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1. Middle-grade BFFs

The friends you make in childhood can be the best ones of your life. The following books highlight unlikely friendships that are made to last.

curtis madman of piney woods Middle grade BFFs   Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods (companion to Newbery Honor Book Elijah of Buxton) takes place in 1901, with the American Civil War a not-so-distant memory for Buxton’s elders. For thirteen-year-old black Canadian Benji Alston, though, daily life involves coping with two irritatingly gifted younger siblings and dreaming of becoming a newspaper reporter. Benji befriends Alvin “Red” Stockard, an Irish Canadian boy who lives in nearby Chatham, and the two uncover the mystery and tragedy surrounding the supposedly mythical Madman of Piney Woods. A profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel about family, friendship, community, and the power of words. (Scholastic, 9–13 years)

hahn where i belong Middle grade BFFs“How come some kids are lucky and others aren’t?” asks Brendan, the (unlucky) protagonist of Where I Belong by Mary Downing Hahn. Abandoned at birth by his mother and now, on the verge of failing sixth grade, living with an apparently unloving foster mom, Brendan finds refuge in a secret tree house he builds in the woods, and in tentative friendships with a girl named Shea and with an old man in the woods, whom Brendan initially believes is the “Green Man.” This is quintessential middle-grade realistic fiction, with an unvarnished depiction of the miseries that can be visited upon a quiet sixth grader and the succor that can be found in the hard-won friendship of peers and the attention of understanding elders. (Clarion, 8–11 years)

french my cousins keeper Middle grade BFFsWhen his cousin Bon comes to live at his house, eleven-year-old Kieran is mad: Bon is “weird.” He has a long braid and tattered clothing; smells of sweat and pee; and talks in an unnaturally precise manner, all of which make Bon a target of the cool-kid bullies at school (and ruining Kieran’s chance of hanging out with the cool kids himself). Bon’s only friend is another newcomer, Julia, and Kieran is jealous of their friendship: he wants to be friends with Julia. Bon keeps a notebook filled with fantastical drawings and tales of Bon the Crusader, Kieran the Brave, and Julia the Fair; as the protagonists grow into Bon’s roles for them, My Cousin’s Keeper by Simon French becomes a story of kids who dare to imagine worlds and become who they need to be. (Candlewick, 8–11 years)

turner circa now Middle grade BFFsIn Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner, main character Circa’s father is killed by a tornado while delivering an old photo he’s restored. Then Miles shows up on her family’s doorstep, a boy with amnesia whose only clue to his past is the photograph he’s holding — the very one Circa’s father was delivering when he died. As Circa and her mother care for Miles they uncover a strange series of coincidences, and Circa begins to think the digital changes she and her father made to photographs have come to exist in real life. Does this mean she can bring her father back? Gentle quirkiness and light humor appear throughout Turner’s tale of grief, healing, and friendship. (Disney-Hyperion, 9–13 years)

From the September 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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2. Nature lovers

Back-to-school blues? Give kids these engaging science books — which introduce primary readers to intriguing animals, habitats, natural processes, and conservation causes — to pique scientific curiosity and fuel imagination.

roy neigborhood sharks Nature loversKatherine Roy’s Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands examines the sometimes chilling, always fascinating details of what makes the great white shark an effective predator. The dramatic main narrative describes a shark swimming and hunting; well-integrated, information-rich sections tell more about the biology and ecology of these sharks and about the scientists who study their role in the Farallon Island ecosystem. The explanations are thorough and even, incorporating excellent analogies (in both text and images) to elucidate such topics as sharks’ streamlined bodies and visual acuity. Roy’s illustrations masterfully employ perspective and color: blood-reds flow through the ocean’s blues and grays. (Roaring Brook/Macaulay, 5–8 years)

bang buried Nature loversMolly Bang and Penny Chisholm have previously coauthored two excellent books (Living Sunlight, Ocean Sunlight) on the role of the sun’s energy in powering life processes on Earth. In Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth, Bang and Chisholm explore the production and consumption of fossil fuels, as well as the sobering evidence for the consequences of all that energy use: climate change. The sun itself narrates the “Cycle of Life” — the relationship among photosynthesis (plants), respiration (animals), and energy that results in the fossil fuels so dear to modern civilization. Bang’s illustrations brilliantly represent the chemistry with bright yellow dots of energy and tiny black-and-white molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide. (Scholastic/Blue Sky, 5–8 years)

davies tiny creatures Nature loversIn Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes, author Nicola Davies introduces an intriguing concept: that there are vast quantities of living things (microbes) that are smaller than the eye can see. She does it through creative, relatable analogies and itchy-but-cool facts about the microbes that live on and in us (“Right now there are more microbes living on your skin than there are people on Earth”). The tone is light and inquisitive yet also scientifically precise, covering topics such as the shape and variety of microbes, their function, and their reproduction. Emily Sutton’s colorful, friendly illustrations accurately render the microorganisms’ shapes. (Candlewick, 4–7 years)

duke in the rainforest Nature loversKate Duke’s In the Rainforest, a Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series entry, welcomes readers to a unique habitat as two youngsters pack for, travel to, and walk through a tropical rainforest. The main text and the children’s tour guide (in conversational speech balloons) cover the rainforest’s physical features and its abundant diversity of plants and animals. Cheerful mixed-media illustrations show the children enjoying climbing trees, journaling, and learning. When leaving, the visitors encounter a vast wasteland where trees and wildlife have been destroyed, which prompts a matter-of-fact discussion of the repercussions of such destruction. Rather than end on a negative note, however, the guide and the children return to the rainforest — as the guide says, there’s “lots more to show you.” (HarperCollins/Harper, 4–7 years)

From the September 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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3. From the Editor – September 2014

roger right2 From the Editor   September 2014I hope you will join us for the fifth annual Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, “Mind the Gaps,” on October 11th at Simmons College in Boston. This year’s program will examine the various diversity gaps in children’s book publishing, whether they be underrepresentation of nonwhite perspectives or the decreasing proportion of nonfiction titles. The colloquium takes place the day after the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards (for which a ticket will be provided to all HBAS attendees), and speakers will include all three winners as well as librarian and 2012 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, who will give the keynote address. For more information about the colloquium and to register, please visit http://www.hbook.com/bghb-hbas/.

roger signature From the Editor   September 2014

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

From the September 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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4. Five questions for Judith Viorst

judith viorst by milton viorst Five questions for Judith Viorst

Photo: Milton Viorst

Judith Viorst, creator of Alexander (he of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), writes about another little boy who might just wish he could curl back up in bed. The young protagonist of And Two Boys Booed (Farrar/Ferguson, 4–7 years) is excited to perform in the school talent show… until it’s almost his turn. With equal parts realism, reassurance, gentle humor, and inventive wordplay, Viorst sets up a familiar stage-fright scenario and gives her main character an ingenious way to get himself out of it.

