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Roadside Attraction

M.G. Higgins. Saddleback, $9.95 trade paper (124p) ISBN 978-1-68021-102-3

Higgins (Iggy) takes readers to the tiny town of Ferris, Ariz., in this tense addition to the Gravel Road Rural line, written at a first-grade reading level. After Logan Monroe, 16, meets a 14-year-old girl named Brooke, who is hitchhiking her way to Oklahoma City where her grandmother lives, his protective instincts kick in. He initially tries to buy her a bus ticket and eventually decides to drive her there himself. But Brooke isn’t terribly interested in Logan’s help, especially after he discovers that she has been cutting herself with a razor. The terse, clipped narration and dialogue is readily accessible and serves the characters and scene-setting well. Brooke’s struggles and Logan’s sense of loyalty, both to Brooke and to his father (who suffers from panic attacks and anxiety), will easily keep readers engaged in this coming-of-age story. Ages 14–up. (May)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Trap Jam

Steven Barwin. Lorimer (Lerner, dist.), $27.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-4594-1103-6

Sixteen-year-old Olivia, of mixed Cuban and Jamaican heritage, pretends to be a college student to get a gig as a band’s drummer in a story about escalating bad decisions, part of the SideStreets series, written at a third-grade reading level. Before long, playing (and drinking) with the band is taking a toll on Olivia’s everyday life as her grades suffer and she starts showing up hungover to school. Meanwhile, one of Olivia’s bandmates, Lucas, is aggressively pursuing her romantically, not knowing that she’s underage. Barwin (Hardball) maintains a fast-paced story, blending multiple hot-button issues including controlling relationships and substance abuse. The plot gets over-the-top toward the end, but readers should be sufficiently invested in Olivia’s story to find out whether she can escape her downward spiral. Simultaneously available: Cutter Boy, Killer Drop, and One Night. Ages 13–up. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Justin

L.J. Alonge. Grosset & Dunlap, $6.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-101-99562-4

One of two books kicking off the Blacktop series, written at a fourth-grade reading level, Alonge’s first novel taps into the conflicted voice and emotions of 15-year-old Justin Shaw, a talented African-American basketball player trying to find his way. After accidentally burning down a local corner store in a misguided attempt to impress some guys in his Bushrod Park neighborhood of Oakland, Calif., Justin tries to assemble a ragtag basketball team to play against a tough team from nearby Ghosttown (“They show up to your neighborhood like Vikings—ready to conquer, pillage, and plunder”). It’s a coming-of-age story with hard edges and heart, and Justin’s strained relationship with his estranged, alcoholic father is especially well-handled. Another player on Justin’s team stars in Janae, available simultaneously. Ages 12–up. (June)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Another Miserable Love Song

Brooke Carter. Orca, $9.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4598-1312-0

Kallie Echo, 18, still reeling from the recent death of her father, now has to figure out how to keep her Vancouver home in Carter’s debut novel, part of the Orca Soundings series, written at a fourth-grade reading level. Then Kallie is asked to join her friend Jamie’s all-girl punk band; before long, she is romantically entangled with Jamie, who is transitioning to life as a man. Despite some hiccups, the band starts to take off, but while readers will be drawn in by Carter’s electric descriptions of performing (“I opened my mouth... and pressed my lips to the mic, kissing the crosshatched metal.... A surge of power rose in my gut”), those excited by the tender trans love story that develops will likely be disappointed by the melodramatic and violent ending. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Taz’s Recipe

Diane Tullson. Orca, $9.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4598-1035-8

Written at a third-grade reading level, this addition to the Orca Currents series opens with a bang (a fire alarm, actually) as 14-year-old Taz inadvertently starts a small fire at her polytechnic high school while attempting to microwave chocolate chips in her food science class. The incident doesn’t derail Taz’s efforts to succeed in the class, though maybe it should—the book is a parade of culinary disasters that includes melted utensils, sliced fingers, and airborne roulades, all of which Tullson (Foolproof) recounts with droll humor while emphasizing both the real hazards and the creative rewards of cooking. Taz’s crush on a fellow student and her feelings surrounding her parents’ divorce flesh out a story that will entertain both culinarily talented readers and those who, like Taz, struggle with the finer points of making boxed mac and cheese. Ages 10–14. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Counting with Barefoot Critters

