Reviews and summaries from Publisher's Weekly Magazine
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.
By Tammi Sauer
It’s best-friendship at first contact after a flying saucer crashes outside a boy’s house, and a Little Green Man with a white jumpsuit and a snaggletoothed smile emerges. In second-person narration that has an understated tenderness, Sauer (Nugget and Fang) follows the two through the day. The boy’s parents don’t notice the new arrival, his classmates are mesmerized, and “As for your teacher? She’ll think she needs new glasses.” Beyond the evident warmth Fujita (the Robots Rule series) creates between alien and boy, he has a real way with light; the passage of time is almost tangible in the way sunlight streams through windows or wanes as the friends race down a hill flying a kite. And when the alien’s homesickness sets in, it’s light—specifically every light in the boy’s house, as well as “a few extras here and there” (think Christmas in July)—that attracts the attention of two green parents eager to find their child. Not since E.T. has extraterrestrial entertainment stood such a good chance of making kids (and their parents) tear up.
The Day the Crayons Came Home
By Drew Daywalt
How do you follow a hit like The Day the Crayons Quit? Stick with what works, and add a twist: instead of letters, Duncan receives a stack of postcards from crayons that have been misplaced or maligned, or are ready for adventure. A directionally challenged neon red crayon tries to get home after being abandoned at a motel; a trip through the dryer has left a turquoise crayon stuck to a sock; and a chunky toddler crayon can’t abide Duncan’s baby brother (“Picasso said every child is an artist, but I dunno”). Once again, Daywalt and Jeffers create rich emotional lives and personalities for their colorful cast, and it’s hard to imagine a reader who won’t be delighted. Ages 5–8.
By Julie Murphy
About the only thing Clover City has going for it is its beauty pageant, the oldest in Texas. It’s run by Willowdean Dickson’s mother—a former winner—who has a hard time with the reality that Willowdean, a self-described “fat girl,” will never be a beauty queen. Willowdean is okay with her size, mostly, but with 10th grade ending and her best friend considering having sex with her boyfriend, Willowdean feels like she is being left on the wrong side of the experience divide. An unexpected kiss with Bo, her handsome fast-food restaurant coworker, is thrilling, but she’s also horrified at the idea of him touching her anywhere there is extra flesh. And that very reaction horrifies her, too; she thought she was at peace with herself. Murphy (Side Effects May Vary) successfully makes every piece of the story—Dolly Parton superfans, first love, best-friend problems, an unlikely group of pageant entrants, female solidarity, self-acceptance, and Willowdean’s complicated relationship with the mother who nicknamed her “Dumplin’ ”—count, weaving them together to create a harmonious, humorous, and thought-provoking whole.
By Kevin Henkes
Waiting can make anyone feel helpless and frustrated, so the five toylike knickknacks in Henkes’s (Penny and Her Marble) story should be at their collective wits’ end. Perched on a windowsill, this odd, diminutive crew—a pig with an umbrella, a bear with a kite, a puppy attached to a sled, a rabbit on an accordion spring, and an owl—have little volition of their own (“Sometimes one or the other of them went away, but he or she always came back”). But while their lives are spent waiting, their existence seems full and rich with meaning. Waiting reinforces their sense of identity: the pig waits for the rain and when it comes, “the pig was happy. The umbrella kept her dry.” Waiting also connects them to each other: looking out the window together, “they saw many wonderful, interesting things,” like frost on the windowpane or a sky lit up with fireworks. Henkes never tells readers explicitly what he’s up to, and several incidents are wide open to interpretation—and that’s what makes this enigmatic, lovely book intriguing and inimitable. Ages 4–8.
By Nicholas Gannon
On Archer Helmsley’s ninth birthday, his grandparents vanish while exploring an iceberg in Antarctica. Two years later, Archer (along with his best friend Oliver, the fretful son of a newspaperman, and Adélaïde, a mysterious Parisian girl with a wooden leg) plans to embark on a rescue mission—if only his overprotective mother would let him leave the house. Newcomer Gannon reveals himself as a skilled storyteller, both in his writing and artwork. His quippy quotes, whimsically meandering exposition, and penchant for the gently absurd breathe life into his three main characters, while his full-color illustrations—precise, elegant, and haunting—are a delightful means of seeing into his mind’s eye. Archer has a vibrant imagination, spending lonely days inside the family home daydreaming and making conversation with a menagerie of taxidermied creatures, while Adélaïde’s missing limb is the subject of spirited schoolyard gossip involving a hungry crocodile, speculation that Adélaïde herself is happy to fuel. It’s a tender tale of friendship, untapped courage, and accidental adventure, filled with the spirit of exploration. Ages 8–12.
