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Results 1 - 25 of 166
1. Review of Ivan

applegate ivan Review of IvanIvan:
The Remarkable True Story
of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

by Katherine Applegate; 
illus. by G. Brian Karas
Primary, Intermediate    Clarion    40 pp.
10/14    978-0-544-25230-1    $17.99    g

Applegate introduces young readers to the true story that inspired her Newbery Medal–winning novel The One and Only Ivan (rev. 1/12). “In leafy calm, / in gentle arms, / a gorilla’s life began.” In poetic prose she describes Ivan’s early life in Africa, his dramatic capture by poachers, his confusing time on display as a domesticated shopping-mall gorilla in Tacoma, Washington, and his transition to the Atlanta Zoo, where his life “began / again.” Aptly, the insightful and precise text never anthropomorphizes Ivan, nor do Karas’s mixed-media images — at once straightforward and provocative — done in his warm and unaffected style. The spareness of both text and pictures invites readers to find their own meaning in the moving story. An appended spread of additional information “About Ivan” adds useful context, though it never mentions Applegate’s other Ivan book. That’s fine, as younger readers will likely come to this one first, and it gives them plenty to grow on, both as a read-aloud and as a compelling true story.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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2. Review of Very Little Red Riding Hood

heapy very little red riding hood Review of Very Little Red Riding HoodVery Little Red Riding Hood
by Teresa Heapy; illus. by Sue Heap
Preschool    Houghton    32 pp.
9/14    978-0-544-28000-7    $16.99

In this re-imagining, Little Red is a toddler. She’s affectionate, stubborn, imperious, and has no time for the intimidation techniques of the wolf. “No touch my cakes!” She hugs him, calls him Foxie, and proceeds to order him around. Grandmama has her doubts, but Little Red insists that Foxie be invited inside for tea and an exhausting round of preschooler activities. When Little Red succumbs to homesickness, the wolf demonstrates unexpected child-minder skills. Was he ever really a threat or did he just come with a bad rap and a sweet tooth? The sprightly, scribbly watercolor illustrations particularize the characters: Red with her every emotion front and center; game Grandmama in her yoga pants; and the wolf, stylish in a mohair overcoat and polka-dot scarf and increasingly confused by kindness. Varied type sizes give the reader-aloud lots of performance hints. Tantalizing red endpaper maps, locating the houses of Very Little Goldilocks and Very Little Cinderella, expand our knowledge of this fairy-tale world.

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3. Review of Nest

ehrlich nest Review of NestNest
by Esther Ehrlich
Intermediate, Middle School    Lamb/Random    330 pp.
9/14    978-0-385-38607-4    $16.99
Library ed.  978-0-385-38608-1    $19.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-385-38609-8    $9.99

In this debut novel set in the late 1960s, Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein’s sixth-grade teacher tells her, “Your mom is a very lucky lady to have such a responsible girl.” Chirp is very responsible, but her mother is feeling anything but lucky. She’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and sinks into a severe depression, ultimately committing suicide. It’s an overwhelmingly sad story, but the sadness never feels gratuitous, only immutable, just like the Cape Cod seasons and the ebb and flow of life in Chirp’s beloved salt marsh. Ehrlich’s characters are all fully developed: the dancer mother in anguish over not being the parent she wanted to be; the psychiatrist father’s well-meaning but hapless response to the situation; and — most of all — Chirp’s best friend Joey, who has his own issues at home. Chirp’s first-person voice is believable; her poignant earnestness is truly heartrending. Ehrlich writes beautifully, constructing scenes with grace and layers of telling detail and insight. She offers Chirp (and readers) no trite and tidy resolutions, just a dawning understanding that her “nest” of family, friends, and salt marsh will give her the support and sustenance she needs to move forward.

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4. Review of Jack

depaola jack Review of JackJack
by Tomie dePaola; illus. by the author
Preschool Paulsen/Penguin 32 pp.
9/14     978-0-399-16154-4     $17.99     g

Farm boy Jack wants to make new friends and live in the city, which is exactly what he does in this minimally plotted book. On his way to ask the king for a house, Jack picks up a chick, a duck, a goose, a dog, etc., each one declaring its own interest in city digs, thus providing Jack with a community of ten new friends upon whom the king is happy to bestow a nice fixer-upper. While the lack of any conflict or obstacles means we aren’t that invested in Jack’s fate, young children will like the simple pattern of the story as well as the cumulating sound effects offered for each animal as it joins the merry band. DePaola dresses the journey in his most sumptuous colors, the carrot-topped hero and his ever-growing group of friends traversing a landscape of deep greens and grays and purple farmhouses to their new home, bright pink in the heart of the city. Storytime audiences will enjoy the trip as well as the sly cameo appearances by nursery-rhyme favorites such as Jack and Jill and Miss Muffet’s eight-legged friend.

