From the Shelf
Board Books: Zoom, Vroom and Boom!
It's that time of year: construction time. Roads, bridges, sidewalks.... Whether watching from a stroller or as they walk by themselves, children are about to see a whole bunch of orange reflective material and big machines. Below are some board books that may give them some insight into what they're observing.
Jonny Lambert's Construction Site (DK, $12.99) invites children ages 0-3 to explore a construction site. Flaps add action to the board book--allowing the bulldozer to both "RUMBLE! RUMBLE!" along and "SCRAPE!" the rubble into a pile--while also giving pre-readers something physical with which to engage. All of the vehicles shown at work in the book make one more appearance on the end pages, allowing kids one more chance to label them all.
For some very simple vehicle naming, caretakers can turn to Vehicles ABC illustrated by Jannie Ho (Candlewick, $6.99). Also for the pre-reader set, this board book brightly illustrates construction machines like "Bb bulldozer" or "Dd digger" while also introducing children to more fanciful conveyances like "Cc carriage" or "Gg galleon." Vehicles ABC is a great place to start for everything a child might see on the road, in the air or on the water.
Let's Build (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99), illustrated by Zoe Waring, gets kids in on the fun of a construction zone, requesting they knock on their hard hat twice "before we get to work," clap to call the crane's attention or swing the book to get the "wrecking ball moving." With smiling animal drivers and lots of exclamation points, this is a perfect read-aloud or -along for the 4-7 age group.
In this Issue...
by Lysley Tenorio
An often humorous novel of an undocumented Filipino teenager in San Francisco explores the bonds of family and the burdens of hiding in plain sight.
by Melissa Valentine
A writer from Oakland, Calif., deftly shares the story of her family and how they tried to save her brother from the violence of the streets.
by Natalia Sylvester
In this searing exploration of privilege, Mari discovers the strength of her voice and activism when her father runs for president of the United States.
Review by Subjects:
World Travel--Without Leaving Your Living Room
"Travel around the world without leaving your living room, with these five parent-kid book pairs!"
Electric Lit invited readers to "write your 'Leaving New York' essay with our handy chart."
"From Donna Tartt to Irvine Welsh," the Guardian showcased 10 great novels about friendship.
"Is 'irregardless' a real word?" Merriam-Webster dared to ask before adding: "LOL, the look on your face right now."
Pop quiz: "Can you name the fantastic beasts of the Harry Potter series?" Mental Floss wondered.
Rediscover: Joanna Cole
Joanna Cole, author of more than 250 books for children, including the Magic School Bus series, died on Sunday at age 75. With illustrator Bruce Degen, she created the groundbreaking science series in 1986, bringing humor and kid-like curiosity to science and learning. The winner of many awards, the book series has 13 core titles and dozens of series tie-ins, with more than 93 million copies in print in 13 countries. Cole explained her deep and abiding love for science this way: "In my science books, including the Magic School Bus books, I write about ideas, rather than just the facts. I try to ask a question, such as how do scientists guess what dinosaurs were like? Then I try to answer the question as I write the book."
Illustrator Bruce Degen said, "I think for Joanna the excitement was always in the idea. What? Why? How? And with the Magic School Bus it was how to explain it so that it is accurate and in a form that a kid can understand and use. And you can actually joke around while you are learning. She had a rare sense of what could be humorous." Before her death, Cole and Degen completed The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution, scheduled to appear in late 2020 from Scholastic, her longtime publisher.
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Annie Finch
|photo: Kate Warren|
Annie Finch is a feminist poet, nonfiction writer, translator, editor and critic who lives in Washington, D.C. Her books include The Poetry Witch Little Book of Spells, Spells: New and Selected Poems, A Poet's Craft, Calendars (shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award) and Among the Goddesses, which received the Sarasvati Award for Poetry. She is the editor of Choice Words: Writers on Abortion, out now from Haymarket Books.
