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Pedro and George

Delphine Perret, trans. from the French by Hannele & Associates. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4814-2925-2

French author-illustrator Perret's divertissement contains a bouquet of comedic moments. Pedro Crocodile greets his cousin George, who's having a crisis: "I'm fed up with everyone calling me a crocodile. I am an alligator!" he complains. The two sneak into a school to see whether elementary-school children are to blame, and whether they might be edible, as well. "Silence, Josephine, concentrate!" says teacher Mrs. Muiche. "But, miss, there is a crocodile biting my foot!" After defeat at the hands of Josephine, whose judo belt is "yellow-orangey," the reptiles' visit is celebrated with Crocodile and Alligator Week ("They had several wonderful days full of green crepe paper"). Perret (The Big Bad Wolf and Me) draws Pedro and George as tubby, slow-moving couch potatoes—their lime bodies and the children's pink faces are the only spots of color in the wiry line drawings—and she has great fun spoofing customs like weekly dictation, an institution in French schools. Pedro and George seem like a pair who could have an endless series of adventures; a sequel would be welcome. Ages 4–8. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams

Tanya Lee Stone, illus. by Kathryn Brown. Holt/Ottaviano, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9049-9

Vowing from an early age to improve the lives of the impoverished, Addams established a settlement home, Hull House, in Chicago in 1889, creating a community refuge. The desperation of the poor is evident in their anguished grimaces as they vie for spoiled food, while children’s joy as they play in Chicago’s first playground (thanks to Addams) is just as clear. In a moving portrayal of empathy and innovation in action, Stone and Brown convey both the significance of Addams’s contributions (“Today, every community center in America, in large part, has Jane Addams to thank”), as well as the physical transformations of those she helped. Ages 6–9. Author’s agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects

Matthew Clark Smith, illus. by Giuliano Ferri. Amazon/Two Lions, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2632-4

First-time author Smith offers a rewarding overview of naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre, opening his recounting in southern France, where the elderly scientist was a figure of mystery, known for collecting and speaking to animals: “Whether he was a sorcerer or a madman no one could agree.” Village curiosity peaks when the president of France arrives to speak with Fabre. Smith then backtracks to explore the often melancholy life of his subject, who found solace and splendor studying and writing about insects. Ferri’s vibrant watercolor-and-pencil illustrations revel in the details and diversity of the insects that so fascinated Fabre, while end notes offer extensive historical background to bolster this rousing tribute to the rewards of following one’s passions. Ages 6–9. (May)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist

Margarita Engle, illus. by Aliona Bereghici. Amazon/Two Lions, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2633-1

In spare first-person poems, Louis Fuertes describes his life from a young devotee of birds to a career as a naturalist and artist. While Bereghici’s watercolor-and-ink art offers realistically detailed images of the birds Fuertes loves, whimsical moments are present, too, as when Fuertes he dives underwater to observe ducks (“I plunge into a lake and look up/ from below, studying their funny tails/ and their paddling/ webbed feet”). Engle’s quiet verse portrays Fuertes as a quietly impassioned individual most at home in the presence of animals or sharing his love for them. Ages 6–8. Author’s agent: Michelle Humphrey, Martha Kaplan Agency. Illustrator’s agency: the Organisation. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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100 Pablo Picassos

Illus. by Violet Lemay. Duo Press (Perseus, dist.), $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-938093-32-6

Pablo Picasso appears 100 times in this vivid introduction to the artist. The brisk text and Lemay’s gently humorous images hopscotch across details of Picasso’s professional and personal life, showing the artist creating pieces like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, morphing into images from his work, conversing with individuals like Gertrude Stein and Henri Matisse, playfully engaging with pets, and more. Picasso’s joie de vivre and creative outpouring come across vibrantly, while glimpses of his periods of turmoil (“Sometimes Picasso was sad. He painted many pictures with the color blue”) and relationships (“The artist had many girlfriends and wives. Picasso was always in love”) hint at the artist’s complexity. Ages 5–10. (May)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest

Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw. Holt/Ottaviano, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9976-8

Kostecki-Shaw’s mixed-media artwork portrays activist Julia Butterfly Hill as a childlike figure wearing a bandana and yellow dress as she takes up residence for two years in the branches of Luna, an ancient California redwood, to save the tree from logging. The third-person narrative shifts between Butterfly’s point of view (“Living 180 feet high in a tree wasn’t easy. Her tree house was the size of a sandbox”) and that of the tree (“Welcome, Little Butterfly. You are brave to have ventured up so high!”). A warm, appealing snapshot of this environmental activist. Ages 5–9. Agency: Worley-Shoemaker Literary Management. (May)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz