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5. Review of Neighborhood Sharks

roy neigborhood sharks Review of Neighborhood Sharksstar2 Review of Neighborhood SharksNeighborhood Sharks:
Hunting with the Great Whites
of California’s Farallon Islands

by Katherine Roy; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Macaulay/Roaring Brook    
48 pp.
9/14    978-1-59643-874-3    $17.99    g

Look closely at the cover of this impressive account of great white sharks off the Northern California coast: that bright red in the illustration is blood trailing from a chunk of freshly killed immature elephant seal — and a signal that Roy’s book will fully examine the sometimes chilling, always fascinating details of what makes this animal a predator. The dramatic main narrative describes a shark swimming and hunting, while 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, even, and informative and benefit from excellent analogies (in both text and illustration) to elucidate such topics as sharks’ streamlined bodies and visual acuity. Roy’s illustrations masterfully employ color and perspective: blood-reds flow through the blues and grays of the sometimes calm, sometimes roiling ocean. Don’t skip the endnotes, which include behind-the-scenes information on Roy and the research she conducted for the book.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Review of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

berry scandalous sisterhood of prickwillow place Review of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow PlaceThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
by Julie Berry
Middle School    Roaring Brook    354 pp.
9/14    978-1-59634-956-6    $15.99    g

This airy confection could not be more different from Berry’s most recent (and pitch-black) novel All the Truth That’s in Me (rev. 11/13). Part murder mystery, part girls’-school story, part dark drawing-room comedy (think Edwin Drood, Arsenic and Old Lace, or the 1980s movie Clue), the novel opens in 1890 England at Saint Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies. The seven students — our heroines — are known throughout the book as Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. Their headmistress is Mrs. Plackett, but she’s dispatched in the second paragraph (by poison), followed soon afterward by her ne’er-do-well brother, Aldous. The young ladies spend the rest of the book trying to figure out whodunit while also concealing the deaths (burying the bodies in the vegetable garden; having Stout Alice impersonate Mrs. Plackett; bilking their parents for tuition) in order to remain together at the school. Berry takes her madcap seriously, never breaking character when it comes to the old-timey setting or details (a Strawberry Social is the unlikely occasion of a late-in-the-story death). The young ladies, too, are products of their time: each one’s burgeoning independence and coming-into-her-own — largely gained through the murder investigation and/or cover-up, some also through snagging a beau — is satisfying without being too anachronistic. An immensely entertaining, smart, and frothy diversion.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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7. Review of Poisoned Apples

hepperman poisoned apples Review of Poisoned Applesstar2 Review of Poisoned Apples Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
by Christine Heppermann; 
photos by various artists
High School    Greenwillow    106 pp.
10/14    978-0-06-228957-5    $17.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-06-228959-9    $9.99

For this poet, there is no dividing line between fairy tales and reality: “You can lose your way anywhere,” claims the poem with which she begins this collection of fifty pieces on the devastating conjunction of girls’ vulnerability, the rapacious beauty industry, and fairy tales. Caustic, witty, sad, and angry, Heppermann (a former Horn Book reviewer) articulates what some of her readers will no doubt perceive already but what may be news to others: the false promises, seductions, and deathly morass of popular culture’s imagery of girls’ bodies. What makes Heppermann’s poetry exceptional, however, is not the messages it carries but the intense, expressive drive that fuels it. In “The Anorexic Eats a Salad”: “Mountains rise, fall, rise again. / Stars complete their slow trek into oblivion. / A snail tours the length of China’s Great Wall / twice. / All those pesky cancers — cured…She has almost made it through / her first bite.” Or, in “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”: “It used to be just the one, / but now all mirrors chatter. / In fact, every reflective surface has opinions / on the shape of my nose, the size / of my chest…” These poems dwell fiercely and angrily within the visual and verbal cacophony heard and seen by girls, offering an acerbic critique, mourning, and compassionate, unrelenting honesty.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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8. Review of I’m My Own Dog

stein im my own dog Review of I’m My Own DogI’m My Own Dog
by David Ezra Stein; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-6139-7    $15.99

“I’m my own dog. Nobody owns me. I own myself.” This independent, self-starter narrator looks down on ordinary pups, the ones owned by people. This dog will not sit for anyone, even if a bone is the reward. But one day, when his legs prove to be too short to reach an itchy spot in the middle of his back, our canine actually lets someone scratch it. That someone is a mustachioed man who scratches the dog’s back and then follows him home. Soon the dog is taking his “good boy” on walks, teaching him about chasing squirrels, and showing him how to throw sticks. Stein’s gestural watercolors are the perfect foil for the droll text. As the story unfolds, young readers will begin to understand the humorous tension between what the text says and what the pictures show (and what they know to be true about dogs and their owners). When the dog complains about having to “clean up after them,” one can imagine a child laughing at the scene of spilled ice cream. Dog-loving parents will be reading this one over and over — and will never tire of it.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Review of Buried Sunlight

bang buried Review of Buried Sunlightstar2 Review of Buried Sunlight Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm; illus. by Molly Bang
Primary    Blue Sky/Scholastic    48 pp.
9/14    978-0-545-57785-4    $17.99    g

In the latest of Bang and Chisholm’s excellent books on the role of the sun’s energy in powering life processes on Earth (Living Sunlight, rev. 5/09; Ocean Sunlight, rev. 5/12), the production and consumption of fossil fuels are explained, along with the sobering — and overwhelming — evidence for the consequences of all that energy use: climate change. The sun itself serves as narrator of the process termed the “Cycle of Life”: the relationship between photosynthesis (plants) and respiration (animals) and energy. A slight imbalance in this cycle produces the fossil fuels — i.e.,“buried sunlight” — so dear to modern civilization. Bang’s illustrations brilliantly represent the chemistry: bright yellow dots of energy against a deep-blue background hover over their producers, and the tiny black and white molecular structures of oxygen and carbon dioxide spread across the sky like no-see-ums on a summer night. The sun gets stern as it turns to modern-day fossil fuel consumption, explaining human contributions to global warming: “Will you humans keep burning more and more fossil fuels…or will you work together?” Extensive end notes provide a deeper explanation of the science of climate change.

