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<<October 2016>>
new posts in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: starred reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 59
1. Review of Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather

lin_ling and ting together in all weatherstar2 Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather
by Grace Lin; illus. by the author
Primary   Little, Brown   44 pp.
11/15   978-0-316-33549-2   $16.00

In this fourth book in the sweet and funny easy-reader series (Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same, rev. 7/10, and sequels), six brief chapters take the twins through the 
seasons, together. In the first story, a thunderstorm finds them hiding under a blanket: they are not scared, just 
“surprised.” On a hot summer day they sell all their 
lemonade — to each other. Raking leaves has to be done all over again, since first Ting’s red hat and then Ling’s might be at the bottom of the pile (later in the book, Ling’s hat turns up, at first mistaken for an unusual spring flower). In the winter, Ting claims to be sick so she can avoid shoveling snow; Ling’s recipe for some “old Chinese medicine” (a smelly simmering of onions, ginger, dirt, an old sock, etc.) drives a suddenly recovered Ting out of bed, snow shovel in hand. The final story finds the twins looking for a rainbow and finding two. “They are twin rainbows!” says Ting. “Just like us!…We are so lucky to be together!” As always, the girls’ personalities shine through in both text and illustrations (and Ting is still differentiated by her jagged bangs). Each chapter employs a different-color border around the bold gouache illustrations, giving the book a predictable and unifying visual structure. An artist’s note says, “The color palette was inspired by the sudden appearance of a bright rainbow on a gray, glum day.” That’s how the whole book feels.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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2. Review of A Year Without Mom

tolstikova_year without momstar2 A Year Without Mom
by Dasha Tolstikova; 
illus. by the author
Middle School   Groundwood   168 pp.
10/15   978-1-55498-692-7   $19.95
e-book ed. 978-155498-693-4   $16.95

Tolstikova’s illustrated memoir recounts the time when her mother relocated to America for graduate school and she, twelve years old, was left in the care of her grandparents in Moscow. Through present-tense narration, readers follow Dasha’s experiences chronologically as she navigates both specific and universal rites of passage, including uncertainty during the 1991 coup d’état attempt and distress when she learns that her crush, older boy Petya, has a girlfriend (who smokes cigarettes, no less!). Pencil and ink illustrations, in mostly whites and grays, emphasize the chilly setting. Color is used sparsely but to great emotional effect: bright reds on cheeks represent characters’ embarrassment; dark, smudgy grays dominate in moments of heartache. Most of the dialogue is in the same type as the main narrative but separated from it through thin speech bubbles drawn around characters’ statements. Hand-lettered text (sometimes incorporating Cyrillic) evokes mood as well, as seen when Dasha listens to her mother’s words (a letter left for her as a cassette recording) and they surround her, reflecting her longing. The author includes authentic details (including how the Russian grading system works) and, with personality and sincerity, 
creates an accessible, truthful, and relatable record for readers of a different generation.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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3. Review of The Emperor of Any Place

wynne-jones_emperor of any placestar2 The Emperor of Any Place
by Tim Wynne-Jones
High School   Candlewick   328 pp.
10/15   978-0-7636-6973-7   $17.99

“So much of grief is unlearning,” observes Wynne-Jones in this perceptive and 
multi-layered page-turner. When Evan’s single father, Clifford, dies suddenly, the high-schooler must work through his own grief while dealing with Clifford’s estranged father Griff, a military man who Clifford had claimed was a murderer. Griff’s also a control freak and is somehow tied to the strange book that was sent to Clifford just before he died. As Evan reads the book — the translated journal of a WWII Japanese soldier stranded on a mystical island with an American Marine plane-crash survivor — he experiences a strange sense of déjà-vu. Wynne-Jones skillfully weaves the World War II journal into Evan’s own story, building suspense and keeping Griff’s part in the proceedings just obscure enough to create a cracking mystery. The author’s conversational tone provides occasional comic relief when things start to get too sinister, and the immediacy of his writing leads to some evocative descriptive passages (such as when Evan and his father listen to Miles Davis: “A night breeze stole into the room and was doing a slow dance under the jazz. Evan could feel it on the back of his neck, the sweat on him cooling. He shivered”). There’s a whole lot going on here: Evan’s and Griff’s shared heartbreak, exhibited in very different ways, and their own increasingly complicated relationship; the stark contrast between the mainly nondescript “Any Place” of Evan’s suburban Ontario and the horror of the desert island; and the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers in the story-within-a-story. All these seemingly disparate parts come together in fascinating ways, resulting in an affecting and unforgettable read.

