Reviews and summaries from Publisher's Weekly Magazine
Finding Audrey (Young Adult)
By Sophie Kinsella
In her first book for teens, Kinsella (the Shopaholic series) offers pathos and humor in equal measure. The story has two cinematic threads: the candid narration of 14-year-old Audrey, who is coping with depression and anxiety disorders, and the transcript of a documentary she is recording at her therapist’s suggestion. Since being hospitalized after an unspecified incident at school, Audrey refuses to leave the house or interact with anyone outside her family, wearing dark glasses to avoid eye contact. The title of her documentary, “My Serene and Loving Family,” is only half ironic: her parents are loving and supportive, but her mother’s unpredictability sometimes overshadows her good intentions and shatters any semblance of serenity in the household. Mum is determined to cure Audrey’s brother’s “addiction” to online gaming and their bickering builds to hilarious mutual exasperation. Yet at its heart, this is Audrey’s story of healing and reemergence, facilitated by her friendship—and first love—with an insightful, patient boy. Kinsella’s knack for humor and sensitivity shine in a story that should easily expand her already substantial fan base. Ages 12–up.
Your Baby's First Word Will Be Dada
By Jimmy Fallon
Ten years after Fallon’s Snowball Fight!, the Tonight Show host returns with a witty reminder that as much as parents may try to shape their children’s destinies, kids will do as kids will do. Ordóñez (Marina and the Little Green Boy) deploys a barnyard’s worth of father-child animal pairs, framed in square panels with fathers on the left and their offspring on the facing pages. In speech-balloon dialogue, the elder cows, sheep, bees, rabbits, donkeys, and other animals shout an encouraging “Dada!” at their children, whose responses are more typical to their species—a “squeak” for a triangular gray mouse or a “ribbit” for a squat green frog. The fathers’ expressions range from concerned to downright irate, but the baby animals couldn’t be more pleased with themselves. The comparatively loquacious closing pages round up all the animals (“Now everybody get in line, let’s say it together one more time...”), and the young animals finally make their proud papas’ dreams come true. A punchy and deceptively simple story that will make for some fun readalouds. Ages 1–3.
By Bernard Waber
In this posthumously published tale by Waber, best known for his Lyle the Crocodile books, a girl directs a conversation with her father. “Ask me what I like,” she says. “What do you like?” he asks. Lee (Open This Little Book) pictures the duo on a park outing, and the girl delights in falling leaves as she admires the natural surroundings (“I like geese in the sky. No, in the water. I like both”). After naming many favorite things, she gets more specific: “How come birds build nests?” Her father warmly responds, “All right, how come birds build nests?” sustaining the give-and-take. The girl’s words appear in black type and the father’s in dark blue, so readers know who is speaking despite the untagged dialogue and lack of quotation marks. Taking advantage of negative space to emphasize a bright sky, people’s faces, and the girl’s swingy dress, Lee lines the characters in charcoal-gray pencil and frames the pages in scribbles of maple-leaf red, autumnal gold, and denim blue. The easygoing verbal exchange and affectionate visuals celebrate a close father-daughter relationship while recognizing beauty in everyday simplicity. Ages 4–8.
The Curious World of Calpurnica Tate
By Jacqueline Kelly
Six years after debuting in Kelly’s Newbery Honor–winning The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, the budding Texas scientist returns, as curious and charming as ever, and now preoccupied with fauna instead of flora. Travis, one of Callie’s six brothers, continually needs her help because of his bad choices in pets (armadillo, blue jay, raccoon, etc.). Callie’s training under the tutelage of her gruff, beloved grandfather continues with increasingly complex dissections. Meanwhile, the devastating 1900 Galveston hurricane sends refugees to Fentress that include an injured veterinarian, who finds an eager assistant in 13-year-old Callie, despite his reservations about a young lady working in an often gruesome field. Undeterred, Callie finds her passion at precisely the same moment she realizes how unfairly the deck is stacked against girls of her era. But if anybody can figure a way around studying the domestic arts, it’s whip-smart Callie, literary cousin to Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce, and just as sharp an observer. Happily, the episodic narrative leaves the door wide open for further adventures—if we’re lucky. Ages 9–12.
By Paul Griffin
Ever since the farm failed, Flynn has had to take care of his baby sister. Now, on vacation, that means walking along the seashore for hours until Sally finds her share of shells. Then Flynn finds a big crate--a perfect pirate ship--and he and Sally climb aboard. The tide carries them away from land, and the boy soon realizes that they are in serious trouble. Several boats pass them and, as in Steven Callahan's novel (also titled Adrift ), Baillie's narrative shows how the successful survivor learns to make his own luck. Flynn rigs a sail from his shirt, and the children eventually make their way home. Based on a true incident, the novel offers a harrowing look at survival without losing sight of the protagonist's character. Flynn wrestles with his feelings for his sister and with the changes in his parents that give him an adult's responsibility before he's ready. Fans of The Cay and The Red Badge of Courage should be equally taken with this well-crafted yarn. Ages 8-12.