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10. The Empire Strikes Back

No Fighting1 The Empire Strikes BackALSC Past-President Starr LaTronica responds to my July editorial. Incidentally, we’re publishing a terrific piece in the November issue by Thom Barthelmess (former ALSC prez and BGHB chair) about how to conduct oneself in a professional book discussion. Thom is far more temperate about these things than am I.

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11. Review of The Madman of Piney Woods

MadmanPineyWoods Review of The Madman of Piney Woodsstar2 Review of The Madman of Piney Woods The Madman of Piney Woods
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Intermediate, Middle School   Scholastic    370 pp.
9/14    978-0-545-15664-6    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-545-63376-5    $16.99

In this companion to Newbery Honor Book Elijah of Buxton (rev. 11/07), it is now 1901, and for thirteen-year-old Benji Alston of Buxton, Ontario, the American Civil War is ancient history — great material for war games, but tedious when the Buxton elders harp on it. Life for this African Canadian nature lover involves coping with two irritatingly gifted younger siblings, spending time with his best friend Spence, and dreaming of becoming a newspaper reporter. In nearby Chatham lives Alvin “Red” Stockard, a scientifically inclined Irish Canadian boy whose borderline-abusive grandmother tells horrific stories of the Potato Famine and coffin ships on the St. Lawrence River, tales that, in her mind, justify her inflexible hatred of Canadians and “anyone whose skin is darker than [hers].” The two boys eventually meet and become friends, discovering unexpected similarities in each other and their family histories. And then there is that supposedly mythical woodland monster — called the Madman of Piney Woods by Buxton residents and the South Woods Lion Man by Chatham folk — who tragically and irrevocably brings the past into the present for both boys. Curtis takes his young protagonists — and his readers — on a journey of revelation and insight. Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. The Voice of Reason

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to The Horn Book’s July/August 2014 editorial (“Don’t Speak!”) regarding the ALSC Policy for Service on Award Committees that was revised during the 2014 ALA Midwinter meeting.

In response to the ever-increasing number of requests regarding the appropriate use of social media from conscientious award committee members wishing to respect the code of confidentiality that has sustained the stature of these venerable awards well, the ALSC Board of Directors established a task force (TF) to examine the current policies and bring forth recommendations. The TF was intentionally designed to include a range of member and stakeholder thinking, and consisted of a representative from the publishing profession and four past or current award committee chairs; one of whom is a reviewer and blogger of national reputation, another of whom has served as consultant to the award committees for the past three years and has grappled with the queries and concerns from circumspect members and chairs. The issue of confidentiality within the changing landscape of electronic communication and social media was carefully considered. Many colleagues, including children’s librarians and publishers beyond those who actually served on the TF, were surveyed and consulted.

The TF and the ALSC Board absolutely acknowledge and respect the role that social media play in the professional responsibilities of librarians. We recognize their benefits and power in accessing, assessing, and promoting books and information to our colleagues and to our clientele. We value the dynamic discussion that they facilitate amongst passionate professionals. We appreciate the possibilities for enriching our service and our lives. However, we recognize that there are pitfalls as well. As former Horn Book editor Paul Heins observed in a School Library Journal letter to the editor from May 1972, “Twentieth Century life has become overorganized and overcomplex,” and that was over forty years and several eons ago.

Privacy is a price one may pay for public dissemination of information and opinion. As information professionals we have always worked to balance the public’s right to know with the individual’s right to privacy. ALSC award committee members value the confidentiality that guards the privacy of all committee discussion and fosters an environment of candor, honesty, and flexibility. Indeed, the preservation of this policy has kept the awards, as noted in your editorial, “admirably if boringly scandal-free.” Committee members are free to speak frankly, ask questions, and change their minds without worry that their comments will be repeated or even implied beyond that meeting room. If these confidences are compromised, and the effects compounded through global dissemination by electronic means, it could have a chilling result. This courtesy also extends to authors and illustrators whose work is under consideration. Many have heard Lauren Myracle speak of her public embarrassment when Shine was mistakenly announced as being on the short list for the National Book Award. When committee conjecture or inside information is released, it travels far and fast and can never be fully retrieved, much like the old folktale of gossip and feathers in the wind. Such a situation would undermine both the process and the perception of these prestigious awards. Committees of the present and future deserve the same protections and considerations as committees of the past.

A receptive atmosphere is also cultivated when members enter into the discussions with an open mind and without taking an official, public position on any title prior to discussion. Such a stance, whether endorsement or indictment, does have an influence on the ensuing deliberations, where every title should begin on level ground. While committee members are encouraged to discuss their opinions verbally (despite the title of the editorial), when commending or condemning an eligible title in writing via blog post, tweet, email, or signed review, a member is establishing a viewpoint from which the rest of the committee must then work. Readers of blogs and recipients of email are not under a confidentiality agreement and not constrained from forwarding on a committee member’s opinion, thus increasing the influence exponentially. As Miss Cary exhorts Benji in Christopher Paul Curtis’s novel The Madman of Piney Woods, “The written word is different. Once you commit something to print, you are, in effect, chained to it. It is always available to be looked at again and traced back to you.” That is true more than ever these days.

Despite the assertions of your editorial, librarians (and editors of review journals) who serve on award committees are still “able to promote good books” and fulfill their professional responsibilities (and pleasures) in many ways:

• Members of all committees may write and publish unsigned reviews of any book.

• Members of all committees (except the Batchelder) may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any book previously published in other countries, or by an author or illustrator who is not an American citizen or resident.

• The Batchelder committee members may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any book that has not been translated.