1. What was your inspiration for this multilayered book?

JV: My inspiration was my granddaughter Olivia, daughter of Alexander, who came over to my house one afternoon after a talent show at her summer day camp. When I asked how her portion of the talent show had gone, she replied, “Two boys booed.” To my shame I didn’t immediately offer her a hug and sympathy. Instead, my first response was, “Great book title!” I then had to figure out a story to go with the title.

2. Who thought of those terrific flaps?

viorst and two boys booed Five questions for Judith ViorstJV: I believe it was Sophie Blackall, the amazing illustrator of the book, who came up with the brilliant idea of doing flaps. But her brilliance is evident in all kinds of other ways as well: in the richly detailed double-page spread of our narrator’s many, many varied activities during the course of which he practiced singing his song; in the delicious specificity of every child in the story; and in the depiction of our narrator shrinking deeper and deeper into his shirt as his stage fright mounts.

3. Those two boys: were they jealous? Mean-spirited? Or just acting like boys?

JV: The two boys were being rather unkind, booing a kid because he was too scared to do what he was supposed to do, and then continuing to boo even after he did it. I wish they had been more sympathetic, and I hope their teacher had a little talk with them after the talent show.

4. Would your Alexander be onstage with the narrator? Or in the peanut gallery with the boys? (Maybe it would depend on the day!)

JV: Alexander could be fierce, frustrated, grumpy, but I don’t think he’d be either scared to perform or unkind to those who were.

5. Do you get stage fright?

JV: I had terrible stage fright all the way through college. I remember being told I had to stand in front of one of my history classes and read a paper I had written and offering to write a second paper if I could just please hand them both in and not read them aloud. I now give talks to large audiences without the slightest flicker of stage fright, but don’t ask me how that happened.

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

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5. Graphic novels for middle schoolers

From poignant historical fiction to introspective coming-of-age tale, hilarious space caper to action-packed superhero story, four new graphic novels for middle-schoolers showcase the range of the graphic novel format.

faulkner gaijin Graphic novels for middle schoolersIn Gaijin: American Prisoner of War, thirteen-year-old Koji Miyamoto is living in San Francisco with his (white) mother when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Despite being only half-Japanese, Koji is forced to relocate to the Alameda Downs Assembly Center across the bay. There he wrestles not only with his father’s temporary absence from the family but also with a gang of boys in the camp who constantly bully him — for being a gaijin, a foreigner. Through astute choices of medium, color, and composition, author/illustrator Matt Faulkner creates a vivid and compelling internment-camp drama for young readers. (Disney-Hyperion, 11–14 years)

tamaki this one summer Graphic novels for middle schoolersEvery summer Rose Wallace and her parents go to their cottage on Awago Beach. But this year Rose starts to feel too old for the activities she used to love — and, at times, even for her younger (and more childish) friend Windy. Meanwhile, Rose is caught up in the tension between her parents and fascinated by adult behaviors the local teens are trying on. In This One Summer, author-and-illustrator cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki examine the mix of uncertainty and hope that a girl experiences on the verge of adolescence. Dramatic purple-blue ink illustrations capture the raw emotional core of this story set at the beginning of the end of childhood. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 11–14 years)

maihack cleopatra in space Graphic novels for middle schoolersYanked from first-century B.C. Egypt to the Nile galaxy thousands of years in the future, Cleopatra (quick with both a quip and a ray gun) is hailed as a messiah destined to crush the evil Xerx. Author/illustrator Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice portrays a time-warped Egypt in crisp line art, muted jewel tones, and striking perspectives that create riveting panels featuring futuristic pyramids and a flying-sphinx motorbike. After Cleo single-handedly vanquishes mummy robots and tosses out another one-liner (“Let’s wrap this up”) readers will be clamoring for more of Maihack’s dynamic illustrations, campy humor, and, of course, more Cleo. (Scholastic/Graphix, 11–14 years)

yang shadow hero Graphic novels for middle schoolersWorld War II–era cartoonist Chu Hing reportedly wanted his comic superhero the Green Turtle to be Chinese; not surprisingly for the time, his publishers balked. Now seventy years later, author Gene Luen Yang and illustrator Sonny Liew vindicate Hing in The Shadow Hero, which imagines the Green Turtle as “the first Asian American superhero.” Hank wants to lead a quiet existence in the Chinatown of noir-ish (fictional) San Incendio. But his mother has higher aspirations for Hank: she wants her son to be a superhero. Humor, strong characters, and cracking good action — plus a nuanced portrayal of Chinese American culture — keep the requisite trials and tribulations of the superhero-in-training fresh. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 11–14 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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6. From the Editor — June 2014

sutton roger 170x304 From the Editor — June 2014On May 31st, I announced the winners of the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards at the BookExpo convention in New York. The awards will be bestowed at a ceremony on October 10th at Simmons College; the next day brings the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers.” The colloquium will feature BGHB honorees and others in a day’s discussion of what’s missing or scarce in contemporary books for young people, and how some of these gaps might be closed. We will tell you more about our plans for the day as they develop, but early-bird registration for HBAS (with a complimentary ticket to the BGHB awards the night before) is now available.

roger signature From the Editor — June 2014

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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7. Books mentioned in the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

Five questions for Judith Viorst
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst, illus. by Ray Cruz, Atheneum, 4–7 years.
And Two Boys Booed written by Judith Viorst, illus. by Sophie Blackall, Farrarr/Ferguson, 4–7 years.

Back-to-school basics
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea, Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years.
Dinosaur vs. School by Bob Shea, Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, Little, Brown, 3–5 years.
My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown, Little, Brown, 3–5 years.
Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t) written by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley, Knopf, 4–7 years.
Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome) written by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley, Knopf, 4–7 years.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 6–8 years.

Not-rotten readers
Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Family written by Jack Gantos, illus. by Nicole Rubel, Farrar, 5–8 years.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up written by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen, Candlewick, 5–8 years.
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway, Candlewick, 5–8 years.
Quinny & Hopper written by Adriana Brad Schanen, illus. by Greg Swearingen, Disney-Hyperion, 5–8 years.

Beyond biographies
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Penguin/Paulsen, 11–14 years.
Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! by Emily Arnold McCully, Clarion, 11–14 years.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming, Random/Schwartz & Wade, 13–16 years.
Stories of My Life by Katherine Paterson, Dial, 13–16 years.

Go your own way
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith, Simon, 15–17 years.
Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey, Carolrhoda Lab, 15–17 years.
Schizo by Nic Scheff, Philomel, 13–15 years.
Skink — No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen, Knopf, 13–15 years.