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

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4. Review of Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish

deutsch_hereville how mirka caught a fishstar2 Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish
by Barry Deutsch; illus. by the author; backgrounds by Adrian Wallace; 
colors by Jake Richmond
Middle School   Amulet/Abrams   141 pp.
11/15   978-1-4197-0800-8   $17.95

Mirka is stuck babysitting her pesky six-year-old half-sister Layele while the rest of the family is away from their all-Hasidic community. Fruma, Mirka’s stepmother, leaves strict orders to stay out of the woods, where bizarre magic always seems to happen (Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, rev. 11/10; Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite, rev. 11/12) and where Fruma saw “things” when she was Mirka’s age. Of course, Mirka does go into the woods, dragging Layele with her, and before long she’s wheedled the troll from the first book out of a hair elastic with time-travel capabilities (the illustrations denote the time travelers by superimposing them onto the landscape in transparent purple and white). The girls encounter a wishing fish, the same one who lost a battle of wits with a young Fruma (then called Fran and dressed in modern garb) and who now has a wicked plan to gain power by controlling and kidnapping Layele. Though the expressive and often humorous illustrations in this graphic novel do much to convey each scene’s tone and highlight important characters and objects, words make the world go ’round here. (Check out Mirka’s punctuation-marked skirt!) Speech bubbles wind in and out of the variably sized panels, and the eventual solution involves verbal gymnastics as much as heroics and compassion.

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

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5. Review of Flop to the Top!

davis_flop to the topstar2 Flop to the Top!
by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing; 
illus. by the authors
Primary   TOON   38 pp.
9/15   978-1-935179-89-4   $12.95

Wanda is a superstar — in her own mind. Oblivious to her family’s dismay, she forces everyone within arm’s reach to endure invasive photos, rude orders, and diva-like dismissals. After posting a selfie taken with her droll and droopy-faced dog, Wilbur, she scores millions of online likes. Hordes of admirers fill her street, and Wanda receives her fandom, only to be swiftly snubbed by the crowd. They want “FLOPPY DOG!” Wilbur is swept away to party with the celebrity du jour, Sassy Cat, and Wanda, jealous, tails the duo. The blinged-out dog is offered a contract to leave his “old life behind,” but instead decides to devour the document after a heartfelt apology (of sorts) by Wanda. Wife-and-husband team Davis and Weing share author-illustrator duties (“Can you tell who drew what? They bet you can’t!”) for this expertly paced — and funny and topical — early-reader comic. The digitally rendered art is a departure from the pen-and-ink cartooning of Davis’s Stinky (a 2009 Geisel honoree) and more closely related to her Matisse-like work for adults. It is infused with so much warmth, color, and whimsy that young readers will gladly see this book through to its pleasing reversal of fortune.

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

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6. Review of My Seneca Village

nelson_my seneca villagestar2 My Seneca Village
by Marilyn Nelson
Middle School, High School   Namelos   88 pp.
11/15   978-1-60898-196-0   $21.95
Paper ed. 978-1-60898-197-7   $11.95
e-book ed. 978-1-60898-198-4   $9.95

Seneca Village in Manhattan was founded in 1825 by free African Americans; by 1857 it had been razed to make way for the construction of Central Park. In forty-one poems Nelson spans the life of the village through the imagined reflections of its inhabitants. Some we meet just once, while others reappear: Epiphany Davis, forecaster of the future; Frederick Riddles, schoolboy turned soldier; and Sarah Matilda White, hair-braider and gossip. Most of the characters are African American, with a few Irish and German immigrants who also made their home there. Through a range of poetic forms and voices, Nelson communicates the desires, fulfillments, and disappointments of the village residents, along with episodes from daily life and larger historical incidents such as the Shakespeare 
Riot and an address by Frederick Douglass (italicized historical notes help contextualize events). Poems appear on right-hand pages and are prefaced by brief text on the left — reminiscent of stage directions — that helps set the scene (“We’re in Sarah’s kitchen again. The woman whose hair she is braiding looks very shocked”) and knit a light narrative from the chronologically sequential poems. Nelson’s natural and musical poetic lines (mostly in iambic pentameter) suggest reading aloud yet are accessible on the page and lend themselves to multiple reading experiences: as history; as story; as poetry, to be read sequentially or browsed and revisited. The drab cover is unfortunate, but readers who get past it will find one of Nelson’s finest works.

