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This column is part of a series of recommended board book roundups, formerly published twice a year, now published every season. You can find the previous installments here. Don’t miss Viki Ash’s primer “What Makes a Good Board Book?” from the March/April 2010 Horn Book Magazine.
If You’re a Robot and You Know It
by David A. Carter
Scholastic 14 pp.
9/15 978-0-545-81980-0 $16.99
Carter brings a futuristic twist to the familiar song. The text is entertaining enough (“If you’re a robot and you know it, / shoot laser beams out of your eyes”), but it’s the paper engineering that really sings. Pull the tabs to make the smiley, goofy-looking robots (one has a teakettle for a head) clap their hands, stomp their feet, etc., in such surprising, inventive ways that kids will definitely be happy — and they’ll know it.
Spring: A Pop-Up Book
by David A. Carter
Abrams Appleseed 12 pp.
2/16 978-1-4197-1912-7 $14.95
Winter: A Pop-Up Book
by David A. Carter
Abrams Appleseed 12 pp.
10/15 978-1-4197-1823-6 $14.95
Prolific pop-up book creator Carter turns his attention to the seasons. Brief, sometimes lyrical texts (“Snowflakes fall from the sky, covering the sleepy earth in white”; “Who flits and flutters from flower to flower?”) are accompanied by fairly spare background illustrations that let the impressive central pop-ups shine. Captions help identify key flora and fauna.
by Christopher Franceschelli; illus. by Peskimo
Abrams Appleseed 96 pp.
6/15 978-1-4197-1674-4 $16.95
Franceschelli follows Alphablock and Countablock with this dinosaur-themed entry. Chunky die-cut pages (which are cut to follow the outlines of the creatures) play a sort of guessing game with viewers: “I have a neck like a goose…” (page turn) “I am a coelophysis.” Useful pronunciation (“SEE-low-FYE-sis”) and clear illustrations of smiling dinos, along with two child guides, enhance the already great kid appeal.
My First Comics series
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Random 20 pp.
1/16 978-0-553-53344-6 $7.99
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Random 20 pp.
1/16 978-0-553-53346-0 $7.99
“Panels!” “Word Balloons!” “Sound Effects!” “Reading pictures is the first step toward reading words!” is this series’ motto. The Holm siblings (creators of the Babymouse series and others) introduce young children to comics in these books about a happy sun (Sunny!) and a grouchy cloud (Grumpy). The stories are very simple, entertaining, and easy to follow, with clear emotions nicely reinforced by the cartoony illustrations.
Hello, World! Series
by Jill McDonald
Doubleday 24 pp.
3/16 978-0-553-52103-0 $7.99
by Jill McDonald
Doubleday 24 pp.
3/16 978-0-553-52101-6 $7.99
These early science volumes give very brief but engaging overviews of their topics. Solar System starts with the moon and sun, then talks about each planet (plus dwarf planet Pluto), with one main fact per planet and another detail in smaller font. Weather asks a simple leading question to help identify each season (“Is snow falling?”), then presents clothing and activities for each one. In both books, eye-pleasing collages in bright colors with simple shapes illustrate the concepts.
Hamsters on the Go!
by Kass Reich
Orca 24 pp.
3/16 978-1-4598-1016-7 $9.95
Up Hamster Down Hamster
by Kass Reich
Orca 24 pp.
9/15 978-1-4598-1013-6 $9.95
Up Hamster takes a group of energetic hamsters through a day of opposites-learning in rhyme (“Fast hamster / Slow hamster / Yes hamster / No hamster”). On the Go finds the crew testing various modes of transportation (“Hamsters in a car / Hamsters on a boat / Hamsters on a Moon rover / Hamsters on a float”). The rectangular little critters are so funny and expressive, with just their dot-eyes and straight-lined or oblong mouths, it may make listeners start clambering for a cute-rodent pet.
The post Board Book Roundup: Winter 2016 Edition appeared first on The Horn Book.
“‘Oh, did people write that in those days, too?’ Beezus was surprised, because she had thought this was something very new to write in an autograph album…” (Beezus and Ramona)
Sometimes a book becomes quickly dated, and sometimes it easily crosses decades or generations. Beezus finds this is also true for autograph albums, and she makes an important parallel discovery that brings her much hope for the future: her mother and beloved aunt grew up to be close, though they fought as children as intensely as she and Ramona do. (Aunt Beatrice ruined Mother’s autograph album by signing every page!) It is okay not to love one’s little sister all the time. These days, autograph albums may be out of fashion, but the theme of sibling rivalry never goes out of style.
Beverly Cleary published Beezus and Ramona sixty-one years ago. At the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts, where I manage youth services and oversee youth collection development, I checked in on Ramona in the twenty-first century.
The city of Cambridge has a diverse population that truly supports and uses its public libraries. The Children’s Room in particular is a fantastic community gathering space where kids from all backgrounds come alone or with friends or family to read and make discoveries. For the past decade, our Children’s Room book circulation has grown significantly every year, and almost fifty percent of the total number of items goes out every month. We strive to have something for each reader, with multiple copies of the books that “everyone” is reading. We want all children to find books with characters and situations they can relate to and recognize as well as books with characters and situations unlike those they know. As much as possible, we want readers to be able to find both the book they came in for (even if it is very popular) along with the one they did not know they wanted.
How does Ramona fare in such an environment?
Each of our six branches owns copies of Beverly Cleary’s books, and the Main Library owns extra copies of each — ten copies of the most popular titles — and audio editions and some versions in other languages. Beverly Cleary’s books all circulate multiple times a year, with Ramona’s titles going out more than the others. The Ramona audiobooks, engagingly performed by Stockard Channing, circulate even better than the printed books. Twenty-first-century characters who are often compared to Ramona — such as Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine, Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho, and Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody and Stink — are in high demand at our library, but over the past year the print versions of Ramona held ten to twenty percent higher circulation figures than those other series.
Cleary shelves at the Cambridge Public Library. Photo: Lolly Robinson.
Numbers can only tell so much, so I asked the parent/child book group I facilitate what they think. This group consists of about twenty people, ten kids between the ages of seven and ten and usually their ten grownups (although we can and do have kids who join solo). The group includes boys and girls from different schools and a wide range of backgrounds, and everyone — child and adult — reads and participates. Their varied takes on the books we read consistently blow my mind, and they are quite practiced at telling me how they really feel about what they are reading.
I let everyone know about the article I was writing and casually asked, “Have any of you ever read the Ramona books?”
All hands shot up and enthusiastic chatter erupted around the table.
When I asked if they remembered how they first discovered the Ramona books, I got an interesting assortment of answers. One girl’s mom read them to her. Another found out about them from a school friend.
One boy said, “My librarian at school gave me that book about Ralph. The mouse? And then I found the Ramona books next to it on the shelf. And I really liked those.”
While I was taking in this response, absorbing what insight it might offer about assumptions, shelf order, and readers’ advisory, another girl brought me back to the present in a pitying tone:
“There was the movie, you know…” [2010’s Ramona and Beezus]
“Well,” I told them, “Beverly Cleary, who wrote the Ramona books, is celebrating a big birthday this year. She’s going to be one hundred years old…”
“Is she still alive?!”
“Is she coming here!?!”
“Let’s have her come here!!!”
“She is very much alive! But she wrote the Ramona books a long time ago. I read them when I was your age. The first one was written in 1955…[dramatic pause] Do they seem old-fashioned to you?”
Silence and thinking and looking around at each other.
“Some things a little bit. But not the way she fights with her sister!” declared a boy, which inspired a lot of vocal solidarity from around the table.
“Ramona is funny,” smiled another girl.
The mom who had read the books aloud to her daughter interjected an important point: “Some of the details in the first ones are a bit dated now. But they were written over such a long period of time…The last ones weren’t written all that long ago.”
Though Ramona only ages about six years in those eight books, the series itself spans forty-four years, from 1955 to 1999.
“Are we going to read Ramona next?” another boy wanted to know.
Inspired by their enthusiasm, I re-read the series myself. I have often revisited my old friend Ramona, whom I first met when I was in second grade, thanks to my own school librarian. The Quimby family taught me, an only child like Beverly Cleary, the nuances of a sibling dynamic better than a graduate-level psychology class could. Even now, I continue to make new connections and discoveries when reading these books.
Through all these years, nothing much has changed about being little and not having much control. The issues Cleary addresses in her books are ones our children still deal with, and they can be scary and isolating. What if my family is keeping a secret from me? What if my family doesn’t have enough money? What if my dad loses his job? What if I don’t like my sibling? What if there is a new baby coming? What if my parents get divorced? What if my teacher doesn’t understand me? What if I do something cruel? What if someone does something cruel to me?
Beth McIntyre, former Cambridge Public librarian (now Madison County Poblic librarian, Wisconsin), shows off her Ramona Quimby Q tattoo. Photo: Beth McIntyre.
The plot points and details are honest and not sanitized for anyone’s benefit. Be it 1975 or 2016, sometimes a kid really does need to blow off steam by singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” in its entirety as loudly as possible for all the neighbors to hear.
When Cleary’s characters experience fear, love, jealousy, boredom, anger, or worry, we all recognize those emotions. She brings them sharply into focus. They are emotions we have felt and will keep feeling, but maybe up until that moment, we thought we were the only ones. What a relief to share the burden. What a relief to find that even if things don’t turn out as planned, there is hope and probably a really good laugh to be had as well.
Why, thought Beezus, Aunt Beatrice used to be every bit as awful as Ramona. And yet look how nice she is now. Beezus could scarcely believe it. And now Mother and Aunt Beatrice, who had quarreled when they were girls, loved each other and thought the things they had done were funny! They actually laughed about it. Well, maybe when she was grown-up she would think it was funny that Ramona had put eggshells in one birthday cake and baked her rubber doll with another. Maybe she wouldn’t think Ramona was so exasperating, after all. Maybe that was just the way things were with sisters. (Beezus and Ramona)
Maybe, Beezus. Maybe.
Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary! We love you in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You have brought us so much laughter and confidence — as we have grown both as readers and as humans. You have made our many troubles easier to bear. You have connected us, generation to generation, family to family, by showing us what we have in common as people.
We hope you have the best birthday cake — free of eggshells and baked-in rubber dolls.
We all want autograph albums.
We want you to sign every page.
From the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary! For more, click the tag Beverly Cleary at 100.
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To make a Tequila Mockingbird, chill your martini glass and cocktail shaker in the freezer. After half an hour, remove the shaker, throw in a handful of ice, one and a half ounces of tequila, three quarters of an ounce creme de menthe, and the juice of one lime. Shake vigorously, pour into a chilled glass, and garnish with a lime. Best enjoyed on an evening when it’s warm enough to linger on a veranda, but not so hot that ladies are reduced, as Alabama-born author Harper Lee so memorably described, to “soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”
To Kill a Mockingbird has inspired odder and greater things than the combination of creme de menthe and tequila. July 11, 2010, marked the fiftieth anniversary of Lee’s venerated, controversial, and unavoidable book. Celebrations were everywhere. Special readings and panel discussions took place in locales from Vermont to Alabama to Washington, the 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck in his Oscar-winning role was shown in numerous theaters and libraries across the country, and a bookstore in Santa Cruz, California, hosted a reenactment of the famous courtroom scene. Not even the satirical paper The Onion could resist Mockingbird mania with this spoof headline: “Senate Unable to Get Enough Republican Votes to Honor ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.'” Not everyone, however, was extolling Mockingbird‘s praises. In a June 24, 2010, Wall Street Journal article, “What ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Isn’t,” journalist Allen Barra kicked Harper Lee out of the canon of great Southern writers. He called Atticus a “repository of cracker-barrel epigrams” and the book as a whole “a sugar-coated myth of Alabama’s past that millions have come to accept.” Though Barra argued that Mockingbird’s “bloodless liberal humanism is sadly dated,” last summer’s celebrations showed how great a hold it has on readers’ memories and their hearts.