• Books with no illustration provide a wide field for members of the Caldecott committee.

• Books with no text are available for Newbery committee members (and seeing that all three Caldecott Honor Books qualified for that category this year, it would seem a rich field).

• The Belpré committee members are welcome to write signed reviews or discuss via social media any books by non-Latino authors and illustrators.

• Members of the Sibert committee may write signed reviews or discuss via social media all works of fiction.

• Geisel committee members may write signed reviews or discuss via social media any books beyond the scope of a beginning reader.

• The wide and wonderful world of YA literature is available to all of us who value and evaluate literature for older youth.

The editorial calls for “more fresh air” in the awards program. Luckily, there is a plethora of blogs and discussion lists offering ample opportunity to follow the thoughts and insights of well-read colleagues who are not serving on award committees and to engage in communal speculation and promotion of worthy titles — combining electronic communication and professional expertise for the best possible advantage and allowing us to participate vicariously without jeopardizing the purity of the process and dissipating the distinction of the awards, as with the editorial’s example of the Children’s Choice Book Award, where too many voices can crescendo into cacophony.

I confess that I am perplexed by the comment that impugns the integrity of members who contribute unsigned reviews “and remain free to revel in the attentions of publishers eager to wine and dine them.” The implication is that attending a publisher’s event without making a public declaration about a book is somehow unethical. I know of no member, reviewer, or editor of a review journal, whether penning an opinion or not, who would be influenced in such a manner. While some committees and individual committee members occasionally do decide to forego such invitations, that is their prerogative.

I am indebted to award committee members for their dedication to service and for requesting clarifications that have led to examination of the policy. I honor their concern and commitment to maintaining the ethical standards that underpin the eminence of these awards, and their understanding that awards of distinction (e.g., the National Book Award, The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books, etc.) carry a commitment to a certain level of comportment. They have our complete trust and confidence.

I am proud to be a member of this passionate profession and am grateful to all those who have added their voice to this discussion. Even when we may differ in opinion on process, I know that ultimately we all agree in principle — we want the very best for children. I invite any interested parties to peruse the official documents.

Roger Sutton responds:

I also encourage Horn Book readers to examine ALSC’s award guidelines and commentary at the link Starr provides, as well as to look at my editorial and the (sometimes heated!) comments it engendered.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. Review of Quest

becker quest Review of QuestQuest
by Aaron Becker; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-6595-1    $15.99

Journey (rev. 9/13) introduced a girl with a magic red crayon who could draw her way into an adventure and back home. At the end of the book she met a boy with his own purple crayon. Quest — the second in a planned wordless trilogy — opens where we last saw the friends, in a present-day city. While sheltering under a bridge during the rain, they are surprised by the arrival of an old man who gives them an orange crayon, a colorful map, and a holster with six small chambers. After the man is seized by soldiers, the children follow them into the same land we saw in Journey. Reading their map, the kids go on various quests (each lasting two or three spreads) to collect different-color crayons that fit neatly into the holster. Along the way they use their own purple and red crayons to draw objects that help them escape baddies in steampunk dirigibles. They make their way back to the Journey city and save the old man with their now-full holster, creating a magic rainbow. Becker’s illustrations are satisfyingly lush and full of subtle clues that will reward multiple readings. Compared to Journey’s simple yet mysterious story line, however, Quest seems overly complicated and, after the first reading, predictable — particularly for those familiar with the Myst computer games. Nevertheless, fans of the first book will probably be happy to explore this fantastical world in more depth.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. Review of At Home in Her Tomb

liu perkins at home in her tomb Review of At Home in Her TombAt Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui
by Christine Liu-Perkins; 
illus. by Sarah S. Brannen
Intermediate, Middle School    Charlesbridge    80 pp.
4/14    978-1-58089-370-1    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-60734-615-9    $9.99

Late in 1971, workers digging an air-raid shelter in Hunan Province found three tombs of a noble family from early in the Han dynasty. The oldest tomb, 
of the Marquis of Dai (d. 186 BCE), was plundered long ago. His son’s 
(d. 168 BCE) retained important artifacts, though it had been damaged during construction of the third tomb, which was virtually intact and of enormous archaeological significance. Here, buried in 158 BCE in a preservative so effective that autopsy was still possible, was the still-soft body of “Lady Dai,” the marquis’s wife, cocooned in twenty layers of silk within four nested coffins; and more than a thousand artifacts — treasures in painted silk, lacquer, brass, and wood. Liu-Perkins describes the discovery in fascinating detail, including the lady’s household appointments, diet, amusements, and death; brief imagined scenes supplement the evidence. Perhaps the most significant find was a “library” of books written on silk and bamboo, safe in a lacquer box in the son’s tomb: fifty texts and documents, many of them unique, concerning science, philosophy, history, and government. Illustrative materials include maps and well-captioned photos as well as Brannen’s watercolors of the imagined scenes. Sidebars, too, supplement and clarify information, as do timelines, a glossary, citations for quotes, an index, and a two-page bibliography. Lady Dai’s remains are of huge interest in their own right; as Liu-Perkins ably demonstrates, such a find not only extends our factual knowledge but also deepens our appreciation of the diversity of past civilizations.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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15. Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist Attractions

look alvin ho great wall Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist AttractionsAlvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions
by Lenore Look; illus. by LeUyen Pham
Primary, Intermediate    Schwartz & Wade/Random    163 pp.
8/14    978-0-385-36972-5    $15.99
Library ed.  978-0-385-36973-2    $18.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-449-81986-9    $7.99