These titles were featured in the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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8. Beyond biography

With storytelling ease and pitch-perfect pacing, the following works of narrative nonfiction for older readers bring their subjects to brilliant life, elevating the sometimes-staid genre of biography to literary art form.

woodson brown girl dreaming Beyond biographyJacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming is so immediate that readers will feel they are experiencing the author’s childhood right along with her. Born in Ohio in 1963, Jackie moved with her family to Greenville, South Carolina, to live with her maternal grandparents. We see young Jackie grow up in historical context alongside the contexts of extended family, community (Greenville, later Brooklyn), and religion — and we trace her development as a nascent writer to her realization that “words are [her] brilliance.” The poetry sings in this extraordinary portrait of a writer as a young girl. (Penguin/Paulsen, 10–14 years)

mccully ida m tarbell Beyond biographyEmily Arnold McCully creates a multilayered biography of a crusading early-twentieth-century journalist in Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! Readers meet young Ida growing up in Pennsylvania oil country. A curious child, Tarbell’s lessons learned from scientific inquiry led to her dogged determination to get to the bottom of an issue. McCully engagingly re-creates the era’s social context for women (famously, Tarbell didn’t believe in women’s suffrage) as well as the culture and importance of print media, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about Tarbell’s positions and her times. (Clarion, 10–14 years)

fleming romanov Beyond biographyCandace Fleming’s riveting book The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia appeals to the imagination as much as the intellect. Her focus is not just the Romanovs (the last imperial family of Russia), but the Revolutionary leaders and common people as well, showing how each group was the product of its circumstances and how they all moved inexorably toward the tragic yet fascinating conclusion. An epic, sweeping historical narrative. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 12–18 years)

paterson stories of my life Beyond biographyDemonstrating warmth, ease, and a sense of humor about herself, Katherine Paterson relates tales from her life, and from her parents’ and grandparents’, too, in Stories of My Life. The author gently ambles from story to story, looping through her youthful experiences in China and Japan, her marriage and children, and her writing. Throughout all there is a strong connection to Paterson’s childhood: “By the time I was five I had been through war and evacuation, but nothing had prepared me for the American public school system.” (Dial, 12 years and up)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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9. Go your own way

Teen boys go on journeys both physical (road trip!) and psychological in these affecting YA novels.

smith 100 sideways miles Go your own wayFinn Easton, protagonist of Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles, has unusual scars on his back, products of the freak accident that also killed his mother when he was a kid. He has a pretty good life otherwise: his sci-fi novelist father loves him; his best friend Cade makes him laugh; and he has recently met Julia, the girl of his dreams. After Julia moves away, crestfallen Finn embarks on a college visit with Cade, a trip that turns the boys into heroes. Finn has a funny, fluid narrative voice, and his banter with Cade is excellent — and often hilariously vulgar. (Simon, 14 years and up)

willey beetle boy Go your own wayAs Charlie Porter convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon, his past — years of being paraded around in a beetle costume by his opportunistic father as the child author of the Beetle Boy series — resurfaces in nightmares in which he’s tormented by a giant beetle. Charlie wrestles with anger regarding the exploitation and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward the crotchety children’s book author who cared for him. In her relentlessly honest but hopeful novel Beetle Boy, author Margaret Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks. (Carolrhoda Lab, 14 years and up)

sheff schizo Go your own wayTwo years ago a family outing to the beach ended in trauma when fourteen-year-old Miles experienced a psychotic break. While recovering in the psych ward, Miles received a life-changing diagnosis of schizophrenia along with some devastating news: during the commotion of his episode, Miles’s little brother went missing and is presumed drowned. Miles begins a risky investigation into his brother’s disappearance shortly after ditching his cocktail of medications. Some readers will guess the twist ending of Nic Sheff’s Schizo, but will nevertheless hope for Miles to find peace with his life and with his illness. (Philomel, 12 years and up)

hiaasen skink no surrender Go your own wayAs Carl Hiaasen’s farcical Skink — No Surrender opens, teen narrator Richard’s cousin, Malley, runs away from home, and Richard is certain that she’s with a chat-room acquaintance almost twice her age. He tells Clint Tyree, a.k.a. Skink (the unkempt and unwavering former Florida governor who stars in several of Hiaasen’s adult novels), and the pair immediately takes off on an event-filled road trip to rescue Malley. Hiaasen smoothly integrates Skink’s vulnerabilities with his larger-than-life behaviors — including eating roadkill and wrestling an alligator — and Richard’s naiveté plays nicely against Skink’s extremism. (Knopf, 12–15 years)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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10. From the Editor – August 2014

sutton roger 170x304 From the Editor   August 2014I hope you can join Horn Book Executive Editor Martha V. Parravano and me at Fostering Lifelong Learners, a one-day conference the Horn Book, along with School Library Journal and the Cuyahoga County Public Library, is sponsoring on September 19th at the Parma-Snow branch of the CCPL in Parma, Ohio. Martha and I will be discussing great new books for preschoolers; other speakers include Dr. Robert Needlman of Reach Out and Read, and Kevin Henkes, hero of preschoolers everywhere. The conference is free but preregistration is required.

And do not forget the annual Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium, held this year on October 11th at Simmons College. “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers” is the theme, and featured speakers include our three Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winners as well as a keynote address by librarian and author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, winner of the 2012 BGHB Award and the SLJ Battle of the Books Award for No Crystal Stair. More information about HBAS can be found at www.hbook.com/bghb-hbas/.

roger signature From the Editor   August 2014

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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11. Back-to-school basics

Kids going back to school — or just starting out there? Here are a variety of picture books, from imaginative and funny to historical and serious, to help ease the transition from the lazy days of summer.

shea dinosaur vs school Back to school basics“Roar! Roar! Roar!” The diminutive red dinosaur from Bob Shea’s Dinosaur vs. Bedtime faces its newest foe in Dinosaur vs. School. The new kindergartner romps and stomps its way through the day, making new friends, playing dress-up, and creating “monkey snacks.” In each case, “Dinosaur wins!” The fun comes to a halt at clean-up time: “OH, NO! It’s too much for one dinosaur!” But there’s a valuable little-kid lesson to be learned: “When everyone helps… EVERYONE WINS!” The mixed-media illustrations contain lots of color and motion, with real-life objects incorporated humorously into the digital collage. (Disney-Hyperion, 3–5 years)

brown my teacher is a monster Back to school basicsFrom the author-illustrator of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild comes another funny and perceptive picture book, My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.). To young Bobby, his rule-enforcing teacher Ms. Kirby looks like a monster, with green skin and sharp claws and teeth. But when the two meet unexpectedly outside of school one day, he begins to see her as more human, and gradually Ms. Kirby begins to look decreasingly monstrous. In watercolor, gouache, and India ink illustrations on thick paper, Peter Brown employs a cartoon-type format (with panels and speech bubbles) to tell a story that students and teachers will enjoy equally. (Little, Brown, 3–5 years)

bottner miss brooks story nook Back to school basicsSince we last saw her in Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t), narrator Missy has developed a newfound appreciation for books. Now, in Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome), she eagerly anticipates being read to each morning, though a neighborhood bully makes it hard to get to school on time. Then the power goes off, and the class must tell stories rather than read them. Missy makes up a story about an ogre, which helps her solve her bully problem. Michael Emberley’s pleasingly detailed pencil-and-wash illustrations give the characters distinctive personalities. (Knopf, 4–7 years)

tonatiuh separate is never equal Back to school basicsSeparate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to tell the remarkable story of how, seven years before the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, a Mexican American child and her family fought for — and won — the desegregation of schools in California. Illustrations reminiscent of the Mixtec codex, but collaged with paper, wood, cloth, and brick, accompany the straightforward narrative. This story deserves to be more widely known, and now, thanks to this book, it will be. (Abrams, 6–9 years)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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12. For not-rotten readers