Now that the anniversary hoopla has subsided, will this classic that was never meant to be a blockbuster–or a children’s book, for that matter–be quietly retired? No. If anything, the fiftieth anniversary reminds us how this book has become so much more than a book. It has generated not just a cocktail but song lyrics, band names, and children’s and dogs’ names, and myriad young adult books have been inspired by its power. Mockingbird has become a part of the public subconscious, a literary and a cultural touchstone.
To attend high school in the United States is to be required to read Mockingbird. First published in 1960, this novel shocked its debut author and her publisher when it won the Pulitzer Prize and became a best seller. Since then, Mockingbird has sold nearly one million copies a year, and for the past five years has been the second-best-selling backlist title in the country. (Eat your hearts out, Stephenie Meyer and J. K. Rowling.) But how did Mockingbird become a book for youth? Is it because the narrator, Scout, is a young tomboy? Or is it because the novel is both a bildungsroman and a suspenseful courtroom drama? Or was Mockingbird eventually labeled a children’s book simply because Flannery O’Connor mused, “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book”? Given Mockingbird‘s cultural permeation and multigenerational readership, it appears to be a true example of a “book for all ages.”
Mockingbird‘s hold on grown-up minds is certainly evident in the many pop-culture allusions, both obvious and subtle, to Lee’s only book. Celebrity magazine readers are probably aware that Demi Moore and Bruce Willis named their daughter Scout after Lee’s precocious protagonist. Watchers of the television show Gilmore Girls probably caught the literary reference when Rory says that “every town needs as many Boo Radleys as they can get.” And Simpsons viewers young and old undoubtedly laughed when Homer complained about reading: “Books are useless! I only ever read one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and it gave me absolutely no insight on how to kill mockingbirds! Sure it taught me not to judge a man by the color of his skin… but what good does that do me?”
Mockingbird has also entered the twitterverse via Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less by Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin. Aciman and Rensin have Scout narrate as @BooScout in a voice condensed to short, often snarky observations. Here’s @BooScout’s response to Atticus’s advice that to understand a person you must put yourself in his shoes: “Why does Dad say such LAME shit? I don’t want to walk a mile in ANYONE else’s shoes. Toe jam, nail fungus, athlete’s foot anybody? Gosh.” High literature Twitterature is not, but anyone who has studied Mockingbird with a long-winded lecturer will appreciate @BooScout’s humor and brevity: “Went to the trial. Tom seems innocent. Also, it occurs that our town is full of racists. Perhaps only the eyes of a child can see the truth.”
Beyond pop culture, Mockingbird has long provided the legal arena with both inspiration and fodder for discussion. Atticus’s courtroom defense of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, is the subject of law school classes and law review articles. Would Atticus’s argument that Tom physically couldn’t have harmed Mayella Ewell hold water in a contemporary courtroom? Does Atticus deserve our veneration? In his August 10, 2009, New Yorker article “The Courthouse Ring,” Malcolm Gladwell takes Atticus to task for his legal performance. Gladwell argues that instead of challenging the racist status quo, Atticus simply encourages jurors “to swap one of their prejudices for another.” He also finds Atticus’s decision to have Scout lie about what actually happened the night Bob Ewell attacked her and her brother Jem problematic: “Understand what? That her father and the Sheriff have decided to obstruct justice in the name of saving their beloved neighbor the burden of angel-food cake?” Whether Atticus is a brilliant attorney or a courtroom wimp, the fact that Gladwell and legal scholars are even debating his aptitude with the seriousness they might read Supreme Court decisions speaks of Mockingbird‘s clout.
Like its impact on pop culture, Mockingbird‘s presence in literature is a combination of overt tributes and almost subconscious allusions. In Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird (2010), author Mary McDonagh Murphy interviews writers, journalists, and artists from Oprah Winfrey to Tom Brokaw about how Mockingbird affected their lives. Her interviews with authors including James Patterson, Adriana Trigiani, and Lizzie Skurnick exemplify how this classic, though often read in childhood, can have a lasting hold on writers. Patterson loved it because he identified with Jem and “the suspense was unusual in terms of books that I had read at that point, books that … had really powerful drama which really did hook you. Obviously I try to do [that] with my books.” Skurnick, author of Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, recalls Scout being more fascinating than the “grand themes of justice” in the second half of the book. Everyone interviewed, regardless of vocation, has a story about how Mockingbird touched him or her in a memorable way.
Young adult books such as Jan Marino’s 1997 novel Searching for Atticus and Loretta Ellsworth’s 2007 In Search of Mockingbird are unabashed love letters to Mockingbird and maybe even Harper Lee herself. Both books feature teenage girls who set out on quests of self-discovery with Mockingbird as their inspiration. In Atticus, Tessa Ramsey tries to reconnect with her surgeon father who has returned from the Vietnam War, while in In Search of Mockingbird Erin runs away from Minnesota to find the reclusive author of her favorite book. Also Known as Harper (2009) by Ann Haywood Leal, National Book Award winner Mockingbird (2010) by Kathryn Erskine, and The Mockingbirds (2010) by Daisy Whitney pay homage to Harper Lee, with varying degrees of genuflection and success.The impact of To Kill a Mockingbird on a text is not always apparent from the title. Sometimes the novel is used in a story as a character litmus test: if a protagonist is reading it and loves it, readers know he or she is a good person–extra points if the copy is dog-eared and not required homework reading. In a similar vein, though Atticus might not be named in a text, it is hard not to think of him in any middle-grade or young adult novel with a courtroom setting. (Monster by Walter Dean Myers and John Grisham’s foray into children’s books Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer come to mind.)
It’s even harder, if not impossible, to see words closely resembling mockingbird on a page and not think of Lee’s work. Suzanne Collins, whether intentionally or not, recalls To Kill a Mockingbird with her mockingjay creature in the Hunger Games trilogy. In the final book of the series, Mockingjay, Collins’s protagonist Katniss describes a mockingjay, a combination of a (fictional) jabberjay and a mockingbird, as “the symbol of the revolution” and goes on to explain why she must represent the mockingjay herself and “become the actual leader, the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution.” Katniss’s understanding of the emblematic importance of the mockingjay brings to mind Scout’s discussion with Miss Maudie Atkinson about why she should never shoot a mockingbird: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
To Kill a Mockingbird is perhaps our foremost example of the private reading experience writ larger by its communal–and now multigenerational–replication. Fans and the indifferent alike can remember when and where they were when they read the book, voluntarily or not, for the first time. Recollection of that memory of reading, perhaps even more than the book itself, is the reason To Kill a Mockingbird has become an enduring metaphor for justice, goodness, and the bittersweetness of growing up.
From the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. See also “From the Guide: More Mockingbird.”
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These books take place in fantastical worlds, but the protagonists’ pluck may feel familiar to many intermediate and middle-school readers.
Twelve-year-old Gracie Lockwood, the high-spirited heroine of Jodi Lynn Anderson‘s My Diary from the Edge of the World, lives in a world that’s like ours but with a few key differences (involving dragons and poltergeists, for example). When an ominous Dark Cloud seems to portend her brother’s death, Gracie, her family, and a classmate set off on a cross-country Winnebago trip in search of a guardian angel and a ship that will help them escape. Anderson lets the intricate details of Gracie’s world emerge gradually through her protagonist’s sharp, sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant diary entries. (Simon/Aladdin, 9–12 years)
In the village in Anne Nesbet’s The Wrinkled Crown, girls mustn’t touch the traditional stringed instrument, the lourka, before they’re twelve for fear of death. Linny, full of “music fire,” has secretly built a lourka and expects to die, but instead, it’s her friend Sayra who begins to fade into the unreachable realm called Away. Nesbet’s fable explores the relationship of science, logic, and imagination; a cozy, personable narrative voice punctuates the drama with light humor. (HarperCollins/Harper, 9–12 years)
In Catherine Jinks’s The Last Bogler, bogling is now respectable, and Ned Roach has signed on as Alfred Bunce’s apprentice. Ned must lure child-eating bogles with song so Alfred can dispatch them—and that’s only one of the dangers, for Alfred has drawn the attention of London’s criminal underworld. Fans of How to Catch a Bogle and A Plague of Bogles will appreciate Jinks’s accessible prose, colorful with Victorian slang; her inventive, briskly paced plot; and the gloom and charm of this trilogy-ender’s quasi-Victorian setting. (Houghton, 9–12 years)
Mirka, star of Barry Deutsch‘s humorous, fantastical, Orthodox-Jewish-themed Hereville graphic novel series is back in Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish. Her stepmother, Fruma, warns her to stay out of the woods while babysitting her half-sister Layele; so of course, curious Mirka drags Layele right in there with her. The girls encounter a wishing fish who once lost a battle of wits with a young Fruma and who now has a wicked plan to gain power through Layele. Expressive, often amusing comic-style illustrations do much to convey each scene’s tone and highlight important characters and objects. The eventual solution requires verbal gymnastics as much as heroics and compassion from Mirka. (Abrams/Amulet, 9–14 years)
From the February 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Cheating marathoners; a trailblazing sports reporter; a girl shortstop; and an illegal integrated b-ball game. Here are some nonfiction sports picture books that capture the dramatic action both on and off the track/field/court.
Meghan McCarthy’s The Wildest Race Ever: The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon describes America’s first Olympic marathon, which took place in St. Louis during the World’s Fair. It was a zany one, with cheating runners (one caught a ride in a car), contaminated water, pilfered peaches, and strychnine poisoning. McCarthy’s chatty text focuses on a few of the frontrunners and other colorful characters, shown in her recognizable cartoonlike acrylic illustrations. A well-paced — and winning — nonfiction picture book. (Simon/Wiseman, 5–8 years)
Edith Houghton was “magic on the field,” a baseball legend of the 1920s. Playing starting shortstop for the all-women’s professional team the Philadelphia Bobbies, she drew fans to the ballpark with her impressive talent. Besides that, Edith — “The Kid” — was just ten years old. The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick relates, in conversational text, Houghton’s life on the team. Appealing digitally colored charcoal, ink, and gouache illustrations by Steven Salerno evoke a bygone era of baseball. (Clarion, 5–8 years)
“It seemed that Mary was born loving sports,” writes Sue Macy in her affectionate portrait of a pioneering journalist, Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber. It was during WWII that Garber “got her big break” running the sports page of Winston-Salem’s Twin City Sentinel while the (male) sportswriters were fighting in the war. For much of the next six decades, she worked in sports reporting, blazing trails for female journalists. Macy’s succinct text is informative and engaging, her regard for her subject obvious. C. F. Payne’s soft, sepia-toned, mixed-media illustrations — part Norman Rockwell, part caricature — provide the right touch of nostalgia. (Simon/Wiseman, 5–8 years)
John Coy’s Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game (based on a 1996 New York Times article by Scott Ellsworth) tells the dramatic story of an illegal college basketball game planned and played in secret in Jim Crow–era North Carolina. On a Sunday morning in 1944, the (white) members of the Duke University Medical School basketball team (considered “the best in the state”) slipped into the gym at the North Carolina College of Negroes to play the Eagles, a close-to-undefeated black team coached by future Hall of Famer John McClendon. Coy’s succinct narrative is well paced, compelling, and multilayered, focusing on the remarkable game but also placing it in societal and historical context. Illustrations by Randy DuBurke nicely capture the story’s atmosphere and its basketball action. (Carolrhoda, 6–9 years)
From the February 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Whether following friendly characters through a day of fun or settling users down for sweet dreams, these apps make perfect additions to preschoolers’ own busy days.