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

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7. Review of Playful Pigs from A to Z

lobel_playful pigsstar2 Playful Pigs from A to Z
by Anita Lobel; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary     Knopf     40 pp.
7/15     978-0-553-50832-1     $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-50833-8     $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-50834-5     $10.99

Twenty-six pigs wake up in their pen and decide to explore the countryside, running down the road and finding a field of “magical surprises”: brightly colored, freestanding letters of the alphabet. Lobel’s soft early-morning watercolors give way to bolder pages on which each pig is now clothed and standing upright. The entire alphabet, set in a distinctive condensed typeface, runs along the top and bottom borders while each pig interacts happily with a single tall, thin letterform (all are upper-case but i). Lobel uses a name-verb-letter structure (“Amanda Pig admired an A. Billy Pig balanced on a B”), with rolling hills below and plenty of white space behind the pig and letter. Repeat readers will spot an extra object beginning with the letter in question tucked into a lower corner. Gender roles are satisfyingly relaxed: Greta, a female soldier, guards the G, while on the  opposite page Hugo tenderly hugs an H. By the time Yolanda yawns and Zeke zzzs, evening has arrived and the pigs return to their pen in a mirror image of the opening spreads, once again unclothed and running on all fours. Dinner is followed by bedtime, with all twenty-six snuggled together cozily. This playful treatment creates a humorous, easygoing book that should relieve any anxiety about learning the alphabet.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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8. Review of Waiting

henkes_waitingstar2 Waiting
by Kevin Henkes; illus. by the author
Preschool   Greenwillow   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-06-236843-0   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-06-236844-7   $18.99   g

Waiting is a huge part of every child’s life, and Henkes uses a light touch to address the topic. Five toys wait on a windowsill. An owl waits for the moon; a pig holding an umbrella waits for rain; a bear with a kite waits for wind; and a puppy on a sled waits for snow. The fifth toy, a rabbit head on a spring, “wasn’t waiting for anything in particular. He just liked to look out the window and wait.” Henkes’s five friends are drawn with confident brown outlines filled in with a muted palette of light greens, blues, and pinks in colored-pencil and watercolor. A straightforward text sets up predictable patterns, while the design is varied, with horizontal and oval vignettes and full pages showing the entire window — including an especially striking sequence of four wordless pages. Time passes slowly, day to night, through wind, rain, and seasons, while small changes in the characters’ body positions and eyes show a range of emotions, from dismay (at lightning) to curiosity (at small trinkets added to the sill). Near the end, a large, rounded toy cat joins the quintet and waits for — what? Suddenly, we see that she has four smaller nesting cats inside. The book ends as quietly as it began, with welcoming acceptance of the five new inhabitants on the now-crowded windowsill. Henkes provides no deep meanings and sends no messages; he’s just showing what waiting can be like. Perhaps listeners will find a model for making long waits seem less tiresome: be still and notice what’s around you.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Review of Out of the Woods

Out of the Woodsstar2 Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event
by Rebecca Bond; illus. by the author
Primary   Ferguson/Farrar   40 pp.
7/15   978-0-374-38077-9   $17.99

Bond relates a story from 1914 Ontario, during her grandfather’s childhood, when he lived at a lakeside hotel run by his mother. Art and text describe young Antonio wandering the hotel, intrigued both by the “travelers” and “outdoor sportsmen” and by the loud, lively “men who worked in the forest” — trappers, lumberjacks, silver miners. Antonio also roams the woods, catching only disappointing half-glimpses of wild animals. One day, a forest fire breaks out, 
driving everyone toward the only safe place — the lake. As people stand in the water watching the fire rage, animals, too, make their way out of the woods and into the lake. It’s a dream come 
true for Antonio, who gets a close-up look at every forest creature imaginable as they slowly parade by. Like a woodland version of Hicks’s Peaceable Kingdom, “wolves stood beside deer, foxes beside rabbits. And people and moose stood close enough to touch.” Bond vividly conveys the nearness and wonder by describing what Antonio experiences: he “smelled the steam 
rising off the animals’ wet fur, saw their chests lifting and falling in steady rhythm, and felt their hot animal breath.” As the fire subsides, all creatures leave the water — and “miraculously,” the hotel has escaped untouched. The endpapers feature realistic drawings of forest animals against a sepia background, the vintage-children’s-book vibe setting the tone for this historical tale. Throughout, Bond’s detailed sketches tinted with muted browns, greens, blues, and oranges create a dreamlike mood, a fine match for the mesmerizing story. An appended note includes a photo of the author’s grandfather as a child.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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10. Review of Sunny Side Up

