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1. Recommended books about adoption

This past Saturday, November 21st, was National Adoption Day, “a collective national effort to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving families.” To celebrate, we’ve pulled together a list of recommended titles featuring adoption, all reviewed and recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide at the time of their publication; reviews (with dates) reprinted below.

Picture books

cordell_wish“We wish you were here.” Two elephants describe their experience anticipating their child’s arrival in Matthew Cordell’s Wish. This poetic birth/adoption tale has an exquisitely light touch; pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations make what’s at stake clear. Try to keep a dry eye when a late-in-the-book illustration shows an ocean parting to reveal a child for its expectant parents on shore. (Disney/Hyperion, 2015)

dyckman_wolfie the bunnyIn Ame Dyckman’s Wolfie the Bunny, Dot isn’t pleased when a baby wolf foundling is left on the Bunny family’s doorstep — “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!” Her smitten parents ignore her. At the market, however, Wolfie is a boon to his big sister when a bear lunges toward them yelling, “DINNER!” The text’s humor keeps scariness in check; Zachariah OHora’s cartoonish acrylic paintings with comical touches match the tone. (Little Brown, 2015)

friedman_star of the weekCassidy-Li, whose parents adopted her from China, is Star of the Week in kindergarten. She’s making a poster with photos of the important people in her life, “but something is missing.” What about her birth parents, whom she doesn’t know? Author Darlene Friedman and artist Roger Roth, adoptive parents themselves, give their protagonist plenty of personality as they thoughtfully explore questions faced by adoptive families in Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles. (HarperCollins, 2009)

heo_ten days and nine nightsA Korean American girl eagerly anticipates the adoption of her baby sister from Korea in Ten Days and Nine Nights: An Adoption Story. Details are basic: Mommy leaves on an airplane, and big-sister-to-be helps Daddy, Grandpa, and Grandma prepare. Commendably, the story focuses on the girl’s experience rather than attempting to tug at parental heartstrings. Author-artist Yumi Heo’s airy illustrations match the child-friendly perspective. An author’s note offers brief facts about international adoption. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2009)

joose_nikolai the only bearBecause he growls and doesn’t “play nice,” Russian orphan Nikolai hasn’t been adopted yet; the art portrays him (and only him) as a bear. But Nikolai turns out to be the perfect child for one American couple, who feel “soft-bearish” and who know how to growl. Touches of humor in Barbara Joosse’s text and Renata Liwska’s art keep Nikolai, the Only Bear from becoming cloying. (Philomel, 2005)

lopez_best family in the worldContrary to her fantasies, orphan Carlota’s terrific new parents don’t turn out to be pastry chefs, pirates, etc., but they do bring her yummy pastries and pretend to dig for buried treasure. In Susana López’s The Best Family in the World, the light-handedness of storytelling belies the book’s depth, and the domestic scenes of Carlota and her new family are as wondrous as the scenes she imagined in Ulises Wensell’s illustrations. (Kane/Miller, 2010)

miura_big princessTaro Miura’s The Big Princess is a companion to The Tiny King with a welcome adoption-story aspect. A childless king finds a bug-size princess. His and the queen’s love for her grows daily — as does the princess. How to stop her from outgrowing the castle (and the family)? Digital collages feature improbably harmonizing elements: geometric shapes coexist with realistic imagery, and characters with Hello Kitty–like blank faces live out emotional scenes. (Candlewick, 2015)

parr_we belong togetherTodd Parr’s We Belong Together: A Book about Adoption and Families lists things that children need (a home, kisses) and explains that the parents and children pictured belong together because the adults can provide these things. The text is as simple as Parr’s bold illustrations, which feature many gender and color combinations (some people are blue and purple). The message is a bit obvious, but it’s a worthy and welcome one. (Little/Tingley, 2007)

sierra_wild about youWhen the zoo animals start having babies, two pandas and a tree kangaroo bemoan their childless state. Soon, however, the three find themselves with families that aren’t what they expected. Judy Sierra’s rhymes include plenty of surprises; Marc Brown’s illustrations feature a gently colored palette and little patterns. Like the duo’s Wild About Books, Wild About You! is good both for group sharing and as a bedtime story. (Knopf, 2012)

thisdale_niniA baby in a Chinese orphanage misses “a special voice and the promises it had made.” Far away, a couple longs for a baby to love. François Thisdale’s heartfelt sentiments in Nini are illustrated with a striking combination of drawing, painting, and digital imagery. At times this adoption tale strains for lyricism, but the feelings will resonate with many adoptive parents (if not their children). (Tundra, 2011)


Chapter books

harper_just grace and the terrible tutuTwo chapter books in Charise Mericle Harper’s Just Grace series have adoption-related plotlines. In Just Grace and the Terrible Tutu, Grace’s best friend Mimi’s parents are adopting a little girl. When the friends are hired as mother’s helpers by a neighbor, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Mimi to practice being a big sister. In Just Grace and the Double Surprise, Mimi’s little sister arrives, and things don’t go as planned. These entertaining stories are filled with Grace’s insightful, humorous commentary and amusing cartoon drawings, charts, and lists. (both Houghton, 2011)


Middle-grade fiction

ellis_out of the blueIn Out of the Blue by Sarah Ellis, Megan learns that as a young woman, her mother gave birth to a baby girl and placed her for adoption. Now, twenty-four years later, that child has sought out her birth mother. The family adjusts to this new situation, but Megan cannot reconcile herself to knowing that she may no longer be first in her mother’s affections. A rich story, written with grace and empathy, in which very real troubles are tempered with humor and love. (McElderry, 1995)

hof_mother number zeroIn Mother Number Zero by Marjolijn Hof, well-adjusted adopted child Fejzo decides to search for his birth mother (whom he calls “Mother Number Zero”). His hugely understanding parents are nervously supportive, but his sister (also adopted) is resentful. Once the search becomes official, Fejzo begins to have his own doubts. This quiet, thoughtful, and nuanced Dutch import is an original and touching addition to the literature of adoption. (Groundwood, 2011)

levy_misadventures of the family fletcherDana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, four adopted (and racially diverse) brothers and two dads star in this Penderwicks-esque chronicle of a year in their lives. Focusing each chapter on one boy while still keeping the whole family in the picture, Levy provides a compelling, compassionate, and frequently hilarious look at their daily concerns. Readers will want to be part of (or at least friends with) this delightful family. (Delacorte, 2014)

walter_close to the windIn Close to the Wind by Jon Walter, young Malik escapes from an unnamed war-torn country and grows up quickly in the company of older boys on the refugee ship. Once Malik arrives in the New World, he is adopted–but now that he is safe, Malik falls apart emotionally. Walter tells this suspenseful displacement story with restraint, the accumulation of small, concrete details in each scene sustaining tension. (Scholastic/Fickling, 2015)


Young adult fiction

kearney_secret of meIn Meg Kearney’s The Secret of Me, fourteen-year-old Lizzie was adopted as an infant, a fact she shares only with her closest friends. With their help, she reconciles her desire to know her birth mother with her overall contentment as part of a loving family. This sensitive, cathartic novel is told entirely through Lizzie’s poetry and includes author’s notes on poetics, recommended reading, and Kearney’s own adoption experience. The sequel, The Girl in the Mirror: A Novel in Poems and Journal Entries, is also beautifully wrought with memorable characters and true-to-life issues. (Persea, 2005 and 2012)

smith_alex crowIn Andrew Smith’s The Alex Crow, fifteen-year-old war refugee Ariel is adopted into the family of “de-extinction” scientist Jake Burgess and sent to camp with adoptive brother Max. Meanwhile, psychotic Leonard Fountain is on a deranged road trip. And the crew of the ship Alex Crow fights for survival on an ill-fated late-nineteenth-century Arctic voyage. Strong prose with a distinct teenage-boy sensibility anchors this ambitious novel’s exploration of survival and extinction. (Dutton, 2015)

zarr_how to save a lifePregnant eighteen-year-old Mandy agrees to live in the home of the woman, Robin, who is adopting her baby in Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life. Robin’s daughter Jill hates the idea, still grieving her father’s death. Mandy and Jill’s distinct voices tell their intertwined stories. The girls’ growth is made realistic through small inroads and slow progress. The depth of characterization is exceptional in this rewarding read. (Little, 2011)



deprince_taking flightMichaela DePrince’s inspirational memoir Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina (co-written with Elaine DePrince) traces Michaela’s journey: from an orphanage in war-ravaged Sierra Leone, through her adoption by an American couple, and finally to her rising ballet stardom (appearing in the documentary First Position; joining the Dutch National Ballet). Throughout, the daughter-and-mother writing team emphasizes how important optimism, love, and perseverance were to Michaela’s success. Striking textual imagery heightens the immediacy of Michaela’s experiences, whether tragic or triumphant. (Knopf, 2014)

hoffman_welcome to the familyMary Hoffman’s Welcome to the Family, a chatty, informative survey, covers all the bases, from families formed by birth and adoption to foster and blended families. Same-sex and single parents are represented in friendly cartoon art and text; mixed-race families are depicted in the Ros Asquith’s illustrations. The tone is light, though Hoffman acknowledges that things don’t always “go smoothly.” A teddy bear appears on most spreads, adding its own commentary. (Frances Lincoln, 2014)

rotner_i'm adoptedI’m Adopted! by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly features simple, conversational text and loads of colorful, engaging photos to cover how families are formed through adoption. The authors approach the subject in very general terms, allowing children to impose their own experiences. While most of the book is upbeat, the loss inherent in adoptions is also acknowledged. Children touched by the subject will find the straightforward discussion reassuring and easy to understand. (Holiday, 2011)

skrypuch_one step at a timeOne Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (sequel to Last Airlift) describes Tuyet’s adjustment to life with her adoptive Canadian family, the drama revolves around the surgery she must have on her leg due to polio. Readers will be just as riveted to this quieter but no-less-moving story as Tuyet bravely dreams of being able to run and play. Illustrated with photos. Reading list, websites. Ind. (Pajama Press, 2013)

warren_escape from saigonIn 1975 a child named Long emigrated from Vietnam to the United States and was adopted. In Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy, Andrea Warren deftly weaves into Long’s story information about the Vietnam conflict, life in Saigon, the plight of children during war, and the political machinations involved in airlifting thousands of youngsters to safety during the American evacuation. Reading list, source notes. Ind. (Farrar/Kroupa, 2004)

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2. Lights, camera, chapter books!

These lighthearted outings for early primary readers offer adventures both everyday (a run-in with a teacher, a classmate rivalry) and extraordinary (a dog’s rise to superstardom and…a ghost raccoon sighting).

davis_flop to the topIn Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing’s Flop to the Top!, young Wanda is a superstar — in her own mind. After posting a selfie taken with her droll, droopy-faced dog, Wilbur, she scores millions of online likes and hordes of admirers fill her street. But instead of Wanda, the crowd wants “FLOPPY DOG!” Wife-and-husband team Davis and Weing share author-illustrator duties for this expertly paced — and funny and topical — early-reader comic, with digitally rendered illustrations infused with warmth, color, and whimsy. (TOON, 5–8 years)

potter_piper green and the fairy treePiper Green, resident of Peek-a-Boo Island, Maine, and star of Ellen Potter’s Piper Green and the Fairy Tree, is about to start second grade. For her, this involves taking a lobster boat to school and insisting on wearing green monkey-face earmuffs. Her new teacher looks like a princess, so Piper assumes she’ll have a tinkly voice and won’t mind about the earmuffs; but Ms. Arabella does not live up to expectations. Very brief chapters and frequent illustrations by Qin Leng advance the story, as does Piper’s spunky first-person narration. How the standoff is resolved makes for a satisfying, funny early chapter book. (Knopf, 5–8 years)

mills_izzy barr running starIn Izzy Barr, Running Star, Izzy’s passion and dedication have made her the fastest runner in the third grade. That is, until classmate Skipper — whose dad is their P.E. teacher and the coach for Franklin School’s Fitness Club — beats her. Author Claudia Mills presents and resolves problems in a winning story, the third installment in the Franklin School Friends series, with friendly illustrations by Rob Shepperson. (Farrar/Ferguson, 5–8 years)

dicamillo_francine pouletFans of Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen’s Mercy Watson books will remember Francine Poulet, the animal control officer who tried to net Mercy in Mercy Watson Thinks like a Pig. In Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, Francine — fearless, and with an impressive resumé — receives a call about an unusual raccoon (“He shimmers! He screams like a banshee!”) on a roof. When the shimmery raccoon screams “Frannnnnnnnnnnyyyyy!” and hurtles toward her on the roof, she loses her confidence, and then her balance. The wacky plot comes smartly together with humorous insights and lively illustrations. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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3. Family ties

