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Jerry's Magic

W.W. Rowe. Larson (NBN, dist.), $8.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-936012-66-4

Rowe, a former college professor and author of literary criticism, turns his hand to a fiction series for middle-grade readers with the story of Jerry Shore. The novel is set in the U.S. just after WWII, and Jerry and his mother are mourning his father’s death in the war. When Jerry’s mother tells him that he is now responsible for their well-being, he determines to make as much money as possible. Not all of his moneymaking schemes work out, and not all of them are honest, but along the way Jerry foils a bank robbery and meets the Wonderworker, a man who puts Jerry in touch with his own highest nature. Jerry’s life and the lives of his friends and family are changed in unexpected and wonderful ways as a result of the knowledge the Wonderworker imparts. Readers will find much to enjoy in Jerry’s humor, his resiliency, and in the way he meets challenges head on. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Anna’s Heaven

Stian Hole. Eerdmans, $17 (42p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5441-4

Grief is the unspoken subtext of Hole’s (Garmann’s Summer) exquisite study of a father and daughter experiencing loss. Anna’s father is waiting impatiently for her as she swings in her backyard. As church bells chime in the background, Anna’s father is seen holding a bouquet, looking dejected. He tells Anna, “There’s someone in the sky sending down nails.” As father and daughter begin to talk about God, heaven, and Anna’s absent mother, the reason for her absence is implied but never stated: Anna suggests her mother may be weeding the garden in Paradise, since God is so busy. Or, Anna adds, she may have gone to the library. Hole’s mixed-media collages perfectly convey the wild, almost hallucinatory flights of Anna’s imagination, with images of flying fish, airborne jellyfish, and a giraffe and Elvis Presley half-submerged in water, amid other figures and objects. Even the front and back endpapers become part of the story. The front depicts a rain of nails, the back a rain of strawberries, as Anna had imagined. A gorgeous, poignant book. Ages 6–10. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Here Is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays

Lesléa Newman, illus. by Susan Gal. Abrams, $18.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1185-5

For an observant Jewish family, a year continually offers cause for celebration—especially when a newly arrived baby sister kicks off the cycle with a naming ceremony: “Here is the rabbi, with blessing to share./ Here is a wish and a hope and a prayer.” The simple couplets, which begin with the repeating phrase “Here is/are,” for a dash of liturgical rhythm, chronicle a year of togetherness in the home, in the synagogue (“open to all”), and in the outdoors: “Here is the shofar, its sound pure and sweet,” she writes about Rosh Hashanah, “Here are some apples and honey to eat.” (In keeping with the lighthearted mood, Yom Kippur is represented by a delicious “break-fast.”) Illustrating the change of seasons, Gal’s charcoal and digital collage images effervesce with cheery colors, moving from the radiant gold, yellows, and reds of autumn to the greens and blues of spring—with a stop in snowy winter for Chanukah, of course. A glossary, crafts ideas, and recipes conclude the book. Ages 4-7. Author’s agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. Illustrator’s agent: Morgan Gaynin. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Stork’s Landing

Tami Lehman-Wilzig, illus. by Anna Shuttlewood. Kar-Ben, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4677-1395-5

In spring, migrating storks always stop at young Maya’s kibbutz on their way back to their European homes. When one stork breaks its wing on some netting in a kibbutz fish pond, Maya becomes the bird’s advocate; with help from her father, the stork becomes a surrogate mother to a nestful of needy stork chicks. Lehman-Wilzig (Zvuvi’s Israel) immerses readers in rhythms of kibbutz life from the very first page, and she never makes a big deal of Maya’s confidence and competence: when the girl pulls out her walkie-talkie and sends out the alert, “S-O-S. Stork in net,” it’s the most natural thing in the world. U.K.-based illustrator Shuttlewood works in watercolors, an ideal medium for a story that takes place entirely outdoors. She renders her human characters in a somewhat simple style, as if reserving the detailing for the birds at the center of the story. And handsome they are, with a magnificent, snowy wingspans tipped in black, and bright red legs and beaks. It’s easy to why Maya devotes her considerable intelligence and energies to them. Ages 3–8. Illustrator’s agent: Advocate Art. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Chik Chak Shabbat

Mara Rockliff, illus. by Kyrsten Brooker. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5528-0

Designed to cook unattended for 12 hours over the Sabbath, when observant Jews cannot perform work, cholent is a fragrant stew. Goldie Simcha, a youngish woman living in a big-city apartment building, “doesn’t celebrate Shabbat exactly as my grandma did,” but she honors her memory (the book’s title is a colloquialism for “hurry up”) by inviting her neighbors to feast on cholent every Saturday. The dish (a recipe concludes the book) is such a mainstay of building life that when Goldie gets sick and can’t fix cholent, her neighbors bring dishes from their own homelands—all of which share ingredients with cholent (the Omars, for example, bring a curry made of potatoes). “I think it taste exactly like Shabbat,” declares a grateful Goldie. Rockliff’s (Me and Momma and Big John) lovely, unassuming story of tradition and multicultural community is smartly paired with Brooker’s (The Honeybee Man) oil and collages. At once homespun and stylish, the pictures speak to the possibilities for human connection in a modern, urban setting. Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Your Core