Dory and the Real True Friend
By Abby Hanlon
In a sequel every bit as delightful as its predecessor, Hanlon follows the wildly imaginative star of Dory Fantasmagory to school, where Dory attempts to make a “real” friend (as opposed to the monsters she plays with at home). She is immediately drawn to a princess-loving girl named Rosabelle, but Dory’s overtures of friendship don’t initially hit their mark: “ ‘Do you want some floppy cookies?’ I whisper to her, which is my nickname for salami because I love it so much. She does not.” Once again, Hanlon’s hilarious narration and cartooning reveal an uncanny talent for getting into the mile-a-minute mind of a one-of-a-kind girl. Ages 6–8.
Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep!
By Todd Tarpley
This book accomplishes two important goals: it’s wonderfully entertaining, and it gives parents a well-deserved opportunity to tell their offspring, “Welcome to my world.” A responsible-looking boy is trying to get his three robot charges—who, like their human counterparts, are full of beans at bedtime—to go to sleep: “Three little robots, time for bed/ Time to dim your infrared.” Every time the boy thinks he has ushered them into slumberland, with the goal of getting some shut-eye himself, a new obstacle pops up (“Is something wrong?” “I need my coil!”/ “My sensor aches!” “I want more oil!”). When peace finally prevails, Tarpley (Ten Tiny Toes) and Rocco (Blizzard) offer another twist, best summed up as “Who’s tucking in who?” The rambunctious robots will win readers’ hearts from the title page, when they swing from a light fixture and bounce on the sofa. But the human hero is equally appealing: dressed in dadlike striped pajamas, he has clearly had an excellent role model when it comes to be being a loving and put-upon authority figure. Ages 3–6.
By Eoin Colfer
In this smart collaboration, Colfer and Jeffers introduce Fred, a seasoned imaginary friend. Fred knows the drill: he keeps lonely children company until a human friend appears, then clears out (“Usually by lunchtime on the second day, Fred would be mostly invisible”). Jeffers’s spidery vignettes are perfectly synced to Colfer’s bubbly, confiding narrative, and he underscores Fred’s evanescent nature by giving him a body of half-tone aqua dots that deepen and fade. Secretly, Fred pines for a forever friend; his current human assignee, Sam, shares all of his interests—reading, music, playacting. When Sam meets a girl named Sammi, Fred is downcast, especially when Sam leaves a note that says he and Sammi are working on a comic book. “Comic book? thought Fred. That was our idea. Me and Sam.” But Sammi has her own imaginary friend, Frieda (her half-tone mesh is yellow), and the four thrive. There’s always anguish when a close friend finds someone new, but Colfer and Jeffers show that shuffling allegiances can sometimes multiply the fun. Ages 4–8.
By Brian Selznick
Selznick imagines an alternate backstory for a real English tourist attraction, the Dennis Severs’ House: 10 meticulously curated rooms that suggest what life might have been like for a family of Huguenot silk weavers in 18th-century London. The first 500 pages are double-page pencil drawings that (almost) wordlessly tell the story of the Marvel family, beginning with a 1766 shipwreck and following successive generations as they gain fame in London’s theater community. As he did in his Caldecott Medal–winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick uses a telescoping point of view with great success, bringing the audience effortlessly from the general to the specific, from wide shot to close-up. The next 200 pages are prose, jumping forward to 1990 when a boy named Joseph Jervis has run away from boarding school in search of an uncle he has never met. Uncle Albert, who lives in a home maintained in much the same way as the Dennis Severs’ House, has been reclusive ever since losing his “beloved” to AIDS, but Joseph and the neighbor girl he befriends, Frankie, refuse to stay away. Viewed narrowly, it’s a love letter to the Dennis Severs’ House, but readers won’t need preexisting knowledge of the museum to enjoy this powerful story about creating lasting art and finding family in unexpected places. Ages 8–12.