Families come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and configurations. The following nonfiction picture books present examples of this variety, with the common element being love.

petricic_my family tree and meIn My Family Tree and Me, Dušan Petričić creates an innovative introduction to the ordinary miracle of genealogy. Reading the book from front to middle, we meet the paternal line through five generations, Pops and Nana and all the rest. Reading from back to middle, we are given portraits of the maternal line, Gong Gong and Po Po and their parents and children. And in a glorious middle double-page spread we see the whole extended family; having met the whole gang, we can move back and forth, tracing and inventing individual stories. Cartoonist Petričić’s gift for caricature is put to joyful use here, showing one family in all its variations and particular beauty. (Kids Can, 4–7 years)

hoffman_welcome to the familyMary Hoffman’s chatty, informative Welcome to the Family covers all the bases — and then some — in its survey of how families are made. Friendly cartoon illustrations by Ros Asquith highlight various permutations, from families formed by birth and adoption to foster and blended families. Same-sex and single parents are represented in the art and text; mixed-race families are depicted in the illustrations. The tone throughout is light and straightforward, though Hoffman acknowledges that things don’t always “go smoothly” in families. A little teddy bear appears on most spreads, adding its own commentary (“Two moms. I never had one“) or clarifying information. The final page offers this discussion starter: “How did you come into YOUR family?” (Frances Lincoln, 4–7 years)

alko_case for lovingThe 1967 Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage throughout the country is given a picture-book accounting in Selina Alko and Sean Qualls’s The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. Richard Loving was white, Mildred Jeter’s skin was a “creamy caramel”; despite their different racial backgrounds, they fell in love and married, only to be arrested for miscegenation when they returned to their Virginia hometown after the wedding. While the book is honest about the obstacles the Lovings faced, its message and tone are optimistic, the feel-good atmosphere reinforced by the pencil, paint, and collage illustrations by Alko and Qualls (themselves partners in an interracial marriage). Sources and a suggested reading list are appended. (Scholastic/Levine, 4–7 years)

nelson_book itchVaunda Micheaux Nelson’s The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore is a picture book adaptation of her work No Crystal Stair, a history of the National Memorial African Bookstore founded in the 1930s by Nelson’s great-uncle, Lewis Michaux. Where the longer work had more than thirty narrators, this has but one: Michaux’s young son Lewis, a late-in-life child who witnessed the store’s doings during the tumultuous 1960s. Studded with Michaux’s aphorisms (“Don’t get took! Read a book!”), the book successfully conveys the vibrancy of the bookstore and its habitués, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. R. Gregory Christie, whose black-and-white drawings are such an inextricable part of No Crystal Stair, is here allowed full pages drenched with expressionistic color to convey the spirit of the place, time, and people. (Carolrhoda, 6–9 years)

From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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4. Boys to remember

Four novels featuring teenage boys — in both contemporary and historical settings — take on big issues, with memorable results.

reynolds_all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a ripped-from-the-headlines story written with nuance, sharp humor, and devastating honesty. When a quick stop at the corner store suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, two high school classmates are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad (who is African American) as its victim; Quinn (who is white) as its witness. The authors have brought together issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in racially tense America. (Atheneum/Dlouhy, 14 years and up)

leavitt_calvinThe seventeen-year-old star of Calvin by Martine Leavitt believes that his life is inextricably linked to the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes — a belief reinforced by the constant presence of the voice of tiger Hobbes in his consciousness. Recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, he’s convinced that if he can persuade the famously reclusive cartoonist Bill Watterson to draw a final cartoon of a teenage Calvin without Hobbes, he himself will be cured. On a pilgrimage to find Watterson, Calvin sets off across frozen Lake Erie, accompanied by old flame/current frenemy Susie. Along the way, Calvin and Susie examine — sweetly and humorously — their relationship and ponder the big existential questions of life. (Farrar/Ferguson, 14 years and up)

quintero_show and proveIn the summer of 1983, best friends — and alternating narrators in Sofia Quintero’s Show and Prove — Raymond “Smiles” King and Guillermo “Nike” Vega are working as camp counselors at a summer enrichment program in their South Bronx neighborhood. Smiles is crushed when he loses out on a promotion to senior counselor; Nike thinks that winning a break-dancing competition will impress his crush. As the summer goes on, neighborhood tensions and secrets are revealed, from the camp’s budget concerns to racial and religious conflicts among black Caribbeans, Puerto Ricans, and Palestinians. The novel features two vibrant, fully realized narrators with complex lives, a memorable supporting cast, and a complete immersion in the zeitgeist of the eighties, from music to politics. (Knopf, 14 years and up)

schmidt_orbiting jupiterIn Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter, sixth-grader Jack’s family fosters a fourteen-year-old boy with a troubled past. Joseph attacked a teacher, was subsequently incarcerated at a juvenile detention center, and has a baby daughter whom he’s never seen. Jack and his parents gradually peel away Joseph’s protective veneer, but the teen’s single-minded desire to parent his daughter — and then the arrival of Joseph’s violent father — leads to strife. The book’s ending is bittersweet but as satisfying as a two-box-of-tissues tearjerker can possibly be. (Clarion, 11–14 years)

From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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5. Comics Are Picture Books: A (Graphic) Novel Idea

Comic books are everywhere. Customers are purchasing them, readers of all ages are devouring them, teachers are using more and more of them in their classrooms, and they’re winning awards like crazy. Some people have applauded recent book-award committees’ open-mindedness to the comics format, while others remain conflicted. The recurrent question of whether ALA should sponsor a graphic novel award has taken up energies and attentions, with extra considerations to the Caldecott criteria and how a picture book is defined. Many claim that comic books and picture books have strong differences at their cores, and that the kidlit world needs to keep the two separate in order to protect and uphold that which distinguishes each from the other. We don’t see it this way. We believe that comic books and graphic novels (which we’ll refer to as “comics” from here on out) are picture books, and that there are many types of picture books, from those for the earliest readers to those intended for young adults and beyond.

The Caldecott criteria define a children’s picture book in part as “one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience.” In Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles write that a picture book is “defined by its particular use of sequential imagery, usually in tandem with a small number of words, to convey meaning.” According to comics theorist Scott McCloud (inspired by the work of comics legend Will Eisner), comics have a similar definition: they are “sequential art.” Definitions aside, picture books (including comics) share characteristics: they use the momentum of the page-turn, they have moments where text and image are interdependent (if there is text at all), and they afford readers the opportunity to construct meaning when words and images clash.

kang_you are not smallPicture books (including comics) come in various sizes, genres, styles, page lengths, color palettes, and intended audience age ranges. A single title can fall into multiple categories. Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant’s Geisel-winning You Are (Not) Small is both a picture book and an easy reader in the same way that Eleanor Davis’s Stinky, which was a Geisel honor book and an Eisner Award nominee, is both an easy reader and a comic. A book’s nominal literary format doesn’t limit its ability to succeed in another.

Picture books (including comics) are worthy of serious analysis. Whether they’re full-fledged graphic novels or thirty-two-pagers, whether they’re for teens or toddlers, rendered digitally or hand drawn, we evaluate comics using the same questions we ask when critiquing all picture books. We don’t ignore the pictures or read the text in a vacuum. We look at the styles used by the artists and question if they feel appropriate to the stories’ themes. We consider how each book does its job given its audience, genre, and format.

And so it surprises us when picture book–loving colleagues say that reading comics feels like foreign territory. We’ve thought long and hard about what conventions might feel exclusive to comics—and perhaps intimidating to picture book traditionalists — and have arrived at two: paneled layouts and visual text features (the latter including word balloons, thought bubbles, and the like). By spotlighting how these conventions are used successfully in a variety of books (including true-blue comics and picture books not classified as such), we hope to show that through close reading they can be recognized and understood by even the most reluctant comics reader.

Paneled Layouts

A panel often represents one moment in time, defined by a border. The sizes, shapes, and relationship of panels within a page and the relationship of that page to what came before and comes after are all part of layout. Panels can guide the reader through a story so subtly that they go unnoticed, while others are intended to be seen, emphasizing setting, characterization, and more. To illustrate this point, we will highlight compelling panel use in three picture books: a comic, a wordless picture book, and an easy reader.

spiegelman_lost in nycIn Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez’s comic, Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, innovative page layouts inform readers about the characters’ roundabout paths, the city, and its subway. In a scene featuring narrow vertical panels running the length of the page, the two main characters, en route to the Empire State Building, hold on to the tall, skinny gutters as if they were subway poles. In moments of the story when the characters are in the midst of the chaos of New York City, time and movement are not expressed through numerous panels or page-turns; instead, the story advances via multiple images of the same characters thinking, talking, and moving about within one double-page spread. This complex, winding layout reinforces the kinetic energy of the setting as well as the characters’ experience of being overwhelmed by it.

lawson_sidewalk flowersA mixture of panels and full-page illustrations are used in JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith’s wordless picture book Sidewalk Flowers. As a child picks wildflowers, shares them with others, and brings color to a black-and-white urban landscape, information is relayed through the ebb and flow of color between panels. This is especially effective in a scene featuring three panels stacked from top-to-bottom across a page. A distant house in the middle of the center panel (peach-colored, it is the first use of color on a building) cues readers that more color will be forthcoming after new flowers are picked; predictions are confirmed in the bottom frame by a sidewalk speckled with blues, reds, and oranges. The use of many panels within a single page allows for subtle shifts in color to be recognized immediately, as images can be compared simultaneously. In this instance, the paneled layout focuses readers’ attentions on a shift that might have gone unseen over the course of several page-turns.

willems_i will take a napIn Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie easy readers, whole pages function the way panels in a comic do. In I Will Take a Nap!, for example, the page-turns and gutters imply passage of time in an immediately connected sequence. In a scene in which Piggie reveals to Gerald that the two are actually in a dream (“if you are not napping, how can I be floating?”), her statement — divided between two connected word balloons — crosses the gutter, bridging the gap between two separate moments as she begins floating away. Because the size of the pages is consistent, the passage of time between pages can be intuitively understood. This predictable, linear, left-to-right reading experience is akin to reading a newspaper comic strip, and it frames the brisk pace and page-turning dynamic that emergent readers crave.

Visual Text Features

Many think of visual text features — including word balloons, captions, thought bubbles, and sound effects — as the meat and potatoes of comics. Visual text features can elevate dialogue and establish atmosphere — pulling readers further into the narrative. The following three books — a young adult comic, a nonfiction picture book, and a traditional picture story book — include visual text features that achieve this effect.

lewis_march bk 2In the YA comic March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, word balloons and sound effects don’t merely communicate what is said or overheard; they also enhance meaning through their physicality. In moments of duress, word balloons become buzz saw–edged, while cold dismissals received by civil rights workers appear frozen over, like icicles. When Aretha Franklin sings “America” during the 2009 presidential inauguration, the lyrics dominate the double-page spread, contained within curvy, robust, heavy-lined word balloons that convey her emotive performance. Powell runs the “BRRRIIINNNNG” of a ringing telephone and the “VRROOMM” of a speeding pickup truck off the page, representing sounds that carry. When fire hoses are used against civil rights protesters, it is not the streams of water or the protesters that are reflected in Bull Connor’s glasses; it is letters in the sound (“FFSSHHHHHHHH…”) of the water. The sound effect no longer just supports the action; instead, it is an integral part of the action. How a sound effect is illustrated can carry as much meaning as the letters or words chosen to express the sound.

rockliff_mesmerizedBorderless word balloons, with color-coded stems connecting text to each character, carry moments of dialogue in Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno’s nonfiction picture book, Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France. The absence of attributives (such as “he said” and “she said”) throughout the book allows for seamless transitions between conversation and exposition in the true tale of how the scientific method was used to debunk Dr. Franz Mesmer’s pseudoscience. On a twisting and turning banner that weaves through a double-page spread, behind a character’s leg and out over a bridge, the murmurings of a crowd are featured (“HA HA HA MESMER HA HA HA BZZ BZZ BZZ”); part of the banner is blocked, evoking moments when one hears only bits and pieces of what is being said in a large group. When Franklin’s “blind”-test methodology is explained, the process is described within labels on old-timey medicinal jars and tubes. This presentation not only communicates the facts but also adds context and brings the historic setting to life.

vernick_first grade dropoutIn Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell’s picture book, First Grade Dropout, thought bubbles house the young protagonist’s memories, including the embarrassing moment when he accidentally called his teacher “Mommy.” While these memories are communicated mostly through pictures (and are sometimes enhanced by word balloons and sound effects of their own), the present-tense narration occurs in the form of traditional expository text. This approach clearly separates past and present, and it allows readers to interpret all that the boy remembers, thinks, and does. When a chorus of obtrusive “HA! HA! HA!”s spread across the page in multiple colors and sizes, the sound effects reinforce the boy’s inescapable shame. The “HA!”s break free from their thought-bubble boundary: the boy’s feelings of humiliation cannot be contained. Here, visual text features provide added insight into the character’s state of mind.