On your nightstand now:
The Goddess Companion by Patricia Monaghan, which is always near my bed. Collections by two poets I met on a recent trip to India: Scripted in the Streams by Rati Saxena and Love Without a Story by Arundhathi Subramaniam. Two books that are inspiring a memoir I'm writing: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes. Much later, I realized that the heroine, Jane, is a future writer. Recently, I realized she's also a future feminist.
Your top five authors:
Audre Lorde. A model of poetic genius, feminist activism and the courage to transform personal experience into a force for the greater good.
Patricia Monaghan. A brilliant poet and author, landscape-altering editor, visionary feminist writer and life-revolutionary.
William Butler Yeats. His expression of a multifaceted yet unified vision through lyrical, narrative and dramatic poetry, theater, editing, literary criticism and political activism inspires me to honor all the parts of my own work.
Langston Hughes. A magnificent poet who embraced the poet's capacity to shape culture, sharing without stint his exuberant gifts as playwright, music collaborator, novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist.
Emily Dickinson. The poet whose words function for me most reliably as an oracle or koan; they are so purely themselves.
Book you've faked reading:
Moby-Dick, faked twice: first in high school and then when it was on my Ph.D. reading list at Stanford. I've loved other works by Melville, but I literally could not stomach this one; my body forced me to stop reading it. When I was going on the academic job market, it became a household joke that I couldn't accept a professorship where I'd be expected to teach it.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Untouched Key by Alice Miller. I'm quite sure that if everyone could absorb this magnificent little book, the world's problems would be solved. Runner up: The Serpent and the Goddess by Mary Condren, a herstorical case study of the systematic destruction of a matricultural society--with dismantling of women's reproductive freedom as the central weapon.
Book you've bought for the cover:
A pocket paperback edition of Longfellow's Evangeline printed in the late 1950s, with a luridly bright cover of a hunky Gabriel and passionate Evangeline.
Book you hid from your parents:
I didn't have to hide anything, because my family gifted me with invisibility. But the books that felt so private I would have hidden them if needed were Edward Eager's books about children entering the world of magic and discovering its rules.
Book that changed your life:
When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone. I was already a feminist--thanks to Anne Wilson Schaef's Women's Reality and Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic--but this book gave me permission to turn things around exactly the way I needed to do to become happy.
Five books you'll never part with:
Matriarchal Societies by Heide Goettner-Abendroth, Audre Lorde's The Black Unicorn, Edna St. Vincent Millay's Selected Poems (the new Yale University Press edition), The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander, Wickedary by Mary Daly.
Which character you most relate to:
A composite of layers, added between the ages of nine and 20: Harriet the Spy, Anthea from The Phoenix and the Carpet, Jo from Little Women, Franny from Franny and Zooey--and the speaker of Hart Crane's The Bridge.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog by Patricia Monaghan.
Book that inspired you to edit Choice Words: Writers on Abortion:
Good Woman by Lucille Clifton, which contains "the lost baby poem." After I had an abortion in 1999, this poem, along with Gwendolyn Brooks's "the mother," gave me a taste of how vital it was to read great literature about abortion--and inspired a 20-year hunt for more!
The Son of Good Fortune
by Lysley Tenorio
When most young people are defining themselves, Excel knows he can't. The Son of Good Fortune, Lysley Tenorio's second book (after Monstress), sympathetically illuminates the tenuous lives of undocumented immigrants, those who are "not really here."
Born on a Philippine Airlines flight to a mother fleeing abuse in Manila, they arrive in San Francisco with no documentation, and Excel identifies as "TNT"--Tagalog for "hiding and hiding." His mother, Maxima, a B-movie action star in the Philippines, works menial jobs and scams men online. Excel knows their lives could implode if he draws attention to himself, so he's "the quiet kid who keeps quieter.... What took effort and strategy became, as the years went on, instinct and habit."
