lackluster lives and hit the Autobahn in this audacious tragicomedy. Mike Klingenberg, boring and unpopular, lives a life of quiet desperation at his Berlin junior high. New kid Tschick comes to class drunk and might be in the Russian mafia; he’s not winning friends, but at least everyone’s paying attention. So when Tschick rolls up to Mike’s house in a hotwired car and proposes a road trip without a map, destination, or driver’s license, Mike says yes. Although the telling begins at its ignominious end, their story is, in many ways, a traditional road trip: the characters ponder their existence and gain independence while mastering the stick shift, evading local police, and encountering a collection of increasingly weird locals. Mike’s narration is an anxious stream of wry humor and linked anecdotes, but the moments when his façade slips are abrupt and startling windows into the pain of social exclusion and the aching loneliness of being fourteen. A sharp coming-of-age journey, hilarious and heartrending in equal measure.

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24. Review of My Bus

barton my bus Review of My Busstar2 Review of My BusMy Bus
by Byron Barton; illus. by the author
Preschool    Greenwillow    40 pp.
4/14    978-0-06-228736-6    $16.99    g

In a companion volume to My Car (rev. 11/01), we ride along with Joe as he drives Bus #123 across a bold-hued landscape populated with feline and canine passengers. “At my first stop, one dog gets on my bus. / At my second stop, two cats get on my bus.” After four stops, he points out he has five dogs and five cats riding on his bus. And here’s where the real fun for toddler transportation enthusiasts begins: Joe drops off one dog and two cats at a boat (“They sail away”), two dogs and one cat at a train, and one dog and two cats at a plane; the last little dog (“My dog!”) goes home with Joe in his car. Beyond the initial excitement many young children will feel as they share Joe’s journey and see the departing animals through the windows of their various vehicles, there is so much here for repeated readings (and there will be repeated readings). Barton ingeniously introduces the basic concepts of cardinal and ordinal numbers, addition, subtraction, and sets, but he does it all so subtly that even parents may not realize they’re getting a math lesson. And yet it’s all there for little brains to absorb and work out on their own as they “sail, ride, and fly away” again and again. Illustrated in Barton’s signature style, with bold, flat colors and with only the most important visual details included, this is a welcome companion to My Car.

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25. Review of The Impossible Knife of Memory

anderson impossible knife of memory 170x257 Review of The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory
by Laurie Halse Anderson
High School     Viking     371 pp.
1/14     978-0-670-01209-1     $18.99     g

Hayley Kincain has spent the last five years riding shotgun in her father’s rig, discussing fractions and evolution — an on-the-road version of home schooling. Constant movement has helped keep the past at bay for both Hayley and her dad, a recent veteran plagued by graphic flashbacks and screaming nightmares. When they settle down so Hayley can attend her hometown high school for senior year, the dangerous memories threaten to overtake them both. Hayley’s caustic observations about the “fully assimilated zombies” who swarm the halls and the oxymoronic “required volunteer community service” are trademark Anderson. Old friend Gracie shares childhood memories with Hayley, but her stories draw blanks. What Hayley does remember, and can’t forgive, is her father’s girlfriend Trish walking out on them. Now Trish has reappeared, and Hayley blames her for making Dad’s drunken rages and blackouts even worse. How can she possibly care about math? Sweet, “adorkable” Finn offers to tutor her; he is smart enough to take it slow, and as she falls for him he even coaxes her to dare to think about a future. As ever, Anderson has the inside track on the emotional lives of adolescents; she plays high school clichés for laughs but compassionately depicts Hayley’s suffering as well as the hurts of Finn and Gracie, whose families are struggling with their own demons. The novel’s theme is woven artfully throughout as both Hayley and her dad fight the flashes of memory that are sure to tear them apart unless they confront them once and for all.

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