Comics might be where paneled layouts and visual text features are most commonly found, but these features are not unique to comics. The conventions (and definitions) of picture books and comics overlap greatly because they are part of the same whole. That’s why it is hard for us to separate comics from the rest of the picture book world. As Charlotte Zolotow wrote in the March/April 1998 Horn Book Magazine, “There are all sorts of picture books. There is a place for them all.” Zolotow was writing about diversity in content rather than format, but we like to think that the spirit is the same. The picture book umbrella is broad. That’s a good thing, because even though they may not know it, those who evaluate picture books have the skillset to read comics critically. They only need to recognize the value of their experiences, approach every work with an open mind, and think outside the panels once in a while.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Really scary middle grade

Horrifying Hymenoptera, frightening faeries, malicious magick, and creepy corpses come out to play in these chilling middle-grade novels.

oppel_nestSteve’s baby brother comes back from the hospital sick (“there was something wrong with his heart and his eyes and his brain”) and needing lots of care, so his parents don’t pay much attention when Steve develops a fear of the wasps in the backyard. The boy finds comfort in a recurring dream in which a compassionate voice offers to make everything better: all Steve must do is say yes, and his dream confidante will turn her promise of a healthy baby into reality. In his (terrifying!) book The Nest, Kenneth Oppel’s language is straightforward, but the emotional resonance is deep. Jon Klassen‘s full-page black-and-white drawings — simple, but with maximum impact, in shades of light, dark, and darker — astutely capture the magnitude of a child’s imagination when he can rely only upon himself. (Simon, 10–12 years)

hahn_tookIn Mary Downing Hahn‘s Took, Daniel’s family abruptly leaves Connecticut for a simpler lifestyle in West Virginia after Daniel’s father loses his job. Daniel and his little sister, Erica, find their new dilapidated home and the woods that surround it frightening, and the kids at school tease them with scary tales of a strange old woman, a man-eating razorback hog, and a little girl who disappeared from their house fifty years before. Daniel does not believe these stories, but Erica becomes progressively stranger, withdrawing from her family and obsessing over her look-alike doll, Little Erica. Told alternatingly through Daniel’s first-person narration and a third-person omniscient narrator, the story spookily — and effectively — weaves in the oral tradition of folklore, legends, and ghost stories. (Clarion, 10–12 years)

smith_hoodooHoodoo by Ronald L. Smith is a creepy Southern Gothic ghost story focused on the insular 1930s black community of Sardis, Alabama. Folks there believe in equal measure in their God and in folk magick (or “hoodoo”). Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher doesn’t have a speck of magick in him—or so he thinks. When a Stranger, a nasty, foul-smelling incarnation of evil, comes to town Hoodoo discovers the magick deep within himself and the strength and heart to summon it. Filled with folk and religious symbols, the story is steeped in time and place. Hoodoo’s earnest first-person narrative reveals a believable innocent who can “cause deeds great and powerful.” (Clarion, 10–12 years)

trevayne_accidental afterlife of thomas marsdenWhile out grave-robbing one night, Thomas Marsden — star of The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden — digs up a corpse that looks exactly like him. In his hand the dead boy is holding tickets to a performance by the famous spiritualist Mordecai, along with a note bearing the instruction Speak to no one. As it turns out, Thomas is of faerie descent, and his people have been enslaved by Mordecai. As the last surviving member of the royal line, it’s up to Thomas to break Mordecai’s enchantment. Author Emma Trevayne plays her cards close to the vest, slowly doling out clues; the central drama — Thomas’s decision whether to help the faeries despite having been rejected by them at birth — makes it worth the wait. By the end, the boy’s humanity holds the key to the faeries’ salvation, leading to a satisfying resolution. (Simon, 10–12 years)

From the October 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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7. Pick your poison

A chilling short story collection, two suspenseful novels, and one book that’s a bit of both: there’s something here for every young adult horror fan.

tucholke_slasher girls & monster boysEach of the fourteen short tales of horror in Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, selected by April Genevieve Tucholke, is inspired by at least one other story, film, or song: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Hitchcock movies, Carrie, Zombieland, etc. With such eclectic antecedents, a wide range of approaches to the theme, and settings that span time and cultures, the resulting collection is satisfyingly diverse and compelling. After encountering the horrors here, variously supernatural and disturbingly human, readers may want to leave the lights on. (Dial, 14 years and up)

lee_this monstrous thingIn Mackenzi Lee’s This Monstrous Thing, set in an early-nineteenth-century alternate-universe Geneva, Alasdair Finch lives with a terrible secret: he’s responsible for the accident that killed his brother Oliver. He’s also responsible for having furtively dug up Oliver’s body and re-animated him entirely with clockwork parts. Now, two years later, an arrest warrant forces Alasdair to flee the city, leaving his monstrous brother behind. This retelling of Frankenstein, set in the year the novel came out—and with Mary Godwin (Shelley’s maiden name) as a character — has all the gothic atmosphere of Shelley’s classic horror story. (HarperCollins/Tegen, 13–16 years)

hunt_13 days of midnightSixteen-year-old Luke Manchett, protagonist of Leo Hunt’s 13 Days of Midnight, thinks he’s got it made when his estranged father, host of a popular ghost-hunting TV show, dies suddenly. Luke will inherit millions if he just signs the creepy goatskin contract proffered by lawyer Mr. Berkley. Luke does, and soon regrets his decision when it turns out he has also inherited the secret to his father’s success: necromantic power and a mutinous spirit Host. The frequent dark humor of Luke’s narration is balanced by moments of true suspense and satisfyingly complex relationships. (Candlewick, 13–16 years)

shelton_thirteen chairsTwelve strangers meet by candlelight to tell ghost stories in Dave Shelton’s Thirteen Chairs. A thirteenth — Jack, a boy who gate-crashes the gathering — listens and waits for his turn. As the tellers finish, they blow out their candles until only Jack is left…but by then he is certain that the stories are more real than anyone has let on. The ghost stories’ varied subjects and the different voices employed in their narration keep the pace moving along nicely. The common theme of the tales — that the dead seek retribution on their killers, or sometimes on bystanders who are just a little too curious — provides low-key chills. (Scholastic/Fickling, 11–14 years)

From the October 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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8. Tricks and treats

Spiders, trolls, mummified cats, and monsters with three heads. Oh, my! Perfect for Halloween story hours, here are four new picture books that will give young audiences something to be (not too) frightened about. For more new recommended Halloween picture books, see 2015 Horn Boo!

seeger_i used to be afraidI Used to Be Afraid by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a great courage booster for kids with pre-Halloween jitters. “I used to be afraid of SPIDERS,” a young girl begins. Turn the page — which features a die-cut arachnid — and the spider shows up against a large, beautiful web. “But not anymore,” the girl declares. She also used to be afraid of the dark, being alone, etc., and with each page-turn we see how she overcame that fear. The book’s thick, glossy pages offer enticing colors and simple images with open spaces. Change, shadows, a brother in a monster mask — each die-cut works effectively to turn something-to-fear into something-not-so-scary. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 3–6 years)

jenkins_fun book of scary stuffIn Emily Jenkins’s The Fun Book of Scary Stuff, a boy shares with his two dogs the many things that scare him (e.g., monsters, witches, trolls, the school crossing guard). While the pug seems sympathetic, the self-proclaimed “bravest dog ever” bull terrier is unimpressed by the child’s fears. When it comes to the dark, though, the bull terrier freaks out, and his terror pushes the boy to take charge. Hyewon Yum’s expressive pictures show scary things that aren’t that scary — and illustrate the reassuring fact that everyone gets the willies. (Farrar/Foster, 5–8 years)

ewert_mummy cat“Deep within this maze of stone, / a creature wakes up, all alone.” This creature is the feline star of Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, set in ancient Egypt among the sphinx and the pyramids. As he does every one hundred years, the mummy cat emerges from a small coffin to search for his mistress-in-life, “the girl-queen, Hat-shup-set.” He prowls the pyramid, looking wistfully at paintings on the wall that depict their happy life together. Lisa Brown’s cleverly composed illustrations enhance the eerie ancient atmosphere. Information on Egyptian burial customs and a key to hieroglyphic messages in the pictures are appended. (Clarion, 5–8 years)

liniers_written and drawn by henriettaIn Written and Drawn by Henrietta (really written and drawn by cartoonist Liniers), young Henrietta uses her brand-new colored pencils to create a nail-bitingly thrilling story about a girl named Emily and the three-headed monster that emerges from her wardrobe one night. The adventure — in which Emily joins the scary-looking but actually friendly monster in the Narnia-like wardrobe and braves another, truly terrifying monster—is depicted in brightly colored, messy, dramatic scrawls. Neat panels, meanwhile, show Henrietta drawing the story — and cleverly commenting on its progress. A Spanish version, Escrito y dibujado por Enriqueta, is also available. (TOON, 6–9 years)

From the October 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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9. Recommended Narrative Nonfiction: Young Adult

bausum_stonewallBausum, Ann Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights
120 pp. Viking 2015. ISBN 978-0-670-01679-2
Bausum begins with a detailed, nuanced exposition of the June 1969 Stonewall riots as a galvanizing moment for the gay rights movement, then traces the movement’s evolution (in a somewhat more cursory way) for the second half of the book. Bausum’s narrative integrity makes her conclusions about the persecution and resilience of the LGBTQ community all the more powerful. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Homosexuality; Activism

Superman Versus the Klu Klux KlanBowers, Rick Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate
160 pp. National Geographic 2012. ISBN 978-1-4263-0915-1
LE ISBN 978-1-4263-0916-8
In 1946, the producers of the Superman radio show deployed their character’s popularity in a campaign against bigotry. Bowers explains how he dug through myths, examined original archives, and reached tentative conclusions about what most likely happened and why. A complex history of organizations guided by both ideology and profit, people both well-meaning and flawed, and shifts in popular sentiment. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Visual Arts; Cartoons and comics; Ku Klux Klan; History, American; Heroes; Race relations; Prejudices; Radio

fleischman_eyes wide openFleischman, Paul Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines
204 pp. Candlewick 2014. ISBN 978-0-7636-7102-0
PE ISBN 978-0-7636-7545-5 Ebook ISBN 978-0-7636-7407-6
A wake-up call about the environmental crisis, the book homes in on five “key fronts” — population, consumption, energy, food, and climate — and explores historical and sociological contexts. Fleischman writes urgently, conversationally, and inspirationally, in a flow of ideas that can be dizzying. Yet none of the concepts is dumbed-down. A refreshingly opinionated approach to informed action. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Pollution and Conservation; Global warming

fleming_family-romanovFleming, Candace The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
287 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2014. ISBN 978-0-375-86782-8
LE ISBN 978-0-375-96782-5 Ebook ISBN 978-0-375-89864-8
Fleming has outdone herself with this riveting work of narrative nonfiction. Her focus here is not just the Romanovs, but the Revolutionary leaders and common people as well. The epic, sweeping narrative seamlessly incorporates scholarly authority, primary sources, appropriate historical speculation, and a keen eye for the most telling details. Two sixteen-page inserts contain numerous captioned photographs. Map, genealogy, and source notes included. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Europe; Romanov, House of; Nicholas II; Soviet Union; Biographies; Russia; Kings, queens, and rulers; Russian Revolution