At 19, Excel sees no future beyond working for the tyrannical owner of The Pie Who Loved Me pizza shop, who requires no Social Security number and pays him in cash. So when his girlfriend, Sab, invites him to move with her to the off-the-grid desert community of Hello City, he bids Maxima goodbye and leaves. Sab grew up bouncing among relatives, and with good humor and optimism they anticipate better days. Hello City brings new experiences, but after nine months, multiple crises send Excel back to Maxima. Consistently responsible and kind, he works to satisfy a debt and hopes to reunite with Sab, while mother and son establish a new bond. The Son of Good Fortune avoids sentimentality. Tenorio's characters are humorous and loving, in spite of the exclusion overshadowing their very existence. --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Market Block Books, Troy, N.Y.
Discover: An often humorous novel of an undocumented Filipino teenager in San Francisco explores the bonds of family and the burdens of hiding in plain sight.
A Walk Along the Beach
by Debbie Macomber
Debbie Macomber plumbs the depths of family bonds, tackling weighty emotional issues with great sensitivity and compassion. As she cites in her introduction, A Walk Along the Beach grew out of her own despair after the death of her dear friend, romance author Christina Skye, and taking a writing sabbatical to put her grief into perspective. What evolved as a result is a story about a Washington State family riddled with losses and challenges that upend the lives of all involved.
At the age of 13, Willa became the bedrock of the Lakey family. One of three children, she grew up fast after her mother died, and her father drowned his sorrows in drink. Deferring her own dreams, Willa practically raised her charming, adventurous, younger sister, Harper--a leukemia survivor--and supported her brother, Lucas, while shouldering many responsibilities and burdens within the family. After Willa's life has finally settled down in her late 20s, she opens a quaint café, and her manageable world is rocked by the attentions of a handsome, world-traveling, NatGeo photojournalist--with a shrouded past--who frequents the coffee shop. Through some endearing sisterly goading, Harper urges Willa to take a chance on love. But is sensitive Willa ready to risk opening her heart?
Macomber (Window on the Bay) fans may be surprised by heavier themes that churn undercurrents of sadness, loss and grief. The reward, however, is fully drawn characters and conflicts that will grip readers as much as--if not more than--Macomber's usually lighter romantic fare. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An emotionally deep story about a young woman who struggles with sadness and grief--and imperfections in life that challenge love.
by Asako Serizawa
Pieces of Asako Serizawa's intriguing novel-in-interlinked-stories, Inheritors, have been published since 2005 and winning awards (O. Henry, Pushcart) since 2013. Her acknowledgements reveal "this book [took] so long to write," but her tenacity is a gift to readers. With 13 stories featuring five generations of a globally scattered family of Japanese origins, Serizawa's debut is a meticulously plotted narrative puzzle poised for remarkable discovery.
The Japanese patriarch, Masayuki, travels with his 15-year-old daughter, Ayumi, to visit his cousin Bob, who is cultivating rice in California ("Crop"). Ayumi remains Stateside with the white landowner's son in 1914 and has several children ("Flight"). During World War II, her older brother Sadao commits heinous acts under orders ("Train to Harbin"), while his wife awaits news of their runaway son ("Visitor"), his fate revealed in "Last Bulwark." While Ayumi and Sadao's brother Masaharu is an unemployed political journalist ("Allegiance"), his wife, Masako, endures the unthinkable to save her family during the U.S. occupation ("Willow Run"). Their older son Seiji vanishes--then reappears ("I Stand Accused"); their younger son Masaaki temporarily immigrates to the U.S. but returns ("Pavilion"). Masaaki's American daughter Luna revisits Japan only after his death ("Passing"). Her 21st-century children face new wars in "The Garden" and "Echolocation."
Unfurled over more than 120 years with World War II at its core, Serizawa, born in Japan and living in Boston, deftly relies on rich fiction to humanize history--the kaiten suicide torpedo pilot is someone's missing child, Matsushiro bunkers are where an adopted son was born to enslaved Korean workers. For savvy audiences ready to question "how history is made, how it is lived, remembered, reproduced, and used," Serizawa's amplifying revelations await. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Serizawa's powerful debut novel-in-interlinked-stories features five generations of a scattered family with Japanese origins over 120-plus years.
by David Mitchell
"What do you get if you cross an Angry Young Bassist, a folk-scene doyenne, a Stratocaster demigod and a jazz drummer? Answer: Utopia Avenue, a band like no other."