Teagan White. Tundra, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-101-91771-8

The friendly animals introduced in 2014’s Adventures with Barefoot Critters—a fox, bat, triceratops, and more—return for a counting adventure that celebrates the pleasures of outdoor play. Sturdy, gentle rhymes guide readers through a day’s worth of fun. Initially, one raccoon reads alone: “But when the story is over you might start to feel blue/ And realize your day would be better with... Two!” New critters join on each subsequent spread, exploring the woods, enjoying a cake break, playing pirates, refurbishing tree houses, and more. White’s endearing watercolor and gouache illustrations create a cozy woodland world that readers will be eager to revisit. Ages 4–8. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Swallow the Leader

Danna Smith, illus. by Kevin Sherry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-10518-8

An orange fish carrying a flag leads a chain of 10 fish, who follow its every move. “Follow the leader/ to coral caves./ Snap like a crab./ Ride on the waves,” writes Smith (Arctic White), as eight additional fish (and a shark) show up. When fish #1 stops for a snack, the other fish follow suit, eating each other one by one. Sherry’s (Turtle Island) fish are in the wide-eyed, cartoony school of his previous books, but he gives them a rich aquatic environment to explore, assembled from cut-paper shapes and mottled watercolor backdrops. A happy ending caps this cheeky underwater adventure. Ages 4–7. Author’s agent: Ronnie Ann Herman, Herman Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Teresa Kietlinski, Prospect Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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One North Star: A Counting Book

Phyllis Root, illus. by Beckie Prange and Betsy Bowen. Univ. of Minnesota, $16.95 (36p) ISBN 978-0-8166-5063-7

“Who lives here/ under one north star?” asks this quiet homage to Minnesota’s wildlife and ecosystems. Root (Snowy Sunday) uses a cumulative structure as she counts up to 10 but introduces new flora and fauna with each page turn: “Five walleyes fin near wild rice/ four blue flag irises flower/ three mudpuppies wriggle/ two loons call/ one porcupine sleeps in a jack pine tree/ all along a lake/ under one north star.” Prange and Bowen combine rough-hewn woodcuts with bright watercolors to give a sense of bustling marshes, sweeping plains, and snow-covered forests. Thorough endnotes dive deeper into each of the habitats and the animals that call them home. Ages 3–up. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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123 Dream

Kim Krans. Random House, $16.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-553-53932-5

In a companion to ABC Dream, published earlier this year, Krans counts to 20 using meticulously detailed ink and watercolor drawings of wild animals and objects, including four foxes, nine narwhals, 14 feathers, and 17 salamanders. Each numeral appears in bold black print, but the pages are otherwise wordless, creating a subtle guessing game involving what is meant to be counted (four rabbits appear for the number eight—it’s their ears that need counting). A closing spread lists additional items that readers can look back through the pages to locate, offering additional opportunities to engage with the natural settings Krans evocatively draws. Ages 3–7. Agent: Meg Thompson, Thompson Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Octopuses One to Ten

Ellen Jackson, illus. by Robin Page. Beach Lane, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4814-3182-8

In this octopus-themed book that counts from one to 10, Jackson (Beastly Babies) offers gentle rhymes that explore the animal’s characteristics and habits (“They can wander where they please, swimming through the seven seas”); supplemental paragraphs elaborate on the ideas introduced (“Every ocean of the world, from the shallow coastal waters to the depths of the sea, is home to at least one species of octopus”). Page’s (A Chicken Followed Me Home!) digital art, which resembles torn-paper collage, provides a sense of fluid, underwater movement while highlighting the striking diversity of octopus species, including the webbed blanket octopus and venomous blue-ringed octopus. Craft ideas are included. Ages 2–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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