Reviews and summaries from Publisher's Weekly Magazine
Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella
By Jan Brett
As in The Three Snow Bears, Brett gives a timeless story a wintry setting—in this case, 18th-century Russia. Her watercolor and gouache pictures take full advantage of the country’s ornate architecture and exquisitely patterned aristocratic costume, and even make a henhouse elegant. After a girl named Tasha brings oats to Cinders and the other chickens, a blizzard prevents her from leaving the tower that houses them. Tasha curls up by the stove to sleep, giving the ensuing story a dreamlike quality. Largessa and her daughters Pecky and Bossy are all aflutter when an invitation to a “feathered frolic” arrives from Prince Cockerel. After the other hens depart for the ball, a fuzzy Silkie hen arrives to transform Cinders into a beautiful pullet in “a splendid silver sarafan dress.” A gatefold depicting the feathered revelers in all their finery underlines the humor of the premise and Brett’s bountiful imagination. Images in the windows of miniature sideline structures complement and foreshadow the unfolding plot, and the careful details Brett brings to the setting and characters give the story a true sense of enchantment. Ages 3–up. (Nov.)
By Kadir Nelson
Nelson (Nelson Mandela) builds his tale on the simplest bedtime-story scaffolding: a bear cub loses its way home and asks other forest animals for help. What distinguishes Nelson’s creation is an atmosphere of loving-kindness and the affirmation of Baby Bear’s ability to make the journey alone. Even animals that appear intimidating (a mountain lion, a moose) offer reassurance. These nighttime encounters unfold against a background of rich cobalt blue, bathed in the orange light of the full moon. “You are not alone, Baby Bear,” says an owl in a tree. “I am here with you. You only need look up and keep going.” Softly brushed oil paintings convey intimacy by getting right up close. One spread zeroes in on Baby Bear’s moist black nose, the moon reflected in its shining eyes. In another sweet-tempered scene, a salmon leads Baby Bear home (“If you promise not to eat me, I will show you the way”), the fish swishing through the water while Baby Bear paddles behind. It’s easy to imagine the tension leaving anxious bed-goers as they realize that Baby Bear is always safe. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.)
What's Your Favorite Animal?
By Eric Carle and Friends
Answers to this classic kid question arrive courtesy of 14 top illustrators including Lucy Cousins, Jon Klassen, Chris Raschka, and Lane Smith; the contributions range from meticulously rendered artwork to quick, funny sketches, along with commentaries that can be elegiac, nostalgic, silly, and even meta. Carle creates one of his signature collages to evoke Fiffi, a black cat who shared his apartment in Greenwich Village. Mo Willems asserts that his favorite animal is “an Amazonian Neotropical Lower River Tink-Tink” (drawn as a bump inside a big, hungry snake), while Rosemary Wells muses on the five positions favored by the white terrier who shares her bed. Nick Bruel breaks down the fourth wall—and probably a fifth and sixth wall, as well—as he argues with his narcissistic antihero Bad Kitty over his animal choice (“Okay then Kitty. What’s YOUR favorite animal? MEATLOAF?”) and then tries to flatter Carle into giving him an octopus. A varied and engaging omnibus that offers real insight into the lives and personalities of these artists. Royalties benefit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)
E-I-E-I-O!: How Old MacDonald Got His Farm with a Little Help from a Hen
By Judy Sierra, Illustrated by Matthew Myers
Like his neighbors, this Old MacDonald has a high-maintenance lawn: “MacDonald said, ‘I love my yard,/ but mowing grass is mighty hard.’ ” Enter a remarkable red hen, who is a horticultural expert (her “Resume of Horticultural Fowlishness” includes a stint at Versailles) with a plan for turning the backyard into a low-impact, high-yield organic garden. Old MacDonald’s neighbors need some convincing—in fact, they organize a NIMBY protest against the garden’s unsightly mud and smelly natural fertilizers (“A LAWN IN EVERY YARD” and CHANGE IS BAD” read protestors’ signs). But soon enough, nearly everyone either has the gardening bug or is saying, “ ‘Mac sure is smart,’/ as they bought fresh food from his garden cart.” Sierra (Wild About You!) has written an ingenious parable that’s ripped-from-the-headlines (or HGTV), and she has a two-peas-in-a-pod partnership with Myers, whose sculptural pictures and sly comedy add just the right amount of visual extravagance. Close readers will also be rewarded with manure jokes and a new meaning for Old MacDonald’s vowel-heavy refrain: “Enjoy It! Everything Is Organic!” Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.)
Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina
By Rodman Philbrick
In August 2005, 12-year-old Zane Dupree reluctantly travels to New Orleans with his dog Bandy to visit Miss Trissy, his paternal great-grandmother. Zane is biracial and knows nothing about his late father’s side of the family; he acquires some pieces of the puzzle—that his father ran away from home, and his uncle “got hissef killed”—but gaps remain. Hurricane Katrina arrives, and mandatory evacuation is announced, but on a bus out of town, Bandy escapes and Zane follows him back to Miss Trissy’s house. They are rescued from the surging water and relentless heat by Malvina Rawlins, a girl Zane’s age with a stream of corny jokes at her disposal, and her elderly guardian, musician Trudell Manning. Zane’s first-person account is tense and authentically youthful as the group paddles through the flooded streets of New Orleans seeking refuge. Philbrick (The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg) vividly portrays the destruction and multitude of threats facing citizens stuck in the city, along with undercurrents of racial and social tension that didn’t wash away with the levees. Ages 10–14. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (Feb.)