It's 1967, and psychedelia has emerged in the London music scene. Rock bands are a dime a dozen, and an unlikely pair of musicians decide to enter the fray. Bassist Dean Moss (working-class, charming and impulsive) and guitarist Jasper de Zoet (oddly formal, awkward, constrained) are an odd couple. When they are joined by folk singer/keyboardist Elf Holloway and the crusty Griff Griffin on drums, Utopia Avenue is born. With manager Levon Frankland in tow and everyone but Griff writing songs and singing lead, the band begins its rapid ascent.
As each single and album outperforms the one before, they're still awestruck when they cross paths with Charlie Watts; Janis Joplin advises Elf on surviving as a woman in rock; and Jerry Garcia hooks Dean up with drugs. (Levon trying to figure out if artist Francis Bacon is hitting on him is priceless.) And they discover fame doesn't erase what haunts them privately--perhaps no more so than with Jasper, who is tortured by constant knocking and a voice in his head.
Fans of the David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks) universe will find nods to Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but Utopia Avenue stands alone for its immersion in the exhilarating, hazy counterculture of the late 1960s. Fun, frisky and triumphant, this novel is a trip that is "less the stuff of life and more the stuff of dreams." --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: A "psychedelic-folk-rock" band burns bright in David Mitchell's irresistible love letter to the music and spirit of the late 1960s.
Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women's Olympic Team
by Elise Hooper
Imagine the determination of Olympic competitors. Then, add sexism, racism and poverty to their challenge. Fast Girls follows the experiences of real-life track and field U.S. Olympians Betty Robinson, Helen Stephens, Louise Stokes and their teammates. As in Learning to See, her novel about photographer Dorothea Lange, Elise Hooper combines meticulous research with fictionalized details.
Culminating in the infamous 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Berlin, Hooper's story begins in 1928, when 16-year-old Betty wins a gold medal in the Amsterdam games, after being denied the right to train with her Illinois high school boys' track team. Meanwhile, Helen, 10, longs to stretch her lanky frame and run on her family's Missouri farm. And Louise's Massachusetts track coach declares her "the speediest girl" he's ever seen, but sports will interfere with the after-school jobs that help support her family.
Like the relay team they'll later form, Fast Girls moves among the young athletes and their teammates and rivals, as each struggles with her circumstances. Betty is crippled at 19 in a plane crash; the Depression costs Helen's family their farm. Funding is unreliable. When Louise earns a spot at the Los Angeles trials, she and the other Black runner are housed in the attic of the contingent's Denver hotel en route. Irregular judging and politics abruptly exclude competitors, adding to the tension leading to Berlin: Who will run? While the ending isn't a question, anxiety heightens when the athletes reach Nazi Germany, and the Führer himself shows an interest in the American women runners. Their success is a satisfying climax, and in a fascinating afterword Hooper summarizes the lives of nine of the Fast Girls after 1936. --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Market Block Books, Troy, New York
Discover: Hooper crafts satisfying historic fiction of three of the 1936 Olympic women runners from their years of training through their competition in Berlin.
Mystery & Thriller
The Only Good Indians
by Stephen Graham Jones
The hunters become the hunted in this taut horror thriller by Native American author Stephen Graham Jones (Mapping the Interior).
A decade ago, on Thanksgiving, Gabe, Cass, Lewis and Ricky violated tribal regulations when they gunned down nine elk on hunting grounds reserved for Blackfeet Nation elders. Months later, Ricky died in a bar fight after fleeing life on the Blackfeet reservation. No one knows that Ricky saw an elk damage the other bar patrons' pickup trucks and run away, leaving Ricky looking guilty as sin.
In the present day, Lewis has surprised himself by making it to age 36 with an intact marriage, no serious medical conditions, no "car crashes and jail time and alcoholism on his cultural dance card." However, his carefully constructed life begins to unravel when he sees the young, pregnant elk cow he shot 10 years ago on his living room floor. The image disappears, but Lewis soon realizes something from the past has come back angry. It wants justice for what he and his friends stole, and not even their deaths will quench its thirst for retribution.
