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Bunny’s First Spring

Sally Lloyd-Jones, illus. by David McPhail. Zonderkidz, $15.99 (64p) ISBN 978-0-310-73386-7

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Lloyd-Jones (Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing) uses the cycle of the seasons to offer a reassuring story about change. A bunny is born in spring and hops through summer until the days grow short, animals scatter, and trees lose their leaves, which frightens the young rabbit (“And the white frost bit the earth./ And turned it to stone”). After sleeping through winter (the bunny is seen snoozing in his burrow), the natural world awakens: “Up through cracks in the ground—came bright green shoots!” The book ends with a paraphrased quote from Martin Luther about God’s promise of new life. McPhail’s Peter Rabbit–esque illustrations make the story; his soft lines fill in details of fur and feathers, and his muted palette intimates the hush of bedtime. Lloyd-Jones’s narrative rhythm is odd; some lines rhyme, while others do not, which might throw off the pacing of some readalouds. Smart older readers might notice that the story actually contains two spring seasons, which could make for good conversation about the repeated cycle of the seasons. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan

Christine Mari Inzer. Naruhodo Press (www.naruhodopress.com), $11.95 paper (102p) ISBN 978-0-9907014-0-8

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Inzer, a high school senior, channels the work of Lucy Knisley and Raina Telgemeier in her journal-like travelogue comic. In 2013, she traveled alone to Japan, her birthplace, to stay with her grandparents outside Tokyo. Accompanied by occasional photos from her travels, Inzer’s gestural b&w cartoons trace her simultaneous excitement and nervousness over exploring Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood by herself, moments of cultural confusion (such as the trials of mastering Japanese toilets), and failed attempts to get boys to notice her (“Why don’t you ever look up from your phones?” she moans on a page titled “The Problem with Japanese Boys”). The mostly single-page anecdotes are often amusing, and Inzer isn’t afraid to play with form (while feeding deer in Nara, outside Kyoto, hungry animals descend on her from outside the frame of the final panel on the page). While readers may not feel like they have fully witnessed the growth that Inzer claims at book’s end, her skills of observation and talent for visual humor bode well for future efforts. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March

Lynda Blackmon Lowery, Elspeth Leacock, and Susan Buckley, illus. by PJ Loughran. Dial, $19.99 (128p) ISBN 978-0-8037-4123-2

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Lowery’s dogged participation as a teen in the fight for equal civil rights—as told to Leacock and Buckley (collaborators on Journeys for Freedom and other titles)—offers a gripping story told in conversational language. “We learned the drill real quick: We went to jail, we came back out, and then we went to jail again.... Pretty soon we knew to take our own little bologna sandwiches... because jail food just wasn’t good.” The matter-of-fact tone often belies the danger Lowery and other protesting teenagers faced. Enhancing the narrative’s appeal are Loughran’s dramatic comics–style illustrations, which accompany archival photos. As the 1965 march to Montgomery drew closer, Lowery found herself in increasingly dangerous situations (e.g., the sweatbox in jail or being tear-gassed). Undeterred by fear, she joined the historic march, offering her description of what it was like as the youngest participant on the wet, four-day journey. In time to mark the march’s 50th anniversary, this recounting informs and inspires. An afterword briefly explains U.S. segregation history and profiles people who lost their lives in connection with the march. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World

Charles R. Smith Jr., illus. by Shane W. Evans. Roaring Brook/Porter, $18.99 (56p) ISBN 978-1-59643-820-0

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In recognition of Black History Month, the creators of Black Jack offer 28 capsule tributes to African-American history and culture, spotlighting both celebrated and lesser-known figures, incidents, and legislation. Smith—who, in an introduction, discusses his own “love-hate relationship with Black History Month” and his concerns about “ignoring [black culture] the other eleven months” of the year—mingles narrative styles to suit his subjects. Eloquent prose passages eulogize Harriet Tubman and businesswoman and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker, rhythmic free verse celebrates singer Marian Anderson, and energetic poems commemorate such athletes as Wilma Rudolph, Hank Aaron, and Arthur Ashe. Smith also provides relevant primary source material, including excerpts from the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Brown v. Board of Education. Expressively evoking a range of time periods and personalities, Evans’s bold, collagelike illustrations pull together penetrating portraits, symbolic backdrops, and dramatic silhouettes. Succinct biographical info, included throughout, further cements the value and utility of the project, both in and out of the classroom. Ages 4–10. Author’s agent: Miriam Altshuler, Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hellhole

Gina Damico. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-544-30710-0

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In this dark comedy, Damico (the Croak trilogy) shows what happens when a deal with the devil, however reluctant, goes horribly wrong. Seventeen-year-old Max Kilgore indulges in some petty shoplifting and ends up with a velour tracksuit–wearing devil named Burg squatting in his basement, eating junk food and shouting at cable shows. Driven by both self-preservation and desperation, Max agrees to find Burg a place to live if the devil will heal Max’s mother’s bad heart. Max enlists the help of Lore, a classmate who’s had prior experience with devilry, but soon they’re both caught up in an increasingly messy, morally murky situation. Damico’s blend of bleak humor and harsh reality lends itself well to Max’s social awkwardness and Lore’s biting cynicism, while Burg is outrageously appalling (one moment he’s munching on a stick of butter half-naked, the next he’s hurling a fireplace poker at Max’s head). The ending is somewhat rushed and leaves a few loose ends, but this remains a wild and unpredictable cautionary tale about ill-considered bargains and bad decisions. Ages 14–up. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Gone Too Far