Alvin Ho, who’s afraid even when safe at home, faces previously unknown fears when his family travels to China to introduce his new baby sister to relatives. Forget fear of flying (“small enclosed spaces filled with strangers, hurtling across the sky at 600 miles per hour”); Alvin’s afraid of his own passport photo — in which he looks like he “robbed a bank and got run over by the getaway car.” The hilarity (for readers, that is) begins at airport security, when Alvin’s ever-present Personal Disaster Kit is found to contain, among other things, forks and knives (he’s “allergic to chopsticks”) and a rope (“for climbing the Great Wall”). As usual, Pham’s many illustrations capture the “fun” being had in Look’s action-packed story, this time most especially by Alvin’s long-suffering dad — all while wearing a crying infant strapped to his chest. First, Dad’s hauled away by federal air marshals (Alvin’s panicked and repeated use of the call button), then he accompanies his son up and down thirty-two flights of stairs (no elevators for Alvin), and then he must hurl himself onto a toboggan when Alvin instantaneously decides that riding down the Speed Chute is less scary than standing around on the Great Wall. This series entry’s heartwarming moment involves Alvin’s idea to grant some Christmas wishes to a group of orphans, including someone’s wish for a friend. Alvin may be full of fear, but he’s also got loads of empathy.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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16. Review of My Teacher Is a Monster! 
(No, I Am Not.)

brown my teacher is a monster Review of My Teacher Is a Monster! 
(No, I Am Not.)My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)
by Peter Brown; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.
7/14    978-0-316-07029-4    $18.00

From the cover, it is clear that Bobby and his teacher do not agree: “My Teacher Is a MONSTER!” says Bobby in a giant word balloon; Ms. Kirby replies, “No, I Am Not.” It’s true that she is much taller than tiny Bobby, her skin is monstrously green, and she has claws and sharp teeth and giant nostrils. They clash in class when Bobby sends a paper airplane flying, but when later they meet unexpectedly at the park, they begin to see each other differently. In a multi-page sequence of panels, the pair sits awkwardly together on a park bench, and they converse in word bubbles: “Ms. Kirby, it’s REALLY strange seeing you outside of school.” “I agree.” After Bobby catches her blown-off hat for her, they find more things to do together, and gradually in each picture, Ms. Kirby looks decreasingly monstrous as her face becomes less green and animal-like. Bobby isn’t perfect at the end, and Ms. Kirby reverts to a little of her scariness when Bobby disobeys, but child readers will understand the subtle shift in their relationship. Using thick paper and watercolor/gouache/India ink illustrations, Brown uses a cartoon-type format with panels and speech bubbles, varying the pace with full-page art, in a story that students and teachers will enjoy equally.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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(No, I Am Not.)

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(No, I Am Not.) appeared first on The Horn Book.

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(No, I Am Not.) as of 1/1/1900
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17. Review of Brave Chicken Little

byrd brave chicken little Review of Brave Chicken LittleBrave Chicken Little
retold by Robert Byrd; 
illus. by the reteller
Preschool, Primary    Viking    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-670-78616-9    $17.99    g

The chick is not just a witless wonder in this expansion of the familiar folktale. Bopped on the head by an acorn, this Chicken Little does rush off to tell the king that “the sky is falling,” joined as usual by other barnyard fowl. However, the numbers are doubled here by the likes of Natty Ratty, Froggy Woggy, and Roly and Poly Moley. Once Foxy Loxy has locked the whole crowd in his cellar, our chick turns clever hero, rallying the other animals to help him escape so he can then free them. Then, realizing his initial misapprehension, he turns the tables: he drops apples on the fox, who runs off with his own foolish warning for the king. Thus Byrd upends both the classic tale’s conventions and its cautionary message; still, his revision works as an underdog-makes-good story, much abetted by his elegantly detailed illustrations. The lively action is undertaken by comical yet delicately limned creatures in fabulous ancien regime attire and a bucolic setting alive with animated trees and multitudes of insects and flora. With Chicken Little learning his lesson, this is an entertaining variant; it’s also one further from the earthy nature of the tale’s animal prototypes, a difference highlighted at the end when Mrs. Chicken Licken (like Peter Rabbit’s mother) tucks her weary and wiser son into his cozy, well-appointed bed.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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18. Review of A Creature of Moonlight

hahn creature of moonlight Review of A Creature of MoonlightA Creature of Moonlight
by Rebecca Hahn
Middle School, High School    Houghton    314 pp.
5/14    978-0-544-10935-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-544-11009-0    $17.99

Marni is the daughter of a princess and the powerful dragon who presides over the kingdom’s magicked woods. When she was a baby, her grandfather surrendered his throne to his son to save her life. Marni has grown up in relative obscurity with Gramps in a hut on the kingdom’s outskirts. Now she is almost seventeen, and the woods are encroaching on the kingdom — her dragon father’s attempt to call her to him. After tragedy strikes, Marni (the king’s only heir) leaves home to make a life for herself at court — and to seek vengeance on her uncle for her mother’s murder. But the king’s increased fear and hatred eventually drives Marni to seek out her father. While in the woods, she finally chooses who she will be and where home truly lies. Full of court intrigue, family secrets, marriage proposals (several by a beguiling and bewildering lord), fantastical creatures, legends, and magic, Hahn’s debut novel is first and foremost a journey of self-discovery. Marni, like Katsa in Graceling (rev. 11/08) and the eponymous Seraphina (rev. 7/12), is a strong, plainspoken protagonist who learns to embrace her uniqueness and power with newfound confidence and fierce independence. Hahn’s poetic style gives the narrative depth and beauty with vividly rendered settings and sophisticatedly complex characters. It’s an eloquent story about free will, the meaning of home, and love’s varied forms.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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19. B: A Profile of Brian Floca

locomotive B: A Profile of Brian FlocaAn editor’s dream — smart authors, smart artists. They save so much time. That is, they’re up to speed without undue heaving or the need for sand on the tracks (see Locomotive for more on the subject). My subject in this tribute is someone who is all three: author, artist, smart.