By turns sardonic, suspenseful and pulse-pounding, this supernatural vengeance story shows its cast confronting the expectations and contradictions of modern Indigenous life. Told largely from the perspectives of the four Blackfeet men and the spectral elk creature stalking them, the story hits its stride when it focuses on Denorah, Gabe's teen daughter. Her strength and attitude carry this introspective but brutal narrative into well-earned redemption that will leave readers satisfied though still deeply shaken by Jones's masterful atmospheric touch. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: A ghost from the past comes back to take revenge in this taut Native American horror-thriller.
The Heir Affair
by Heather Cocks , Jessica Morgan
Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan did a brilliant job with their earlier novel The Royal We, which follows the relationship between Nicholas, heir to the throne, and an American exchange student, Rebecca "Bex" Porter. Due to the paparazzi, Nick's royal duties and that unfortunate time Bex let Nick's brother kiss her, the couple had a lot to work through before they got their dream wedding.
But as The Heir Affair opens, news of Bex and Freddie's kiss has leaked, and the British public is outraged. Nick is finding it hard to forgive his brother fully, and Bex is mourning the damage to her friendship with Freddie, while simultaneously trying to reconcile the brothers and keep her marriage thriving.
Then, Nick's grandmother Eleanor, the current Queen, instructs them to move into the Kensington Palace apartment that formerly belonged to Eleanor's sister, Georgina, making them Freddie's neighbor. Nick, Bex and Freddie reach a détente as the newlyweds sort through the staggering number of items that Georgina hoarded over the decades. Now, the happy couple just needs to worry about perpetuating the royal line, fulfilling their many charity obligations and staying on Eleanor's good side.
Funny yet poignant, The Heir Affair has much more depth than might be expected. Bex's relationship with her brother-in-law is complicated, to say the least, as is her relationship with the British public. The dramatic details that Cocks and Morgan unfold make The Heir Affair a timely and perfect escape for royalty lovers and romance readers alike. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this absorbing romance, the American who stole the heart of a British prince must survive a scandal she created to keep her happily-ever-after.
Biography & Memoir
The Names of All the Flowers: A Memoir
by Melissa Valentine
"Growing up, everywhere around me there was death." Melissa Valentine's memoir, The Names of All the Flowers, is about growing up Black in Oakland, Calif. Valentine's extraordinary talent delves deep below the surface to memories permeated with the kind of reflection and understanding not often adaptable to writing. It also nearly defies suitable praise.
Valentine was raised with her five siblings by their Black postal-clerk mother and their white landscaper father. Of mixed race, living in a good neighborhood at the crossroads of a rich, mostly white enclave and a violence-ridden suburb, they endured a "setup perfectly designed for our failure, for our demise. Surviving the power and lure of the street... is the exception, not the rule." Valentine and her brother Junior were particularly close. With "stressed parents, little money, and little attention," Valentine felt it her duty to save Junior from the lure. No one could. Junior was shot and killed in West Oakland at 19.
The unfairness of Valentine's burden is heartbreaking, the trauma she suffers again each time there is another death, unrelenting. She is "left to make sense of the losses, pick our communities back up, and go on living after each one with no tools, no resources, and, because it is so normalized, no discussion.... Death should not be such a normal part of our lives. Burying young people should not be so normal." As a memoir, Valentine's work is stunning in its candor and breadth of emotion. As an expression of the Black experience in the U.S., it is a distinguished accomplishment. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A writer from Oakland, Calif., deftly shares the story of her family and how they tried to save her brother from the violence of the streets.