In Fiete: A Day on the Farm, children help sailor Fiete and his farmer friends, Hein and Hinnerk, throughout their busy day. Users wake the snoring men in the quiet early morning, then assist them as they gather eggs, shear sheep, pick apples, milk a cow, and, finally, load each item into a delivery truck before settling in around a campfire. It’s all very low-key and low-stress; the sound effects are quiet nature noises, and background movement is generally of the gentle swaying-in-the-breeze variety. The visuals are all rounded shapes and subdued colors (until the glorious pink sunset). (Ahoiii, 3–6 years)
Goldilocks and Little Bear gives Little Bear a plot of his own, parallel to Goldilocks’s: he wanders off and finds himself at Goldilocks’s house, where he samples her family’s pancakes, wardrobes, and reading material. Hold the device one way for a scene in Goldilocks’s tale, then flip it upside down for a complementary scene in Little Bear’s. The stories converge when Goldilocks and Little Bear, fleeing each other’s parents, run smack into each other and strike up a friendship. Engaging narration, dialogue by child voice actors, plenty of visual and textual humor, and upbeat music round out the app. (Nosy Crow, 3–6 years)
Sago Mini Fairy Tales invites users to guide a fairy-winged kitty horizontally and vertically through a nighttime fairyland scene, discovering fairy-tale and folklore–related surprises along the way. These interactive moments occasionally mash up fairy-tale tropes, with very funny results (e.g., an ogre tries on Cinderella’s glass slipper). While full of preschool-perfect humor, this not-too-rambunctious app is a great choice for bedtime: the landscape is all purples, blues, and greens, and the screen dims a bit at the edges; subtle cricket chirping provides the background sound. (Sago Mini, 3–6 years)
Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld, of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site fame, chug along with the digital book app edition of their goodnight-train picture book Steam Train, Dream Train. Just as with the Construction Site digital book app, this one includes soothing narration that can be turned on or off; you can also record your own. There’s some dynamic motion and zooming in and out of the scenes, but it’s all fairly subdued, as befitting a bedtime book for lovers of: trains, monkeys, other zoo animals, dinosaurs, ice cream, hula hoops, balls, and most other kid-friendly items. (Oceanhouse Media, 3–6 years)
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Facing illness, sexuality, family issues, and life-and-death situations, the following teen protagonists maturely and deeply explore the world around them while also looking within themselves.
Until the hospital called, asking her mother to pick up elderly Mary, seventeen-year-old Katie — star of Jenny Downham’s Unbecoming — didn’t even know she had a grandmother. Katie, her brother, and their mum bring home Mary, who is suffering from dementia. As Katie learns more about her grandmother’s and mother’s pasts, she struggles with her own secret: she is pretty certain she is gay. Told from a limited third-person perspective, the book offers implicit commentary on the historical and contemporary constraints on young women’s lives and their freedom to love freely. (Scholastic/Fickling, 14 years and up)
In Kate McGovern’s Rules for 50/50 Chances, Rose’s mom has advanced Huntington’s disease and Caleb’s mom and little sisters have sickle cell disease. The teens meet at the annual Walk for Rare Genes fundraiser, and their immediate attraction soon develops into something more meaningful. Rose spends much of the novel locked in indecision about whether or not to be tested for the Huntington’s gene, and what the results will mean for her future plans: college, a dance career, a relationship with Caleb. Rose’s realistically confused and complex anger and grief about her mother’s decline adds poignancy to the teen’s dilemma. (Farrar, 14 years and up)
In Instructions for the End of the World by Jamie Kain, Nicole’s father is a survivalist who believes wilderness skills are the surest protection from a dangerous world. When Dad decides to leave the grid altogether, moving the family to a ramshackle forest homestead, Mom balks and runs off. Dad goes after her, leaving Nicole and her younger sister, Izzy, behind. Nicole worries about Izzy’s involvement with teens living at a nearby commune; at the same time a brooding resident there named Wolf stirs up her own rebellious yearnings. Most chapters feature multiple narrators (Nicole, Izzy, Wolf, and others), but Nicole’s voice provides a steady through line to follow her genuine and compelling struggle. (St. Martin’s Griffin, 14 years and up)
Sensory details (especially scents) evoke the physical and emotional landscape — 1970s Birch Park, Alaska — in Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s The Smell of Other People’s Houses. Four distinct first-person narrative voices breathe life into the adolescent protagonists. Escaping her alcoholic father’s abuse, Dora finds a welcome haven in Dumpling’s family’s fish camp. A few stolen nights with handsome Ray Stevens leaves sixteen-year-old Ruth pregnant and alone. The characters’ engaging individual stories, thematically linked by loss and yearning, are enriched by the tales’ intersections, and are grounded in emotional honesty. (Random/Lamb, 14 years and up)
From the February 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Castillo, Lauren Nana in the City
40 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-10443-3
Visiting Nana in the city, the unnamed child narrator is initially unreceptive to the appeal. “The city is busy…loud…[and] filled with scary things.” Nana promises to show her young visitor that “the city is wonderful — bustling, booming, and extraordinary,” and their tour the following day does just that. The simple, meaningful text is well served by richly detailed watercolors conveying a bustling city.
Subjects: Preschool; City and town life; Family—Grandmothers; Emotions—Courage
dePaola, Tomie Look and Be Grateful
32 pp. Holiday 2015. ISBN 978-0-8234-3443-5
DePaola’s rouse from sleep is a gentle one, asking readers to “open your eyes, and look.” The text remains quiet, moving from its opening imploration to a suggested response: “Be grateful, for everything you see.” The brief handwritten text on peachy-beige paper is accompanied by the simplest of images: a child, a flower or two, one of the artist’s signature doves.
Subjects: Preschool; Emotions—Gratitude
Fleming, Candace Bulldozer’s Big Day
32 pp. Atheneum 2015. ISBN 978-1-4814-0097-8 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-0098-5
Illustrated by Eric Rohmann. On his “big day,” Bulldozer can’t wait to invite his friends to his party: “Guess what today is!” The other construction vehicles appear too preoccupied with work to guess. “No friends. No party,” sniffs Bulldozer. Of course, there is a party; everyone’s secretly been constructing a giant birthday cake. Engaging text will keep story-hour audiences invested; block-print illustrations feature trucks with loads of personality.
Subjects: Preschool; Birthdays; Parties; Vehicles—Trucks; Construction
Golan, Avirama Little Naomi, Little Chick
40 pp. Eerdmans 2013. ISBN 978-0-8028-5427-8
Illustrated by Raaya Karas. This clever book tells two stories, one about a preschooler named Naomi, the other about a little chick. Left-hand pages describe Naomi’s day, with tidy spot art at the bottom of the pages illustrating the activities. Meanwhile, on right-hand pages, Little Chick’s day on the farm unfolds in expansive, comical illustrations. Several visual elements gracefully unite these two worlds of play.
Subjects: Preschool; Animal babies; Schools—Preschools; Animals—Chickens; Animals—Domestic animals; Books in translation
Henkes, Kevin Waiting
32 pp. Greenwillow 2015. ISBN 978-0-06-236843-0 Library binding ISBN 978-0-06-236844-7
Waiting is a huge part of every child’s life, and Henkes uses a light touch to address the topic. Five toys, outlined in brown and filled in with muted colors, wait on a windowsill. Time passes slowly through seasons; small changes in body positions and eyes show a range of emotions. A straightforward text sets up predictable patterns with small surprises, while the design is varied to create momentum.
Subjects: Preschool; Toys; Behavior—Patience
Kanevsky, Polly Here Is the Baby
40 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2014. ISBN 978-0-375-86731-6 Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-96731-3 Ebook ISBN 978-0-375-98785-4
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Readers follow a baby’s full day in a city neighborhood from wake-up (“Here is the baby. And a bright morning sun”) to bedtime, complete with a library outing (“Here is the lady. She reads to the children”), stroller nap, and playground time, all supervised by a low-key dad. The text’s “here is” pattern is reassuring and concrete. The mixed-media illustrations are steeped in cozy imagery.
Subjects: Preschool; Babies; Family
Portis, Antoinette Wait
32 pp. Roaring Brook/Porter 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-921-4
A mother rushes her toddler through busy city streets. He stalls to look at everything they encounter. This tension plays out over several spreads illustrating the same refrain: “Hurry!” / “Wait.” As their train’s doors begin closing, he insists on one last pause — for a brilliant rainbow. “Yes. / Wait.” Predictive details in the accessible illustrations add richness to this story about appreciating simple pleasures.
Subjects: Preschool; City and town life; Family—Mother and child
From the December 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?
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This past Saturday, November 21st, was National Adoption Day, “a collective national effort to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving families.” To celebrate, we’ve pulled together a list of recommended titles featuring adoption, all reviewed and recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide at the time of their publication; reviews (with dates) reprinted below.
