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God's Amazing World!

Eileen Spinelli, illus. by Melanie Florian. Ideals, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8249-5661-5

Christopher Award winner Spinelli (Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch) retells the biblical creation story. With colorfully engaging illustrations by French artist Florian (My Real Name is Princess), the story follows two children as they talk about creation and play together outside. The two move around their backyard as the older child, Gracie, tell the younger child, Bo, what God did on each of the seven days when the world was created. The children then relate that day's creation to what they do in their own backyard. In talking about day two, when the sky is created, they lie in the grass watching the clouds pass by; for day three, when water is created, they splash in the sprinkler. Each day is pronounced "good." Spinelli takes the complex idea of creation and breaks it into small enough pieces that it becomes understandable for even the youngest members of its intended audience. The illustrations cheerily expand the text. Ages 4-8. Illustrator's agent: Bright Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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What Is Hidden

Lauren Skidmore. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-4621-1429-0

Debut author Skidmore offers a romantic fantasy full of mystery and mistaken identity, set in the imaginary kingdom of Venesia. Everyone in Venesia wears a mask that indicates his or her station in life. Evie’s mask sets her apart as an artisan; like her father, she is a mask maker by trade. When Evie’s father is killed in a fire at their studio, the criminal who sets the fire also brands Evie with a mark that identifies her as a part of his criminal band, thus putting her life in danger. She then goes into hiding and turns to her friend Aiden for help bringing the arsonist to justice. As Aiden’s identity is slowly revealed, Evie’s relationship with him moves from friendship to love. But will their true identities prevent them from finding lifelong happiness together? Crisp dialogue and quick pacing propel the story, a riff on Cinderella, to an action-filled ending. Filled with gossiping servants, palace intrigue, and masquerading royal personages, this novel will appeal to romance and fantasy fans. Ages 12–up. (May)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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So Not Okay

Nancy Rue. Thomas Nelson, $9.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-4003-2370-8

The prolific Rue follows her Lily, Lucy, and Sophie series for middle-graders with this first book in the Mean Girl Makeover series. Sixth-grader Tori Taylor’s close-knit group of friends has avoided being bullied by mean girl Kylie and her minions, the Pack. Until now. When Kylie picks on new student Ginger, Tori can’t remain a bystander, even if Tori’s best friend Ophelia begs her to avoid trouble. Teachers appear clueless about the subtleties of girl-on-girl bullying. Predictably, Kylie turns on Tori, too, but Tori and her friends have an advocate outside of school. Lydia, who works for Tori’s father and is a little person, helps them develop practical methods—and use prayer—to remain true to who they are while facing persecution. The writing can be clunky and sometimes tries too hard to sound like the voice of a 12-year-old girl (“So I was starting the day with a bad ’tude”), and the story reads like a case study in a tween psychology book, demonstrating strategies for real life. Still, the unfolding drama ought to engage readers. Ages 8–12. Agency: Alive Communications. (May)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain

Jacqueline Jules, illus. by Durga Yael Bernhard. Wisdom Tales, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-937786-20-5

Inspired by a legend about a Jewish vizier who advised the Muslim ruler of medieval Spain, this story tells of a conundrum faced by a boy named Samuel and the counterintuitive wisdom of his father, the vizier. After Samuel accidentally offends Hamza, the tax collector’s son, and incurs endures his rage (“Donkey Brain! Stupid! Look what you did!”), Samuel’s father instructs him, “Make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.” With illuminating details—such as the boys’ headwear, backdrops of thick stone walls or heavy wooden doors, geometric patterns in mauves and browns, and a vine and flower motif—Bernhard’s (Around the World in One Shabbat) illustrations convey an elegant, multicultural castle environment. Energy and movement infuse the paintings, which humorously render Samuel’s contemplated strategies (“Maybe he could train a monkey to sit on Hamza’s shoulders. The monkey could clamp Hamza’s lips shut”). Jules’s (the Zapato Power series) down-to-earth narrative communicates Samuel’s subtle internal transformation as the unexpected, amusing, and touching outcomes of his attempts to obey his father turn a power struggle into a budding friendship. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agency: Herman Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Celebrating Harvest

Ruth Nason. Evans Brothers (IPG/Trafalgar Sq., dist.), $10.99 paper (24p) ISBN 978-0-237-54373-0

This educational primer, part of the Start-Up Religion series, presents why and how Christians and Jews celebrate harvest. Nason (Visiting a Mosque) combines short written descriptions with photographs and other illustrations on pages tinted with washes of pastel colors. A spread dedicated to “Harvest thanks,” for example, includes several photos: a close-up of sunflower seeds, a girl watering plants, a boy adding soil, a tractor plowing a field, and birds flying against a sunset. A drawing of a basket filled with produce appears beside the text, “What would you say thanks for?” Along a yellow ribbon at bottom run words in a vocabulary list: “harvest, thank you, God, believe, water, soil.” The “Harvest festival” page depicts children in front of a church sanctuary decorated with grapes, bread, and flowers, while the Sukkot pages show sukkahs from outside and inside, with information and questions. Ten aspects of harvest-related celebrations are treated on full-spread pages, while back matter gives information for parents and teachers including new words, suggested activities, and recommended websites. An informative and engaging introduction with interfaith application. Ages 3–5. (May)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley

Jeff Weigel. Andrews McMeel, $9.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-4494-4183-8