The Boys Who Challenged HitlerHoose, Phillip The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
   198 pp. Farrar 2015. ISBN 978-0-374-30022-7
When Hitler invaded Denmark, teenaged Knud Pedersen (with his brother and some mates) used civil disobedience to pester the Nazis, inspiring a larger-scale Danish revolt. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pedersen’s own words into the larger narrative of wartime Denmark, showing how the astonishing bravery of ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. An outstanding addition to the WWII canon. Bib., ind. Websites.
Subjects: World War II; Denmark; Righteous Gentiles; Activism; Nazism

mcclafferty_fourth down and inchesMcClafferty, Carla Killough Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment
96 pp. Carolrhoda 2013. ISBN 978-1-4677-1067-1
McClafferty’s informative and useful book focuses on football to discuss the serious but historically trivialized condition of concussion. Starting with football’s beginnings, McClafferty details the game’s early casualties; the controversy over its growing presence as a college sport; and how it became entrenched in American culture. She then goes on to cover the neuroscience behind head trauma and the increased awareness of the dangers. Reading list. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Sports; Sports—Football; Human body—Brain

mitchell_freedom summer murders_170x227Mitchell, Don The Freedom Summer Murders
256 pp. Scholastic 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-47725-3
Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-63393-2
The murders of three young civil rights workers — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner — are the focus of Mitchell’s absorbing book. He conducted interviews with friends and family members of the men, and provides a fascinating biographical sketch of each, along with a thorough account of the police investigation. This compelling book will grab you from its opening paragraphs and won’t let go. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Government, Economics, and Education; African Americans; Race relations; Civil rights; Murder; History, American; Activism

pinkney_rhythm ridePinkney, Andrea Davis Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound
166 pp. Roaring Brook 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-973-3
As related by an irrepressible narrator called “the Groove,” this history of Motown smartly places the company and its hit records in the context of (mostly) 1960s America — and has a great time doing so. While the tone is generally peppy, the book gives due attention to the racism the company and its artists faced. An excellent discography and many photographs are included. Reading list, timeline. Ind.
Subjects: Music; African Americans; History—American

sheinkin_most dangerousSheinkin, Steve Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
361 pp. Roaring Brook 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-952-8
With the timing and prowess of a writer of thrillers, Sheinkin takes on a spectacularly complex story — Daniel Ellsberg’s evolution from “cold warrior” to antiwar activist, and why and how he leaked the Pentagon Papers — and makes it comprehensible for teens. Sheinkin has an unparalleled gift for synthesizing story and bringing American history to life. Judiciously placed archival photographs appear throughout.
Subjects: History, Modern—Vietnam War; Crime; Government; Biographies; Ellsberg, Daniel

Courage Has No ColorStone, Tanya Lee Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers
148 pp. Candlewick 2013. ISBN 978-0-7636-5117-6
The World War II–era 555th Parachute Infantry Company, nicknamed the Triple Nickles, didn’t actually fight anywhere, as white soldiers didn’t want to fight alongside black soldiers. The book’s focus is wide: there are sections on segregation and stereotypes, Japanese American internment camps, Japanese balloon bombs, the Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Firefly, brought to life with archival photographs and Stone’s always clear prose. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: North America; Race relations; African Americans; Armed forces; Flight; Soldiers; History, Modern—World War II

From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?


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10. Recommended Narrative Nonfiction: Intermediate

bartoletti_terrible typhoid maryBartoletti, Susan Campbell Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
   230 pp. Houghton 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-31367-5
What was it like to be a servant, an immigrant, a woman in the early twentieth century? Bartoletti weaves the answers into the beginning of “Typhoid Mary” Mallon’s story — using Mary as a lens to view a wider swath of American society — then covers epidemiologist George Soper’s cat-and-mouse game of tracking Mary down. Excellent nonfiction with a novelistic trim size and narrative. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Medicine, Human Body, and Diseases; New York (State); Diseases—Typhoid fever

Skull in the RockBerger, Lee R., and Aronson, Marc The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins
   64 pp. National Geographic 2012. ISBN 978-1-4263-1010-2
LE ISBN 978-1-4263-1053-9
Paleontologist Berger and son Matthew’s recent find gave scientists a nearly intact skeleton from a new species, Australopithecus sediba. Detailed accounts of advances in the field and the supporting technology are intertwined with the story of Berger’s not-always-straightforward career path. The book is enhanced by illustrative material, including photographs and striking facial reconstructions of these ancient ancestors. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Science—Prehistoric Life; Paleontology; Archaeology; Evolution; South Africa; Fossils; Anthropology

brown_drowned cityBrown, Don Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
   96 pp. Houghton 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-15777-4
A comic-book format delivers the full force of Hurricane Katrina and its impact on New Orleans. When the storm hits the city, Brown hits readers with the consequences: flooding, fear, desperation, death, and frustration. Meticulously documented facts and quotes from victims caption the commanding art. If a book’s power were measured like a hurricane’s, this would be a category five. Bib.
Subjects: Natural disasters—Hurricanes; Disasters; New Orleans (LA); Graphic novels

freedman_angel islandFreedman, Russell Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
81 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-547-90378-1
Chinese poems translated by Evans Chan. Freedman’s slender volume on the history and importance of California’s Angel Island Immigration Station — the portal for Asian immigration to the U.S. — covers a lot of ground. He weaves a clear and straightforward narrative history with abundant quotations, excerpts from diaries and wall poems, and archival photographs. This is a clearly written account of a lesser-known side of American immigration history. Bib., ind.
Subjects: North America; Asian Americans; Angel Island (CA); Immigration; San Francisco (CA); Chinese Americans

Invincible MicrobesMurphy, Jim and Blank, Alison  Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure
149 pp. Clarion 2012. ISBN 978-0-618-53574-3
Tuberculosis has been a medical scourge through much of human history, and new drug-resistant strains keep the threat of a pandemic always on the horizon. This book brings young readers up to speed with a scientific explanation of the microbe as well as medical and social histories of the disease. Despite disparate elements, the information comes together cohesively for an engaging read. Illustrations and photographs are included. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Medicine, Human Body, and Disease; Diseases—Tuberculosis; Microbiology; Epidemics

Heart and SoulNelson, Kadir Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
   108 pp. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray 2011. ISBN 978-0-06-173074-0
The unnamed narrator of this graceful and personalized overview of African American history provides a sweeping account that covers history from the Colonial era to the present day. Each page of text is accompanied by a magnificent oil painting, forty-seven in all, including six dramatic double-page spreads. The illustrations, combined with the narrative, give a sense of intimacy. A tour de force. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: History—North America; African Americans; Slavery; History, American

silvey_untamedSilvey, Anita Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall
   96 pp. National Geographic 2015. ISBN 978-1-4263-1518-3
Foreword by Jane Goodall. This accessible account of Goodall’s life explores her nontraditional entry to scientific fieldwork; the attention from the National Geographic Society that made her famous; her work ethic and innovative scientific methods; her efforts to reform the use of chimpanzees in research laboratories; and current technological advances in primate research. Silvey accompanies her main narrative with informative text boxes and vivid photographs. Map, timeline. Bib., ind.
Goodall, Jane; Animals—Chimpanzees; Scientists; Women—Scientists; Women—Biographies; Animal behavior

From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?


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11. Recommended Narrative Nonfiction: Picture Books

applegate_ivanApplegate, Katherine Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
40 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-25230-1
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Applegate introduces picture-book readers to the true story that inspired her Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan. In poetic prose she describes gorilla Ivan’s early life in Africa; his dramatic capture; his time on display in a shopping mall; and his transition to the Atlanta Zoo. Karas’s mixed-media illustrations — in his warm and unaffected style — are at once straightforward and provocative.
Subjects: Mammals; Animals—Gorillas; Zoos; Shopping malls

bang_buried-sunlight_170x209Bang, Molly and Chisholm, Penny Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
48 pp. Scholastic/Blue Sky 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-57785-4
Illustrated by Molly Bang. Bang and Chisholm explain the production and consumption of fossil fuels, along with the consequences of all that energy use: climate change. The sun serves as narrator describing the relationship between photosynthesis (plants) and respiration (animals) and energy; a slight imbalance produces fossil fuels. Bang’s illustrations brilliantly represent the chemistry: bright yellow dots of energy against a deep-blue background hover over their producers.
Subjects: Earth Science; Energy; Astronomy—Sun; Global warming; Fossil fuels

bryant_right-word_170x231Bryant, Jen The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
48 pp. Eerdmans 2014. ISBN 978-0-8028-5385-1
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Apt language and ingenious imagery combine to tell the life story of Peter Mark Roget, creator of the thesaurus. Bryant’s linear telling follows Peter closely, expressing his curiosity, sensitivity, and populist spirit in language both decorous and warm. Clever book design and visionary illustration add layers of meaning. Sweet embellishes her own gentle watercolors with all manner of clippings and realia. Reading list, timeline. Bib.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Language—Vocabulary; Great Britain; Roget, Peter Mark; Books and reading

george_ galápagos georgeGeorge, Jean Craighead Galápagos George
40 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-028793-1
Illustrated by Wendell Minor. The author asks readers to extrapolate from the life cycle of a single female Galápagos tortoise, Giantess George, to the development of the species as a whole. She and other tortoises are swept away to different islands in a storm; over thousands of years, they evolve into different subspecies. Minor’s painterly illustrations showcase the changing setting and the magnificence of the tortoises. Reading list, timeline, websites. Glos.
Subjects: Reptiles and Amphibians; Galápagos Islands; Animals—Tortoises; Evolution

heos_iflyHeos, Bridget. I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are
   40 pp. Holt 2015. ISBN 978-0-8050-9469-5
A fly argues why he should be the science-class representative for insect life cycles instead of the overexposed butterfly. A skeptical class grills him about unsavory habits (garbage-eating, disease-spreading). Eventually convinced that “Flies rule!,” they capture the fly for study, and he changes his tune. Cleverly skewering elements of the typical animal book, this take on insects is refreshing, amusing, and scientifically accurate. Bib., glos.
Subjects: Animals—Flies; Life cycles; Science—Insects and Invertebrates

mattick_finding winnieMattick, Lindsay Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
   56 pp. Little, Brown 2015. ISBN 978-0-316-32490-8
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. A boy’s mother tells him the story of his great-great-grandfather, owner of a baby bear named Winnie, and the circumstances that led to another boy, Christopher Robin Milne, befriending Winnie — inspiring that boy’s father to write some children’s tales. Mattick, the storytelling mother in this book, embellishes her family’s history with evocative, playful language, matched by the period warmth of Blackall’s carefully composed images.
Subjects: Animals—Bears; Milne, A. A.; Family—Mother and son; Toys; Authors; Biographies

petricic_my family tree and mePetričić, Dušan My Family Tree and Me
   24 pp. Kids Can 2015. ISBN 978-1-77138-049-2
Reading from front to middle, we meet the narrator’s paternal line through five generations. From back to middle are portraits of the maternal line. And in a glorious middle double-page spread we see the whole extended family and can trace and invent individual stories. Petričić’s gift for caricature is used joyfully in this celebration of ancestry, showing one family’s variations and particular beauty.
Subjects: Social Sciences—Families, Children, and Sexuality; Genealogy

Separate Is Never EqualTonatiuh, Duncan Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
40 pp. Abrams 2014. ISBN 978-1-4197-1054-4
In 1947 the Mendez family fought for — and won — the desegregation of schools in California. Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author’s note with photos is appended. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Government, Economics, and Education; Schools; Hispanic Americans; Civil rights; Mendez, Sylvia

From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?