“We wish you were here.” Two elephants describe their experience anticipating their child’s arrival in Matthew Cordell’s Wish. This poetic birth/adoption tale has an exquisitely light touch; pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations make what’s at stake clear. Try to keep a dry eye when a late-in-the-book illustration shows an ocean parting to reveal a child for its expectant parents on shore. (Disney/Hyperion, 2015)
In Ame Dyckman’s Wolfie the Bunny, Dot isn’t pleased when a baby wolf foundling is left on the Bunny family’s doorstep — “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!” Her smitten parents ignore her. At the market, however, Wolfie is a boon to his big sister when a bear lunges toward them yelling, “DINNER!” The text’s humor keeps scariness in check; Zachariah OHora’s cartoonish acrylic paintings with comical touches match the tone. (Little Brown, 2015)
Cassidy-Li, whose parents adopted her from China, is Star of the Week in kindergarten. She’s making a poster with photos of the important people in her life, “but something is missing.” What about her birth parents, whom she doesn’t know? Author Darlene Friedman and artist Roger Roth, adoptive parents themselves, give their protagonist plenty of personality as they thoughtfully explore questions faced by adoptive families in Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles. (HarperCollins, 2009)
A Korean American girl eagerly anticipates the adoption of her baby sister from Korea in Ten Days and Nine Nights: An Adoption Story. Details are basic: Mommy leaves on an airplane, and big-sister-to-be helps Daddy, Grandpa, and Grandma prepare. Commendably, the story focuses on the girl’s experience rather than attempting to tug at parental heartstrings. Author-artist Yumi Heo’s airy illustrations match the child-friendly perspective. An author’s note offers brief facts about international adoption. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 2009)
Because he growls and doesn’t “play nice,” Russian orphan Nikolai hasn’t been adopted yet; the art portrays him (and only him) as a bear. But Nikolai turns out to be the perfect child for one American couple, who feel “soft-bearish” and who know how to growl. Touches of humor in Barbara Joosse’s text and Renata Liwska’s art keep Nikolai, the Only Bear from becoming cloying. (Philomel, 2005)
Contrary to her fantasies, orphan Carlota’s terrific new parents don’t turn out to be pastry chefs, pirates, etc., but they do bring her yummy pastries and pretend to dig for buried treasure. In Susana López’s The Best Family in the World, the light-handedness of storytelling belies the book’s depth, and the domestic scenes of Carlota and her new family are as wondrous as the scenes she imagined in Ulises Wensell’s illustrations. (Kane/Miller, 2010)
Taro Miura’s The Big Princess is a companion to The Tiny King with a welcome adoption-story aspect. A childless king finds a bug-size princess. His and the queen’s love for her grows daily — as does the princess. How to stop her from outgrowing the castle (and the family)? Digital collages feature improbably harmonizing elements: geometric shapes coexist with realistic imagery, and characters with Hello Kitty–like blank faces live out emotional scenes. (Candlewick, 2015)
Todd Parr’s We Belong Together: A Book about Adoption and Families lists things that children need (a home, kisses) and explains that the parents and children pictured belong together because the adults can provide these things. The text is as simple as Parr’s bold illustrations, which feature many gender and color combinations (some people are blue and purple). The message is a bit obvious, but it’s a worthy and welcome one. (Little/Tingley, 2007)
When the zoo animals start having babies, two pandas and a tree kangaroo bemoan their childless state. Soon, however, the three find themselves with families that aren’t what they expected. Judy Sierra’s rhymes include plenty of surprises; Marc Brown’s illustrations feature a gently colored palette and little patterns. Like the duo’s Wild About Books, Wild About You! is good both for group sharing and as a bedtime story. (Knopf, 2012)
A baby in a Chinese orphanage misses “a special voice and the promises it had made.” Far away, a couple longs for a baby to love. François Thisdale’s heartfelt sentiments in Nini are illustrated with a striking combination of drawing, painting, and digital imagery. At times this adoption tale strains for lyricism, but the feelings will resonate with many adoptive parents (if not their children). (Tundra, 2011)
Two chapter books in Charise Mericle Harper’s Just Grace series have adoption-related plotlines. In Just Grace and the Terrible Tutu, Grace’s best friend Mimi’s parents are adopting a little girl. When the friends are hired as mother’s helpers by a neighbor, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Mimi to practice being a big sister. In Just Grace and the Double Surprise, Mimi’s little sister arrives, and things don’t go as planned. These entertaining stories are filled with Grace’s insightful, humorous commentary and amusing cartoon drawings, charts, and lists. (both Houghton, 2011)
In Out of the Blue by Sarah Ellis, Megan learns that as a young woman, her mother gave birth to a baby girl and placed her for adoption. Now, twenty-four years later, that child has sought out her birth mother. The family adjusts to this new situation, but Megan cannot reconcile herself to knowing that she may no longer be first in her mother’s affections. A rich story, written with grace and empathy, in which very real troubles are tempered with humor and love. (McElderry, 1995)
In Mother Number Zero by Marjolijn Hof, well-adjusted adopted child Fejzo decides to search for his birth mother (whom he calls “Mother Number Zero”). His hugely understanding parents are nervously supportive, but his sister (also adopted) is resentful. Once the search becomes official, Fejzo begins to have his own doubts. This quiet, thoughtful, and nuanced Dutch import is an original and touching addition to the literature of adoption. (Groundwood, 2011)
Dana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, four adopted (and racially diverse) brothers and two dads star in this Penderwicks-esque chronicle of a year in their lives. Focusing each chapter on one boy while still keeping the whole family in the picture, Levy provides a compelling, compassionate, and frequently hilarious look at their daily concerns. Readers will want to be part of (or at least friends with) this delightful family. (Delacorte, 2014)
In Close to the Wind by Jon Walter, young Malik escapes from an unnamed war-torn country and grows up quickly in the company of older boys on the refugee ship. Once Malik arrives in the New World, he is adopted–but now that he is safe, Malik falls apart emotionally. Walter tells this suspenseful displacement story with restraint, the accumulation of small, concrete details in each scene sustaining tension. (Scholastic/Fickling, 2015)
Young adult fiction
In Meg Kearney’s The Secret of Me, fourteen-year-old Lizzie was adopted as an infant, a fact she shares only with her closest friends. With their help, she reconciles her desire to know her birth mother with her overall contentment as part of a loving family. This sensitive, cathartic novel is told entirely through Lizzie’s poetry and includes author’s notes on poetics, recommended reading, and Kearney’s own adoption experience. The sequel, The Girl in the Mirror: A Novel in Poems and Journal Entries, is also beautifully wrought with memorable characters and true-to-life issues. (Persea, 2005 and 2012)
In Andrew Smith’s The Alex Crow, fifteen-year-old war refugee Ariel is adopted into the family of “de-extinction” scientist Jake Burgess and sent to camp with adoptive brother Max. Meanwhile, psychotic Leonard Fountain is on a deranged road trip. And the crew of the ship Alex Crow fights for survival on an ill-fated late-nineteenth-century Arctic voyage. Strong prose with a distinct teenage-boy sensibility anchors this ambitious novel’s exploration of survival and extinction. (Dutton, 2015)
Pregnant eighteen-year-old Mandy agrees to live in the home of the woman, Robin, who is adopting her baby in Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life. Robin’s daughter Jill hates the idea, still grieving her father’s death. Mandy and Jill’s distinct voices tell their intertwined stories. The girls’ growth is made realistic through small inroads and slow progress. The depth of characterization is exceptional in this rewarding read. (Little, 2011)
Michaela DePrince’s inspirational memoir Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina (co-written with Elaine DePrince) traces Michaela’s journey: from an orphanage in war-ravaged Sierra Leone, through her adoption by an American couple, and finally to her rising ballet stardom (appearing in the documentary First Position; joining the Dutch National Ballet). Throughout, the daughter-and-mother writing team emphasizes how important optimism, love, and perseverance were to Michaela’s success. Striking textual imagery heightens the immediacy of Michaela’s experiences, whether tragic or triumphant. (Knopf, 2014)
Mary Hoffman’s Welcome to the Family, a chatty, informative survey, covers all the bases, from families formed by birth and adoption to foster and blended families. Same-sex and single parents are represented in friendly cartoon art and text; mixed-race families are depicted in the Ros Asquith’s illustrations. The tone is light, though Hoffman acknowledges that things don’t always “go smoothly.” A teddy bear appears on most spreads, adding its own commentary. (Frances Lincoln, 2014)
I’m Adopted! by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly features simple, conversational text and loads of colorful, engaging photos to cover how families are formed through adoption. The authors approach the subject in very general terms, allowing children to impose their own experiences. While most of the book is upbeat, the loss inherent in adoptions is also acknowledged. Children touched by the subject will find the straightforward discussion reassuring and easy to understand. (Holiday, 2011)
One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (sequel to Last Airlift) describes Tuyet’s adjustment to life with her adoptive Canadian family, the drama revolves around the surgery she must have on her leg due to polio. Readers will be just as riveted to this quieter but no-less-moving story as Tuyet bravely dreams of being able to run and play. Illustrated with photos. Reading list, websites. Ind. (Pajama Press, 2013)
In 1975 a child named Long emigrated from Vietnam to the United States and was adopted. In Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy, Andrea Warren deftly weaves into Long’s story information about the Vietnam conflict, life in Saigon, the plight of children during war, and the political machinations involved in airlifting thousands of youngsters to safety during the American evacuation. Reading list, source notes. Ind. (Farrar/Kroupa, 2004)
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These lighthearted outings for early primary readers offer adventures both everyday (a run-in with a teacher, a classmate rivalry) and extraordinary (a dog’s rise to superstardom and…a ghost raccoon sighting).
In Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing’s Flop to the Top!, young Wanda is a superstar — in her own mind. After posting a selfie taken with her droll, droopy-faced dog, Wilbur, she scores millions of online likes and hordes of admirers fill her street. But instead of Wanda, the crowd wants “FLOPPY DOG!” Wife-and-husband team Davis and Weing share author-illustrator duties for this expertly paced — and funny and topical — early-reader comic, with digitally rendered illustrations infused with warmth, color, and whimsy. (TOON, 5–8 years)
Piper Green, resident of Peek-a-Boo Island, Maine, and star of Ellen Potter’s Piper Green and the Fairy Tree, is about to start second grade. For her, this involves taking a lobster boat to school and insisting on wearing green monkey-face earmuffs. Her new teacher looks like a princess, so Piper assumes she’ll have a tinkly voice and won’t mind about the earmuffs; but Ms. Arabella does not live up to expectations. Very brief chapters and frequent illustrations by Qin Leng advance the story, as does Piper’s spunky first-person narration. How the standoff is resolved makes for a satisfying, funny early chapter book. (Knopf, 5–8 years)
In Izzy Barr, Running Star, Izzy’s passion and dedication have made her the fastest runner in the third grade. That is, until classmate Skipper — whose dad is their P.E. teacher and the coach for Franklin School’s Fitness Club — beats her. Author Claudia Mills presents and resolves problems in a winning story, the third installment in the Franklin School Friends series, with friendly illustrations by Rob Shepperson. (Farrar/Ferguson, 5–8 years)
Fans of Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen’s Mercy Watson books will remember Francine Poulet, the animal control officer who tried to net Mercy in Mercy Watson Thinks like a Pig. In Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, Francine — fearless, and with an impressive resumé — receives a call about an unusual raccoon (“He shimmers! He screams like a banshee!”) on a roof. When the shimmery raccoon screams “Frannnnnnnnnnnyyyyy!” and hurtles toward her on the roof, she loses her confidence, and then her balance. The wacky plot comes smartly together with humorous insights and lively illustrations. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)
From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Families come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and configurations. The following nonfiction picture books present examples of this variety, with the common element being love.
