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The Bamboo Sword

Margi Preus. Abrams/Amulet, $16.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4197-0807-7

Preus revisits historical Japanese-American relations in a tale that catapults Yoshi, a young servant who longs to wield the sword of a samurai, into a clash of alien powers. When Commodore Perry’s steamships (“Black dragons belching smoke”) arrive in 1853 in an effort to force isolationist Japan into diplomatic relations, the feudal world of Edo Japan is shaken to its core. Yoshi’s master, Hideki, can’t stomach his duties as a samurai, and his bodyguard, Kitsune, blames Yoshi, who fights back and flees for his life. A homeless fugitive, Yoshi finds work with a generous artist, a sandal maker, and finally Manjiro, the hero of Preus’s Newbery Honor–winning Heart of a Samurai. Yoshi’s narrative alternates with that of Jack Sullivan, a cabin boy on Perry’s ship. When Jack is stranded on shore, Yoshi risks everything to hide him from Japanese authorities and rogue samurai whose identities are threatened by a changing social structure. Though her characters lack some of the depth of her previous work, Preus remains adept at meshing fiction with carefully researched history. Ages 10–14. Agent: Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Vanishing Island

Barry Wolverton. HarperCollins/Walden Pond, $16.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-222190-2

Twelve-year-old Bren Owen has always wanted to travel the world seeking adventure, but his father has kept him at home in Map, “the dirtiest, noisiest, smelliest city in all of Britannia.” The year is 1599, and Holland is the great sea power in this first book in the Chronicles of the Black Tulip series, set in an alternate past. Holland has colonies throughout Southeast Asia, and when a ship of the Dutch Bicycle & Tulip Company stops in Map, Bren would do anything to get on board. A mysterious object Bren receives from a dying sailor gives him the chance he has been waiting for, but it also causes more adventure than he is entirely comfortable with. Wolverton’s (Neversink) story speeds along suspensefully through a history intriguingly different from our own. The privations and hazards of sea travel are thoroughly depicted (as is the unpleasant reality of Bren’s work in a vomitorium), and the occasional moment of magic is gracefully understated. The major beats of the plot are fairly standard and the characterizations basic, but Bren’s story still entertains. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB

Adam Shaughnessy. Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-61620-498-3

Eleven-year-old Pru wants to be a detective like her father, who was a member of their small-town police force before he was killed. When a mysterious postcard appears under Pru’s bedroom door asking “What is the unbelievable FIB?” she is ready to find out. Joined by new boy Abe, Pru is also curious about the strange weather in town and the unusual man she meets during a field trip to a local mansion that houses a museum of Viking artifacts. After a frost giant chases the two children through a graveyard, they are swept up into a magical quest. Debut author Shaughnessy skillfully weaves Norse myth, the story of Baba Yaga, and Pru’s pain over her father’s death into an action-packed story full of heart. Pru is relatable and real as she learns to trust people again, not to mention brave as she confronts ancient villains. It’s a moving exploration of the ways people can close themselves off to magic in the world, as well as face grief scarier than any frost giant. Ages 8–12. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Riddle in Ruby

Kent Davis. Greenwillow, $17.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-236834-8

It’s 1718, and alchemy has changed the course of history and ushered in the Chemystral Age. But all of this matters very little to Ruby Teach as she learns how to don disguises, pick locks, steal things, and evade capture while growing up on her pirate captain father’s ship. After the Royal Navy attacks their ship on its way to Philadelphi and takes her father and his men captive, Ruby must rely on her skills and help from some unlikely allies in order to rescue them. Along the way, she learns about secret societies, figures out whom she can trust, and uncovers family secrets that will place her right in the midst of a coming war. Debut author Davis doesn’t provide much background to explain the alchemical underpinnings of the alternate history he’s constructed in this trilogy opener, and getting acclimated slows an otherwise fast-paced adventure. However, it’s worth suspending disbelief to enjoy following this intrepid heroine and her companions, who are full of surprises themselves, on their swashbuckling journey. Ages 8–12. Agent: Susanna Einstein, Einstein Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Day the Mustache Took Over

Alan Katz, illus. by Kris Easler. Bloomsbury, $13.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-61963-558-6

Twins Nathan and David Wohlfardt take pride in the number of nannies they have driven to quit, and they expect their latest one to quickly take the same route. But when they meet their first manny, Martin Healey—who sports a “mushy, bushy mustache” and speaks with a fake British accent—the two third-graders know things are about to change. The twins are mischievous on their own, but Martin’s arrival brings a previously unmatched level of absurdity that is sure to delight young readers. In front of the boys’ parents, Martin refuses to stand for their nonsense and demands that they work hard and do their chores. But when the parents are out, his attitude is a dream come true for the twins: “Work? Ha! Chores? Blah! Hygiene? Responsibility? Fuggetaboudit!” Nearly every line of the story is topsy-turvy, turning normalcy on its head, and Easler’s b&w illustrations confirm it. This nonsensical, entertaining tale brings humor and fun to new heights, even as Martin’s brilliant nonchalance slowly teaches the kids better behavior and habits. Ages 7–10. Author’s agency: Adams Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Louis I, King of the Sheep