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12. Picturing fantasy

Funny, action-packed, thought-provoking (and sometimes all of the above), these three graphic novels and one…well, what do you call Brian Selznick’s books? take readers on fantastic adventures.

selznick_marvelsBrian Selznick defined his own format with The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. He pushes the envelope even further in The Marvels. Black-and-white drawings (over four hundred pages’ worth) wordlessly tell the story of a storm, a shipwreck, and a rescue in a theater. In the text narrative that follows, a boy named Joseph runs away from boarding school to his uncle Albert’s house in London, a place that feels strangely from another time. Selznick is a unique and masterful storyteller, and his story-inside-a-story unfolds an emotional narrative that will leave readers marveling. (Scholastic, 10–12 years)

mccoola_baba yaga's assistantIn Marika McCoola’s Baba Yaga’s Assistant, Masha answers a help-wanted ad to become assistant to the mortar-and-pestle-riding, child-eating folkloric character. To win the position, she must creatively accomplish challenges set forth by Baba Yaga. Masha draws on lessons learned through her grandmother’s stories and her own inherited magical ability, uncovering her family’s complex connection to the witch along the way. Illustrator Emily Carroll‘s vividly colored digital art establishes setting and tone. Comprised of short chapters, this graphic novel shines in its pacing, harmony of image and text, and use of flashbacks to advance plot. (Candlewick, 12–14 years)

watson_princess decomposia and count spatulaWith her hypochondriac father taken to his bed, capable Princess Decomposia of the Underworld — star of Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula — is running the show…and running herself ragged. A baker named Count Spatula joins the castle staff, and his nourishing food and supportive demeanor help the princess get through her hectic days. When the king has him fired, the princess must decide whether to stand up to her father. Andi Watson’s unique and funny graphic novelpopulated by friendly creatures of the night — has a decidedly supernatural twist, but at its core is a relatable tale of self-actualization and blossoming romance. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 12–14 years)

stevenson_nimonaBallister Blackheart — ex-knight and current supervillain — is focused on the destruction of the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics. He also wouldn’t mind getting even with Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, a knight-school acquaintance who shot off Blackheart’s right arm. Just as Blackheart’s plans are coming to fruition, plucky young shapeshifter Nimona shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his new sidekick. Set in a medieval-type kingdom mixed with futuristic science, Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Nimona entertainingly tweaks both the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Nimona herself is beautifully flawed and refreshingly unstereotypical. (HarperTeen, 11–15 years)

From the August 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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13. Easy reading

With summer coming to a close and school peeking its head around the corner, children can get into the swing of things with the following titles about kid-friendly subjects, from dance and princesses to raccoons and robots.

shea_ballet catIt’s that age-old childhood dilemma: “What do you want to play today?” In Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret, pals Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony struggle to find an activity upon which they can agree. Ballet Cat only wants to dance. Long-suffering Sparkles admits, “Sometimes I don’t want to play ballet!” Bob Shea’s first easy reader contains an economy of both words and art with deceptively simple yet exuberant illustrations — and it’s funny to boot. Frog and Toad, Henry and Mudge, Gerald and Piggie: make room. (Disney/Hyperion, 5–8 years)

hatke_little robotA lonely little girl, star of Ben Hatke’s mostly wordless graphic novel Little Robot, finds a tool belt along with a mysterious box in the woods. Inside is an adorably uncoordinated robot, just the right height and temperament to be a companion. Unfortunately for the two of them, the warehouse notices that unit 00012 is missing, and a large, menacing robot is sent to reclaim it. Unframed panel illustrations give an expansive quality to this lively, entertaining book. Well-plotted and -paced, this engaging story of loneliness, bravery, and friendship builds to a satisfying (and sweet) conclusion. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 5–8 years)

dicamillo_francine poulet meets the ghost raccoonIn Kate DiCamillo‘s Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, animal control officer Francine takes a call about an unusual, shimmery (and possibly talking) raccoon on a house roof. The wacky plot comes smartly together with humorous insights bolstered by Chris Van Dusen’s lively illustrations. Familiar characters lead the story to its climax on Deckawoo Drive, resulting in the raccoon’s capture, the restoration of Francine’s self-esteem — and lots of toast. For new chapter-book readers looking for a bit more of a challenge, this second entry in Mercy Watson spinoff series Tales from Deckawoo Drive continues to explore the neighborhood and all its fascinating and comical local characters. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

potter_piper green and the fairy treeAuthor Ellen Potter puts her own stamp on the spunky-quirky-stubborn girl story in Piper Green and the Fairy Tree. Piper, resident of Peek-a-Boo Island, Maine, is about to start second grade. Her new teacher looks (and walks—swish!) like a princess, so Piper assumes she’ll have a tinkly voice and won’t mind about the monkey-face earmuffs Piper always wears; but Ms. Arabella does not live up to expectations, and soon Piper is in trouble. Very brief chapters and frequent illustrations by Qin Leng swiftly advance the story, as does Piper’s — yes — spunky, quirky, stubborn first-person narration. (Knopf, 5–8 years)

From the August 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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14. Poetry and pictures

Poetry appears in many forms in these four illustrated books: one collection of old favorites, two books that present original poetry in both Spanish and English, and one biography of an enslaved man who became a poet.

yoon_beastly verseJooHee Yoon’s sixteen selections of poems about animals in Beastly Verse include the usual suspects from Nash, Blake, Belloc, and other favorite poets, but the pictures are the collection’s highlight. Belloc’s yak, for example, is a big red scribbly beast planted firmly in a snowy mountain landscape. The book is big and square and sturdy, with thick off-white paper contrasting with the embellishment Yoon pours onto each animal and scene via overlays of three primary colors. But as eye-catching as the pictures are, the artist knows to pay attention to the poems and reflect their moods. (Enchanted Lion, 3–6 years)

paschkis_flutter and humWritten first in Spanish then translated into English by author-illustrator Julie Paschkis, each poem in Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems / Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales is intricately connected to its corresponding painting, with additional, thematic words found throughout the pictures. The colors and line-work in the gouache illustrations vary according to the subject: the playful dog is all bright colors and curving, bouncy balls, while the crow is dark with sharp edges and straight lines. Readers will find themselves carefully studying every little detail of the pictures while being charmed by the poems. (Holt, 3–6 years)

argueta_salsaJorge Argueta creates a mouth-watering musical recipe in Salsa: Un poema para cocinar. As a boy and his family prepare their weekly salsa roja, the child’s imagination runs wild. Ingredients become musical instruments—an onion is a maraca, tomatoes are bongos and kettledrums. Argueta’s use of onomatopoeia and detailed descriptions play on the various senses to convey the sounds, flavors, and feelings coming together as the boy’s family dances, sings, and cooks. Duncan Tonatiuh‘s illustrations, rendered primarily in greens and reds, complement the two types of salsa mentioned in the poem. A message of love and family creating something special shines through. (Groundwood, 4–7 years)

tate_poetPoet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate is the story of a man who taught himself to read and compose poetry, and who lived as a slave until age sixty-six. When George Moses Horton finds an audience at the University of North Carolina, where he sells fruits and vegetables on weekends, he becomes a paid poet, delivering love poems aloud and finally learning to write from a professor’s wife. Tate’s gouache, ink, and pencil illustrations are as straightforward as his text, but still pack an emotional punch. Young readers may need an adult to explain the historical context, but this is a compelling story for any age, by turns sad and uplifting. (Peachtree, 4–7 years)

From the August 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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15. This is my life

Memoirs capture moments in time, those events that are formative or emblematic or otherwise meaningful for their subjects. Surprising, intimate, cathartic — Brown Girl Dreaming, El Deafo, Becoming Maria (see Randy Ribay’s interview with Sonia Manzano), the new books below, and these recommended by the Horn Book Guide, for example — memoirs offer glimpses into the larger picture of a life.

gantos_trouble in meFourteen-year-old Jack Gantos was a “drifty kid who was lost at sea…easily led off course.” Bored with his own life, he tried to be somebody else and fell into the orbit of juvenile delinquent neighbor Gary Pagoda. In The Trouble in Me, Gantos effectively narrates his own story, reviewing portions of his life to identify what led him to abandon his “better self” in favor of later becoming a drug smuggler who ended up in a federal penitentiary. As explained in the afterword, this volume acts as a preface to Hole in My Life, and readers who read both will experience the full arc of Jack’s wild behavior, severe consequences, and, ultimately, redemption. (Farrar, 14 years and up)

jimenez_taking holdIn Taking Hold: From Migrant Childhood to Columbia University — the fourth volume of Francisco Jiménez’s memoir series (starting with The Circuit) — the author delivers a moving account of his graduate school years at Columbia University during the turbulent 1960s, paying particular attention to those friends and mentors who helped shape his intellectual pursuits and academic career path. He also relates his courtship and marriage to his college sweetheart, Laura, and the birth of their two children. Throughout it all, Jiménez never forgets his beginnings as the child of migrant farm workers, frequently alluding to and briefly recapitulating events from earlier volumes. His ingratiating storytelling—who else could make these years of adulthood such a compelling read for teens?—makes us root for him to succeed. (Houghton, 14 years and up)

engle_enchanted airAuthor and poet Margarita Engle explores her own past in Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir, a collection of emotionally rich memory poems. The daughter of a Don Quixote–obsessed American artist of Ukrainian Jewish descent and a beautiful homesick Cuban émigrée, Engle describes joyful visits to her mother’s homeland as a child. She then vividly contrasts the smoggy air of sprawling Los Angeles with the enchanted air of that small, magical-seeming island, and at first going between the two cultures is fairly seamless. But then there’s the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and suddenly all is different. Engle’s personal reverie gives young readers an intimate view of a complicated time and life. (Atheneum, 12–16 years)

From the August 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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16. Lives and times

The settings of these narrative nonfiction titles span decades and geography — from WWII Denmark to contemporary Malawi — but the issues they explore are incredibly timely.

kamkwamba_boy who harnessed the windWhen heavy rains, then drought, devastated his country of Malawi and the corrupt government didn’t respond, young William Kamkwamba used his scientific ingenuity to help people in need. His windmill made from “bottle-cap washers, rusted tractor parts, and [an] old bicycle frame” was a success; soon William dreamed of conquering darkness, pumping water to the villages, and fighting hunger. Cowritten with Bryan Mealer, Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition (illustrated by Anna Hymas) is inspiring — a well-told true tale of one young man’s passion for science making his world better. (Dial, 9–12 years)

The Boys Who Challenged HitlerPhillip Hoose introduces readers to a little-known resistance movement in The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club. When Hitler invaded Denmark, teenaged Knud Pedersen (with his brother Jens and some mates) decided that “If the adults would not act, we would.” First using civil disobedience then employing increasingly dangerous acts of sabotage against the country’s Nazi occupiers, the group inspired widespread Danish revolt. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pederson’s own words into the larger narrative of wartime Denmark, showing how the astonishing bravery of a few ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. A 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book and an outstanding addition to the WWII canon. (Farrar, 11–15 years)

lewis_march bk 2Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin’s March: Book Two picks up where the previous volume left off in relating Lewis’s personal experiences of the civil rights movement. Dramatic descriptions, along with Nate Powell’s vivid black-and-white illustrations, relate direct action campaigns in Nashville (sit-ins at fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, “stand-ins” at a segregated movie theater), Freedom Rides into the “heart of the beast” in the Deep South, and the 1963 March on Washington, where Lewis spoke alongside Dr. King. Among the many excellent volumes available on the subject of civil rights this is a standout, the graphic format a perfect vehicle for delivering the one-two punch of powerful words and images. (Top Shelf Productions, 11–15 years)

blumenthal_tommyIn Tommy: The Gun That Changed America, Karen Blumenthal traces the history of the Thompson submachine gun (a.k.a. the Tommy gun) and its times. After the Spanish-American War, Army officer John Thompson believed that America needed a lightweight, automatic rifle. The Army did not share his opinion, so Thompson left the service and developed his own weapon, completed with superior bad timing on Armistice Day in 1918. Without a ready military market, the Tommy gun wound up in the hands of crooks and bootleggers. Blumenthal shows the complexity of gun culture then and now with thorough research and impeccable documentation. (Roaring Brook, 11–15 years)

From the June 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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17. Hoppy for Poppy

Perfect for Father’s Day read-alouds, these picture books show a variety of dads—from those on lily pads to those in eucalyptus forests, from fantasy kingdoms to suburban parks—raising, teaching, and loving their children.