In My Family Tree and Me, Dušan Petričić creates an innovative introduction to the ordinary miracle of genealogy. Reading the book from front to middle, we meet the paternal line through five generations, Pops and Nana and all the rest. Reading from back to middle, we are given portraits of the maternal line, Gong Gong and Po Po and their parents and children. And in a glorious middle double-page spread we see the whole extended family; having met the whole gang, we can move back and forth, tracing and inventing individual stories. Cartoonist Petričić’s gift for caricature is put to joyful use here, showing one family in all its variations and particular beauty. (Kids Can, 4–7 years)
Mary Hoffman’s chatty, informative Welcome to the Family covers all the bases — and then some — in its survey of how families are made. Friendly cartoon illustrations by Ros Asquith highlight various permutations, from families formed by birth and adoption to foster and blended families. Same-sex and single parents are represented in the art and text; mixed-race families are depicted in the illustrations. The tone throughout is light and straightforward, though Hoffman acknowledges that things don’t always “go smoothly” in families. A little teddy bear appears on most spreads, adding its own commentary (“Two moms. I never had one“) or clarifying information. The final page offers this discussion starter: “How did you come into YOUR family?” (Frances Lincoln, 4–7 years)
The 1967 Supreme Court case that legalized interracial marriage throughout the country is given a picture-book accounting in Selina Alko and Sean Qualls’s The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. Richard Loving was white, Mildred Jeter’s skin was a “creamy caramel”; despite their different racial backgrounds, they fell in love and married, only to be arrested for miscegenation when they returned to their Virginia hometown after the wedding. While the book is honest about the obstacles the Lovings faced, its message and tone are optimistic, the feel-good atmosphere reinforced by the pencil, paint, and collage illustrations by Alko and Qualls (themselves partners in an interracial marriage). Sources and a suggested reading list are appended. (Scholastic/Levine, 4–7 years)
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore is a picture book adaptation of her work No Crystal Stair, a history of the National Memorial African Bookstore founded in the 1930s by Nelson’s great-uncle, Lewis Michaux. Where the longer work had more than thirty narrators, this has but one: Michaux’s young son Lewis, a late-in-life child who witnessed the store’s doings during the tumultuous 1960s. Studded with Michaux’s aphorisms (“Don’t get took! Read a book!”), the book successfully conveys the vibrancy of the bookstore and its habitués, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. R. Gregory Christie, whose black-and-white drawings are such an inextricable part of No Crystal Stair, is here allowed full pages drenched with expressionistic color to convey the spirit of the place, time, and people. (Carolrhoda, 6–9 years)
From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Four novels featuring teenage boys — in both contemporary and historical settings — take on big issues, with memorable results.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a ripped-from-the-headlines story written with nuance, sharp humor, and devastating honesty. When a quick stop at the corner store suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, two high school classmates are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad (who is African American) as its victim; Quinn (who is white) as its witness. The authors have brought together issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in racially tense America. (Atheneum/Dlouhy, 14 years and up)
The seventeen-year-old star of Calvin by Martine Leavitt believes that his life is inextricably linked to the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes — a belief reinforced by the constant presence of the voice of tiger Hobbes in his consciousness. Recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, he’s convinced that if he can persuade the famously reclusive cartoonist Bill Watterson to draw a final cartoon of a teenage Calvin without Hobbes, he himself will be cured. On a pilgrimage to find Watterson, Calvin sets off across frozen Lake Erie, accompanied by old flame/current frenemy Susie. Along the way, Calvin and Susie examine — sweetly and humorously — their relationship and ponder the big existential questions of life. (Farrar/Ferguson, 14 years and up)
In the summer of 1983, best friends — and alternating narrators in Sofia Quintero’s Show and Prove — Raymond “Smiles” King and Guillermo “Nike” Vega are working as camp counselors at a summer enrichment program in their South Bronx neighborhood. Smiles is crushed when he loses out on a promotion to senior counselor; Nike thinks that winning a break-dancing competition will impress his crush. As the summer goes on, neighborhood tensions and secrets are revealed, from the camp’s budget concerns to racial and religious conflicts among black Caribbeans, Puerto Ricans, and Palestinians. The novel features two vibrant, fully realized narrators with complex lives, a memorable supporting cast, and a complete immersion in the zeitgeist of the eighties, from music to politics. (Knopf, 14 years and up)
In Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter, sixth-grader Jack’s family fosters a fourteen-year-old boy with a troubled past. Joseph attacked a teacher, was subsequently incarcerated at a juvenile detention center, and has a baby daughter whom he’s never seen. Jack and his parents gradually peel away Joseph’s protective veneer, but the teen’s single-minded desire to parent his daughter — and then the arrival of Joseph’s violent father — leads to strife. The book’s ending is bittersweet but as satisfying as a two-box-of-tissues tearjerker can possibly be. (Clarion, 11–14 years)
From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Comic books are everywhere. Customers are purchasing them, readers of all ages are devouring them, teachers are using more and more of them in their classrooms, and they’re winning awards like crazy. Some people have applauded recent book-award committees’ open-mindedness to the comics format, while others remain conflicted. The recurrent question of whether ALA should sponsor a graphic novel award has taken up energies and attentions, with extra considerations to the Caldecott criteria and how a picture book is defined. Many claim that comic books and picture books have strong differences at their cores, and that the kidlit world needs to keep the two separate in order to protect and uphold that which distinguishes each from the other. We don’t see it this way. We believe that comic books and graphic novels (which we’ll refer to as “comics” from here on out) are picture books, and that there are many types of picture books, from those for the earliest readers to those intended for young adults and beyond.
The Caldecott criteria define a children’s picture book in part as “one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience.” In Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles write that a picture book is “defined by its particular use of sequential imagery, usually in tandem with a small number of words, to convey meaning.” According to comics theorist Scott McCloud (inspired by the work of comics legend Will Eisner), comics have a similar definition: they are “sequential art.” Definitions aside, picture books (including comics) share characteristics: they use the momentum of the page-turn, they have moments where text and image are interdependent (if there is text at all), and they afford readers the opportunity to construct meaning when words and images clash.
Picture books (including comics) come in various sizes, genres, styles, page lengths, color palettes, and intended audience age ranges. A single title can fall into multiple categories. Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant’s Geisel-winning You Are (Not) Small is both a picture book and an easy reader in the same way that Eleanor Davis’s Stinky, which was a Geisel honor book and an Eisner Award nominee, is both an easy reader and a comic. A book’s nominal literary format doesn’t limit its ability to succeed in another.
Picture books (including comics) are worthy of serious analysis. Whether they’re full-fledged graphic novels or thirty-two-pagers, whether they’re for teens or toddlers, rendered digitally or hand drawn, we evaluate comics using the same questions we ask when critiquing all picture books. We don’t ignore the pictures or read the text in a vacuum. We look at the styles used by the artists and question if they feel appropriate to the stories’ themes. We consider how each book does its job given its audience, genre, and format.
And so it surprises us when picture book–loving colleagues say that reading comics feels like foreign territory. We’ve thought long and hard about what conventions might feel exclusive to comics—and perhaps intimidating to picture book traditionalists — and have arrived at two: paneled layouts and visual text features (the latter including word balloons, thought bubbles, and the like). By spotlighting how these conventions are used successfully in a variety of books (including true-blue comics and picture books not classified as such), we hope to show that through close reading they can be recognized and understood by even the most reluctant comics reader.
A panel often represents one moment in time, defined by a border. The sizes, shapes, and relationship of panels within a page and the relationship of that page to what came before and comes after are all part of layout. Panels can guide the reader through a story so subtly that they go unnoticed, while others are intended to be seen, emphasizing setting, characterization, and more. To illustrate this point, we will highlight compelling panel use in three picture books: a comic, a wordless picture book, and an easy reader.
In Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez’s comic, Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, innovative page layouts inform readers about the characters’ roundabout paths, the city, and its subway. In a scene featuring narrow vertical panels running the length of the page, the two main characters, en route to the Empire State Building, hold on to the tall, skinny gutters as if they were subway poles. In moments of the story when the characters are in the midst of the chaos of New York City, time and movement are not expressed through numerous panels or page-turns; instead, the story advances via multiple images of the same characters thinking, talking, and moving about within one double-page spread. This complex, winding layout reinforces the kinetic energy of the setting as well as the characters’ experience of being overwhelmed by it.
A mixture of panels and full-page illustrations are used in JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith’s wordless picture book Sidewalk Flowers. As a child picks wildflowers, shares them with others, and brings color to a black-and-white urban landscape, information is relayed through the ebb and flow of color between panels. This is especially effective in a scene featuring three panels stacked from top-to-bottom across a page. A distant house in the middle of the center panel (peach-colored, it is the first use of color on a building) cues readers that more color will be forthcoming after new flowers are picked; predictions are confirmed in the bottom frame by a sidewalk speckled with blues, reds, and oranges. The use of many panels within a single page allows for subtle shifts in color to be recognized immediately, as images can be compared simultaneously. In this instance, the paneled layout focuses readers’ attentions on a shift that might have gone unseen over the course of several page-turns.
In Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie easy readers, whole pages function the way panels in a comic do. In I Will Take a Nap!, for example, the page-turns and gutters imply passage of time in an immediately connected sequence. In a scene in which Piggie reveals to Gerald that the two are actually in a dream (“if you are not napping, how can I be floating?”), her statement — divided between two connected word balloons — crosses the gutter, bridging the gap between two separate moments as she begins floating away. Because the size of the pages is consistent, the passage of time between pages can be intuitively understood. This predictable, linear, left-to-right reading experience is akin to reading a newspaper comic strip, and it frames the brisk pace and page-turning dynamic that emergent readers crave.
Visual Text Features
Many think of visual text features — including word balloons, captions, thought bubbles, and sound effects — as the meat and potatoes of comics. Visual text features can elevate dialogue and establish atmosphere — pulling readers further into the narrative. The following three books — a young adult comic, a nonfiction picture book, and a traditional picture story book — include visual text features that achieve this effect.
In the YA comic March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, word balloons and sound effects don’t merely communicate what is said or overheard; they also enhance meaning through their physicality. In moments of duress, word balloons become buzz saw–edged, while cold dismissals received by civil rights workers appear frozen over, like icicles. When Aretha Franklin sings “America” during the 2009 presidential inauguration, the lyrics dominate the double-page spread, contained within curvy, robust, heavy-lined word balloons that convey her emotive performance. Powell runs the “BRRRIIINNNNG” of a ringing telephone and the “VRROOMM” of a speeding pickup truck off the page, representing sounds that carry. When fire hoses are used against civil rights protesters, it is not the streams of water or the protesters that are reflected in Bull Connor’s glasses; it is letters in the sound (“FFSSHHHHHHHH…”) of the water. The sound effect no longer just supports the action; instead, it is an integral part of the action. How a sound effect is illustrated can carry as much meaning as the letters or words chosen to express the sound.
Borderless word balloons, with color-coded stems connecting text to each character, carry moments of dialogue in Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno’s nonfiction picture book, Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France. The absence of attributives (such as “he said” and “she said”) throughout the book allows for seamless transitions between conversation and exposition in the true tale of how the scientific method was used to debunk Dr. Franz Mesmer’s pseudoscience. On a twisting and turning banner that weaves through a double-page spread, behind a character’s leg and out over a bridge, the murmurings of a crowd are featured (“HA HA HA MESMER HA HA HA BZZ BZZ BZZ”); part of the banner is blocked, evoking moments when one hears only bits and pieces of what is being said in a large group. When Franklin’s “blind”-test methodology is explained, the process is described within labels on old-timey medicinal jars and tubes. This presentation not only communicates the facts but also adds context and brings the historic setting to life.
In Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell’s picture book, First Grade Dropout, thought bubbles house the young protagonist’s memories, including the embarrassing moment when he accidentally called his teacher “Mommy.” While these memories are communicated mostly through pictures (and are sometimes enhanced by word balloons and sound effects of their own), the present-tense narration occurs in the form of traditional expository text. This approach clearly separates past and present, and it allows readers to interpret all that the boy remembers, thinks, and does. When a chorus of obtrusive “HA! HA! HA!”s spread across the page in multiple colors and sizes, the sound effects reinforce the boy’s inescapable shame. The “HA!”s break free from their thought-bubble boundary: the boy’s feelings of humiliation cannot be contained. Here, visual text features provide added insight into the character’s state of mind.
Comics might be where paneled layouts and visual text features are most commonly found, but these features are not unique to comics. The conventions (and definitions) of picture books and comics overlap greatly because they are part of the same whole. That’s why it is hard for us to separate comics from the rest of the picture book world. As Charlotte Zolotow wrote in the March/April 1998 Horn Book Magazine, “There are all sorts of picture books. There is a place for them all.” Zolotow was writing about diversity in content rather than format, but we like to think that the spirit is the same. The picture book umbrella is broad. That’s a good thing, because even though they may not know it, those who evaluate picture books have the skillset to read comics critically. They only need to recognize the value of their experiences, approach every work with an open mind, and think outside the panels once in a while.
From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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Horrifying Hymenoptera, frightening faeries, malicious magick, and creepy corpses come out to play in these chilling middle-grade novels.