holm_sunny side upstar2 Sunny Side Up
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; 
illus. by Matthew Holm; color by Lark Pien
Intermediate   Graphix/Scholastic   218 pp.
9/15   978-0-545-74165-1   $23.99
Paper ed. 978-0-545-74166-8   $12.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-545-74167-5   $12.99

Set largely during the summer of 1976, this semiautobiographical graphic novel from the brother-and-sister team behind the Babymouse series includes an amiable grandfather, U.S. bicentennial festivities, and a trip to Disney World — but it is much more than a lighthearted nostalgia piece. Ten-year-old Sunshine “Sunny” Lewin had been looking forward to spending August at the shore as usual, but her parents have suddenly sent her to Florida to stay with “Gramps” instead. Her less-than-thrilling days at the retirement community, complete with early-bird specials and trips to the post office, improve after she befriends the groundskeeper’s son, comics-obsessed Buzz. The two spend their time doing odd jobs for spending money and mulling over age-old superhero dilemmas (“But they’re heroes. Why can’t they save the people they love?”). These discussions, and the series of flashbacks they often elicit, ultimately lead readers to the truth surrounding Sunny’s visit: back home in Pennsylvania, her teenage brother is struggling with substance abuse, and Sunny is convinced that she made the problem worse — a misconception Gramps lovingly corrects. Matthew Holm’s loose, less-is-more cartooning is easy to read and expressive, if occasionally unpolished. Straightforward dialogue, captions establishing time and setting, and extended wordless scenes swiftly propel the narrative and will be appreciated by Raina Telgemeier fans. An affirming author’s note delves further into the Holm siblings’ personal experience with familial substance abuse and encourages young readers sharing a similar struggle to reach out (as Sunny eventually does) to the responsible adults in their lives.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Review of The Hired Girl

hiredgirl_210x300star2 The Hired Girl
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Middle School   Candlewick   392 pp.
9/15   978-0-7636-7818-0   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7943-9   $17.99

In 1911, spirited fourteen-year-old Joan, the only girl in a family of three boys plus a verbally abusive father (her weak-of-constitution mother has died), musters her courage and leaves her rural Pennsylvania home for Baltimore, the final straw being her father’s burning of her few precious books. Once in the city, and with no real plan for survival, Joan is fortunate to be taken in by a kindly, well-to-do Jewish family, the Rosenbachs. She’s employed as their “hired girl,” acting as assistant to longtime (and grumpy) domestic Malka and serving as the observant family’s “Shabbos goy,” performing household tasks forbidden to Jews during the Sabbath. Over the course of the story, Joan, wide-eyed and open-hearted: meddles in the eldest Rosenbach son’s love affairs (luckily, it all works out); very ill-advisedly attempts to convert the family’s young grandson to Catholicism; makes something of an enemy of the lady of the house; and falls helplessly in love with the Rosenbachs’ younger son, an artist who persuades her to pose for him…as Joan of Arc. The book is framed as Joan’s diary, and her weaknesses, foibles, and naiveté come through as clearly — and as frequently — as her hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The pacing can be a little slow (she doesn’t even get to Baltimore, where the bulk of the story takes place, until almost eighty pages in), but by the end readers feel as if they’ve witnessed the real, authentic growth of a memorable young woman.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Review of Tiptoe Tapirs

kim_tiptoe tapirsstar2 Tiptoe Tapirs
by Hanmin Kim; illus. by the author; trans. from the Korean by Sera Lee
Preschool, Primary   Holiday   40 pp.
8/15   978-0-8234-3395-7   $16.95
e-book ed. 978-0-8234-3495-4   $16.95

First published in South Korea in 2013, this pourquoi tale explaining why animals move stealthily begins in the jungle long ago when animals were all quite noisy (“The elephant went BOOM-BOOM! The rhinoceros went BAM-BAM!”), except for quiet Tapir and Little Tapir. The tapirs tiptoe through their lives, enjoying themselves, sharing the jungle, and bothering none of the other animals — until one day a leopard attacks. The leopard’s noisy pursuit of the tapirs attracts a hunter with his loaded shotgun: “BANG! BANG! BANG!” Little Tapir, risking her own life, helps rescue the frightened leopard by teaching him to use quiet steps to escape the hunter. Impressionistic paintings created in watercolor, drawing ink, and marker pen provide a scenic and imaginative jungle setting with amusing details to notice throughout. The characters’ expressive faces and their body language bring to life pleasure, fear, and compassion, while the spare text generates momentum with repetition and opportunities for audience participation. Together, words and pictures provide excellent pacing, heightening humor, drama, and wonder to create an outstanding tale for sharing aloud.