stein_tad and dadIn David Ezra Stein’s Tad and Dad, little frog Tad loves his father so much that he can hardly bear to be away from him, even at night. Kids will chuckle at Tad’s energetic bedtime antics; parents will laugh with grim identification when Tad starts to swim and grow but still crowds onto Dad’s lily pad to sleep. Stein uses color to great effect in this little book that is both a celebration of the father-child relationship and a good-night book that will hold up to repeat readings. (Penguin/Paulsen, 2–5 years)

miura_big princessIn The Big Princess by Taro Miura (a companion to The Tiny King), a childless king finds a bug-size princess in the castle gardens. His and the queen’s love for her grows daily, but, worrisomely, so does the princess. How to stop her from physically outgrowing the castle (and hence the family)? Miura’s digital collages feature improbably harmonizing elements: brightly colored, blocky geometric shapes coexist with photography, while characters whose faces assume Hello Kitty–like blankness nevertheless live out emotional scenes. (Candlewick, 3–6 years)

waber_ask meBernard Waber‘s Ask Me gives an idyllic view of an ambling, chatting father-and-daughter pair. But there’s more to their walk than meets the eye; the queries and responses they share capture the kind of give-and-take that gradually refines a small child’s language. “Ask me what I like.” “What do you like?”…”I like bugs.” “Insects?” “No, bugs.” With spare, informal colored-pencil lines; welcoming white space; and an eye for color, action, and witty detail, Suzy Lee depicts the two figures in a landscape littered with bright autumn leaves. This outing might inspire young listeners to form their own questions or can help tuck in a toddler with a sweet good night. (Houghton, 3–6 years)

saxby_emuClaire Saxby’s nonfiction picture book Emu relates the life cycle and habits of those birds through the story of a male emu who raises his young in an Australian eucalyptus forest (with this species, the female departs after egg-laying). Graham Byrne’s spiky digital illustrations perfectly display the emu’s hairlike feathering and their awkward-looking flightless movement. Each double-page spread includes the main narrative, in slightly larger type, along with additional statistics and facts about emus in a smaller, more casual font. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

From the June 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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18. Listen, laugh, and learn

Some stories can be at their funniest — and most poignant — when read aloud. The following audiobooks, recommended for intermediate and middle-school listeners, offer lots of laughs and lots to learn.

perkins_nuts to you audioLynne Rae Perkins’s Nuts to You tells the wacky story of a trio of industrious young squirrels saving their respective colonies from the impending danger of human deforestation. What’s lost in the absence of Perkins’s quirky, digressive illustrations is made up for in Jessica Almasy’s all-in, over-the-top performance. Making the most of the sensory descriptions, comical dialogue, and tangled action, she maximizes this classic-feeling animal fantasy’s considerable entertainments and adds weight to the deeper environmental message. (Recorded Books, 8–11 years)

graff_absolutely almost audioAlbie, star of Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost, is not having a good fifth-grade year at his new school. His best friend from his old school, Erlan, is distracted by being on reality TV, and Betsy, his only real new friend, isn’t speaking to him. But there are spots of brightness, including Albie’s punning math club teacher, his free-spirited babysitter Calista, and, of course, doughnuts. Noah Galvin’s narration is engaging and earnest, reflecting Albie’s naiveté and his heart in equal measure. The quick pace pulls readers along to the hopeful, satisfying conclusion. (Recorded Books, 8–11 years)

gantos_key that swallowed joey pigza audioWith his depressed mother in the hospital and his ne’er-do-well father out of the picture — but lurking — Joey becomes “man of the house.” The unexpected arrival of Olivia, “the meanest blind girl in the world,” helps lessen the load, but Joey must still prove himself to himself in order to move beyond his wired-kid past. Narrated by author Jack Gantos, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza is the fifth (and final) Joey Pigza story, and there’s nuance and emotion at every turn. It’s a satisfying sendoff for a uniquely imperfect kid in a very imperfect family. (Listening Library, 9–12 years)

holm_fourteenth goldfish audiobookOn its surface, The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm delights as a comic tale of a middle-school girl coming to terms with her grandfather’s fountain-of-youth breakthrough, which has turned him into a teenager. As the plot bounces along, however, subtle character development and substantial inquiry add layers of meaning, posing important questions about bioethics and family responsibility. Georgette Perna’s frothy narration enhances the novel’s lighter elements, keeping the pace brisk and humorously reflecting the adolescent cadence of the dialogue; when the novel’s deeper revelations surface, they are that much more surprising and reverberant. (Listening Library, 10–14 years)

From the June 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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19. Bad company

Conspiracy theory or everyday life? These new YA novels — three thrillers and one dark comedy — star teen protagonists finding their places in worlds manipulated by not-so-scrupulous corporations.

myers_on a clear dayWalter Dean Myers’s posthumously published On a Clear Day takes place in 2035. The Central Eight (C-8) companies rule everything, enriching themselves while the rest of society suffers. Millions are starving, schools have closed, and everyone seems to ignore the collateral damage caused by the seductive “marvelous gadgets” the companies sell. Hope lies in small bands of resistance such as the one joined by sixteen-year-old math whiz Dahlia Grillo. Dahlia is an appealing protagonist in a troubling world not far removed from our own. (Crown, 14 years and up)

bacigalupi_doubt factoryMoses Cruz, leader of a diverse group of orphan teens, has targeted Alix Banks in order to destroy his real objective: her father, whose PR firm defends harmful products sold by Fortune 500 companies. Moses shatters Alix’s sheltered, privileged existence — stalking and kidnapping her — in hopes that she’ll help expose her father’s corruption. In his compelling thriller The Doubt Factory, Paolo Bacigalupi excels at creating two fully rounded narrators: Alix, who transforms from naive rich-girl to activist, and Moses, enigmatic, dangerous, yet somehow likable. (Little, Brown, 14 years and up)

rubin_denton little's death dateIn seventeen-year-old Denton’s world, AstroThanatoGenetics makes it possible — and the U.S. government makes it mandatory — to know the date of a person’s death at the time of their birth. On the morning of his funeral, Denton wakes up in his best friend’s sister’s bed, unsure of whether he’s cheated on his girlfriend. He then spends his deathdate (also the day of his senior prom) wondering how he’ll go — and there are plenty of possibilities. Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin has dark humor in spades, plus fully developed relationships and a mystery that will keep pages turning. (Knopf, 14 years and up)

lippert-martin_tabula rasaIn Kristen Lippert-Martin’s Tabula Rasa, Sarah is one of several young patients in a remote state-of-the-art hospital, living in isolation while doctors surgically remove their memories. Before her final treatment can be completed — and after Sarah has taken a covertly delivered pill that may release her damaged memories — soldiers attack the hospital, killing patients and doctors alike. Sarah taps into a forgotten cache of strength, agility, and tactical instinct to evade the intruders, but to escape the hospital she must ally herself with friendly-but-cagey hacker Thomas. Mysteries stack upon mysteries in this gripping, multifaceted thriller. (Egmont, 12–16 years)

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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20. Life, death, and football

Gritty and intense but also full of heart and hope, each of these four YA novels stars a teenage boy facing some of life’s most serious challenges.

smith_alex crowAndrew Smith follows his 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award–winning Grasshopper Jungle with the similarly multilayered, ambitious novel The Alex Crow. Fifteen-year-old war refugee Ariel lived through the bombing of his village by hiding in a broken refrigerator. Ariel’s emotionally raw account of his year surviving various atrocities alternates with an often darkly funny account of his six-week stint at the disciplinary Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, which he attends with his American adoptive brother Max. Two other story lines converge with Ariel’s: that of a deranged man’s U-Haul road trip and of the ship Alex Crow‘s ill-fated nineteenth-century Arctic voyage. The multiple narratives and original sci-fi elements are anchored by strong prose and a distinct teenage-boy sensibility. (Penguin/Dutton, 14 years and up)

reynolds_boy-in-the-black-suitHigh-school senior Matt, the eponymous Boy in the Black Suit, is mourning the mother who died just before the book begins and the long on-the-wagon father who has returned to drink. At his funeral-parlor job he looks for “the person hurting the most,” hoping that his or her expression of grief will help him deal with his own. While all this sounds like heavy problem-novel territory, it isn’t. Just as in his previous novel When I Was the Greatest, Jason Reynolds writes about urban African American kids in a way, warm and empathetic, the late Walter Dean Myers would have applauded. (Atheneum, 14 years and up)

gardner_deadIknowIn The Dead I Know, another mortuary-set story, Aaron Rowe begins his first job at JKB Funerals. A young man of few words, Aaron takes to his work readily, assembling the coffins and washing the hearse, which helps him temporarily escape the disturbing events at home in the caravan park. After tragedy strikes, he is finally able to accept desperately needed help from the funeral home’s proprietors, who reach out to him through their own pain and loss. Moments of warmth and humor lighten the psychological suspense and frank depiction of death in Scot Gardner’s engrossing novel. (Houghton, 14 years and up)

lynch_hit countFreshman football player Arlo Brodie, star of Hit Count, sets his future goals: varsity linebacker by sophomore year, then college ball for a Division One team, then the pros. Arlo works out like a fiend, gets in super shape, makes varsity, and plays like a man possessed. An alarmingly high hit count, or number of hard blows to the head, forces the coach to bench him, but by that point, the adulation, the workouts, and the thrill of sanctioned combat have become Arlo’s drug, and he’s addicted. Chris Lynch’s unflinching examination of the price of athletic power, with plenty of bone-crunching play-by-play action, is both thought-provoking and formidable. (Algonquin, 14 years and up)

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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21. Fearless females

From an aspiring journalist to an up-and-coming roller derby grrl, the determined and curious female protagonists of these intermediate and middle-school books are ready to take on the world.

springstubb_moonpenny islandIn Tricia Springstubb’s Moonpenny Island, the titular tiny Ohio vacation spot is lousy with fossils — specifically, of trilobites from the Cambrian period. Sixth-grade townie Flor becomes fascinated with trilobites’ eyes after learning they were “among the very first creatures” to develop them. Flor herself is, in some ways, as sightless as early trilobites, for she misses much of what’s going on in her family and in her interconnected island community. Flor’s growing awareness of those around her results in a unique protagonist who, like a fossil, creates an imprint that remains after her story is finished. (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 9–12 years)

birdsall_penderwicks in springJeanne Birdsall‘s fourth Penderwicks book, The Penderwicks in Spring, focuses on Batty, now ten and the “senior member of the younger Penderwick siblings.” To raise money for singing lessons, she starts a neighborhood odd-jobs business. There’s a lot of melancholy here: dog-walking sadly reminds Batty of her dear departed Hound, and she suffers benign neglect from one big sister (Rosalind is temporarily boy-crazy) and hurtful words from another. On the plus side, stepbrother Ben (seven) and half-sister Lydia (two), in their cheering-up efforts, emerge as formidable Penderwicks themselves, and Batty rewardingly finds her voice at her climactic Grand Eleventh Birthday Concert. (Knopf, 9–12 years)

vaught_footer davis probably is crazyAt the start of Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught, eleven-year-old Footer Davis’s mother, who has bipolar disorder, is admitted to a psychiatric hospital after shooting off an elephant rifle in their backyard. To distract herself from her mother’s worsening condition, budding journalist Footer (with aspiring-detective best friend Peavine) investigates a dramatic unsolved local crime. Footer’s lively narrative voice and irreverent sense of humor add levity to the heavy subject matter. Like its heroine, the book itself is compelling, offbeat, and fearless. (Simon/Wiseman, 9–12 years)

jamieson_roller girlWhen her best friend Nicole starts harping on about ballet, fashion, and dating, twelve-year-old Astrid, star of Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novel Roller Girl, is left behind (read: not interested). She’s behind on the roller derby track, too, where she has signed up for summer boot camp even though she can’t skate five seconds without disaster. Astrid faces the challenges of derby as well as tweendom, and when the time comes for her big end-of-summer bout, “Asteroid” is brimming with confidence and ready to roll. Readers will identify with Astrid’s journey to find her authentic self. Have this book at the ready for Telgemeier fans racing to find something new. (Dial, 9–12 years)

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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22. The early bird

After a long, hard winter, spring has finally returned. With it come our little feathered friends — and picture books about them.

konnecke_you can do it, bertIn Ole Könnecke’s humorous, cheering picture book You Can Do It, Bert!, a small red bird walks out to the end of a slender tree branch, trepidation written all over his face. “This is Bert. It’s his big day.” A brief, direct-address text follows Bert as he flaps his wings, checks his environment, and looks like he’s about to take a running start…but no, not yet. Simple shapes and minimal detail keep readers’ attention squarely on the (in)action — with a surprise twist! (Gecko, 2–5 years)

cronin_smickWith just a few words but a bounty of playfulness, Doreen Cronin introduces preschoolers (and early readers) to good-natured, droopy-eared dog Smick! During a game of fetch between dog and offstage narrator (“Stick?”), Smick is distracted by a “Cluck!” and discovers: chick. All ends in joyful friendship: “Sidekick… / Sidechick. / Side lick! ick.” Digital art by Juana Medina mostly consists of simple black lines against expansive white space that communicate Smick’s constant motion and boundless energy. (Viking, 2–5 years)

yolen_you nest here with meJane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple’s You Nest Here with Me incorporates real-life information about birds into a comforting bedtime picture book. A mother reads to her daughter (from a book called…You Nest Here with Me) about the different places birds can make their nests — “Pigeons nest on concrete ledges, / Catbirds nest in greening hedges…” The reassuring refrain is “You nest here with me.” Melissa Sweet’s watercolor, gouache, and mixed-media illustrations are both lovely and accurate in their depictions of the avian creatures and their habitats. (Boyds Mills, 2–5 years)

paschkis_p. zonka lays an eggA hen named P. Zonka is dismissed by the other chickens as a dreamer; she’s more concerned with flowers, clouds, and the colors of the sky than with laying eggs. Cajoled into trying it, P. Zonka finally succeeds, but her egg surprises everyone. Julie Paschkis’s P. Zonka Lays an Egg gives one possible (and humorous) explanation behind the tradition of those beautiful Ukrainian pysanky. Her watercolors, filled with repeated patterns and a beautiful use of black outlines, seem to pop off the pages. (Peachtree, 4–7 years)