Following your dreams and dealing with family: these topics get hilarious treatment for primary readers in the following early chapter books. An added bonus? Some familiar faces from popular series.

gantos rotten ralphs rotten family For not rotten readersIn Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel’s Rotten Ralph’s Rotten Family, the titular kitty finds a family photo album and, nostalgic for his childhood, decides to visit his kin. His mother treats him well, but other relatives humiliate him — and poor Ralph realizes that he’s so rotten because his family was rotten to him! After a few Rotten Ralph picture books, the return to the longer early-chapter-book format leaves room for a more sophisticated story line to emerge. Never fear; Ralph’s rotten behavior, sure to bring a chuckle to fans old and new, is still front and center in Gantos’s freewheeling text and Rubel’s energetic illustrations. (Farrar, 5–8 years)

dicamillo leroy niker saddles up For not rotten readersIn Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, Leroy (the “reformed thief” from Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen’s Mercy Watson books) makes ends meet serving popcorn at the drive-in, but dreams of being a cowboy. Sporting a cowboy hat, lasso, and boots, he watches raptly the Wednesday night Western double-feature but makes little progress otherwise. When he receives the advice that “Every cowboy needs a horse,” Leroy purchases “very exceptionally cheap” Maybelline and throws himself into horse-ownership — but acquiring a horse and keeping one turn out to be two different challenges. This entertaining tale balances comically exaggerated details and true heart. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

milway pigsticks and harold For not rotten readersPigsticks Pig — star of Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey — comes from a long line of august ancestors. But a young pig has to make his own mark, and Pigsticks decides on an expedition to the Ends of the Earth. He engages anxious, cake-loving hamster Harold as an assistant, and, in three generously illustrated chapters, we follow the explorers as they survive swamps, deserts, rickety rope bridges, malevolent mountain goats, and more. Alex Milway’s tongue-in-cheek text and slapdash-goofy pictures provide much humor. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)

schanen quinny and hopper For not rotten readersThe eponymous brand-new next-door-neighbor kids in Quinny & Hopper couldn’t be more different: quiet, analytical loner Hopper is initially baffled (and a little appalled) by Quinny’s cutesiness and high volume. But in battling Hopper’s bullying brothers on his behalf, Quinny wins him over, and the two become friends — until snooty new girl Victoria barges her way between them. Debut author Adriana Brad Schanen nicely balances the alternating perspectives of Quinny and Hopper and paints a comically exaggerated but essentially truthful picture of life with siblings. Illustrator Greg Swearingen deftly captures each child’s emotions. (Disney-Hyperion, 5–8 years)

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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13. YA fantasy you’ve been waiting for

Every fantasy fan knows the exquisite agony of anticipating the next entry in a favorite series — particularly if that entry will be the last. These four new novels continue (and in some cases, complete) popular trilogies.

moriarty cracks in the kingdom YA fantasy youve been waiting forIn The Cracks in the Kingdom, the follow-up to Jaclyn Moriarty‘s BGHB Fiction Award Honor book A Corner of White, Madeleine (in Cambridge, England) and Elliot (in the Kingdom of Cello) continue to communicate through letters they send through a “crack” between their two worlds. At the behest of Princess Ko, whose parents and siblings have disappeared into Madeleine’s world, Madeleine and Elliot attempt to cross into each other’s worlds and avert the threat of war in Cello. They achieve a measure of success and give readers a tantalizing hint of romance to come. This wholly entertaining book outdoes the first — not an easy task. (Levine/Scholastic, 13–16 years)

meyer cress YA fantasy youve been waiting forMarissa Meyer’s fairy tale/sci-fi hybrid Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet) continues with Cress, a “Rapunzel”–inspired story. Cress, taken from her Lunar parents as a baby, is forced to live alone on a satellite spying on the Earthens for Queen Levana. But her real loyalty lies with cyborg Cinder’s plan to protect Earth by dethroning Levana. After an attempt to rescue Cress goes awry, Cinder and an injured Wolf head to Africa; Scarlet becomes Levana’s prisoner on Luna; and Cress and Thorne survive a crash landing on Earth and desert trek. This action-packed page-turner is sure to please series fans. (Feiwel, 13–16 years)

hautman klaatu terminus YA fantasy youve been waiting forIn The Klaatu Terminus, Tucker and Lia (The Obsidian Blade, The Cydonian Pyramid) join together for their final confrontation with the murderous religious sect known as the Lambs of September. Born in the same geographic locale hundreds of years apart, the two have been drawn to each other since Tucker first spotted Lia with his father, Reverend Adrian Feye (soon to become Father September). Other characters, similarly intertwined, also cross paths again in wholly unexpected ways. Author Pete Hautman pulls together the elaborate strands of the previous Klaatu Diskos books, rewarding readers with a surprising yet satisfying chronicle across time. (Candlewick, 13–16 years)

taylor dreams of gods and monsters YA fantasy youve been waiting forAn uneasy truce between chimaera and seraphim allows Laini Taylor‘s star-crossed lovers Karou and Akiva (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Days of Blood & Starlight) the chance to reconcile. This sets the stage for looming confrontations with the despotic seraph Jael, the mysterious Stelians, and a new threat that the pair could never have imagined. For all the well-made trappings of fantasy and horror, the amalgamation of myth and legend, the machinations of plot, and the colorful menagerie of characters, Dreams of Gods & Monsters the final entry in the trilogy — remains, at heart, a tender, satisfying romance. (Little, Brown, 13–16 years)

From the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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14. April is National Poetry Month

Preschool-perfect nursery rhymes, a potpourri of new-reader-friendly seasonal verse, a presidential history lesson in rhyme, and a picture book biography about a famous poet — these new books offer unique avenues for celebrating National Poetry Month.