Olivier Tallec, trans. from the French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick. Enchanted Lion (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 (36p) ISBN 978-1-59270-185-8

When a breeze-tossed crown lands at your feet (or hooves, as the case may be), what can it mean but that you are destined to rule? The divine right of kings applies to sheep, right? “And so it was one windy day that Louis the sheep thereby became Louis I, king of the sheep,” begins Tallec (the Big Wolf and Little Wolf books). Louis promptly begins to walk on two legs, wields a branch as a scepter, and adopts a regal, Solomonic expression. Initially, there’s a palpable disconnect between the authority Louis claims and the attention of his citizenry; when he uses the crotch of a tree as a “throne from which to hand down justice, because justice is rather important,” the flock on the surrounding hillside is uninterested at best. Tallec has fun with Louis’s increasingly grandiose visions, which include importing lions to hunt and entertaining diplomats at a palace worthy of Versailles. Just as monarchy appears poised to become tyranny, another breeze prompts a changing of the guard. A witty, thought-provoking meditation on the seductiveness—and fleeting nature—of power. Ages 6–9. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Little Tree

Loren Long. Philomel, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-16397-5

All the saplings around Little Tree eagerly shed their leaves each fall, even if it means having to endure the winter chill with bare branches; there’s no other way they can grow tall and strong, and fulfill their role in the forest community. But Little Tree is having none of it, even when his leaves turn droopy and brown. “What would he do without his leaves?” writes Long (the Otis series), adding, in what becomes the book’s poignant refrain, “Little Tree just hugged his leaves tight.” It’s the kind of parable that could turn preachy and soggy very quickly, but Long makes it work; in fact, his willingness to take his time and even test the audience’s patience with his arboreal hero’s intransigence results in an ending that’s both a big relief and an authentic triumph. Childhood is full of big, difficult transitions; Long’s earnest-eloquent narrative voice and distilled, single-plane drawings, both reminiscent of an allegorical pageant, acknowledge the reality of the struggle while offering the promise of brighter days ahead. Ages 5–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Felix Stands Tall

Rosemary Wells. Candlewick, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6111-3

Fearless, determined, and blunt, Fiona has decided that Felix will be her new best friend. That’s good, because Fiona’s gumption is a tonic for cautious, mild-mannered Felix—in fact, she pushes him to enter a talent show with her as a song-and-dance team, and they win first prize. But there’s a downside: Felix suddenly has a higher profile at school, and he becomes the target of bullies who taunt him with cries of “Here comes Twinkletoes,” tie his gym shoes together, and even put “a chirping plastic cricket” in his egg-salad sandwich. “Felix, you’re a hot mess,” Fiona tells him, hilariously if not entirely helpfully. But thanks to a little mentoring from Fiona (which includes the use of one of her invisible “Magic Protection Suits”), Felix learns to stand tall and gains the confidence to put his relationship with Fiona on more equal footing. With a cast of guinea pigs who correspond to instantly recognizable human types, this series opener from Max and Ruby creator Wells humorously captures the fluidity of social dynamics—and proves that it’s possible to captain one’s own destiny. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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In a Cloud of Dust

Alma Fullerton, illus. by Brian Deines. Pajama (IPS, dist.), $19.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-9274-8562-0

Through the fictional story of a Tanzanian girl named Anna, Fullerton (Community Soup) and Deines (Bear on the Homefront) reveal how bicycles can change the lives of children whose families lack access to motorized transportation. Opening on “a little schoolhouse [that] sits at the end of a dusty road,” Deines shows Anna working indoors at a desk. “There will be no daylight for schoolwork by the time she reaches home,” writes Fullerton. A truck from a “Bicycle Library” unloads several bikes, but none are left for Anna; undeterred, she helps her friends learn how to ride their bikes (“She directs Samwel around the obstacles/ Left/ Right/ Stop!”) and shares one of them with another student so both of them can get home quickly. Soaked in warm golds and oranges, Deines’s oil paintings glow with a sense of promise as the children race around the schoolyard on their bikes. Fullerton says quite a bit with few words in her verselike prose, and a detailed author’s note discusses the vital role bicycles play in communities across Africa and supplies information about bicycle donation organizations. Ages 4–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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You’re Here for a Reason

Nancy Tillman. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-250-05626-9

Tillman (The Heaven of Animals) pairs her characteristically cheerful exhortations with layered mixed-media artwork in which startlingly real-looking children and animals play. The children dance with tigers, play soccer with kangaroos, and cuddle with pandas as Tillman assures readers that every life has a purpose: “Life works together, the good and the bad,/ the silly and awful, and happy and sad,/ to paint a big picture we can’t always see.../ a picture that needs you, most definitely.” In this interconnected world, she suggests, children’s good deeds have effects that they may never know about (“A kindness, for instance, may triple for days.../ or set things in motion in different ways”). She pictures the good deeds and the distance they travel as a boy, accompanied by a blue elephant, lets go of his colorful, long-tailed kite. A fox uses it as a sled for her kits, and the ribbons become a bridle for a moose and adorn a bird’s nest, which serves as a boat for a ferret. Polished artwork and character-building verse make this just as desirable as Tillman’s previous books. Ages 4–8. Agent: Cathy Hemming, Cathy Hemming Literary Agency (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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