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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23. Versatile verse

National Poetry Month (better known as April) celebrates a form that can be used in myriad ways to explore any topic imaginable. Here are two collections of poems with themes in common, and two books that use poetry to help tell a larger story.

wardlaw_won ton and chopstickA kitty named Won Ton makes his second appearance in Lee Wardlaw’s Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku. Won Ton’s first-person haiku narrate his adjustment to the arrival of a new puppy. At first things do not go well — “Ears perk. Fur prickles. / Belly low, I creep…peek…FREEZE! / My eyes full of Doom.” — but eventually the two find common ground in their mutual love of their little-boy owner. The interrelated haiku together create a story of gradual friendship, but each can also stand alone, capturing Won Ton’s quintessential felineness (“Nap, play, bathe, nap, eat, repeat.”). Eugene Yelchin’s graphite and gouache illustrations contrast the sleek gray cat with the roly-poly brown puppy; pastel backgrounds highlight the pets’ expressive faces and body language. (Holt, 5–8 years)

mcnamara_poem in your pocketElinor, star of the picture book A Poem in Your Pocket, initially feels confident in her poetry-writing ability, but her firm grasp of terms like simile and metaphor doesn’t mean she can write great poetry herself. She gets more and more worried as the class prepares for a visit by a famous poet. Author Margaret McNamara slyly works in a lot of information about poetry while keeping the focus on Elinor’s dilemma. Examples of poetry the kids come up with may inspire young readers to attempt their own writing, especially since G. Brian Karas’s gouache, acrylic, and pencil pictures make the diverse group of classmates look like they’re having a great time. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 5–8 years)

brown_hypnotize a tigerCalef Brown’s collection Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything ends with an invitation to write your own poetry, but the whole book is such an invitation. Brown takes several kids’-book conventions — such as the celebration of the outlier, weird animals, and complaints about school — and gives them fresh energy. He even infuses the yucky-foods trope with original twists (the Loofah Torte is particularly startling). From the bottom margin, a peanut gallery of creatures much given to puns comment on the poems and offer their own. Black-and-white drawings add to the jauntiness and the welcoming, joyous mood. (Holt/Ottaviano, 7–10 years)

janczko_death of the hatIn their fourth collaboration, The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selector Paul B. Janeczko and illustrator Chris Raschka offer readers fifty poems whose origins range from the early Middle Ages to the postmodern and contemporary eras. The poems are unified by a common theme — each is about an object — and organized chronologically. Raschka’s soft, impressionistic watercolors showcase each poem, visually encouraging readers to keep reading. Expect variety in the selections, from old favorites such as “My Shadow” by Robert Louis Stevenson to “Grainfield” by Ibn ‘Iyād to Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to a Stamp Album.” (Candlewick, 7–10 years)

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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24. Updated Earth Day reading

The books recommended below were reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.


Picture books

Suggested grade level listed with each entry

The Promise written by Nicola Davies, illus. by Laura Carlin (Candlewick)
A girl, “mean and hard” as the city she lives in, survives by stealing. When one of her targets says she may keep the bag she’s taken if she promises to plant what’s in it, the girl commits herself to a lifetime of planting to transform bleak city landscapes. Grade level: 1–3. 48 pages.

Two Little Birds by Mary Newell DePalma (Eerdmans)
Two adorable bird siblings (based on the orchard oriole of North and Central America) hatch and begin their first year of life. Simple sentences explain the birds’ actions and underscore the instincts that drive each behavior. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.

Sophie Scott Goes South by Alison Lester (Houghton)
On an Antarctic adventure with her boat captain father, Sophie spots penguins, seals, and whales; one night she’s dazzled by the southern lights. Sophie’s scrapbook-style journal is written in a conversational style with appealing childlike art. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid (Whitman)
“There is more than one way to picture a tree.” A series of vibrant Plasticine compositions focus readers’ attention on the shapes, colors, and textures of trees; parallel to these tree portraits are interlinked human stories. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)
Retired subway car Jessie is dismantled and dumped into the ocean, where she happily resides as an artificial reef, home to myriad sea animals. The theme of reuse and recycling emerges naturally from a fine tale. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.


Younger fiction

Suggested grade level for each entry: 1–3

Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan (Greenwillow)
The mayor of Neatasapin bullies everyone into inordinate tidiness and forbids all things wild. After lonely Emmaline befriends a wild bunny, she enlists her parents to invite wildlife back into the community. 101 pages.

Just Grace Goes Green by Charise Mericle Harper (Houghton)
In Grace’s fourth book, the third grader and her classmates are passionate about going green. While sneaking in information about recycling and reusing, Harper knows how to keep the story moving: amusing lists and sketches will keep her fans entertained. 178 pages.


Intermediate fiction

Suggested grade level for each entry: 4–6

The One and Only Ivan written by Katherine Applegate; illus. by Patricia Castelao (HarperCollins/Harper)
In this 2013 Newbery Award winner, Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a circus mall. When a new baby elephant arrives, Ivan taps into his creative side to help them both escape their restrictive environment. 307 pages.

Crunch by Leslie Connor (HarperCollins/Tegen)
When a severe fuel shortage strands their parents, the five Marriss children hold down the fort — and the family’s bike business. With fewer cars on the highway, the now-growing shop is about to overrun the kids’ abilities. Connor’s narrative ambles pleasantly along. 330 pages.

Toby Alone written by Timothée de Fombelle; illus. by François Place (Candlewick)
The world of the Tree, a society of miniature people, is threatened when a gangland boss/evil property developer grabs power. It’s up to thirteen-year-old Toby to save his parents, the Tree, and the day. 384 pages.

Blue Mountain by Martine Leavitt (Farrar/Ferguson)
Mankind encroaches upon the bighorn sheep’s habitat; wolf and puma feed on their dwindling herd. Biggest lamb Tuk must save the herd by finding a way west to “blue mountain,” a place he sees in visions and may not be real. 163 pages.

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Abrams/Amulet)
Julian caught up in the conflict between his uncle and Robin, who is trying to protect a redwood forest from Uncle Sibley’s voracious investment company. French works in many facts about redwoods without losing the story’s focus on its characters. 355 pages.

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf)
Wahoo Cray’s pop, a well-known South Florida animal wrangler, can’t work after an injury, so a lucrative offer seems like a godsend. Expedition Survival!, a TV program featuring a bumbling, egomaniacal star, wants to use their backyard zoo and faux Everglades pond. 290 pages.


Older fiction

Suggested grade level for each entry: 7 and up

H2O by Virginia Bergin (Sourcebooks/Fire)
Years after an asteroid almost collides with Earth, dust from the asteroid infects water molecules with an alien virus that kills humans on contact. Alone and thirsty, teen Ruby Morris holds tightly to the unlikely hope that her father is still alive. 331 pages.

Breathe by Sarah Crossan (Greenwillow)
In an environmentally ravaged world with four percent oxygen in the air, people live inside glass domes (and pay for air) or struggle to survive outside. Privileged Quinn, his poorer friend Bea, and rebel Alina travel outside of the dome and are stranded there. 373 pages.

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne (Feiwel)
Environmental disasters including a devastating hailstorm, an earthquake, and a chemical spill lead to a school bus of kids (teens and younger) seeking refuge in a superstore — with abundant resources and no adult supervision. Sequel: Monument 14: Sky on Fire. 296 pages.

The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd (Holiday)
London teen Laura chronicles in biting journal entries the first year of Britain’s new, stringent carbon rationing points system. She balances big-picture fears (blackouts, riots) with everyday issues of crushes and friends, and her punk band. Sequel: The Carbon Diaries 2017. 330 pages.

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic)
When Sophie, fourteen, visits her Congolese mother’s animal sanctuary, she becomes attached to a baby bonobo. When the political situation destabilizes dangerously and she’s scheduled to be airlifted back to Miami, she can’t bear to leave him behind. Companion book: Threatened. 264 pages.

My Chemical Mountain by Corina Vacco (Delacorte)
Jason and his friends roam the industrial zone near their neighborhood, swim in the toxic creek, and ride their dirt bikes around a landfill they call Chemical Mountain. This thought-provoking modern-day dystopian novel is plausible and action-packed. 186 pages.



Suggested grade level listed with each entry

It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden written by George Ancona; photos by the author (Candlewick)
Full-color photographs and no-nonsense prose (perfect for new readers) chronicle a year in the life of an elementary school garden; students compost soil, water plants, raise butterflies, and sample edible delights. Grade level: K–3. 48 pages.

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm; illus. by Molly Bang (Scholastic/Blue Sky)
Bang and Chisholm explain the production and consumption of fossil fuels, along with the consequences: climate change. The sun narrates the relationship between photosynthesis/respiration and energy; a slight imbalance produces fossil fuels. Grade level: K–3. 48 pages.

Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People Who Track It [Scientists in the Field] by Loree Griffin Burns; photos by Ellen Harasimowicz (Houghton)
The Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), an invasive species, threatens “the entire northeastern hardwood forest.” In Worcester, Massachusetts, scientists hypothesize that destroying all of Worcester’s infected trees — i.e., the ALB habitat — will eradicate the beetle. Grade level: 4–6. 64 pages.

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard written by Loree Griffin Burns; photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (Holt)
Detailed accounts and handsome color photography introduce four scientific projects — studying monarch butterflies, birds, ladybugs, and frogs — which enlist regular people in data collection. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick)
In this introduction to birdwatching, the author/illustrator and birds (portrayed in cartoons with speech balloons) poke fun at themselves and one another while teaching basic bird identification: color, shapes, behaviors, songs, habitat, range, and migration. Grade level: 4–6. 64 pages.

The Bat Scientists [Scientists in the Field series] written by Mary Kay Carson; photographs by Tom Uhlman (Houghton)
With deft description and careful explanation, Carson profiles Bat Conservation International (BCI) as it researches the misunderstood title creatures. Clear text debunks “Batty Myths” while highlighting BCI’s conservation efforts. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

Island: A Story of the Galápagos by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Witness the six-million-year evolution of the Galápagos, from “birth” through “childhood” to “old age” and beyond. Gorgeous illustrations include sweeping double-page spreads and panels arranged to show dynamic changes. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Redwoods by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook/Flash Point/Porter)
In a fantastical visual narrative paired with a straightforward nonfiction text, a young boy waiting for the subway finds an abandoned book about redwood trees. He finds himself in a redwood forest, learning all manner of things about them. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge [Magic School Bus series] written by Joanna Cole; illus. by Bruce Degen (Scholastic)
Ms. Frizzle’s class gathers information for a play about climate change. Cole and Degen are straightforward about the seriousness of global warming but focusing on day-to-day changes individuals can make. Throughout, humor keeps readers engaged. Grade level K–3. 40 pages.

Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World by Marfé Ferguson Delano (National Geographic)
Beginning with examples of changes seen by scientists, this well-written narrative then moves to thorough explanations of the underlying science and explores the ecological consequences of climate change. Grade level: 4–6. 64 pages.

In the Rainforest [Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science] by Kate Duke (Harper)
This tour through the rainforest describes the special features of the area and defines unfamiliar vocabulary. Cheerful mixed-media illustrations show visiting children climbing trees (with ropes and clamps), journaling, and exploring the ecosystem. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleishman (Candlewick)
A wake-up call about the environmental crisis, this book homes in on five “key fronts” — population, consumption, energy, food, and climate — and explores historical and sociological contexts. A refreshingly opinionated approach to informed action. Grade level: 7 and up. 204 pages.