mcphail my mother goose April is National Poetry MonthEditor and illustrator David McPhail’s My Mother Goose: A Collection of Favorite Rhymes is an affable collection of sixty-three nursery rhymes plus seven interspersed short sections of concepts (counting, “Getting Dressed,” “Action Words”). McPhail portrays a classic, though updated, Mother Goose world, populated with people (not all white) and anthropomorphized animals. Each spread is devoted to one or two mostly familiar poems, and the playful illustrations are afforded plenty of room to interpret the verses, giving the whole an uncluttered, approachable look. (Roaring Brook, 2–5 years)

janeczko firefly july2 April is National Poetry MonthMelissa Sweet’s child-friendly mixed-media illustrations — loosely rendered, collage-like assemblages in seasonal palettes — enhance the thirty-six excellent poems showcased in Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. Selected by Paul B. Janeczko, the verses — some as brief as three lines or a dozen words — are largely by familiar poets (Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes), including those known for their children’s verse (Alice Schertle, Charlotte Zolotow). (Candlewick, 4–7 years)

bober papa is a poet April is National Poetry MonthNatalie S. Bober draws on her own 1981 young adult biography A Restless Spirit for her new picture book Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost, focused on the pivotal years (1900–12) when Frost lived in Derry, New Hampshire. Skillfully, Bober introduces Frost’s idiosyncrasies along with his gifts, and frequently incorporates lines from Frost’s poems. Rebecca Gibbon’s acrylic, pencil, and watercolor art quietly captures the era’s essence. Quotes from Frost on poetry and a dozen iconic poems inspired by those Derry years are included. (Ottaviano/Holt, 5–8 years)

singer rutherford b April is National Poetry MonthFor slightly older readers, Marilyn Singer’s Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents offers thirty-nine poems for our forty-three presidents, touching on sophisticated subjects such as political ideology, foreign policy, and domestic programs. A quote from George Washington in a bold hand-lettered font opens the book, and with the poem positioned on the facing page, readers have space to contemplate its meaning. John Hendrix’s expansive, richly colored art captures each man’s likeness, and brief biographical notes give pertinent background information. (Disney-Hyperion, 6–10 years)

From the April 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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15. April Notes on the way

Vampires, werepeople, and yetis — oh my! In this month’s Notes from the Horn Book newsletter, I get to ask Cynthia Leitich Smith five questions about her (ahem) tantalizing new series Feral, a spin-off to her Tantalize quartet. Other goodies in this issue:

• more YA fantasy series entries
• picture books about the big city
• recommended reading for National Poetry Month
• intermediate books about wartime

april 14 notes April Notes on the way

Read the issue online here, or subscribe to receive Notes from the Horn Book newsletter (and its supplement Nonfiction Notes) in your inbox. Find more recommended books and interviews in the newsletter archives.

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16. Books mentioned in the May 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

Five questions for Sophie Blackall
Ivy + Bean series written by Annie Barrows, illus. by Sophie Blackall, Chronicle, 6–9 years.
The Mighty LaLouche
written by Matthew Olshan, illus. by Sophie Blackall, Schwartz & Wade/Random, 5–7 years.
Pecan Pie Baby written by Jacqueline Woodson, illus. by Sophie Blackall, Putnam, 3–6 years.
Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found, selected and illus. by Sophie Blackall, Workman, adult.
The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall, Penguin/Paulsen, 3–6 years.
Bear and Bee by Sergio Ruzzier, Hyperion, 3–6 years.
Locomotive by Brian Floca, Atheneum/Jackson, 8–11 years.

Sassy siblings
Gaston written by Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Christian Robinson, Atheneum, 3–6 years.
The Troublemaker by Lauren Castillo, Clarion, 3–6 years.
Splat! Starring the Vole Brothers by Roslyn Schwartz, OwlKids, 3–6 years.
Me First by Max Kornell, Penguin/Paulsen, 4–7 years.

Funny business
Masterpiece written by Elise Broach Kelly Murphy Holt/Ottaviano,
The Miniature World of Marvin and James [Masterpiece Adventures] written by Elise Broach, illus. by Kelly Murphy, Holt/Ottaviano, 5–8 years.
The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure written by Doreen Cronin, illus. by Kevin Cornell, Atheneum, 5–8 years.
Annika Riz, Math Whiz [Franklin School Friends] written by Claudia Mills, illus. by Rob Shepperson, Farrar/Ferguson, 5–8 years.
More of Monkey & Robot by Peter Catalanotto, Atheneum/Jackson, 5–8 years.

Digital fun and learning
I Love Mountains by Forest Giant, 4–7 years.
Color Uncovered by Exploratorium, 6–10 years.
Dinosaurs by AMNH, 6–10 years.
The Poetry App by Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation, 9–14 years.

Bummer summer
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Delacorte, 14–17 years.
The Last Forever Deb Caletti, Simon Pulse, 14–17 years.
The Chapel Wars Lindsey Leavitt, Bloomsbury, 14–17 years.
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Little/Poppy, 14–17 years.

These titles were featured in the May 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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17. Five questions for Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall author photo Credit Barbara Sullivan 226x300 Five questions for Sophie Blackall

photo: Barbara Sullivan

Sophie Blackall’s many children’s book illustration credits include Annie Barrows’s Ivy + Bean chapter books (Chronicle, 6–9 years), Matthew Olshan’s The Mighty LaLouche (Schwartz & Wade/Random, 5–7 years), and the 2011 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Honor–winning Pecan Pie Baby written by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam, 3–6 years; watch their award acceptance here). A book for adults, Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found (Workman), features illustrations inspired by such personal ads as: “Saw you sailing up Jay Street around 4pm on the most glorious golden bike. I think I’m in love.” If any of those “Missed Connection” couples end up connecting, Blackall’s newest picture book, The Baby Tree (Penguin/Paulsen, 3–6 years), might come in handy. Her loose, fanciful illustrations lend humor to a young boy’s interpretations of grown-up dodges to the question: “Where do babies come from?

1. When the narrator receives “the news” from his parents that he’s going to be a big brother, he has lots of questions, “but the only one that comes out is: Are there any more cocopops?” Were you consciously trying to take the edge off the subject matter with humor, or were you hoping to appeal directly to your audience’s love of sugar cereals?

SB: As a child in 1977, when our parents calmly told us they were getting divorced, my brother’s first question was famously, “Can we have afternoon tea now?” Everyone knows you need to get the urgent matters of cocopops and cookies out of the way before you can focus on the more profound ones of life and death and birth and love.

2. The answers the boy receives are standard-grown-up evasions… which turn out to be partially true! (All except for the stork.) Did you start this project knowing the story would take a circular path or did that happen organically?