Callie Grant, illus. by Missi Jay. Graham Blanchard (STL, dist.), $8.99 (22p) ISBN 978-0-9854090-5-0

Grant (Little Seed: A Life) undertakes an ambitious task in this board book: teaching very young children about the abstract spiritual idea of a soul. Rhyme and illustration work in tandem to engage readers while explaining something that isn’t concrete, yet has connections to things that are: “The Earth’s core points a compass so/ you know the right way to go./ Your core holds the part of you/ that only God can really know.” Jay’s cartoon scenes of animals, flowers, and children at play—are brightly colored and consistently cheerful. The book might also invite children to ask questions about the soul (“Your core is your soul on your inside”), making it a fine choice for Sunday schools and other adult-child read-together occasions. Up to age 5. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Garden of Time

Jill Hammer, illus. by Zoë Cohen. Skinner House, $15 (32p) ISBN 978-1-55896-729-8

Hammer explores the Jewish legend of God’s teaching Adam and Eve the seasons, which Jewish holidays commemorate and are related to. The creative force is presented as the wind: “The wind breathed the breath of life into [the man and woman], and they woke up into the bright sun.” The wind instructs and accompanies them down a path that is a tour of the four seasons. At the end of the journey, the man and woman leave Eden (“Gently, the wind blew the people into the world”) to dwell in the garden of time, marked by the seasons. In an endnote, Cohen explains the ancient Near Eastern sources of her iconography. Her flat, simplified renderings suit the story’s mythic character. In her own endnote, Hammer discusses the relationship between the seasons and Jewish holidays, as well as the legends she drew from. While the text describes Jewish holidays, the book also lends itself to interfaith religious education. All ages. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sway

Kat Spears. St. Martin’s Griffin, $18.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-05143-1

This engrossing debut novel recounts the exploits of high school senior Jesse Alderman, who runs a lucrative business making things happen: “brokering term papers, getting juvenile delinquents kicked out of school, and delivering party favors for keggers.” A possible musical prodigy who abandoned the guitar after his mother’s suicide, Jesse has more intellectual energy than he knows what to do with, and he keeps himself busy to avoid thinking. When rich football star and “all-around douche” Ken hires him as matchmaker, Jesse becomes a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac, enamored of sweet Bridget even as he’s employed to manipulate her to fall for a creep. Jesse’s actions belie his affected indifference to personal relationships, as he softens toward people he ostensibly “uses”: elderly Mr. Dunkelman, who Jesse pretends is his grandfather to get closer to Bridget; Digger, his weed supplier; Joey, his lesbian partner-in-crime; Bridget’s disabled brother, Pete—just some of Spears’s well-developed, socioeconomically, and ethnically diverse supporting characters. Sharp dialogue, edgy humor, and an unlikely hero make this page-turner a winner. Ages 14–up. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Love Is the Drug

Alaya Dawn Johnson. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-545-41781-5

Emily Bird knows what she’s supposed to do: graduate from her posh Washington, D.C., prep school; attend an Ivy League school; hold onto her appropriate boyfriend; keep her too-kinky hair chemically tamed; and assume her place among the elite. But a flu pandemic, which may be bioterrorism, means drones, tanks, quarantines, and more work for Emily’s parents—government scientists so busy that they don’t come home when Emily ends up in the hospital. That’s where Johnson’s story starts, with Emily under government observation, wondering whom to trust, and trying to figure out whether she’s ready to quit being good-girl Emily and become independent Bird. Johnson (The Summer Prince) blends high school drama, cloak-and-dagger intrigue, race and class inequities, coming of age, and a passionate love story, blending these disparate elements into a narrative that both requires and repays attention. Watching Bird make her way through a world filled with dangers—biological, political, personal—and find not just love, but also herself, makes for rewarding reading. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A New Darkness

Joseph Delaney. Greenwillow, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-233453-4

Delaney launches a trilogy that picks up after the events chronicled in his Last Apprentice series. With his mentor dead, 17-year-old Tom Ward has become the new Chipenden Spook, despite his incomplete training and young age, and as such he must contend with “ghosts, ghasts, boggarts, witches, and all manner of things that go bump in the night.” He’s joined by 15-year-old Jenny, who claims to be the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and who wants to be his new apprentice. While Jenny’s training begins, the two run afoul of a new threat, as the dreaded Kobalos finally make their long-awaited move into the County. Tom, Jenny, and the witch-assassin Grimalkin embark on a desperate gambit to learn more about their mysterious enemy, undertaking a perilous journey that may prove fatal. Delaney makes it easy for new readers to enter the off-kilter alternate England he’s created, one fleshed out by dark magic and strange creatures. The story drags a little in places, but it’s still a solid, suspenseful, and spooky adventure with a fiendish cliffhanger. Ages 13–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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