Weigel, who has tackled superheroes (Atomic Ace [He’s Just My Dad]), the high seas (Thunder from the Sea), and monsters (The Monster Alphabet) in previous books, sets his sights on dragons for this genre adventure, employing detailed b&w inkwork and throwback storytelling to create a lively yarn whose only fault is that it’s over too soon. Even for an animal lover like Alanna, adopting a litter of baby dragons probably isn’t a good idea, especially when everyone else in the world would sooner see them extinct. But Alanna, an orphan herself, bucks the protests of her older brother, Hamel, and decides to play mother to the newborn dragons, even fashioning a homemade dragon costume from his blacksmith equipment (“This fireproof cloth we use for Hamel’s aprons will be perfect,” Alanna thinks to herself). Not surprisingly, the situation quickly escalates, and soon Alanna, Hamel, and dragon hunter Sir Cedric end up in a cloistered dragon sanctuary, each with their own conflicting ambitions. Alanna’s ingenuity, daring, warmth, and sense of humor make the prospect of future adventures a welcome one. Ages 7–12. Agent: Steven Chudney, the Chudney Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Summer of Yesterday

Gaby Triana. Simon Pulse, $9.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-4814-0130-2

Seventeen-year-old Haley is angry with her father for dragging her to Disney World’s Fort Wilderness for a vacation with his new wife and their four-year-old twins. It’s too painful: Haley’s parents met at Fort Wilderness as kids, and Haley still wishes they never got divorced. Then Haley ventures into the ruins of Disney’s River Country, and suddenly she’s falling; when she wakes up, it’s 1982. Haley soon runs into her parents-to-be as teenagers and decides to try and save their future. There’s love in the air for Haley, too—doomed love, of course, since Haley has to return to the present day, eventually. Triana (Backstage Pass) has put together a fun-loving, time-traveling trip to the 1980s—all that’s missing is a DeLorean. Whether it’s jelly shoes, Casio watches, or Christopher Atkins, Triana offers a feast of period references that will make adult readers smile (teens may need to do some Googling). As Haley’s adventure careens to an end, Triana cues up the feel-good resolutions in this sweet, lighthearted summer escape. Ages 14–up. Agent: Steven Chudney, the Chudney Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Otherbound

Corinne Duyvis. Abrams/Amulet, $17.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4197-0928-9

Whenever high school student Nolan Santiago closes his eyes, he sees through the eyes of Amara, a girl in another world. Amara, a mute slave with healing powers, has been bound to princess-in-exile Cilla since childhood, forced to absorb the curse that could kill Cilla if she spills just one drop of blood. Nolan suffers every bit of Amara’s pain until he accidentally overdoses on his medication and discovers he can escape Amara’s body. But when Nolan leaves, so do Amara’s healing abilities. Debut novelist Duyvis smoothly integrates elements of diversity and disability into her cast without letting them stand in for deeper characterizations. Nolan, whose father is Mexican, is an amputee and suffers seizurelike blackouts when he’s pulled into Amara’s world. Equal respect and weight are given to both of Amara’s romantic relationships—she loves her (male) fellow servant, Maart, and has feelings for Cilla, despite the power imbalance between them. Numerous plot twists drive the story along, and it’s grounded in worldbuilding that creates a believable, authentic setting. Duyvis makes ingenious use of a fascinating premise. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Inland

Kat Rosenfield. Dutton, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-42648-6

Rosenfield’s second book, after 2012’s Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone, opens with a woman’s (presumed) drowning and sets up persistent questions: Is the woman an exile from the sea, or is she delusional? Has she returned “home” or killed herself? Her daughter, Callie Morgan, takes over the narration thereafter, and Callie’s description of her mother being “swallowed” by the sea maintains the blurring of madness and the ocean. Callie suffers from lung disease, and she gives a melancholy and absorbing account of the debilitating, isolating reality of childhood illness. Not coincidentally, during this period Callie and her father live far from the coast where Callie was born. The lure of intellectual challenge and cold, hard cash finally persuade Callie’s father to take a job on the coast again, and suddenly Callie becomes healthy, pretty, and sociable. Plot and romance kick in, too, and as Callie tries to unlock her family history, Rosenfield resists spelling out anything definitively. Readers catch glimpses of mermaids, selkies, sirens, and mental illness—any of which might be a red herring or the real thing. Ages 14–up. Agent: Yfat Reiss Gendel, Foundry Literary + Media. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fan Art

Sarah Tregay, illus. by Melissa DeJesus. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-224315-7

A high school literary magazine becomes the vehicle for a number of awakenings in Tregay’s (Love and Leftovers) tender coming-of-age-and-coming-out story. Narrator Jamie has been open about his sexuality to his parents since ninth grade but, fearing rejection, he heads toward graduation still closeted from his best friend, Mason, with whom he is falling in love. Though Jamie isn’t the rebellious type, when the literary magazine’s board tries to avoid controversy by rejecting a lesbian student’s comic (illustrated by DeJesus and not seen by PW) depicting love between two boys, Jamie’s righteous indignation propels him to take unorthodox steps to address their prejudice. Poems by classmates, some anonymous, appear between chapters, providing poignant insight into supporting characters’ inner lives. Suspense builds as Jamie’s fear blinds him to signals readers will likely discern. The school’s factions are refreshingly nuanced, not stereotyped; a lack of understanding does not equate with meanness. The fact that even with supportive adults, encouraging friends, and a gay-straight alliance, coming out can be a daunting prospect will make this story resonate with readers. Ages 13–up. Agent: Danielle Chiotti, Upstart Crow Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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