Jonah Winter, illus. by Keith Mallett. Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59643-963-4

Winter uses a second-person narrative to create a sense of immediacy as he describes Jelly Roll Morton’s tumultuous upbringing and immersion in music: “If you’d been Jelly Roll Morton/ you would’ve known/ that the only way to rise up/ and fly away/ was one piano note at a time.” Musical interludes and a gumbo metaphor for jazz spice up the recounting, while artist Mallett’s dramatic acrylics conjure a sense of rolling movement. An afterword discusses Morton’s influence and whether, as the musician claimed, he actually “invented” jazz. Ages 5–8. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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How to Babysit a Leopard: And Other True Stories from Our Travels Across Six Continents

Ted and Betsy Lewin. Roaring Brook/Porter, $22.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-59643-616-9

Ardent wildlife explorers, the Lewins take readers on a whirlwind tour of their travels, beginning with a 1970 trip to East Africa, where they spotted enormous herds of wildebeests and zebras, a gazelle, and a rare black rhino. Organized geographically rather than chronologically, this anecdotal travelogue incorporates information on animal habits and habitats, as well as human lifestyles, beliefs, and traditions. Unafraid of recounting gory or somber discoveries during their travels, the authors share plenty of incidents that will ensnare readers of any age, including a tense moment when a lion charged their truck in Botswana and the amusing discovery of a cane rat “dancing” with a tube of toothpaste in their tent in Mongolia. (In Botswana, they also came across the headless carcass of a kudu antelope in a river, with catfish “wriggling and writhing like living entrails” in its chest cavity.) Immediate and powerful, this retrospective underscores the Lewins’ intrepid spirit of adventure, keen powers of observation, and mutual devotion, as well as the remarkable range of species they’ve encountered, which are spotlighted in a wealth of drawings and photos that bring their explorations to even fuller life. Ages 8–14. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall

Anita Silvey. National Geographic, $18.99 (96p) ISBN 978-1-4263-1518-3

Silvey (The Plant Hunters) adeptly chronicles the life of Goodall from her childhood fascination with animal behavior to her groundbreaking field research of chimpanzees in Africa and her work to preserve endangered animals’ habitats. Goodall’s brief foreword offers a persuasive call-to-action for readers to do their part to save the natural world, and Silvey’s clear, engaging narrative moves briskly through Goodall’s career. The book’s photographs, many provided by National Geographic and the Jane Goodall Institute, include shots of Goodall’s face-to-face interactions with chimps, underscoring the animals’ intelligence and compassion, as well as the beauty of their homeland. Encouraged by paleontologist Louis Leakey, Goodall made scientific breakthroughs regarding the similarities between chimpanzees and humans. Text and photos also highlight Goodall’s extreme patience while observing and working with animals, and her tangible bond with and advocacy for them: “Chimp by chimp, Jane became involved in rescue missions around the world, always maintaining that ‘every individual matters.’ ” Incorporating sidebars, bursts, maps, illustrations, and other images, the book’s handsome design makes for easy, enjoyable navigation. Ages 8–12. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I’m Trying to Love Spiders

Bethany Barton. Viking, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-670-01693-8

Here’s a guide to spiders that acknowledges that arachnids can be difficult to cozy up to. In the attempt to study them closely, Barton (This Monster Cannot Wait!) admits, bad things may happen. Sometimes the narrator’s fear gets the better of her: “Oh my gosh! There’s a spider stuck on there! Smash it! Squish it! Get it right now!” The next page reveals a black blot in the center of an otherwise spotless page. “We’re not very good at loving spiders just yet,” Barton concedes. She hikes through the landscape of spider facts, covering the bad news honestly (the “totally gross” extended arachnid family of ticks and scorpions, the way spiders liquefy their food) while also praising spiders’ more impressive attributes, such as silk they spin into webs. “That’s like you and me building a house with our hair,” she gushes. “And then catching food on it.” Big, black brushstrokes give the illustrations and text the impact of still-wet pages, as if they’d just been completed. The skillful juggling of scientific fact and emotional truth make this a winner. Ages 4–8. Agent Stephen Barr, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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