SB: Some years ago I read an article in The New Yorker written by Jill Lepore, about sex-ed books for children. After examining funny but outdated books, progressive but heavy-handed books, and books with useful information but awful drawings, she concluded, or at least I fancied she concluded, “Sophie Blackall, will you please attempt a funny, sensible, beautiful book on this subject?” (What she actually wrote was: “it would be nice if it was a good book, even a beautiful book. If that book exists, I haven’t found it.”) So that was the beginning. Around the same time my children, giggling, relayed a Saturday Night Live skit in which Angelina Jolie and Madonna bicker over whose babies have come from the more exotic place, ending with one of them claiming her baby was plucked from a baby tree. The idea of the ludicrous, evasive answers each holding a grain of truth came as I began to write.

blackall baby tree Five questions for Sophie Blackall3. Did you do any research about what language to use with this age group? For example, in the very helpful appended “Answering the Question Where Do Babies Come From?” page, you suggest parents discuss intercourse as “a man and a woman lie close together,” rather than giving kids the full monty.

SB: I spoke to pediatricians and elementary teachers and other parents, and the one thing that seemed really clear is that children will absorb as much information as is appropriate for them at any given age; the rest will just spill over. A bit later they’re ready for a more sophisticated explanation and so on. This being a picture book, I wanted to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible, but also suggest ways to continue the conversation.

4. Did your own kids ask you about where babies come from? How did you handle it?

SB: My own kids must have asked the question every six months or so when they were little. They would just forget the bits which seemed too miraculous or ridiculous. Because conception really is miraculous and sex is rather ridiculous. Fantastic, but ridiculous. You mean, you put that in there? And take it out again? More than once? Why would anybody do that?

5. Sergio Ruzzier’s Bear and Bee (Hyperion, 3–6 years) and Brian Floca’s Locomotive (Atheneum/Jackson, 8–11 years) make cameo appearances on the boy’s bed — are those books telegraphing some kind of subliminal message?

SB: Definitely.

From the May 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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18. Funny business

Cockamamie mysteries, confectionary disasters, well-meaning primates, and oddball friendships. All of the above abound in the following fantastically funny chapter book series entries.

broach miniature world of marvin and james Funny businessElise Broach’s new early chapter book series Masterpiece Adventures extends the antics of Marvin (a beetle) and James (a boy) from Broach’s middle grade book Masterpiece. In The Miniature World of Marvin & James, Marvin helps James pack for a trip to the beach. Then, with James away, Marvin has some adventures inside the house. The comical tone, relatable characters, and Kelly Murphy’s lively pen-and-ink illustrations in a brown and gray palette combine with short sentences to make the book perfect for younger readers. (Holt/Ottaviano, 5–8 years)

cronin chicken squad Funny businessWhile retired search-and-rescue dog J. J. Tully (from The Trouble with Chickens) takes a nap, four of the chicks in his charge find themselves in a mess of trouble investigating “something big and scary in the yard.” Kicking off the Chicken Squad Adventure series, Doreen Cronin’s The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure combines straightforward sentences with Kevin Cornell’s expressive black-and-white illustrations on almost every page to support new chapter book readers. The zealous Chicken Squad has much to learn, but the chicks’ earnest mistakes create more than enough action, humor, and mayhem to suffice. (Atheneum, 5–8 years)

catalanotto more of monkey robot Funny businessThe title characters of Peter Catalanotto’s Monkey & Robot are back with four new humorous stories in More of Monkey & Robot. First, Monkey worries about what to be for Halloween; then, the unlikely duo take a trip to the beach; next, the two figure out the best use for a tire Monkey finds in the front yard; finally, Monkey is confused by the clock and unsure whether it is morning or nighttime. In all cases, patient Robot helps sort the whole thing out. Friendly black-and-white pencil and ink illustrations provide helpful visual cues, and lots of easy-to-decode text fills each page, making this a good bridge to chapter books for new readers. (Atheneum/Jackson, 5–8 years)

mills annika riz Funny businessThe third-grade star of author Claudia Mills and illustrator Rob Shepperson’s Annika Riz, Math Whiz, the latest in the Franklin School Friends series, is out to win the citywide Sudoku contest. However, she’ll have to out-Sudoku her rival Simon (who, series fans will remember, was also Kelsey’s biggest competition in Kelsey Green, Reading Queen). As always, Mills has her characters struggle with right and wrong behavior, and here Annika accepts that everyone is different and that sometimes simply trying is a worthwhile endeavor. (Farrar/Ferguson, 5–8 years)

From the May 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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19. Sassy siblings

There’s nothing like a sibling when it comes to trouble-making, attention-seeking, and one-upping. Also: support, companionship, and giggle-sharing. These four new picture books feature brothers and sisters doing what siblings do best.

dipucchio gaston Sassy siblingsThe star of Kelly DiPucchio’s Gaston looms over his poodle sisters Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. At the park, they meet a family like theirs but in reverse: bulldogs Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno and their petite sister Antoinette. Were Gaston and Antoinette switched at birth? Should they trade families? It seems like the right thing to do until they try it, only to discover that what looks right doesn’t always feel right. Christian Robinson’s expressive paintings elegantly illustrate this different-types-of-families story. (Atheneum, 3–6 years)

castillo troublemaker Sassy siblingsWhile his parents tend garden and his sister plays tea party, the young narrator of The Troublemaker is bored. Seizing his wooden pirate’s sword, he kidnaps his sister’s stuffed rabbit, lashes it to his toy boat, and sets the boat free on the lake. Later on, when the bunny disappears — again! — everyone understandably suspects the narrator. With author/illustrator Lauren Castillo’s boldly rendered pictures, the book is at once handsome and child friendly — a good conversation starter for preschoolers. (Clarion, 3–6 years)

schwartz splat starring the vole brothers Sassy siblingsOut for a walk, two vole brothers look up to see a pigeon flying overhead: “Ooooooo…” But then — “SPLAT!” The clueless pigeon lets loose, dropping a bird-poo bomb on one brother’s head (pause here for preschool laughter). Splat!: Starring the Vole Brothers by Roslyn Schwartz (creator of the Mole Sisters stories) plays out primarily in the spare ink and pencil-crayon illustrations, especially in Schwartz’s expressive characters. A few sound effects (flap flap; splat) and minimal dialogue (“Err…”; “Hee hee hee”) advance the bare-bones story, but pre-readers should be able to follow the slapstick action easily on their own. (Owlkids, 3–6 years)

kornell me first Sassy siblingsDonkeys Martha and Hal, from Me First by Max Kornell, are ultracompetitive siblings. After a family picnic — during which they find “exciting ways to try to outdo each other” — they get permission to go home a different way. One misadventure after another on the walk back helps the siblings grow to appreciate each other and realize that a little cooperation goes a long way. Kornell’s acrylic ink drawings burst with color in this sibling rivalry story minus any heavy-handedness. (Penguin/Paulsen, 4–7 years)

From the May 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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20. Bummer summer