No Such Person
By Carolne B. Cooney
Jangling suspense juxtaposed with cozy details of family life keeps thriller master Cooney’s latest zooming along. While spending the summer at their family’s home on the Connecticut River, easy-going 15-year-old Miranda Allerdon and her driven, med-school-bound sister, Lander, witness what appears to be a freak water-skiing accident. Miranda is one of the few bystanders to see that the boy driving the motorboat seemed to intentionally maneuver the water-skier he was towing in front of a giant barge. Ignoring Miranda’s suspicions, Lander is smitten with the motorboat driver and begins dating him. Miranda’s talents get a chance to shine when another apparent accident, chillingly teased in the opening pages of the novel, thrusts Lander outside the boundaries of her carefully planned life. An unexpected romance for Miranda provides a sweet counterpoint to the novel’s knife-edge mayhem. Viewed in isolation, some of the plot twists edge toward the incredible, but Cooney’s knack for distinctive characterizations grounds the story firmly in the familiar world, while the third-person narration strikes an enticing balance between intimacy and cool detachment.
The Wonderful Things You Will Be: A Growing-Up Poem
By Emily Winfield Martin
The wealth of possibilities contained within even the tiniest child is the subject of Martin’s (Day Dreamers) love letter from parent to offspring: “When you were too small/ To tell me hello,/ I knew you were someone/ I wanted to know.” This potential can be seen in everything children do, from working in a garden (“Will you learn what it means/ To help things to grow?”) to bandaging a toy bear. The book concludes with a double gatefold, drawn as a proscenium-style curtain, that reveals a group of eccentrically costumed children (a robot, a pencil, a log) to represent the idea of becoming “anybody/ That you’d like to be.” Martin’s characters generally exhibit a preternatural sense of self-possession, but this book’s subject matter adds another layer of meaning to the poised poker faces on display. Her children are so serious (even when swinging on a swing) and so unflappable (even when tailoring a pair of pants for a squirrel) that they convey not just hope for the future, but a sense of manifest destiny. Ages 3–7.
Friends for Life
By Andrew Norriss
When Jessica sits on a bench beside a quiet boy named Francis, she is shocked when he offers her tea. This is because Francis is the first person who has been able to see or hear her in the year since she died. Francis’s interest in fashion has made him a pariah at school, so any friend—even a ghost—is welcome. The two immediately bond and get another surprise when Andi, a new student whose aggressive tendencies have isolated her, can see Jessica, too. Three becomes four when Roland, an outcast because of his weight, also sees Jessica. The question of why Jessica has lingered on Earth remains, and the novel shifts from a gentle friendship story to one about depression and suicide as the truth becomes clear. Norriss (I Don’t Believe It, Archie!) has written a sensitive novel that illustrates how easy it is to feel alone, the ways differences can be isolating, and the power of friendship and connection. This memorable story will leave readers thinking about how small actions can have a significant impact. Ages 8–12.
Shadows of Sherwood
By Kekla Magoon
Robyn Loxley, the 12-year-old daughter of two members of Parliament, regularly sneaks out after dark to scavenge electronics at a junkyard in Nott City. One night, that habit saves her, when military police violently kidnap her parents and other government officials who oppose a power grab by Royal Governor Ignomus Crown. Robyn’s father leaves her cryptic clues—about moon lore and gathering the elements—which suggest that he knew the family was in danger, and that he expects Robyn to play a role in toppling Crown’s regime. Essentially orphaned, Robyn falls in with a (not-so-merry) band of other free-range kids and, like Robin Hood before her, becomes Public Enemy No. 1 when she daringly acts on the injustices she sees in how resources are distributed. Set in the future and paced with one death-defying escape after another, Magoon’s (How It Went Down) story doesn’t end so much as pause. Readers—and Robyn—must wait until at least the second book in the Robyn Hoodlum series to learn the fate of her parents. Ages 8–12.
School for Sidekicks
By Kelly McCullough
Adult author McCullough (the Fallen Blade series) offers a rousing parody of superhero tales in his first book for children. Thirteen-year-old Evan Quick is obsessed with “Masks” (McCullough’s term for superheroes) and particularly loves the great Captain Commanding. After Evan witnesses the Captain’s defeat by the supervillain Spartanicus, he manages to turn the tables on the villain, discovering that he himself is a budding Mask. But the egocentric Captain takes credit for Spartanicus’s capture, portraying Evan as an abject wimp. When Evan enrolls in the Academy for Metahuman Operatives, aka the School for Sidekicks, he learns that Captain Commanding has had him blackballed—no adult Mask will work with him except for the disgraced Foxman, “a failure, and a drunk,” as Evan puts it. Evan’s smartass narration, dangerous run-ins with evil Hoods, tough moral quandaries, and a wild range of superpowered heroes and villains—including Blurshift, a genderfluid shapeshifer, and the Fluffinator, who commands an army of “plush collectibles” (don’t call them teddy bears)—make this an excellent choice for any reader awaiting the next Marvel film. Ages 10–14.
By Louis Sachar
Sachar blends elements of mystery, suspense, and school-day life into a taut environmental cautionary tale about the insatiable hunger for energy sources and the cost of not doing the right thing. Marshall’s routines at Woodridge Academy—including his daily walk to and from school with his anxious neighbor Tamaya—are upended by the arrival of blowhard bully Chad. A quiet seventh-grader, Marshall becomes a target for Chad, who challenges him to an after-school fight. Rather than suffer a beating, he and Tamaya take a shortcut through the off-limits woods and come across what Tamaya dubs “fuzzy mud,” a strange substance they don’t realize harbors great danger for them and the town at large. Amid chapters following the children’s exploits, Sachar includes transcripts of secret Senate hearings with the scientists who engineered the microorganisms that generate fuzzy mud. In a tense sequence of events, readers learn more about Marshall, Tamaya, Chad, and the peril they face. A dramatic conclusion celebrates the positive ripples of friendship and honesty, and will leave readers with much food for thought. Ages 10–up.