Given a pencil, Brian Floca doodled young and was still happily at it when, in the spring of 1991, we met in Providence, Rhode Island, in (unaccountably) an empty office in the Department of Egyptology at Brown University. Doodles, by then, had become a comic strip in the campus newspaper. As a junior at Brown, Brian was also studying with David Macaulay at nearby Rhode Island School of Design (what a treat, then, to read in The Horn Book’s review of Locomotive that the back endpaper cutaway illustration of Central Pacific engine Jupiter surely “would make David Macaulay proud”).

It was Avi who arranged our meeting. He was seeking an illustrator for a 400-page gleam in his eye that became City of Light, City of Dark (1993), an early entrant in the recent resurgence of graphic novels. Brian had been recommended. He did some sample pen-and-inks: lots of energy; inventive perspectives; a touch of the sinister, which Avi’s tale required.

Before that first project was published, Avi had dreamt up a second — a fantasy called Poppy (winner of a 1996 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award). The three-inch mouse heroine emerged first in what the illustrator describes as “cartoony pen-and-ink” but then matured magically in velvety pencil. From gargantuan cityscape to atmospheric woodland, this young man could draw anything.

I hadn’t yet read any of Brian’s own story ideas. Turned out he was not only a skilled draftsman, but also a witty writer, sometimes wacky, sometimes tender. The first text Brian brought me was a goofball romp about a boy in a natural history museum, The Frightful Story of Harry Walfish (1997), though not till he’d finished, for Orchard, Helen Ketteman’s Luck with Potatoes (1995). Years later, I mean years, he admitted that before Helen’s book he’d never done any watercolor illustrations requiring book-length focus. But focus he did…on a departure, and also in watercolor: Five Trucks (1999), which Booklist starred and which prompted the reviewer to ask: “If picture books about trucks are so easy to do, why do we see so many poor ones and so few as good as this?”

A stylistic throwback followed, Dinosaurs at the Ends of the Earth (2000) about explorer/naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews. Not quite nonfiction (Brian imagines some dialogue), the book spreads as wide as the Gobi Desert; the text, mostly arrayed horizontally, is lengthy and looks it. Great rectangles of words. But the writing is alive, a throwback only in its long-lined form.

As a kid I loved poring over Holling C. Holling (but oh, those long texts) and the informational books by Edwin Tunis (dry as tinder, yet the drawings captivated). Fifty years later, here was Brian Floca of Temple, Texas, an artist who could bring to life gizmos, vehicles, feats, and all manner of things that go and do and make noises. And not go on and on for paragraphs. Here was an artist to channel that one-time kid who liked “process” and long-looking. I hope it’s clear that we’d hit it off as friends from the beginning, but now the making of books about the workings of things had become a connecting passion.

The Racecar Alphabet (2003) was the first brainchild: rambunctious, even raucous, with an alliterative text only 205 words long. One NASCAR driver we heard from via e-mail reads the book to his son regularly and praised Brian for the accuracy of art, car info — and sound effects. For a further example of those, see Lightship (2007).

“A committee member” asked for a lunch-break look at our copy of Lightship in the Atheneum ALA booth.
She’d heard that the text was “strong.” It was Lightship that alerted the world that this young man could not only illustrate and pace a book beautifully, he could also write. Brian’s texts thereafter arrayed themselves vertically; visually spare, like ribbons floating to allow room for art, they often read like poetry (think of the glorious Moonshot in 2009, and now Locomotive). The words brim with emotion even when it is facts he’s presenting.

Since his beginnings, Brian has been a working illustrator. His website makes clear that his range is impressive —
animal, vegetable, mechanical. I have a most personal collection of hand-drawn postcards and notes the Society of Illustrators could make a show of; a recent highlight is a pen-and-ink Jupiter, puffing a great blast of thank-you flowers.

Locomotive began life in 2008 as an homage to a wondrous big chugger such as Jupiter, when Brian’s flight of Apollo 11 was still on the drawing board. It soon became clear that locomotives, especially those engines destined for transcontinental travel, bore on their wheels the great weight of nineteenth-century America. Homage
became paean. Had to. Thirty-two pages became, progressively, 40, 48, 56, 64. Research led him this way and that — into many an account of the heroism, ingenuity, venality, and even crime behind the country’s westward expansion. These elements, outside the immediate focus of Locomotive, make appearances in the narrative in supporting roles, which, it is hoped, will lead readers to other books, other stories. But the stars of Locomotive had to remain the locomotives themselves (several were required to make the Omaha-to-Sacramento trek); sometimes even pieces of their stories fell to the cutting room floor.

Nearly a victim of the streamlining ax was the KA-BOOM! explosion picture. (Brian said: “Boys will like it; I hate to lose it, but…”) Lots of the book hit the floor at one time or another, great puddles of remarkable art, often without room for itself in the narrative, offshoots of story for which there was no space or time. The nights of the journey had to be documented with rhythmically placed dark pages; lighting for existing scenes had to be changed from midnight to sunlight — perspectives had to be juxtaposed. Locomotive was pulled apart and reassembled many a time. Like a machine itself, this book was built.