Who says summer reads have to be all beaches and rainbows? Four emotionally resonant YA novels explore love and grief, families and friendships.

lockhart we were liars Bummer summerCadence Sinclair Eastman, eldest grandchild of a wealthy but dysfunctional clan, tells readers about an accident that happened during her fifteenth summer on her family’s private island, leaving her with debilitating migraines and memory loss. As the story in E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that the emotionally fragile Cady is also an unreliable narrator. The book’s ultimate reveal is shocking both for its tragedy and for the how-could-I-have-not-suspected-that? feeling it leaves readers experiencing. (Delacorte, 14–17 years)

caletti last forever Bummer summer The Last Forever begins six months after Tessa’s mother’s death from cancer. Still adrift in their loss, Tessa and her father take a road trip and end up in at the home of Tessa’s grandmother, who is a virtual stranger. Tessa is stunned when fly-by-night Dad gets back in the truck and leaves her there to sort out his grief. Luckily, first her grandmother, then new friends Sasha and Henry (especially Henry), and eventually the entire small town rally around Tessa to help save her mother’s rare and mysterious pixiebell plant. Author Deb Caletti’s deft hand with detail and emotionally true writing make for a wholly absorbing read. (Simon Pulse, 14–17 years)

leavitt chapel wars Bummer summerHolly is devastated when her charismatic grandfather dies — and surprised to learn that he has bequeathed his financially insolvent Las Vegas wedding chapel to her. Grandpa Jim has also asked her to deliver a letter to Dax Cranston — equally surprising, since he is the grandson of Jim’s nemesis, owner of the competing wedding chapel next door. With its quirky setting and cast, Lindsey Leavitt’s The Chapel Wars could almost be a sitcom, but the hilarity is tempered by genuine feeling. (Bloomsbury, 14–17 years)

smith geography Bummer summerIn The Geography of You and Me, lonely teens Owen and Lucy meet in the stalled elevator of their NYC apartment building during a citywide blackout and spend a memorable (but chaste) night together. But soon afterward, Lucy’s jet-setting parents whisk her off to Europe, and Owen and his widowed father move to San Francisco. Fans of Jennifer E. Smith’s previous novels will recognize the alternating narration; the reflective writing style; and the serendipitous coincidences that bring the characters back together: when you’re with the person you love, “the world shrank to just the right size. It molded itself to fit only the two of you, and nothing more.” (Little/Poppy, 14–17 years)

From the May 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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21. Digital fun and learning

Nonfiction apps and e-books can be excellent tools to supplement classroom learning or independent research. These four interactive offerings — three science, one poetry — engage young users as they educate.

i love mountains app Digital fun and learningCute kid Sloan Graham, the bear-suit-clad main character of I Love Mountains, has a passionate interest in the titular landforms. Over nineteen interactive pages, she shares fascinating geological facts including the three different types of mountains, how plate tectonics form them over time, the largest mountains on Earth and Mars, and various flora and fauna found within mountain ecosystems. The simplicity of Amanda Joyce Bishop’s textured collage art adds a playful sense of wonder to the scientific discussion. Basic animations (i.e. snow falling, clouds moving) and easy touchscreen activities push the app forward at the user’s pace. (Forest Giant, 4–7 years)

color uncovered app Digital fun and learningLike any good discovery museum exhibit, the San Francisco Exploratorium‘s Color Uncovered invites users to experiment for themselves as they learn about color. The light spectrum, humans’ and various animals’ perception of color, color blending, and complementary colors are just a few of the seventeen topics covered. In keeping with the Exploratorium’s philosophy that “having fun is an important part of the [learning] process,” the text is casual and humorous, frequently highlighting facts that are bizarre or downright (delightfully) gross. Video and interactive opportunities enhance the engaging text and crisp visuals. (Exploratorium, 6–10 years)

amnh dinosaurs Digital fun and learningNothing beats seeing dino fossils in person, but the American Museum of Natural History‘s Dinosaurs lets you get close to the real thing. Double-tap anywhere on an amazing mosaic in the shape of a T-rex’s skull to zoom in and see how individual images of fossils, scientists, dioramas, and archival photos — over a thousand — make it up. A simple three-button navigation at the bottom of the screen allows you to jump back to the full mosaic; read more about the fossils in the collection; and access “AMNH Extras” including museum information and Educators Guide PDFs. (AMNH, 6–10 years)

poetry app Digital fun and learningThe Poetry App presents over one hundred poems from sixteen of the world’s greatest poets such as W. H. Auden, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, William Butler Yeats, and Sylvia Plath. Each poem available to read is paired with an audio recitation performed by one of thirty critically acclaimed performers — a veritable who’s who of British thespian elite — including Ralph Fiennes, Helen McCrory, Juliet Stevenson, and Jeremy Irons. Introductions and essays by the late author Josephine Hart accompany various poems, providing context and some explication. A composition tool allows users to compose their own poetry if inspiration strikes. (Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation, 9–14 years)

From the May 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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22. Notes from the Horn Book, Birds and the Bees edition

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall…

 

Read our 5Q interview with Sophie Blackall in the May 2014 issue of Notes. In this month’s issue you’ll also find
• more picture books featuring sibling relationships
• funny chapter book series entries
• nonfiction apps
• YA about family, friendship, grief, and healing
• a link to our 2014 Summer Reading PDF

may 14 notes Notes from the Horn Book, Birds and the Bees edition

Read the issue online here, or subscribe to receive Notes from the Horn Book newsletter (and its supplement Nonfiction Notes) in your inbox. Find more recommended books and interviews in the newsletter archives.

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23. To infinity and beyond!

Inquisitive intermediate readers travel into the great unknown with these four new sci-fi offerings (two of which are series openers) involving space exploration, inventions gone berserk, and UFOs.