Boy on the Edge
By Fridrik Erlings
Erlings (Fish in the Sky) delivers a moody, affecting character study of a troubled teenage boy. Henry “had never seen anyone as ugly as himself”; his odd appearance and clubfoot make him a target for bullies, and his stutter and difficulties with reading lead him to keep his emotions bottled up. When Henry takes his anger out on his mother, he is sent to a home for “troubled boys,” a farm run by a minister and his wife, Emily, on the barren lava fields of the Icelandic coast. Emily’s kindness and the solace Henry finds working with the farm’s cattle help him begin to feel at home. Erlings poignantly describes Henry’s longing for a friend and the pain of rejection. When the minister and Emily take in a delicate younger boy named Ollie Henry feels alone once again, but Ollie’s efforts to reach out and his love for books and stories give Henry a chance to heal. Though Henry’s story may be too quiet for some readers, it’s a poetic and powerful novel. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)
Young Adult Titles
Champion: A Legend Novel
By Marie Lu
Interview with the author:
At what point did you know this was a trilogy?
I had no clue until I started writing the second book. I remember my original synopsis for the third book was horribly vague. “It’s a dark and stormy night. Bad things happen. The plot thickens. Love. Sacrifice. Will they make it out alive? Stay tuned!” That was about it. But specific plot events that came up in the second book convinced me that #3 was an appropriate ending place.
Any favorite scene left on the cutting room floor?
There was a scene halfway through Legend where June goes scuba diving under the ruins of old Los Angeles and uncovers some secrets about the Republic. It was a little too far-fetched, so my agent and I chopped it out, but I still kind of like it!
Did anything develop plot-wise that completely surprised you?
Yes! I think 80% of the plot twists took me by surprise. I am a hopeless pantser, so I don’t do much outlining. A thought will occur to me and I’ll just throw it into the story. I tell myself I’ll worry about untangling it later. I’m glad no one sees my first drafts except for my poor editor and agent.
How does it feel to have finished?
It feels like how I imagine parents must feel when they send their kids off to college. Happy, relieved, proud, wistful, and a little empty. You hope you raised your books to be the best they can be. You hope they don’t get too drunk or call you to bail them out of jail.
By Sara Zarr
Elizabeth Owens, EB for short, lives in New Jersey and is gearing up to head across the country to study landscape architecture at Berkeley in the fall. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Lauren Cole is the oldest of six and an incoming freshman at Berkeley, too—she and EB have been assigned as roommates. EB, thrilled to get to know the girl she’ll be living with, is the first to write, setting off a summer-long correspondence filled with miscommunications and surprisingly intimate connections as the girls vacillate between excitement and anxiety about what the future holds. Zarr (The Lucy Variations) and Altebrando (The Best Night of Your [Pathetic] Life) give both protagonists their own, independent stories with drifting best friends, boyfriends dropped, romances sparked, and family problems that reminds readers that not all adults are finished growing up, either. The authors give the story big doses of humor, sensitivity, and sweetness, along with a complex and realistic cast; EB and Lauren’s stories amount to two great novels in one. Ages 12–up. Agent: (for Zarr) Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management; (for Altebrando): David Dunton, Harvey Klinger. (Dec.)
The Impossible Knife of Memory
By Laurie Halse Anderson
As in Speak, Anderson provides a riveting study of a psychologically scarred teenager, peeling back layers of internal defenses to reveal a girl’s deepest wounds. Her heroine, 17-year-old Hayley, is no stranger to loss. Her mother died when she was small, and she was later abandoned by her father’s alcoholic girlfriend. Now the only family Hayley has left is her father, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, whose horrific flashbacks have brought chaos into their lives. After traveling the country in a “dented eighteen-wheeler,” the two of them have settled down in her father’s hometown. Hayley feels like an outsider at a high school populated by “zombies,” and, at home, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pretend that her father is getting better. Then Hayley is drawn to Finn, a boy who seemingly likes her for who she is. Hayley’s anxiety about her father’s unpredictable behavior reverberates throughout the novel, overshadowing and distorting her memories of better times. It’s a tough, absorbing story of the effects of combat on soldiers and the people who love them. Ages 12–up. Agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House. (Jan.)
By Francesca Lia Block
Poetry and pop culture, life and death—these are just two of the polarities that pulse through Block’s elegantly crafted novel. When Julie’s beloved grandmother Miriam dies, Julie’s life turns upside down. After she and her mother move from their cozy Hollywood cottage to a bleak apartment in Beverly Hills, Julie starts her senior year at a new high school. There she meets sweetly eccentric Clark, who is also mourning a loss. Their easy friendship grows complicated once Julie gets to know Grant, Clark’s beguiling, bad-boy twin. As Julie and Clark navigate their grief and forge a path through quotidian high-school life, Block (Love in the Time of Global Warming) makes a refreshing case for the virtues of the nice guy. Julie and Clark are fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and between the ghost-centric plot and Julie’s strained relationship with her mother, Block’s novel could pass for an episode of the show. While the spooky goings-on, eerie romance, and magical-hipster Los Angeles setting have broad appeal, the story has even richer treasures in store for readers who dig deeper. Ages 14–up. Agent: Laurie Liss, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Feb.)