Steve’s baby brother comes back from the hospital sick (“there was something wrong with his heart and his eyes and his brain”) and needing lots of care, so his parents don’t pay much attention when Steve develops a fear of the wasps in the backyard. The boy finds comfort in a recurring dream in which a compassionate voice offers to make everything better: all Steve must do is say yes, and his dream confidante will turn her promise of a healthy baby into reality. In his (terrifying!) book The Nest, Kenneth Oppel’s language is straightforward, but the emotional resonance is deep. Jon Klassen‘s full-page black-and-white drawings — simple, but with maximum impact, in shades of light, dark, and darker — astutely capture the magnitude of a child’s imagination when he can rely only upon himself. (Simon, 10–12 years)
In Mary Downing Hahn‘s Took, Daniel’s family abruptly leaves Connecticut for a simpler lifestyle in West Virginia after Daniel’s father loses his job. Daniel and his little sister, Erica, find their new dilapidated home and the woods that surround it frightening, and the kids at school tease them with scary tales of a strange old woman, a man-eating razorback hog, and a little girl who disappeared from their house fifty years before. Daniel does not believe these stories, but Erica becomes progressively stranger, withdrawing from her family and obsessing over her look-alike doll, Little Erica. Told alternatingly through Daniel’s first-person narration and a third-person omniscient narrator, the story spookily — and effectively — weaves in the oral tradition of folklore, legends, and ghost stories. (Clarion, 10–12 years)
Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith is a creepy Southern Gothic ghost story focused on the insular 1930s black community of Sardis, Alabama. Folks there believe in equal measure in their God and in folk magick (or “hoodoo”). Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher doesn’t have a speck of magick in him—or so he thinks. When a Stranger, a nasty, foul-smelling incarnation of evil, comes to town Hoodoo discovers the magick deep within himself and the strength and heart to summon it. Filled with folk and religious symbols, the story is steeped in time and place. Hoodoo’s earnest first-person narrative reveals a believable innocent who can “cause deeds great and powerful.” (Clarion, 10–12 years)
While out grave-robbing one night, Thomas Marsden — star of The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden — digs up a corpse that looks exactly like him. In his hand the dead boy is holding tickets to a performance by the famous spiritualist Mordecai, along with a note bearing the instruction Speak to no one. As it turns out, Thomas is of faerie descent, and his people have been enslaved by Mordecai. As the last surviving member of the royal line, it’s up to Thomas to break Mordecai’s enchantment. Author Emma Trevayne plays her cards close to the vest, slowly doling out clues; the central drama — Thomas’s decision whether to help the faeries despite having been rejected by them at birth — makes it worth the wait. By the end, the boy’s humanity holds the key to the faeries’ salvation, leading to a satisfying resolution. (Simon, 10–12 years)
From the October 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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By: Roger Sutton
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The settings of these narrative nonfiction titles span decades and geography — from WWII Denmark to contemporary Malawi — but the issues they explore are incredibly timely.
When heavy rains, then drought, devastated his country of Malawi and the corrupt government didn’t respond, young William Kamkwamba used his scientific ingenuity to help people in need. His windmill made from “bottle-cap washers, rusted tractor parts, and [an] old bicycle frame” was a success; soon William dreamed of conquering darkness, pumping water to the villages, and fighting hunger. Cowritten with Bryan Mealer, Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition (illustrated by Anna Hymas) is inspiring — a well-told true tale of one young man’s passion for science making his world better. (Dial, 9–12 years)
Phillip Hoose introduces readers to a little-known resistance movement in The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club. When Hitler invaded Denmark, teenaged Knud Pedersen (with his brother Jens and some mates) decided that “If the adults would not act, we would.” First using civil disobedience then employing increasingly dangerous acts of sabotage against the country’s Nazi occupiers, the group inspired widespread Danish revolt. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pederson’s own words into the larger narrative of wartime Denmark, showing how the astonishing bravery of a few ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. A 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book and an outstanding addition to the WWII canon. (Farrar, 11–15 years)
Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin’s March: Book Two picks up where the previous volume left off in relating Lewis’s personal experiences of the civil rights movement. Dramatic descriptions, along with Nate Powell’s vivid black-and-white illustrations, relate direct action campaigns in Nashville (sit-ins at fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, “stand-ins” at a segregated movie theater), Freedom Rides into the “heart of the beast” in the Deep South, and the 1963 March on Washington, where Lewis spoke alongside Dr. King. Among the many excellent volumes available on the subject of civil rights this is a standout, the graphic format a perfect vehicle for delivering the one-two punch of powerful words and images. (Top Shelf Productions, 11–15 years)
In Tommy: The Gun That Changed America, Karen Blumenthal traces the history of the Thompson submachine gun (a.k.a. the Tommy gun) and its times. After the Spanish-American War, Army officer John Thompson believed that America needed a lightweight, automatic rifle. The Army did not share his opinion, so Thompson left the service and developed his own weapon, completed with superior bad timing on Armistice Day in 1918. Without a ready military market, the Tommy gun wound up in the hands of crooks and bootleggers. Blumenthal shows the complexity of gun culture then and now with thorough research and impeccable documentation. (Roaring Brook, 11–15 years)
From the June 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Perfect for Father’s Day read-alouds, these picture books show a variety of dads—from those on lily pads to those in eucalyptus forests, from fantasy kingdoms to suburban parks—raising, teaching, and loving their children.
In David Ezra Stein’s Tad and Dad, little frog Tad loves his father so much that he can hardly bear to be away from him, even at night. Kids will chuckle at Tad’s energetic bedtime antics; parents will laugh with grim identification when Tad starts to swim and grow but still crowds onto Dad’s lily pad to sleep. Stein uses color to great effect in this little book that is both a celebration of the father-child relationship and a good-night book that will hold up to repeat readings. (Penguin/Paulsen, 2–5 years)
In The Big Princess by Taro Miura (a companion to The Tiny King), a childless king finds a bug-size princess in the castle gardens. His and the queen’s love for her grows daily, but, worrisomely, so does the princess. How to stop her from physically outgrowing the castle (and hence the family)? Miura’s digital collages feature improbably harmonizing elements: brightly colored, blocky geometric shapes coexist with photography, while characters whose faces assume Hello Kitty–like blankness nevertheless live out emotional scenes. (Candlewick, 3–6 years)
Bernard Waber‘s Ask Me gives an idyllic view of an ambling, chatting father-and-daughter pair. But there’s more to their walk than meets the eye; the queries and responses they share capture the kind of give-and-take that gradually refines a small child’s language. “Ask me what I like.” “What do you like?”…”I like bugs.” “Insects?” “No, bugs.” With spare, informal colored-pencil lines; welcoming white space; and an eye for color, action, and witty detail, Suzy Lee depicts the two figures in a landscape littered with bright autumn leaves. This outing might inspire young listeners to form their own questions or can help tuck in a toddler with a sweet good night. (Houghton, 3–6 years)
Claire Saxby’s nonfiction picture book Emu relates the life cycle and habits of those birds through the story of a male emu who raises his young in an Australian eucalyptus forest (with this species, the female departs after egg-laying). Graham Byrne’s spiky digital illustrations perfectly display the emu’s hairlike feathering and their awkward-looking flightless movement. Each double-page spread includes the main narrative, in slightly larger type, along with additional statistics and facts about emus in a smaller, more casual font. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)
From the June 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Funny, action-packed, thought-provoking (and sometimes all of the above), these three graphic novels and one…well, what do you call Brian Selznick’s books? take readers on fantastic adventures.
Brian Selznick defined his own format with The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. He pushes the envelope even further in The Marvels. Black-and-white drawings (over four hundred pages’ worth) wordlessly tell the story of a storm, a shipwreck, and a rescue in a theater. In the text narrative that follows, a boy named Joseph runs away from boarding school to his uncle Albert’s house in London, a place that feels strangely from another time. Selznick is a unique and masterful storyteller, and his story-inside-a-story unfolds an emotional narrative that will leave readers marveling. (Scholastic, 10–12 years)
In Marika McCoola’s Baba Yaga’s Assistant, Masha answers a help-wanted ad to become assistant to the mortar-and-pestle-riding, child-eating folkloric character. To win the position, she must creatively accomplish challenges set forth by Baba Yaga. Masha draws on lessons learned through her grandmother’s stories and her own inherited magical ability, uncovering her family’s complex connection to the witch along the way. Illustrator Emily Carroll‘s vividly colored digital art establishes setting and tone. Comprised of short chapters, this graphic novel shines in its pacing, harmony of image and text, and use of flashbacks to advance plot. (Candlewick, 12–14 years)
With her hypochondriac father taken to his bed, capable Princess Decomposia of the Underworld — star of Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula — is running the show…and running herself ragged. A baker named Count Spatula joins the castle staff, and his nourishing food and supportive demeanor help the princess get through her hectic days. When the king has him fired, the princess must decide whether to stand up to her father. Andi Watson’s unique and funny graphic novel—populated by friendly creatures of the night — has a decidedly supernatural twist, but at its core is a relatable tale of self-actualization and blossoming romance. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 12–14 years)
Ballister Blackheart — ex-knight and current supervillain — is focused on the destruction of the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics. He also wouldn’t mind getting even with Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, a knight-school acquaintance who shot off Blackheart’s right arm. Just as Blackheart’s plans are coming to fruition, plucky young shapeshifter Nimona shows up on his doorstep claiming to be his new sidekick. Set in a medieval-type kingdom mixed with futuristic science, Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Nimona entertainingly tweaks both the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Nimona herself is beautifully flawed and refreshingly unstereotypical. (HarperTeen, 11–15 years)
From the August 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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With summer coming to a close and school peeking its head around the corner, children can get into the swing of things with the following titles about kid-friendly subjects, from dance and princesses to raccoons and robots.
It’s that age-old childhood dilemma: “What do you want to play today?” In Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret, pals Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony struggle to find an activity upon which they can agree. Ballet Cat only wants to dance. Long-suffering Sparkles admits, “Sometimes I don’t want to play ballet!” Bob Shea’s first easy reader contains an economy of both words and art with deceptively simple yet exuberant illustrations — and it’s funny to boot. Frog and Toad, Henry and Mudge, Gerald and Piggie: make room. (Disney/Hyperion, 5–8 years)
A lonely little girl, star of Ben Hatke’s mostly wordless graphic novel Little Robot, finds a tool belt along with a mysterious box in the woods. Inside is an adorably uncoordinated robot, just the right height and temperament to be a companion. Unfortunately for the two of them, the warehouse notices that unit 00012 is missing, and a large, menacing robot is sent to reclaim it. Unframed panel illustrations give an expansive quality to this lively, entertaining book. Well-plotted and -paced, this engaging story of loneliness, bravery, and friendship builds to a satisfying (and sweet) conclusion. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 5–8 years)
In Kate DiCamillo‘s Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, animal control officer Francine takes a call about an unusual, shimmery (and possibly talking) raccoon on a house roof. The wacky plot comes smartly together with humorous insights bolstered by Chris Van Dusen’s lively illustrations. Familiar characters lead the story to its climax on Deckawoo Drive, resulting in the raccoon’s capture, the restoration of Francine’s self-esteem — and lots of toast. For new chapter-book readers looking for a bit more of a challenge, this second entry in Mercy Watson spinoff series Tales from Deckawoo Drive continues to explore the neighborhood and all its fascinating and comical local characters. (Candlewick, 5–8 years)
Author Ellen Potter puts her own stamp on the spunky-quirky-stubborn girl story in Piper Green and the Fairy Tree. Piper, resident of Peek-a-Boo Island, Maine, is about to start second grade. Her new teacher looks (and walks—swish!) like a princess, so Piper assumes she’ll have a tinkly voice and won’t mind about the monkey-face earmuffs Piper always wears; but Ms. Arabella does not live up to expectations, and soon Piper is in trouble. Very brief chapters and frequent illustrations by Qin Leng swiftly advance the story, as does Piper’s — yes — spunky, quirky, stubborn first-person narration. (Knopf, 5–8 years)
From the August 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Poetry appears in many forms in these four illustrated books: one collection of old favorites, two books that present original poetry in both Spanish and English, and one biography of an enslaved man who became a poet.