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

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13. Review of All American Boys

reynolds_all american boysstar2 All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
High School   Dlouhy/Atheneum   316 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-6333-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-6335-5   $9.99

Teens Rashad (who is African American) and Quinn (who is white) are high school classmates and not much more — neither even knows the other’s name. But when a quick stop at the corner store for a bag of chips on a Friday night suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, the two boys are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad as its victim and Quinn as its witness. During the week following the incident, and in alternating voices, the teens narrate events as Rashad deals with his injuries and the unwanted limelight as the latest black victim in the news; and as Quinn tries to understand how a cop he considers family could be capable of such unprovoked rage, and where his loyalties are now supposed to lie. Faced with an all-too-common issue, both narrators must navigate opposing views from their friends and families to decide for themselves whether to get involved or walk away. Written with sharp humor and devastating honesty, this nuanced, thoughtful novel recalls the work of Walter Dean Myers and is worthy of his legacy. Reynolds and Kiely explore issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse (ethnically and philosophically) cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in a racially tense America.

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

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14. Review of Breakthrough!

murphy_breakthroughstar2 Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever
by Jim Murphy
Intermediate, Middle School   Clarion   128 pp.
12/15   978-0-547-82183-2   $18.99   g

Murphy (An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, rev. 7/03; Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure, rev. 7/12) here again focuses on the history of science and medicine. “Blue baby syndrome,” the result of a congenital heart condition, was a significant medical problem in WWII-era America: it killed seventy percent of affected children by the age of ten. This is the story of the Johns Hopkins University medical team that researched and solved the problem, culminating in the first successful 
operation on a critically ill infant. Dr. Alfred Blalock had already made a 
name for himself with his pioneering research on the causes and treatment of shock, and pediatrician Helen Taussig was the worldwide expert on congenital 
heart problems, despite being a woman in a male-dominated field. The final member — and arguably the most crucial one — was Vivien Thomas, Blalock’s African American lab assistant, who developed and refined the surgical procedure. The synthesis of their stories is illuminating, serving also as a commentary on the social status of women and minorities in the mid-twentieth century. If the biographical vignettes interrupt the narrative occasionally, the inherent suspense and drama make up for it. Numerous black-and-white photographs are incorporated into the main narrative, while sources notes, a bibliography, and an index (unseen) are appended.

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

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15. Review of The Right Word

bryant right word Review of The Right Wordstar2 Review of The Right WordThe Right Word:
Roget and His Thesaurus

by Jen Bryant; illus. by Melissa Sweet
Primary    Eerdmans    48 pp.
9/14    978-0-8028-5385-1    $17.50

Apt language and ingenious imagery combine to tell the life story of Peter Mark Roget, creator of the thesaurus. A solitary, though not unhappy, child, Roget spends his time keeping lists and ordering the natural and cultural wonders he finds in abundance. He studies to become a doctor, teaches, joins academic societies, raises a family, and continues to capture and classify the universe, eventually publishing his Thesaurus, a catalog of concepts ordered by ideas, in 1852. Bryant’s linear telling follows Peter closely, expressing his curiosity, sensitivity, and populist spirit in language that is both decorous and warm. Clever book design and visionary illustration add layers of meaning, as images come together in careful sequence. On the cover a cacophony of iconographic ideas explodes from the pages of a book. The opening endpapers arrange these same concepts in a vertical collage that recalls spines on a bookshelf. The title spread features the letters of the alphabet as stacked blocks, as a child manages them, and from there the pages grow in complexity, as Roget himself grows up. Sweet embellishes her own gentle watercolors with all manner of clippings and realia, corralling the pictures into order according to concept, number, or color. A timeline and detailed author and illustrator notes follow the narrative, with suggested additional resources and a facsimile page of Roget’s first, handwritten book of lists. And the closing endpapers, with the comprehensive classification scheme of the first thesaurus, fully realize the opening organizational promise.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. Review of The Bear Ate Your Sandwich

sarcone-roach_bear ate your sandwichstar2 The Bear Ate Your Sandwich
by Julia Sarcone-Roach; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Knopf   40 pp.
1/15   978-0-375-85860-4   $16.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-307-98242-1   $10.99