And as with the pictures, the text too was an assemblage. I must have read it a hundred times and yet I am always impressed with how the skein of language supports the visual story. For by now, after a long, evolutionary, and iterative process, a story had emerged — of one family traveling westward, propelled by a sequence of Union Pacific and Central Pacific locomotives. Listen to the book read aloud. Through its words, it presents the experiences of one boy (a stand-in, surely, for the artist himself) lucky enough to see and see more and hear and hear more — a whole world opening up to him.

At the touching end, the simplicity of the family’s reunion seems to me just right — no bustling background, just feeling. Full but spare, the text here through the arrival in San Francisco was sifted and shifted well into final proofing stage. The book ends with the art/text version of a hug. And extends to the back of the jacket, which shows six grown boys loving a machine — just as three grown boys, Brian principally, but also the designer, Michael McCartney, and I, have loved the tinkering, the polishing, the priming of this book for its journey from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first.

Brian Floca has opened a world to me.

And now, what’s next? Back to the man who put this crew together: Avi and his Old Wolf. Brian has illustrated in rich pencil the fable-like tale of an aged wolf-pack leader determined to feed his hungry pups (does he or doesn’t he have one more kill in him?), a boy with a birthday bow-and-arrows who knows about killing only from video games, and a raven who knows about everything.

After that, there’s a picture book starring a cat behind the wheel—a vehicle-sized cat or a cat-sized vehicle? Only the artist knows for sure…

I am grateful that there’s to be a future for us. Thank you, young sir, for the ride so far. I have learned much.

Your pal, D

Brian Floca is the 2014 Caldecott Medal winner for Locomotive. From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Review of Emily’s Blue Period

daly emilys blue period Review of Emilys Blue Periodstar2 Review of Emilys Blue Period Emily’s Blue Period
by Cathleen Daly; illus. by Lisa Brown
Primary    Porter/Roaring Brook    56 pp.
6/14    978-1-59643-469-1    $17.99

Young Emily is an artist — a fact thoroughly established, visually, from title page on. She draws and she paints; she pores over art books. In school, she is learning about Pablo Picasso, and his work and career make a surprisingly apt frame for this story of divorce, told in five chapters. Like the faces in Picasso paintings during his cubist period, expected elements are not where they are supposed to be (“Emily’s dad is no longer where he belongs. Suddenly, he lives in his own little cube”); Emily’s sadness over the changes in her family pushes her into her own blue period; later, an assignment to make a collage of her house helps her make sense of the situation (collage is “how you take things from different places to make a whole”). Daly (Prudence Wants a Pet, rev. 7/11) has a gift for taking familiar childhood experiences and elevating them into, well, art. Here her affecting but unsentimental story is elegantly supported by Brown’s simple pencil and watercolor illustrations and innovative book design. Inventively, the end of one chapter segues seamlessly into the beginning of the next on the same double-page spread. Dialogue is often indicated simply with circles penciled around text: instant speech balloons. This is a heartfelt, relatable, and even sometimes funny picture book (especially when Emily’s little brother Jack has a meltdown in a furniture store). It’s also empowering for readers struggling with similar situations, as Emily figures out a way to redefine her idea of home — herself, through the making of art.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. Review of Hi, Koo!

muth hi koo Review of Hi, Koo!Hi, Koo!:
A Year of Seasons

by Jon J Muth; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Scholastic    32 pp.
3/14    978-0-545-16668-3    $17.99

Twenty-six haiku are presented by young panda Koo, whom fans of Muth’s Zen Ties will recognize as the haiku-spouting nephew of Stillwater, the Zen Buddhist panda from Zen Shorts and Zen Ghosts. Here, Koo is on his own, eventually joined by two human children who appear on his doorstep to play. The story told through the haiku follows the cycle of the seasons, from fall (“Autumn, / are you dreaming / of new clothes?”) to winter (“snowfall / Gathers my footprints / I do a powdery stomp”) to spring (“New leaves / new grass new sky / spring!”) to summer (“Tiny lights / garden full of blinking stars / fireflies”). Muth’s watercolors are as clear and translucent as the child-friendly, easily understood haiku, the gentle mood of his paintings perfectly matching the tranquil emotion of the poems. In an author’s note at the front Muth explains his choice to forego the traditional five-seven-five syllable pattern and states that “a haiku embodies a moment of emotion that reminds us that our own human nature is not separate from all of nature.” Each haiku contains just one capital letter, in order from A to Z; although the randomly capitalized words can look awkward, young readers may enjoy tracking the “alphabetical path” through the book.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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22. Review of The Midnight Library

kohara midnight library Review of The Midnight LibraryThe Midnight Library
by Kazuno Kohara; illus. by the author
Preschool    Roaring Brook    32 pp.
6/14    978-1-59643-985-6    $16.99