Natalie D. Richards. Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4022-8554-7

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Richards (Six Months Later) delivers a gripping whodunit with a challenging ethical dilemma at its center. High school senior Piper Woods finds a journal filled with incriminating revelations about her classmates. Soon after, Piper begins to receive text messages from an unknown source who is determined to right the wrongs that led to the death of Stella DuBois, a classmate caught in a compromising act. Piper, an outsider and the yearbook photographer, picks each target, and her mystery accomplice fits the punishment to the crime. The plan works a little too well, and as Piper gains a boyfriend and chronicles the demise of the popular clique through her lens, she finds that her family and friends are targets themselves. Faced with the decision to reveal herself, Piper must also uncover her accomplice, a situation that leads to violence. Richards maintains a quick pace and creates enough red herrings to keep readers guessing. The subtext of the novel, that change is inevitable, is poignant and clearly established through the characterization of Piper and her friends. Ages 14–up. Agent: Cori Deyoe, 3 Seas Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Red Queen

Victoria Aveyard. HarperTeen, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-231063-7

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In the dystopian future of Aveyard’s debut, those who bleed red are the impoverished underclass, meant to serve silver-bloods who boast supernatural gifts that have helped them maintain control. But a rebellion is rising, and 17-year-old Red narrator Mare Barrow is the spark to ignite the Scarlet Guard’s cause after she discovers she can summon lightning from her fingertips. Aveyard is adept at describing Mare’s psychological struggle, forced to live as a captive among the royal family after her powers manifest ceremony to choose a future queen. Mare’s journey as reluctant poster child and mutant becomes as much about fighting for what is right as about untangling the deceit of the privileged upper echelons. There’s an unmistakable feeling of deja vu to this first installment in the Red Queen trilogy, which shares several plot points and similarities with the Hunger Games series, with more arenas for barbaric televised slaughter and honed survival skills swapped out for preternatural powers. Fortunately, Aveyard’s conclusion leaves the story poised to depart from this derivative setup. Ages 13–up. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Soulprint

Megan Miranda. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8027-3774-8

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Miranda (Vengeance) introduces a heroine with a strong voice and a thirst for freedom, thrust among a vividly delineated supporting cast with competing agendas. In a future where reincarnation can be scientifically tracked, 17-year-old half-Hispanic Alina Chase has spent her life isolated, allegedly for her own protection. She carries within her the soul of a charismatic and destructive whistleblower turned blackmailer, June Calahan. Broken out of confinement by a daring trio barely older than she is, Alina finds she still cannot escape June’s shadow—her rescuers want her to access the soul database that June used for her crimes. The beauty of Miranda’s latest novel is in watching Alina, unused to human relationships, fall in love, earn trust, and form fast friendships in a high-adrenaline atmosphere, as she and her companions fight to stay ahead of the authorities while following the trail left by June. Miranda also serves up plenty of tense thrills, ranging from Alina’s underwater escape from the island where she was held to her cutting a tracker out of a friend’s flesh. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Oathbreaker’s Shadow

Amy McCulloch. Llewellyn/Flux, $11.99 trade paper (408p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4405-6

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It takes a bit of work to make headway into debut author McCulloch’s imaginative space. She eschews the typical medieval European world of fantasy for a nomadic yurt village on the steppes. The cast of characters is large, the customs and beliefs distant, and worldbuilding detail comes thick and fast. For readers who stick with it, what unfolds is a thoughtful coming-of-age story focused on questions of what constitutes betrayal. Raim, at 15, has been the devoted friend of Khareh, the crown prince of Dashan, for five years. The boys are on the brink of adult choices: Raim wants to become an elite Yun warrior, while Khareh is sliding into a battle of wills with the khan he has been chosen to succeed. As the boys swear a sacred vow to be forever protector and protected, these futures crumble. Marked as an oathbreaker and outcast, Raim goes on the run for his life into the merciless desert. Many questions are raised and none resolved, yet it’s an intriguing start to McCulloch’s planned series. Ages 12–up. Agent: Juliet Mushens, Agency Group. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Kingdom of the Sun and Moon

Lowell H. Press. Parkers Mill Publishing (www.thekingdomofthesunandmoon.com), $11.99 paper (316p) ISBN 978-0-9905130-0-1

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First-time author Press creates a complex and absorbing world of mouse kingdoms set against the grounds of Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace. After a small, strong-willed mouse named Nesbit speaks out against the kingdom’s tyrannical ruler, the König, he is cast away to the treacherous Forest of Lost Life (one of the distant regions of the palace complex). Meanwhile, Nesbit’s more even-tempered brother, Sommer, is forced to join the Eagle Guard to defend the palace against a powerful army of approaching field mice. Murine, feline, and human characters commingle in an adventure filled with rich descriptions of a world lived within palace walls, beside corridors, and along labyrinthine garden paths. While abundant details about the mice’s mythology and lore can slow the pace, Press keeps the story scampering along with humor and persistent threats to Nesbit and Sommer in the form of owls, cats, and rival rodents. The author takes full advantage of the expansive backdrop and his diminutive protagonists as the brothers and their allies work to overthrow a brutal adversary and protect their homeland. Ages 10–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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