JooHee Yoon’s sixteen selections of poems about animals in Beastly Verse include the usual suspects from Nash, Blake, Belloc, and other favorite poets, but the pictures are the collection’s highlight. Belloc’s yak, for example, is a big red scribbly beast planted firmly in a snowy mountain landscape. The book is big and square and sturdy, with thick off-white paper contrasting with the embellishment Yoon pours onto each animal and scene via overlays of three primary colors. But as eye-catching as the pictures are, the artist knows to pay attention to the poems and reflect their moods. (Enchanted Lion, 3–6 years)
Written first in Spanish then translated into English by author-illustrator Julie Paschkis, each poem in Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems / Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales is intricately connected to its corresponding painting, with additional, thematic words found throughout the pictures. The colors and line-work in the gouache illustrations vary according to the subject: the playful dog is all bright colors and curving, bouncy balls, while the crow is dark with sharp edges and straight lines. Readers will find themselves carefully studying every little detail of the pictures while being charmed by the poems. (Holt, 3–6 years)
Jorge Argueta creates a mouth-watering musical recipe in Salsa: Un poema para cocinar. As a boy and his family prepare their weekly salsa roja, the child’s imagination runs wild. Ingredients become musical instruments—an onion is a maraca, tomatoes are bongos and kettledrums. Argueta’s use of onomatopoeia and detailed descriptions play on the various senses to convey the sounds, flavors, and feelings coming together as the boy’s family dances, sings, and cooks. Duncan Tonatiuh‘s illustrations, rendered primarily in greens and reds, complement the two types of salsa mentioned in the poem. A message of love and family creating something special shines through. (Groundwood, 4–7 years)
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate is the story of a man who taught himself to read and compose poetry, and who lived as a slave until age sixty-six. When George Moses Horton finds an audience at the University of North Carolina, where he sells fruits and vegetables on weekends, he becomes a paid poet, delivering love poems aloud and finally learning to write from a professor’s wife. Tate’s gouache, ink, and pencil illustrations are as straightforward as his text, but still pack an emotional punch. Young readers may need an adult to explain the historical context, but this is a compelling story for any age, by turns sad and uplifting. (Peachtree, 4–7 years)
From the August 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Memoirs capture moments in time, those events that are formative or emblematic or otherwise meaningful for their subjects. Surprising, intimate, cathartic — Brown Girl Dreaming, El Deafo, Becoming Maria (see Randy Ribay’s interview with Sonia Manzano), the new books below, and these recommended by the Horn Book Guide, for example — memoirs offer glimpses into the larger picture of a life.
Fourteen-year-old Jack Gantos was a “drifty kid who was lost at sea…easily led off course.” Bored with his own life, he tried to be somebody else and fell into the orbit of juvenile delinquent neighbor Gary Pagoda. In The Trouble in Me, Gantos effectively narrates his own story, reviewing portions of his life to identify what led him to abandon his “better self” in favor of later becoming a drug smuggler who ended up in a federal penitentiary. As explained in the afterword, this volume acts as a preface to Hole in My Life, and readers who read both will experience the full arc of Jack’s wild behavior, severe consequences, and, ultimately, redemption. (Farrar, 14 years and up)
In Taking Hold: From Migrant Childhood to Columbia University — the fourth volume of Francisco Jiménez’s memoir series (starting with The Circuit) — the author delivers a moving account of his graduate school years at Columbia University during the turbulent 1960s, paying particular attention to those friends and mentors who helped shape his intellectual pursuits and academic career path. He also relates his courtship and marriage to his college sweetheart, Laura, and the birth of their two children. Throughout it all, Jiménez never forgets his beginnings as the child of migrant farm workers, frequently alluding to and briefly recapitulating events from earlier volumes. His ingratiating storytelling—who else could make these years of adulthood such a compelling read for teens?—makes us root for him to succeed. (Houghton, 14 years and up)
Author and poet Margarita Engle explores her own past in Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir, a collection of emotionally rich memory poems. The daughter of a Don Quixote–obsessed American artist of Ukrainian Jewish descent and a beautiful homesick Cuban émigrée, Engle describes joyful visits to her mother’s homeland as a child. She then vividly contrasts the smoggy air of sprawling Los Angeles with the enchanted air of that small, magical-seeming island, and at first going between the two cultures is fairly seamless. But then there’s the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and suddenly all is different. Engle’s personal reverie gives young readers an intimate view of a complicated time and life. (Atheneum, 12–16 years)
From the August 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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Bausum, Ann Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights
120 pp. Viking 2015. ISBN 978-0-670-01679-2
Bausum begins with a detailed, nuanced exposition of the June 1969 Stonewall riots as a galvanizing moment for the gay rights movement, then traces the movement’s evolution (in a somewhat more cursory way) for the second half of the book. Bausum’s narrative integrity makes her conclusions about the persecution and resilience of the LGBTQ community all the more powerful. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Homosexuality; Activism
Bowers, Rick Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate
160 pp. National Geographic 2012. ISBN 978-1-4263-0915-1
LE ISBN 978-1-4263-0916-8
In 1946, the producers of the Superman radio show deployed their character’s popularity in a campaign against bigotry. Bowers explains how he dug through myths, examined original archives, and reached tentative conclusions about what most likely happened and why. A complex history of organizations guided by both ideology and profit, people both well-meaning and flawed, and shifts in popular sentiment. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Visual Arts; Cartoons and comics; Ku Klux Klan; History, American; Heroes; Race relations; Prejudices; Radio
Fleischman, Paul Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines
204 pp. Candlewick 2014. ISBN 978-0-7636-7102-0
PE ISBN 978-0-7636-7545-5 Ebook ISBN 978-0-7636-7407-6
A wake-up call about the environmental crisis, the book homes in on five “key fronts” — population, consumption, energy, food, and climate — and explores historical and sociological contexts. Fleischman writes urgently, conversationally, and inspirationally, in a flow of ideas that can be dizzying. Yet none of the concepts is dumbed-down. A refreshingly opinionated approach to informed action. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Pollution and Conservation; Global warming
Fleming, Candace The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
287 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2014. ISBN 978-0-375-86782-8
LE ISBN 978-0-375-96782-5 Ebook ISBN 978-0-375-89864-8
Fleming has outdone herself with this riveting work of narrative nonfiction. Her focus here is not just the Romanovs, but the Revolutionary leaders and common people as well. The epic, sweeping narrative seamlessly incorporates scholarly authority, primary sources, appropriate historical speculation, and a keen eye for the most telling details. Two sixteen-page inserts contain numerous captioned photographs. Map, genealogy, and source notes included. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Europe; Romanov, House of; Nicholas II; Soviet Union; Biographies; Russia; Kings, queens, and rulers; Russian Revolution
Hoose, Phillip The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
198 pp. Farrar 2015. ISBN 978-0-374-30022-7
When Hitler invaded Denmark, teenaged Knud Pedersen (with his brother and some mates) used civil disobedience to pester the Nazis, inspiring a larger-scale Danish revolt. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pedersen’s own words into the larger narrative of wartime Denmark, showing how the astonishing bravery of ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. An outstanding addition to the WWII canon. Bib., ind. Websites.
Subjects: World War II; Denmark; Righteous Gentiles; Activism; Nazism
McClafferty, Carla Killough Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment
96 pp. Carolrhoda 2013. ISBN 978-1-4677-1067-1
McClafferty’s informative and useful book focuses on football to discuss the serious but historically trivialized condition of concussion. Starting with football’s beginnings, McClafferty details the game’s early casualties; the controversy over its growing presence as a college sport; and how it became entrenched in American culture. She then goes on to cover the neuroscience behind head trauma and the increased awareness of the dangers. Reading list. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Sports; Sports—Football; Human body—Brain
Mitchell, Don The Freedom Summer Murders
256 pp. Scholastic 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-47725-3
Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-63393-2
The murders of three young civil rights workers — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner — are the focus of Mitchell’s absorbing book. He conducted interviews with friends and family members of the men, and provides a fascinating biographical sketch of each, along with a thorough account of the police investigation. This compelling book will grab you from its opening paragraphs and won’t let go. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Government, Economics, and Education; African Americans; Race relations; Civil rights; Murder; History, American; Activism
Pinkney, Andrea Davis Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound
166 pp. Roaring Brook 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-973-3
As related by an irrepressible narrator called “the Groove,” this history of Motown smartly places the company and its hit records in the context of (mostly) 1960s America — and has a great time doing so. While the tone is generally peppy, the book gives due attention to the racism the company and its artists faced. An excellent discography and many photographs are included. Reading list, timeline. Ind.
Subjects: Music; African Americans; History—American
Sheinkin, Steve Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
361 pp. Roaring Brook 2015. ISBN 978-1-59643-952-8
With the timing and prowess of a writer of thrillers, Sheinkin takes on a spectacularly complex story — Daniel Ellsberg’s evolution from “cold warrior” to antiwar activist, and why and how he leaked the Pentagon Papers — and makes it comprehensible for teens. Sheinkin has an unparalleled gift for synthesizing story and bringing American history to life. Judiciously placed archival photographs appear throughout.
Subjects: History, Modern—Vietnam War; Crime; Government; Biographies; Ellsberg, Daniel
Stone, Tanya Lee Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers
148 pp. Candlewick 2013. ISBN 978-0-7636-5117-6
The World War II–era 555th Parachute Infantry Company, nicknamed the Triple Nickles, didn’t actually fight anywhere, as white soldiers didn’t want to fight alongside black soldiers. The book’s focus is wide: there are sections on segregation and stereotypes, Japanese American internment camps, Japanese balloon bombs, the Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Firefly, brought to life with archival photographs and Stone’s always clear prose. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: North America; Race relations; African Americans; Armed forces; Flight; Soldiers; History, Modern—World War II
From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?
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Bartoletti, Susan Campbell Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
230 pp. Houghton 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-31367-5
What was it like to be a servant, an immigrant, a woman in the early twentieth century? Bartoletti weaves the answers into the beginning of “Typhoid Mary” Mallon’s story — using Mary as a lens to view a wider swath of American society — then covers epidemiologist George Soper’s cat-and-mouse game of tracking Mary down. Excellent nonfiction with a novelistic trim size and narrative. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Medicine, Human Body, and Diseases; New York (State); Diseases—Typhoid fever
Berger, Lee R., and Aronson, Marc The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins
64 pp. National Geographic 2012. ISBN 978-1-4263-1010-2
LE ISBN 978-1-4263-1053-9
Paleontologist Berger and son Matthew’s recent find gave scientists a nearly intact skeleton from a new species, Australopithecus sediba. Detailed accounts of advances in the field and the supporting technology are intertwined with the story of Berger’s not-always-straightforward career path. The book is enhanced by illustrative material, including photographs and striking facial reconstructions of these ancient ancestors. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Science—Prehistoric Life; Paleontology; Archaeology; Evolution; South Africa; Fossils; Anthropology
Brown, Don Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
96 pp. Houghton 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-15777-4
A comic-book format delivers the full force of Hurricane Katrina and its impact on New Orleans. When the storm hits the city, Brown hits readers with the consequences: flooding, fear, desperation, death, and frustration. Meticulously documented facts and quotes from victims caption the commanding art. If a book’s power were measured like a hurricane’s, this would be a category five. Bib.