“By now I think you know what happened to your sandwich. But you may not know how it happened.” An offstage narrator spins this entertaining tale about the fate of a missing sandwich. The narrator’s creative version of events begins with a hungry bear, a berry-eating binge, a postprandial nap in the back of a pickup truck, and an unexpected road trip to the big city. All the while, we see words at entertaining odds with the pictures: those “high cliffs” the bear notices are the skyscrapers in the big-city landscape to which the truck has inadvertently transported him. Sarcone-Roach uses a vibrant color palette in her impressionistic paintings, gleefully depicting the bear exploring unfamiliar terrain. To her credit, the question of the narrator’s identity — and reliability — may not come up for readers until book’s end. If they do wonder, the diverting story and illustrations help to keep it a surprise. After the bear returns to the forest, the silver-tongued narrator’s subterfuge quickly falls apart, and the truth is unleashed (“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”). The book stands up to repeat readings; the illustrations (and endpapers) beg for more attention.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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17. Review of Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

himmelman_tales of bunjitsu bunnystar2Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny
by John Himmelman; illus. by the author
Primary   Holt   128 pp.
10/14   978-0-8050-9970-6   $13.99
e-book ed. 978-0-8050-9972-0   $9.49

Young rabbit Isabel is known as Bunjitsu Bunny for her proficiency in martial arts class. Himmelman’s thirteen short, generously illustrated chapters relate Isabel’s adventures as she demonstrates that “bunjitsu is not just about kicking, hitting, and throwing…It is about finding ways NOT to kick, hit, and throw.” Each droll tale contains a lesson — about avoiding fights (with tough jackrabbits), outsmarting bullies (especially fox pirates), dealing with nightmares (of scary monsters), never giving up (when being “bearjitsu”-ed), and more. Cleverly wrapped in an entertaining package, the zen-type morals are edifying but not preachy and serve to genuinely enrich the stories. Solid brush-like strokes in black give the drawings the clean look of block prints, the only added tint a soft red used mainly to set Isabel apart from her classmates, her flame-colored martial-arts uniform aptly matching her zippy personality.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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18. Review of The Walls Around Us

suma_walls around usstar2 The Walls Around Us
by Nova Ren Suma
High School   Algonquin   321 pp.
3/15   978-1-61620-372-6   $17.95   g
e-book ed. 978-1-61620-486-0   $17.95

Orianna Speerling — the so-called “Bloody Ballerina” — is just fifteen when she is convicted of murdering two rival dancers. A month after her sentence begins, all forty-two girls interned at the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center are dead — victims of an unexplained mass killing. Ori’s story is gradually revealed through the eyes of two unreliable narrators. Violet is Ori’s affluent best friend, a fellow dancer who knows more about Ori’s crime than she’ll ever admit — especially if the truth might jeopardize her future at Juilliard. Amber is an inmate at Aurora Hills who pushes the library cart from cell to cell — quietly waiting out a long sentence and keeping secrets of her own, such as having visions of girls she’s never met. In lyrical, authoritative prose, Suma weaves the disparate lives of these three girls into a single, spellbinding narrative that explores guilt, privilege, and complicity with fearless acuity. Amber’s voice is particularly affecting — she narrates from an eerily omniscient first-person plural perspective that speaks powerfully to the dehumanizing realities of teen imprisonment. The twisting, ghostly tale of Ori’s life, death, and redemption is unsettling and entirely engrossing.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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19. Review of Last Stop on Market Street

de la pena_last stop on market streetstar2 Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña; illus. by Christian Robinson
Primary     Putnam     32 pp.
1/15     978-0-399-25774-2     $16.99