mass space taxi To infinity and beyond!In Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer’s Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight, eight-year-old Archie learns, on “Take Your Kid to Work Day,” that his plain old dad is in fact an interstellar taxi driver. Archie also discovers his destiny: he has the rare power to be a space taxi copilot. The entertaining plot moves right along, and Elise Gravel’s occasional black-and-white cartoon illustrations add to the fun. This is just the first adventure for Archie — here’s to more to come! (Little, Brown, 6–10 years)

smith little green men at the mercury inn To infinity and beyond!Aidan’s parents own the Mercury Inn, which boasts an ideal vantage point for space launches from the Kennedy Space Center on the Florida coast. During one such launch, a blackout interrupts the countdown, and a large, unusual aircraft glows and hovers above the motel. To figure out what’s going on, Aidan, his UFO-obsessed friend Louis, and odd young motel guest Dru Tanaka band together, staying one step ahead of the media, tourists, government agents, and UFO fanatics that swarm the Mercury. The twisty plot and engaging setting of Greg Leitich Smith’s Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn, along with Andrew Arnold’s retro cartoon spot art, work well with the wacky characters and situations. (Roaring Brook, 6–10 years)

shusterman teslas attic To infinity and beyond!In Tesla’s Attic, the first book in Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman’s Accelerati Trilogy, fourteen-year-old Nick holds a garage sale of the attic junk in his new house, only to discover that Nicola Tesla himself made the items. Each one has a mysterious power; when a magnetic baseball glove begins yanking meteorites out of orbit, including one big enough to destroy the Earth, Nick and his friends must race to save humanity while avoiding a (nefarious) collection of self-proclaimed scientists called the Accelerati. Nick is a likable protagonist, and his strong narrative voice propels this humorous, well-paced action/adventure full of secret-society intrigue and quirky gadgetry. (Disney-Hyperion, 8–11 years)

pelletier summer experiment To infinity and beyond!The Summer Experiment by Cathie Pelletier takes place in rural Allagash, Maine, notorious (in real life, too) for its UFO sightings and alleged alien abductions. Eleven-year-old Roberta (Robbie) McKinnon and her best friend Marilee camp out on Frog Hill to investigate the weird goings-on for their school science project. Though much of the story is about the family dramas and school rivalries of ordinary small-town life, Pelletier keeps readers guessing throughout: is the town overrun by UFOs? Robbie’s sassy, humorous voice and wild schemes, along with the well-drawn secondary characters and vivid setting, keep things humming. (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 8–11 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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24. To sleep, perchance to dream

A lyrical bedtime reverie; an open-only-at-night library run by a little librarian; a toddler’s pre-dawn escapades; and a kooky bedtime cruise: four new picture books help smooth the way from daytime activity to bedtime quiet.

zoboli big book of slumber To sleep, perchance to dreamSimona Mulazzani’s lush folk art in cozy nighttime colors lends a magical, drowsy atmosphere to Giovanna Zoboli’s The Big Book of Slumber, a large-format ode to the joys of dreamland. Translated from the Italian, soothing rhyming couplets are full of rhythm and repetition: “Mouse ate her apple and read her nice book. / Who else is sleeping? Just take a good look.” Appealingly drawn sleeping arrangements include some captivatingly out of the ordinary: Hippo sleeps on a sofa, giraffes in sleeping bags, and seals in armchairs propped up in the trees. (Eerdmans, 2–5 years)

kohara midnight library To sleep, perchance to dreamWelcome to The Midnight Library, written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara, a friendly spot for animals from “all over the town” to “find a perfect book.” A little-girl librarian and her three owl assistants cheerfully bustle around the packed bookshelves, where small dramas are happily resolved alongside library business-as-usual. This dream of a library is designed with lots of reading nooks, comfy chairs, lanterns, and trees. The gentle story and vibrant compositions have an old-fashioned sensibility and simplicity that capture the enchantment of the middle-of-the-night goings on. (Roaring Brook, 2–5 years)

sakai hannahs night To sleep, perchance to dreamHannah’s Night by Komako Sakai begins enticingly: “One day when Hannah woke up, she was surprised to find that it was still dark.” Hannah’s day holds all sorts of surprises — because it’s still the middle of the night. Everyone else is asleep, so she eats cherries from the refrigerator; then, emboldened, Hannah gleefully borrows all her sound-asleep sister’s best stuff and takes it back to her own bed to play with. Sakai is a master at capturing toddlers’ body language and expressions, and her brief text clearly telegraphs the freedom Hannah feels on this toddler-sized adventure. (Gecko, 2–5 years)

farrell thank you octopus To sleep, perchance to dreamFor those who’d rather embark on silly bedtime adventures, Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell is a hilarious nautical comedy of errors. “Bedtime, ahoy,” Octopus declares. His young shipmate isn’t thrilled. Doting Octopus knows that a warm bath, jammies, and a favorite story can help make the transition easier, and he’s prepared — in theory. He talks the bedtime talk, but his best intentions wildly miss their mark. A “nice warm bath” sounds lovely (“Thank you, Octopus”), but a page-turn shows Octopus and boy headed into a huge vat of egg salad. “Gross! No thank you, Octopus.” Farrell’s detailed cartoon illustrations cleverly foreshadow the antics. (Dial, 3–6 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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25. Freedom Summer and Black History

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer, a touchstone in the civil rights movement. The following nonfiction books highlight important turning points in African American history. And for more on Freedom Summer, read Kathleen T. Horning’s Five Questions interview with Don Mitchell (author of the new The Freedom Summer Murders, Scholastic, 14–17 years) along with Deborah Wiles’s picture book Freedom Summer (illus. by Jerome Lagarrigue, Atheneum, 5–8 years) and her novel Revolution (follow-up to Countdown, both Scholastic, 10–14 years).

rubin freedom summer Freedom Summer and Black HistoryFreedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin provides a useful and informative look at the event’s organizers, the volunteers, the voter registration drives, etc. Rubin conducted many interviews, in person, by telephone, and by e-mail, with people who were directly involved, and their firsthand accounts—along with copious archival black-and-white photographs — bring the events to life. (Holiday, 11–15 years)

sheinkin port chicago 50 Freedom Summer and Black HistoryThe Port Chicago 50 was a group of navy recruits at Port Chicago in California doing one of the few service jobs available to black sailors at the beginning of the Second World War: loading bombs and ammunition onto battleships. When there was an explosion that left more than three hundred dead, fifty men refused to go back to work, occasioning a trial for mutiny. Steve Sheinkin’s 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Award winner The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights focuses the events through the experience of Joe Small, who led the protest against the dangerous and unequal working conditions. This is an unusual entry point for the study of World War II and the nascent civil rights movement. (Roaring Brook, 11–15 years)

marrin volcano beneath the snow Freedom Summer and Black HistoryAccording to Albert Marrin’s A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery, Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry helped “set the stage for the Civil War.” The book begins with a chapter on Brown’s life, then takes a broader look at the history of slavery. The final chapter, “Legacy,” offers a brief commentary on Brown’s influence on the militant arm of the American civil rights movement. His violent actions raise an issue that still resonates today: to what extremes may a person go to change an unjust law? (Knopf, 11–15 years)

walker boundaries Freedom Summer and Black HistoryThe Mason-Dixon Line dates from colonial times: while the Calverts and Penns left England to found religiously tolerant colonies (Maryland and Pennsylvania, respectively), they feuded about the border’s exact location. The surveying team of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon was hired in 1763 to solve the problem once and for all. In Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud & Divided a Nation, Sally Walker provides meticulous detail about surveying and about colonial-era sociopolitics. She ends with a discussion of the cultural relevance of the Mason-Dixon Line to the North and the South, and modern-day interest in the preservation of its history. (Candlewick, 11–15 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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