Welcome to the Midnight Library, where a little-girl librarian and her three owl assistants provide a friendly spot for animals from “all over the town” to “find a perfect book.” Outside the windows, stars twinkle in a black sky; inside, the library glows with a warm golden light. The little librarian, braids flying, cheerfully bustles around the packed bookshelves, where small dramas are happily resolved alongside library business-as-usual. Kohara’s (Ghosts in the House!, rev. 9/08) gentle story and vibrant compositions have an old-fashioned sensibility and simplicity. The illustrations, which look like wood-block prints, feature just three colors: black, gold, and blue. With this limited (but not limiting) palette and strong, energetic lines, Kohara captures the magic of the middle-of-the-night goings on. This is a dream of a library, too, designed with lots of reading nooks (including top-of-bookshelf perches), comfy chairs, lanterns, and trees with ornaments on the branches, adding to the enchantment. There’s a lot to linger over on the pages, and the art varies from full- and double-page spreads to smaller panel illustrations. When the sky begins to lighten, it’s time for the library to close and for the little librarian and the owls to “find one last book.” Of course, that last book is a bedtime story, which is the perfect way to end this beguiling library visit.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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23. Review of Pom and Pim

landstrom pom and pim Review of Pom and Pimstar2 Review of Pom and PimPom and Pim
by Lena Landström; illus. by 
Olof Landström; trans. from 
the Swedish by Julia Marshall
Preschool    Gecko    32 pp.
3/14    978-1-877579-66-0    $16.95

Pom is a small child with sparse orange curls, clad in a long purple sweater; Pim is Pom’s inanimate sidekick of indeterminate species: a dirty pink, with two eyes and four floppy appendages, the better to be dragged around by. “Pom and Pim are going out. It’s warm. The sun is shining. What luck!” But ahead, lying in wait, are a rock and a piece of paper. Pom trips over the rock (“Ouch! Bad luck”) and does a face-plant on the paper — which turns out to be “Money! What luck!” Small adventures ensue, alternating good and bad luck. Eating a huge ice-cream cone leads to a tummy ache — but lying down to recover leads to spying a pink balloon above the bed; taking the balloon outside for a walk (“The balloon bounces beautifully”) leads to it popping on a thorn bush. Pom is downcast but then, indomitable, comes up with the ideal use for the limp leftovers: “A raincoat for Pim!” And what luck: it’s now raining. In matching pink coats the two friends splash through a spare but joyful double-page spread of raindrops and puddles. The brief text and droll ink and watercolor illustrations keep the focus tightly on Pom and Pim, working together brilliantly to bring out the considerable situational humor; Pom’s facial expressions telegraph every fluctuating emotion. The good luck/bad luck progression will let readers predict events — and then allow them to (perhaps) be happily surprised by the closing twist. Quirkier and much smaller in scope than classics such as Remy Charlip’s Fortunately and Margery Cuyler’s That’s Good! That’s Bad! — but just as entrancing.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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24. Review of Like No Other

lamarche like no other Review of Like No OtherLike No Other
by Una LaMarche
Middle School, High School    Razorbill/Penguin    347 pp.
7/14    978-1-59514-674-8    $17.99    g

How’s this for a meet cute? New York teens Devorah and Jaxon get stuck in a hospital elevator during a hurricane. Though their encounter is a fairly brief one, it’s also intense, and both come away with that love-at-first-sight feeling. Here’s where things get complicated. Devorah is a Hasidic Jew, and a frum one at that (“basically the Yiddish equivalent of ‘hopeless goody two-shoes’”). Jaxon is black. They live in present-day Crown Heights; and although, as Jaxon says, “the neighborhood has become so gentrified that I’m more likely to get hit by an artisanal gluten-free scone than a bullet, let’s be real,” tensions can still run high, especially within Devorah’s ultra-conservative family. Even though Devorah’s menacing brother-in-law, a member of the Shomrim (Orthodox neighborhood watch), is on to them, she still can’t resist accidentally-on-purpose bumping into Jax at his work and accepting the cell phone he sneaks (in a grand romantic gesture) into her yard. The story is told from the teens’ alternating perspectives. While Jax is a little too good to be true, Devorah, whether agonizing over her love life or sharing informative details about Hasidic daily life and religious philosophy, is believable and engaging. Her struggle between tradition and modernity, filial duty and personal fulfillment, is complicated and realistic; just because she doesn’t want an arranged marriage doesn’t mean she’s ready to turn her back on her family and her culture. This leads to a conclusion that, while bittersweet, is still hopeful.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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25. Review of The Twins’ Little Sister

yum twins little sister Review of The Twins Little SisterThe Twins’ Little Sister
by Hyewon Yum; illus. by the author
Preschool    Foster/Farrar    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-374-37973-5    $17.99

Those strong-willed sisters from The Twins’ Blanket (rev. 9/11) are back, having successfully transitioned from one shared bed and blanket to two beds and two blankets (one yellow and one pink, reflecting each twin’s decided color preference). Ever competitive, however, they are now fighting over Mom’s attention: “When we take a nap in the big grown-up bed, I want Mom to look at me.” “No, look at me. She’s my Mom!” It’s a problem. And the situation just gets worse when, despite their objections, Mom brings home a new baby sister: “Now Mom’s grown-up bed doesn’t have room for either of us.” Yum is one of our least sentimental picture book creators: her twins are believably childlike in their directness (“The baby is red and ugly”; “She looks like the bread in a paper bag”) and their unshakable belief that the world revolves around them (“Mom has only two arms. Who’s going to hold the baby’s hand?”). Each step forward in accepting the baby has its source in a self-interested motive, but accept her they finally do — and the twist at the end is both funny and fitting. As in The Twins’ Blanket, the picture book format is used inventively, with the yellow-loving twin mostly on left-hand pages and the pink one on the right. The collage elements (Mom’s patterned dress, for instance, and baby’s pink-and-yellow blankie) add texture and interest to the gouache illustrations. This is a fresh take on both the sibling-rivalry and new-baby themes; the unremarked-upon absence of another parent makes this a refreshingly nonpointed single-parent story as well.

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