CJ, a young black boy, has a flurry of questions for his grandmother one rainy day: “How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?” “How come we don’t got a car?” “How come we always gotta go here after church?” Only at book’s end do readers learn that “here” is a soup kitchen in a hardscrabble part of town (“How come it’s always so dirty over here?”) where CJ and Nana work every Sunday. Nana has a bottomless supply of look-on-the-sunny-side answers (“Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful”), but she isn’t dispensing bromides; the economical, exquisitely composed collage illustrations showing the pair in a glamour-free urban setting forbid a glib reading. CJ and Nana develop a fellowship with the bus driver, Mr. Dennis, and with the other passengers (a blind man and his dog; an old woman holding a jar of butterflies; a man playing the guitar), and it takes just a gentle nudge from Nana for CJ to unhesitatingly drop the coin Mr. Dennis gave him into the musician’s hat. De la Peña and Robinson here are carrying on for Ezra Jack Keats in spirit and visual style. This quietly remarkable book will likely inspire questions of a sort less practical-minded than CJ’s; it will also have some adult readers reaching for a tissue.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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20. Review of Meet the Dullards

pennypacker_meet the dullardsstar2 Meet the Dullards
by Sara Pennypacker; illus. by Daniel Salmieri
Primary   Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins   32 pp.
3/15   978-0-06-219856-3   $17.99

The tradition of Bottner’s The Scaredy Cats (rev. 3/03) and Allard’s Stupids books (The Stupids Die, rev. 8/81) lives on with the Dullards, a family of five engulfed in ennui. The Dullard parents are horrified when they catch their children Blanda, Borely, and Little Dud reading books, asking to go to school, and even trying to play outdoors. Though the parents try to nip this revolt in the bud by moving to an even more boring house, they are challenged when a welcoming neighbor brings over a cake made with chunky applesauce (“so unpredictable”) and speaks enthusiastically (“‘Please don’t use exclamation marks in front of our children,’ said Mrs. Dullard”). And so it goes until, while watching paint dry (a mix of beige and gray labeled “Custom Dull”), the children finally escape out a window and make their own fun. Close readers will no doubt notice that the books the children were reading in the first pages of the story inspire both their imaginative play and the final circus scene. Pennypacker’s droll, deadpan text is matched by Salmieri’s flat and hilarious illustrations; the characters, with their elongated limbs and prominent eyes, might remind readers of Gru in the movie Despicable Me. The big, wide world is painted in bright reds and blues, while the Dullard parents stick to their predictable oatmeal-colored world, “secure in the knowledge that their children were perfect bores.” Not.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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21. Review of It’s Only Stanley

agee_it's only stanleystar2 It’s Only Stanley
by Jon Agee; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Dial   32 pp.
3/15   978-0-8037-3907-9   $17.99

The Wimbledon family can’t sleep due to one noise (“HOWOOO!”) after another (“CLANK CLANK CLANK”). In each case, it’s the fault of their dog Stanley, whose onomatopoeic disturbances interrupt — hilariously — not just the sleep but the perfectly cadenced rhyming account of the increasingly bothered Wimbledons: “The Wimbledons were sleeping. / It was late beyond belief, / When Wylie heard a splashy sound / That made him say: ‘Good grief!’” As the night wears on, more and more family members are awakened, and Stanley shows himself to be one clever beagle (and over-the-moon in love). The thick lines and subdued colors in the illustrations bring out the story’s considerable humor and focus readers’ attention on the ever-more-fantastical situations. Agee understands the drama of the page turn better than anyone, with vignettes of the increasingly crowded Wimbledon family bed giving way to full-bleed double-page spreads of Stanley’s machinations until it all comes together (“KAPOW!”) to make everybody jump. Make sure your listeners have their seatbelts fastened.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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22. Review of March: Book Two

lewis_march bk 2star2 March: Book Two
by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell
Middle School, High School   Top Shelf Productions   192 pp.
1/15   978-1-60309-400-9   $19.95   g

Lewis and Aydin begin this second volume of the graphic memoir trilogy in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2009 (President Obama’s first inauguration), then they move back in time to 1960 to pick up where March: Book One (rev. 1/14) left off. Dramatic descriptions and vivid black-and-white illustrations of SNCC’s direct action campaigns in Nashville (sit-ins at fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, “stand-ins” at a segregated movie theater) are followed by accounts of the Freedom Rides into the “heart of the beast” in the Deep South, and on through the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, where Lewis spoke alongside Dr. King. (Back matter includes the original draft of Lewis’s speech, a more fiery, radical version of the speech he delivered, a debate about which took place up to the moment he stepped onstage.) Since this is Lewis’s personal story, the account has the authority of a passionate participant, and the pacing ramps up tension and historical import. Events and personalities aren’t romanticized in the text or the illustrations, which themselves don’t flinch from violence; in addition to exploring the dream that drove the civil rights movement, the story also portrays its divisions. Flash-forwards to Barack Obama’s inauguration appear judiciously throughout, an effective reminder to readers about the effects of the movement. 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.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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23. Review of Float

miyares_floatstar2 Float
by Daniel Miyares; illus. by the author
Primary   Simon   40 pp.
6/15   978-1-4814-1524-8   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-1525-5   $12.99