The Gamesmaster: My Life in the '80s Geek Culture Trenches with G.I. Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, and the Transformers
by Flint Dille
Flint Dille acknowledges that he may have traumatized a generation. As the story consultant who handled rewrites on the animated 1986 Transformers movie, Dille masterminded one of the most wrenching cinematic deaths of the era: that of noble semi-truck robot Optimus Prime. As a story editor and writer overseeing the Transformers film and syndicated television series, Dille helped usher in the era of televisual geek entertainment that took itself and its audience seriously. Dille cheerily admits that '80s series like Transformers and G.I. Joe, where he served as story editor for the first season, were at heart toy commercials, where the scripts had to showcase product lines. But The Gamesmaster makes the case that bold storytelling transcends commercial interests. (The title comes from a particularly ambitious Dille-penned episode of G.I. Joe.)
Dille and his collaborators brought their own pulp passions to their work, aspiring to create shows that adults didn't feel embarrassed to watch with their kids--and paving the way for the 2000s geek entertainment explosion. His vivid, funny memoir bounces about 1980s Hollywood, including encounters with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, hours playing games at Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax's mansion of debauchery, plus cameos from comic book luminaries Frank Miller, Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby. Kirby asks Dille to identify "the golden age of comics" and then says the answer is actually "twelve." Dille's upbeat, occasionally repetitious book illuminates the moment when Kirby's punchline stopped being true and comics culture no longer was considered just kids' stuff. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This memoir of '80s geek culture invites readers behind the scenes of Optimus Prime's death and into Gary Gygax's hot tub.
The Sensitives: The Rise of Environmental Illness and the Search for America's Last Pure Place
by Oliver Broudy
Brain fog, muscle aches, memory loss and a general malaise are a handful of the symptoms that might present in a person suffering from environmental illness. They precipitate from exposure to any number of chemicals common to modern society: pest sprays and fragrances, cleaners and inks. Yet the debilitating condition is hotly contested within the study of medicine, as freelance journalist Oliver Broudy uncovers in the thoroughly engaging investigation The Sensitives: The Rise of Environmental Illness and the Search for America's Last Pure Place.
Broudy was already well into his research when one of his subjects, Brian Welsh, disappeared. An integral member of the EI community, or sensitives, Welsh had cultivated an online presence that rallied and bolstered those like him, who exist in a world skeptical of their claims, with families unwilling to understand and doctors convinced their pain is psychogenic. Welsh's sudden absence sounds alarms across the message boards, and prompts Broudy to link up with James, a conspicuously wealthy sensitive, for a capricious road trip into the American Southwest, its arid remoteness popular among sensitives.
Sanity is the flashpoint in the conflict between patients seeking relief from their pain and the doctors who can find no biological cause for it and so dismiss it. This leads Broudy down the winding route medicine has often taken from ignorance to expertise, with numerous detours through quackery. Broudy's momentum rarely flags as he whirls between empathy and skepticism. Neither an invective of medical politics, nor a sideshow of eccentric recluses, The Sensitives pleads for understanding in a fight over a syndrome not yet understood. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A journalist and his wealthy interview subject take an audacious road trip through the history of medicine and chemicals in search of answers about a mysterious and growing affliction.
Children's & Young Adult
by Natalia Sylvester
Natalia Sylvester's inspired YA debut shrewdly tackles the growing political divide in the United States with a timely presidential race.
Cuban American Mariana Ruiz's father is attempting to secure his bid as GOP candidate for president of the United States. Descendants of Cuban "political exiles," the Ruizes maintain unapologetic ties to their roots but, despite Senator Ruiz's charm, he is often accused of "turning his back on his own community." Her parents had promised that 15-year-old Mari and her little brother, Ricky, could stay out of the campaign. But the increasingly creepy campaign manager urges that in order to be seen as "just like any American family," the Ruiz family needs to present a united front. Ricky, like his dad, is a natural in front of the cameras. Mari, however, causes a media frenzy when she runs away the night of a big televised interview--she realizes she doesn't know what her father's policies are, even though she's supposed to agree with them.