Wild Horse Scientists [Scientists in the Field series] by Kay Frydenborg (Houghton)
Researchers are attempting to control the horse population on Assateague Island by developing a contraceptive vaccine that limits mares to a single foal per lifetime. Relevant and clear color photographs show both horses and scientists in situ. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

The Buffalo Are Back by Jean Craighead George; illus. by Wendell Minor (Dutton)
This compact ecodrama documents the buffalo’s slaughter to decimate the Native Americans and open the prairie to settlers, then turns to the reversal: the discovery, instigated by President Theodore Roosevelt, of three hundred remaining wild buffalo. Grade level K–3. 32 pages.

Galápagos George by Jean Craighead George; illus. by Wendell Minor (HarperCollins/Harper)
The life cycle of a single female Galápagos tortoise, Giantess George, is extrapolated to the development of the entire species. She and other tortoises are transported to different islands in a storm; over thousands of years, they evolve into different subspecies. Grade level K–3. 40 pages.

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose (Farrar)
One rufa red knot known as “Moonbird” has flown some 325,000 miles in his lifetime. Lucid, graceful prose (with glorious photographs) details the birds’ characteristics, profiles scientists and activist kids, and explores long-term prospects for survival. Grade level: 4–6. 148 pages.

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever written by H. Joseph Hopkins; illus. by Jill McElmurry (Simon/Beach Lane)
Kate Sessions, the first woman to graduate from Berkeley with a science degree, was responsible for populating San Diego’s Balboa Park with lush, green trees, just in time for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. Grade level K–3. 32 pages.

Can We Save the Tiger? written by Martin Jenkins; illus. by Vicky White (Candlewick)
This volume provides a gracefully organized overview of several endangered species. Jenkins’s narrative voice is engagingly informal. White’s pencil and oil paint illustrations fill the large pages. A stunningly beautiful book as well as an eloquent appeal. Grade level K–3. 56 pages.

The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth by Steve Jenkins (Houghton)
This thoughtful book begins with a survey of the animal kingdom, then covers “Family,” “Senses,” “Predators,” and “Defenses.” The paper-collage art is taken from Jenkins’s previous work, each image recontextualized to serve the book’s purpose. Grade level: 4–6. 208 pages.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World written by Laurie Lawlor; illus. by Laura Beingessner (Holiday)
From the naturalist’s early fascination with wildlife to her determination to finish her landmark work, Silent Spring, before her death, this accessible account folds a commendable amount of significant information into picture book format. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsy Lewin (Lee & Low)
On Iceland’s Heimaey island, children take part in a generations-old fledgling puffin search-and-rescue tradition. As they tour the island with researchers, the Lewins capture the beauty of the landscape and the awkwardly amusing appeal of the birds. Grade level: K–3. 56 pages.

The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species [Scientists in the Field series] by Peter Lourie (Houghton)
Scientists Fernando Rosas (Brazil), John Reynolds (Florida), and Lucy Keith (West Africa) investigate manatees in the wild and in captivity. The text and photographs capture the science and politics of animal conservation and the scientists’ dedication. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

The Polar Bear Scientists [Scientists in the Field series] by Peter Lourie (Houghton)
Lourie takes us to Alaska to observe biologists researching a subpopulation of polar bears, then to the lab where the data is processed and stored. Crisp photographs capture the animals and the equipment needed to do research in such extreme conditions. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

The Chiru of High Tibet: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin; illus. by Linda Wingerter (Houghton)
The antelope-like chiru of northern Tibet were hunted nearly to extinction for their soft wool. Wildlife champion George Schaller hoped to save the chiru by protecting their birthing ground — but first he had to find it. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
Journal-style text and striking photographs introduce Laurie Marker and her team of conservationists at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. Of special interest is Tiger Lily, a cheetah who has spent her life at the CCF as an “ambassador.” Grade level: 4–6. 79 pages.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
Montgomery and Bishop trek to Codfish Island off New Zealand’s coast to bring us a marvelous account of the efforts of naturalists to save the kakapo. In-depth descriptions and glorious photographs cover all aspects of the conservation effort. Grade level: 4–6. 74 pages.

The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
In the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil, scientist Patricia Medici and her team study the lowland tapir. Montgomery’s dramatic account of tracking the elusive animals is interspersed with scientific information about tapir species. Grade level: 4–6. 74 pages.

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola (Farrar/Foster)
Earle’s intimate knowledge of the creatures she’s spent over half a century observing permeates this biography illustrated with exquisite watercolors. An author’s note explains why we all need to help curtail the threats of overfishing, climate change, oil spills, and pollutants. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Leopard & Silkie: One Boy’s Quest to Save the Seal Pups written by Brenda Peterson; photographs by Robin Lindsey (Holt/Ottaviano)
The Seal Sitters is a Pacific Northwest watch group that educates human beachgoers and protects harbor seals when they come ashore to give birth to and care for their young. Newborn seal Leopard is fortunate to have “kid volunteer” Miles on the case. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World written by Margi Preus; illus. by Rebecca Gibbon (Holt/Ottaviano)
This gallery of impressive trees offers substantive information on what makes each specimen unique. Friendly folk art–style paintings bustle with life, including birds and squirrels in the branches and people in the shade. Conservation tips are appended. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie written by Phyllis Root; illus. by Betsy Bowen (University of Minnesota)
There’s not a lot of prairie left in the U.S.; this book encourages readers to reverse this trend by planting native plants in their own backyards and watching what animals are attracted by each plant species. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Parrots over Puerto Rico written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore; illus. by Susan L. Roth (Lee & Low)
This gorgeously illustrated history of the endangered Puerto Rican parrot underscores the consequences of human populations on animal species. With stunning paper-and-fabric artwork, the book is laid out vertically to give a sense of height. Grade level: K–3. 48 pages.

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands by Katherine Roy (Roaring Brook/Macaulay)
This account of great white sharks off the Northern California coast examines fascinating details about the predator. The main narrative describes a shark hunting; information-rich sections tell more about shark biology and about the scientists who study them. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! written by April Pulley Sayre; illus. by Annie Patterson (Charlesbridge)
Very few sea turtles survive to adulthood. This turtle is one of the fortunate ones, thanks to the volunteers who protect turtle nests and hatchlings. Readers will be drawn in by Turtle’s newborn awkwardness, captured by softly colored realistic illustrations. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer; illus. by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle)
The concept of quantity is examined in the context of animal lives. Schaefer presents the number of times an animal “performs one behavior” in its lifetime, from the single egg sac spun by a spider, up to the thousand babies carried by a male seahorse. Grade level: PS, K–3. 40 pages.

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature written by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Beth Krommes (Houghton)
Scratchboard illustrations, vividly depicting spirals in nature, suffuse every page with color, shape, and movement. Each spread offers a treasure trove of details that will captivate the youngest readers. The simple text is powerful and poetic. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.

Dolphins by Seymour Simon (HarperCollins/Collins)
Simon draws readers beyond initial captivation with dolphins’ appearance and intelligence into deeper discussions of species, life cycles, and social organization. Vivid full-page photographs are well-matched to the text. A note on conservation is appended. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Global Warming by Seymour Simon (HarperCollins/Collins)
With straightforward prose, Simon leads novices through such tricky concepts as greenhouse gases and the differences between daily weather and long-term climate change. The book ends with the reassurance that we can help reverse the rate of change. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young; illus. by Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge)
Stewart and Young explain where chocolate comes from: working backward from cocoa beans (dried and processed by humans) to cocoa pods (from cocoa flowers pollinated by midges) to monkeys dropping cocoa seeds on the rainforest floor. Full-bleed ink and watercolor illustrations show each step along the way. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

The Sea Turtle Scientist [Scientists in the Field] by Stephen R. Swinburne (Houghton)
The Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) studies the sea turtles in the Caribbean and works for their preservation. This series entry follows Dr. Kimberly Stewart, a.k.a. the “turtle lady,” who lives and works with WIDECAST on the island of St. Kitts. Grade level: 4–6. 65 pages.

Project Seahorse [Scientists in the Field series] written by Pamela S. Turner,; photographs by Scott Tuason
Readers follow conservation group Project Seahorse in its efforts to preserve seahorses, coastal reefs, and the fishing-based livelihood of Handumon, in the Philippines. Interspersed are details about seahorses, portrayed beautifully in underwater photography. Grade level: 4–6. 57 pages.

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas F. Yezerski (Farrar)
This ecological history of Meadowlands of New Jersey captures the complex relationship between humans and the environment. Each double-page-spread illustration is bordered by tiny images with a wealth of taxonomical information (and sly humor). Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard written by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld; illus. by Priscilla Lamont (Knopf) 
Alice and her family have a plot of land upon which they grow edible plants, raise chickens, and enjoy their interactions with the variety of living things in their backyard ecosystem. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.



In the Wild by David Elliott; illus. by Holly Meade (Candlewick)
Full-spread woodcut and watercolor art captures both the essences and habitats of fourteen worldwide animals: a jaguar prowling the jungle floor, a polar bear immersed in a blue-green sea, etc. Deftly composed verses include paradoxes and wry thoughts. Companion books: In the Sea and On the Wing. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.

UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Simon/Beach Lane)
Florian evokes the world of bees with repetitive patterning that cleverly references honeycombs, flowers, and the bees themselves. His humorous rhythmic verse, too, echoes bee behavior. A paragraph of more straightforward facts elucidates each spread. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

All the Water in the World written by George Ella Lyon; illus. by Katherine Tillotson (Atheneum/Jackson)
Lyon celebrates the essence of life itself in a lyrical poem about the water cycle. In sweeping, digitally rendered art resembling watercolor and collage, Tillotson creates luxuriant ocean swirls and pelting streaks of rain. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.


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25. In summer

Anna and Kristoff. Olaf and Sven. Pablo and Alicia. The following books for young independent readers feature unlikely pairs palling around in the big city, the ‘burbs…and contemporary Norway. (Is that close to Arendelle? It is!)

spiegelman_lost in nycAt the start of Nadja Spiegelman’s lively graphic-novel picture book Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, new-kid Pablo’s class is taking the subway to the Empire State Building. When self-described “lone wolf” Pablo hops the (wrong) train, his good-natured class-trip partner, Alicia, gamely tags along. Illustrator Sergio García Sánchez’s detailed images, from every perspective and filled with trains, stations, people, streets, skyscrapers, and maps, vividly convey the children’s travels below and above ground. The book is also available in a Spanish edition, Perdidos en NYC. (TOON, 5–8 years)

mckay_lulu and the hamster in the nightIn Lulu and the Hamster in the Night (the sixth episode in the animal-loving seven-year-old’s adventures by Hilary McKay), Lulu acquires an underappreciated pet hamster named Ratty. An impending overnight visit with her best friend/cousin Mellie to their grandmother Nan’s house complicates things: Lulu and Mellie decide to smuggle Ratty along. The plot’s “oh, no” foreshadowing and humorous details, along with frequent spot art by Priscilla Lamont, keep the action moving at a spirited pace. (Whitman, 5–8 years)

parr_adventures with wafflesAdventures with Waffles by Maria Parr, set in contemporary Norway over the course of one eventful year, features adventures both big and small, madcap and poignant. Young narrator Trille’s best friend is his next-door neighbor, Lena, almost nine, perhaps best described as a more-realistic Pippi Longstocking: fierce, fearless, daring, hilariously blunt. With Lena’s penchant for thrill-seeking, their small close-knit community of Mathildewick Cove provides all the excitement they need, whether they are attempting to reenact Noah’s ark on Uncle Tor’s fishing boat (mayhem ensues) or advertising for a dad for Lena (“Must be nice and like boiled cabbage”). (Candlewick, 6–9 years)

springstubb_cody and the fountain of happinessCody — star of Tricia Springstubb’s Cody and the Fountain of Happiness — thinks the first day of summer vacation is the most beautiful thing in the world. With Mom pursuing a promotion in the shoe department at work; Dad, a trucker, on the road part of the week; and older brother Wyatt starting at “doctor camp,” alternate plans are needed. Enter babysitter Payton Underwood (object of Wyatt’s crush), along with a new younger friend named Spencer, his cat MewMew, and his feisty grandma GG. Cody’s lively voice and keen observational skills build an involving story line out of the seeming banality of a vacation spent at home. Stylish spot illustrations by Eliza Wheeler suggest a diverse cast in this suburban setting. (Candlewick, 6–9 years)

From the June 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


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