The joys, fears, and frustrations of exploration — as well as the safety, support, and love of home — are examined in this wordless story. Using inspiration from the newspaper, a boy and his caregiver (the only two characters in the narrative) together fold a paper boat. When the boy takes it outside to play, he pretends to sail the boat around the neighborhood. After a downpour, it floats for real — first in a puddle and then out of the boy’s grasp into a sewer grate. Bereft, he returns home to find care and coziness: a loving hug, dry clothes, and a warm mug of cocoa. Soon after, our hero ventures out again into a bright yellow day, with a freshly folded paper airplane. This time, he embraces the moment when he can set his creation free. With a limited color palette of mostly grays and yellows, each scene is full of reflection, shadow, and texture. The characters are composed of distinct planes of color and appear layered, as if folded out of paper, reinforcing the tactile topic and theme. Miyares’s strong command of perspective and line produces a comfortable suspense between panels and delivers a visual tale of a small moment made spectacular in the eyes of a child. Endpapers supply directions for readers to make their own paper boats and airplanes.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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24. Review of X: A Novel

shabazz_xstar2 X: A Novel
by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
High School   Candlewick   375 pp.
1/15   978-0-7636-6967-6   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7425-0   $16.99

Shabazz, Malcolm X’s third daughter, and YA author Magoon (Fire in the Streets, rev. 9/12; How It Went Down, rev. 11/14) team up to present a vivid, immediate fictionalized portrait of the civil rights activist and the forces that shaped him. Readers are immersed in young Malcolm’s world, from his fractured and tragic Depression-era childhood in Lansing, Michigan (father killed, mother committed to an asylum, siblings placed in separate foster homes), through his heady teen years in Boston and Harlem (where “everything’s a hustle, and I got my own hustle now”), through his conviction and imprisonment for larceny, ending with his conversion to Islam in his mid-twenties. Thanks to the strength of the intimate first-person voice, readers experience right along with the adolescent Malcolm his thirst for excitement, the seductive “siren call” of 1940s Roxbury and Harlem street life, his increasingly risky and dangerous choices, and finally his growing awareness of the impact of racism on his and his family’s past and on his present and future. In prison: “The guard who knocks me down and puts his foot on my face…he didn’t build these walls. He didn’t invent the word nigger, however well he’s learned to throw it. It’s all so much bigger, and so built-in.” The direct cause-and-effect connection between Malcolm’s epiphany that he doesn’t need to “fight Papa” anymore and his acceptance of Islam feels imposed, but there’s very little else that doesn’t ring true in this powerful, compelling work of historical fiction. Extensive back matter includes a bibliography that steers young people toward further reading about Malcolm X and black history.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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25. Review of The Skunk

barnett_skunkstar2 The Skunk
by Mac Barnett; illus. by Patrick McDonnell
Primary     Roaring Brook     32 pp.
4/15     978-1-59643-966-5     $17.99

A skunk shows up on the narrator’s doorstep and begins to tail him. Try as he might, our narrator just can’t seem to shake the skunk — “When I sped up, the skunk sped up. When I slowed, the skunk slowed” — despite dodging in and out of an opera house, a graveyard, and a carnival. Ultimately, however, our narrator does lose his unwelcome shadow, crawling down a manhole in an alley and establishing a new life in a new house in a new part of the city (the heretofore low-toned palette now bursting with blue and yellow). It’s not long, though, before he realizes everything’s not what it’s cracked up to be, and he leaves his own party to go off in search of the skunk, vowing to keep an eye on him to “make sure he does not follow me again.” McDonnell’s graceful and simple cartoonlike illustrations mitigate the notes of paranoia and obsession in Barnett’s deadpan text, particularly in their rendering of the posture, gestures, and expressions of the main characters. Barnett has had the good fortune to collaborate with illustrators — Rex, Santat, Klassen — who share his oftentimes offbeat sense of humor; his pairing with McDonnell seems as natural as any of them.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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