In Running, Miami's diversity is demonstrated through Mari's circle of friends and her family: Senator Ruiz and Ricky are white-passing, while Mari and her mother are light brown. Sylvester's use of Spanish is incorporated naturally, such as how Mari prefers her name pronounced "in Spanish, like sea, like mar. My name is like the ocean." In beautifully laconic prose, Sylvester weaves in hard truths as she deftly unravels Mari's privilege. Themes of clickbait journalism, gaslighting and racial microaggression are confronted without ever becoming didactic. Expert plotting and pacing lead to a cathartic revelation that urges Mari to not just find her voice, but to raise it for everyone to hear. --Zoraida Córdova, author and freelance book reviewer
Discover: In this searing exploration of privilege, Mari discovers the strength of her voice and activism when her father runs for president of the United States.
Rise of Zombert
by Kara LaReau , illust. by Ryan Andrews
The Zombert Chronicles, a middle-grade mystery series from Kara LaReau (The Infamous Ratsos and the Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters series) and illustrator/cartoonist Ryan Andrews (Mightier than the Sword), kicks off with a daring escape, evil villains and... a zombie cat? Mystery, adventure and humor abound in Rise of Zombert.
Bert is not much more than skin and bones when fourth-grade pals Mellie and Danny discover him in a recycling bin outside the YummCo Foods factory. He is undoubtedly the ugliest cat Mellie has ever seen, "missing a lot of the fur on his stomach and legs, and the fur that remained was matted and dull.... he smelled almost as bad as the dumpster." Despite his appearance, Mellie is certain he needs her, so she takes him home, gives him a bath and spends all the money she's saved for a microscope on fancy cat food instead. But Bert isn't interested in food from the pet store. It's Bert's propensity for beheading his prey--and eating their brains while leaving the bodies behind--that prompts horror buff Danny to wonder if Bert is actually a zombie cat.
LaReau's quickly moving story is told from alternating points of view, with Mellie's voice in a dominant role. (Happily, LaReau also includes Bert's wonderfully wild perspective.) Andrews's black-and-white illustrations contribute to the book's spooky tone, showing all the hair-raising details sure to entice middle-grade readers. The harmonious blend of illustrations and text are perfect for readers transitioning to chapter books; this launch title may also appeal to young fans of graphic novels. LaReau sets the stage for the series with an impressive opening book, giving readers much to anticipate in where she'll take her delightful trio next. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Two fourth-graders rescue a bedraggled feline they find in a recycling bin--and may have let a zombie cat into their lives.
It Happened on Sweet Street
by Caroline Adderson , illust. by Stéphane Jorisch
This zany picture book delivers a tasty treatise on the benefits of keeping the peace--and keeping a variety of desserts at hand!
On Sweet Street, "between the bric-a-brac boutique and the shoemaker," stands the bakery of Monsieur Oliphant, "Exclusive Creator of Cakes." Customers line up to buy his "jelly-rolled," layered and "cherried" creations. When the shoemaker retires, Mademoiselle Fée, "Cookie Concocter par excellence," moves in. Soon there is a line in front of her store, too. People wait to buy treats she has stamped, "tooled... and jeweled" and dusted with sugar. Though there are plenty of customers to go around, Monsieur Oliphant tries to out-create Mademoiselle Fée. Then the bric-a-brac dealer retires and Madame Clotilde moves in. As a third line of customers waits for the pies "the divine Pâtisserie Clotilde" has "rolling-pinned," frilled and filled, both Monsieur Oliphant and Mademoiselle Fée work to "out-concoct" their new rival. When all three bakers angrily step outside, "a massacre of cream, a catastrophe of meringue, a devastation of crumbs" follows, culminating with cheerful coexistence at last.
Author of the Jasper John Dooley series, Caroline Adderson's waggish text promotes the benefits of cooperation over competition in tones as delicate as any Sweet Street confection. Paired with Stéphane Jorisch's (Betty Bunny series) quirky illustrations, rendered in pencil, ink and watercolor then digitally assembled, the stylish color and line work lends credence to the farcical tone of the piece. The lucky people of Sweet Street cheerfully reap the rewards when their bakers finally get the message: there is always room for more dessert. "Délicieuse!!!" --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: When Sweet Street's only baker of cakes must make room for a cookie concoctor and a pie purveyor, things get sticky before they get better.