Subjects: Natural disasters—Hurricanes; Disasters; New Orleans (LA); Graphic novels
Freedman, Russell Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
81 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-547-90378-1
Chinese poems translated by Evans Chan. Freedman’s slender volume on the history and importance of California’s Angel Island Immigration Station — the portal for Asian immigration to the U.S. — covers a lot of ground. He weaves a clear and straightforward narrative history with abundant quotations, excerpts from diaries and wall poems, and archival photographs. This is a clearly written account of a lesser-known side of American immigration history. Bib., ind.
Subjects: North America; Asian Americans; Angel Island (CA); Immigration; San Francisco (CA); Chinese Americans
Murphy, Jim and Blank, Alison Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure
149 pp. Clarion 2012. ISBN 978-0-618-53574-3
Tuberculosis has been a medical scourge through much of human history, and new drug-resistant strains keep the threat of a pandemic always on the horizon. This book brings young readers up to speed with a scientific explanation of the microbe as well as medical and social histories of the disease. Despite disparate elements, the information comes together cohesively for an engaging read. Illustrations and photographs are included. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Medicine, Human Body, and Disease; Diseases—Tuberculosis; Microbiology; Epidemics
Nelson, Kadir Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
108 pp. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray 2011. ISBN 978-0-06-173074-0
The unnamed narrator of this graceful and personalized overview of African American history provides a sweeping account that covers history from the Colonial era to the present day. Each page of text is accompanied by a magnificent oil painting, forty-seven in all, including six dramatic double-page spreads. The illustrations, combined with the narrative, give a sense of intimacy. A tour de force. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: History—North America; African Americans; Slavery; History, American
Silvey, Anita Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall
96 pp. National Geographic 2015. ISBN 978-1-4263-1518-3
Foreword by Jane Goodall. This accessible account of Goodall’s life explores her nontraditional entry to scientific fieldwork; the attention from the National Geographic Society that made her famous; her work ethic and innovative scientific methods; her efforts to reform the use of chimpanzees in research laboratories; and current technological advances in primate research. Silvey accompanies her main narrative with informative text boxes and vivid photographs. Map, timeline. Bib., ind.
Goodall, Jane; Animals—Chimpanzees; Scientists; Women—Scientists; Women—Biographies; Animal behavior
From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?
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Applegate, Katherine Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
40 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-25230-1
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Applegate introduces picture-book readers to the true story that inspired her Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan. In poetic prose she describes gorilla Ivan’s early life in Africa; his dramatic capture; his time on display in a shopping mall; and his transition to the Atlanta Zoo. Karas’s mixed-media illustrations — in his warm and unaffected style — are at once straightforward and provocative.
Subjects: Mammals; Animals—Gorillas; Zoos; Shopping malls
Bang, Molly and Chisholm, Penny Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
48 pp. Scholastic/Blue Sky 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-57785-4
Illustrated by Molly Bang. Bang and Chisholm explain the production and consumption of fossil fuels, along with the consequences of all that energy use: climate change. The sun serves as narrator describing the relationship between photosynthesis (plants) and respiration (animals) and energy; a slight imbalance produces fossil fuels. Bang’s illustrations brilliantly represent the chemistry: bright yellow dots of energy against a deep-blue background hover over their producers.
Subjects: Earth Science; Energy; Astronomy—Sun; Global warming; Fossil fuels
Bryant, Jen The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
48 pp. Eerdmans 2014. ISBN 978-0-8028-5385-1
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Apt language and ingenious imagery combine to tell the life story of Peter Mark Roget, creator of the thesaurus. Bryant’s linear telling follows Peter closely, expressing his curiosity, sensitivity, and populist spirit in language both decorous and warm. Clever book design and visionary illustration add layers of meaning. Sweet embellishes her own gentle watercolors with all manner of clippings and realia. Reading list, timeline. Bib.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Language—Vocabulary; Great Britain; Roget, Peter Mark; Books and reading
George, Jean Craighead Galápagos George
40 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-028793-1
Illustrated by Wendell Minor. The author asks readers to extrapolate from the life cycle of a single female Galápagos tortoise, Giantess George, to the development of the species as a whole. She and other tortoises are swept away to different islands in a storm; over thousands of years, they evolve into different subspecies. Minor’s painterly illustrations showcase the changing setting and the magnificence of the tortoises. Reading list, timeline, websites. Glos.
Subjects: Reptiles and Amphibians; Galápagos Islands; Animals—Tortoises; Evolution
Heos, Bridget. I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are
40 pp. Holt 2015. ISBN 978-0-8050-9469-5
A fly argues why he should be the science-class representative for insect life cycles instead of the overexposed butterfly. A skeptical class grills him about unsavory habits (garbage-eating, disease-spreading). Eventually convinced that “Flies rule!,” they capture the fly for study, and he changes his tune. Cleverly skewering elements of the typical animal book, this take on insects is refreshing, amusing, and scientifically accurate. Bib., glos.
Subjects: Animals—Flies; Life cycles; Science—Insects and Invertebrates
Mattick, Lindsay Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
56 pp. Little, Brown 2015. ISBN 978-0-316-32490-8
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. A boy’s mother tells him the story of his great-great-grandfather, owner of a baby bear named Winnie, and the circumstances that led to another boy, Christopher Robin Milne, befriending Winnie — inspiring that boy’s father to write some children’s tales. Mattick, the storytelling mother in this book, embellishes her family’s history with evocative, playful language, matched by the period warmth of Blackall’s carefully composed images.
Subjects: Animals—Bears; Milne, A. A.; Family—Mother and son; Toys; Authors; Biographies
Petričić, Dušan My Family Tree and Me
24 pp. Kids Can 2015. ISBN 978-1-77138-049-2
Reading from front to middle, we meet the narrator’s paternal line through five generations. From back to middle are portraits of the maternal line. And in a glorious middle double-page spread we see the whole extended family and can trace and invent individual stories. Petričić’s gift for caricature is used joyfully in this celebration of ancestry, showing one family’s variations and particular beauty.
Subjects: Social Sciences—Families, Children, and Sexuality; Genealogy
Tonatiuh, Duncan Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
40 pp. Abrams 2014. ISBN 978-1-4197-1054-4
In 1947 the Mendez family fought for — and won — the desegregation of schools in California. Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author’s note with photos is appended. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Government, Economics, and Education; Schools; Hispanic Americans; Civil rights; Mendez, Sylvia
From the August 2015 issue of What Makes a Good…?
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Spiders, trolls, mummified cats, and monsters with three heads. Oh, my! Perfect for Halloween story hours, here are four new picture books that will give young audiences something to be (not too) frightened about. For more new recommended Halloween picture books, see 2015 Horn Boo!
I Used to Be Afraid by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a great courage booster for kids with pre-Halloween jitters. “I used to be afraid of SPIDERS,” a young girl begins. Turn the page — which features a die-cut arachnid — and the spider shows up against a large, beautiful web. “But not anymore,” the girl declares. She also used to be afraid of the dark, being alone, etc., and with each page-turn we see how she overcame that fear. The book’s thick, glossy pages offer enticing colors and simple images with open spaces. Change, shadows, a brother in a monster mask — each die-cut works effectively to turn something-to-fear into something-not-so-scary. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 3–6 years)
In Emily Jenkins’s The Fun Book of Scary Stuff, a boy shares with his two dogs the many things that scare him (e.g., monsters, witches, trolls, the school crossing guard). While the pug seems sympathetic, the self-proclaimed “bravest dog ever” bull terrier is unimpressed by the child’s fears. When it comes to the dark, though, the bull terrier freaks out, and his terror pushes the boy to take charge. Hyewon Yum’s expressive pictures show scary things that aren’t that scary — and illustrate the reassuring fact that everyone gets the willies. (Farrar/Foster, 5–8 years)
“Deep within this maze of stone, / a creature wakes up, all alone.” This creature is the feline star of Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, set in ancient Egypt among the sphinx and the pyramids. As he does every one hundred years, the mummy cat emerges from a small coffin to search for his mistress-in-life, “the girl-queen, Hat-shup-set.” He prowls the pyramid, looking wistfully at paintings on the wall that depict their happy life together. Lisa Brown’s cleverly composed illustrations enhance the eerie ancient atmosphere. Information on Egyptian burial customs and a key to hieroglyphic messages in the pictures are appended. (Clarion, 5–8 years)
In Written and Drawn by Henrietta (really written and drawn by cartoonist Liniers), young Henrietta uses her brand-new colored pencils to create a nail-bitingly thrilling story about a girl named Emily and the three-headed monster that emerges from her wardrobe one night. The adventure — in which Emily joins the scary-looking but actually friendly monster in the Narnia-like wardrobe and braves another, truly terrifying monster—is depicted in brightly colored, messy, dramatic scrawls. Neat panels, meanwhile, show Henrietta drawing the story — and cleverly commenting on its progress. A Spanish version, Escrito y dibujado por Enriqueta, is also available. (TOON, 6–9 years)
From the October 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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A chilling short story collection, two suspenseful novels, and one book that’s a bit of both: there’s something here for every young adult horror fan.
Each of the fourteen short tales of horror in Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, selected by April Genevieve Tucholke, is inspired by at least one other story, film, or song: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Hitchcock movies, Carrie, Zombieland, etc. With such eclectic antecedents, a wide range of approaches to the theme, and settings that span time and cultures, the resulting collection is satisfyingly diverse and compelling. After encountering the horrors here, variously supernatural and disturbingly human, readers may want to leave the lights on. (Dial, 14 years and up)
In Mackenzi Lee’s This Monstrous Thing, set in an early-nineteenth-century alternate-universe Geneva, Alasdair Finch lives with a terrible secret: he’s responsible for the accident that killed his brother Oliver. He’s also responsible for having furtively dug up Oliver’s body and re-animated him entirely with clockwork parts. Now, two years later, an arrest warrant forces Alasdair to flee the city, leaving his monstrous brother behind. This retelling of Frankenstein, set in the year the novel came out—and with Mary Godwin (Shelley’s maiden name) as a character — has all the gothic atmosphere of Shelley’s classic horror story. (HarperCollins/Tegen, 13–16 years)
Sixteen-year-old Luke Manchett, protagonist of Leo Hunt’s 13 Days of Midnight, thinks he’s got it made when his estranged father, host of a popular ghost-hunting TV show, dies suddenly. Luke will inherit millions if he just signs the creepy goatskin contract proffered by lawyer Mr. Berkley. Luke does, and soon regrets his decision when it turns out he has also inherited the secret to his father’s success: necromantic power and a mutinous spirit Host. The frequent dark humor of Luke’s narration is balanced by moments of true suspense and satisfyingly complex relationships. (Candlewick, 13–16 years)
Twelve strangers meet by candlelight to tell ghost stories in Dave Shelton’s Thirteen Chairs. A thirteenth — Jack, a boy who gate-crashes the gathering — listens and waits for his turn. As the tellers finish, they blow out their candles until only Jack is left…but by then he is certain that the stories are more real than anyone has let on. The ghost stories’ varied subjects and the different voices employed in their narration keep the pace moving along nicely. The common theme of the tales — that the dead seek retribution on their killers, or sometimes on bystanders who are just a little too curious — provides low-key chills. (Scholastic/Fickling, 11–14 years)
From the October 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
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