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Winston & George

John Miller, illus. by Giuliano Cucco. Enchanted Lion (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 (56p) ISBN 978-1-59270-145-2

Best friends George, a crocodile, and Winston, a crocodile bird, take symbiosis to a new level. Winston perches on George's snout and alerts him whenever he spies a fish; then George dives deep in the water, taking the fish to shore "where they enjoyed many a delicious meal together." Despite their mutual affection, Winston can't resist playing pranks on George and the other crocodiles, such as shouting "Danger!" just to see the reptiles make big splashes in the water. When Winston takes his pranking too far, and George is placed at real risk, it results in a true test of their friendship. Cucco creates a highly appealing jungle landscape of chunky cartoons and vivid color contrasts—Winston is (ironically) safety orange, while lime-green George has a hot pink tongue. As an author's note explains, while Miller and the late Cucco wrote and illustrated their picture books in 1960s Italy before losing touch with each other, this is the first of their works to see publication. Both a throwback and fully modern, it's a charming story of devoted friendship—feathers, scales, and all. Ages 5–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Peggy: A Brave Chicken on a Big Adventure

Anna Walker. Clarion, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-25900-3

When a gust of wind sweeps a coal-black chicken named Peggy away from her quiet and predictable suburban life and into the city, she rapidly adjusts to her new surroundings: "Peggy landed with a soft thud. She was far from home. She picked herself up, ruffled her feathers, and went for a walk. Peggy saw things she had never seen before." Walker creates a gorgeous, rain-washed cityscape, inhabited by anonymous figures in muted colors and photo-collaged images of passing buildings; the lone chicken, walking confidently within the crowd, receives only casual attention. Humorous spot illustrations show Peggy's many urban sojourns, including getting sprayed by a water fountain, catching a movie, eating pasta, and inspecting a pair of polka-dot underwear at a "Bargain Sale." A familiar sight helps her find her way back to her own yard. Originally published in Australia, Walker's story speaks to the ways traveling can change a person (or a chicken) and expand one's worldview, particularly when one has a home to come back to. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lily the Unicorn

Dallas Clayton. Harper, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-06-211668-0

Clayton (A Is for Awesome) introduces a pink-and-blue unicorn with enough joie de vivre to power an entire kingdom. Despite Lily's boundless enthusiasm for activities that range from playing instruments to baking cake, her new penguin friend Roger doesn't like to do much of anything at all. His favorite sport is "resting," and he only begrudgingly accompanies Lily on her expeditions, his brow perpetually furrowed. Clayton crowds his pages with tiny illustrations that show Lily's numerous interests and friends, as well as her futile attempts to interest Roger in riding an elephant, flying in a hot-air balloon, and giving away presents (to a green slug monster), among dozens and dozens of other things to do. Lily's ungainly appearance—her skinny limbs, tubular torso, and elongated snout don't exactly scream "majestic"—makes her tennis playing and scuba diving all the funnier. Bubbly, chaotically arranged type mimics Lily's higgledy-piggledy, larger-than-life personality. Roger's stick-in-the-mud attitude (it turns out to be rooted in anxiety) is a welcome foil for Lily's relentless optimism, which, as any reader who has had a bad day knows, can be overwhelming. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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May the Stars Drip Down

Jeremy Chatelain, illus. by Nikki McClure. Abrams, $19.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1024-7

Using a palette of inky midnight blue, white, and pale gold, McClure's torn paper compositions bring a sense of movement, mystery, and dimension to musician Chatelain's evocative lullaby. As a mother and young child cuddle close, white specks of stars, rings of light, and wavelike celestial patterns stand boldly against dark swaths of land and sky, creating a contrast that is reminiscent of woodprint. The melodic rhymes conjure wild and sweeping imagery, amid well-wishing for the boy's future journeys: "The wind blows grasses green and blue/ May the path gently lead you./ To a coastline town where porch lights blink,/ Till the last house slowly falls asleep,/ While waves roll in forevermore./ May you walk the sandy shore." In one spread, the boy peers with almost savage independence from behind tall meadow grasses. Yet at the finale, the mother (advanced in age) continues to comfort and hold her sleeping offspring: "Then the morning light comes gently in,/ And you wake to sunshine and the wind,/ Whose whispers will ring true./ May I always have you./ May I always have you." Ages 3–7. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College

Halley Bondy. Zest (HMH, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-936976-00-3

Bondy follows her babysitting guide, Don’t Sit on the Baby, with a book that urges readers to make the most of their time away at school: “College wouldn’t be college if it didn’t include a wide range of experiences,” writes Bondy in her introduction. Each of the 77 ideas gets a spread of its own, and Bondy groups her suggestions into categories revolving around the dorm (“Bring your roommate a gift”), flying solo (“Get lost in town”), being outgoing (in praise of the dance party: “Booty shaking is the almighty peacemaking universal language of fun”), preparing for the future (“The connections you make now will last a lifetime if you nurture those relationships”), and more. Sidebars, bulleted lists, and illustrations featuring a stick-figure robot contribute to a format tailor-made for skipping around. Whether readers are introverts, partiers, activists, or athletes, Bondy provides an array of opportunities to make their time in college as well-rounded as possible. And much of the advice applies to life beyond college, too: “People make the most colossal mistakes when they don’t trust their gut.” Ages 14–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Night Before College

Sonya Sones and Ava Tramer, illus. by Max Dalton. Grosset & Dunlap, $9.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-448-46147-2

From the publisher of Natasha Wing’s long-running Night Before series comes a picture book that aims for an audience whose first day of class is more likely to involve organic chemistry than organic juice boxes. The mother-daughter team of Sones and Tramer use Clement Clarke Moore’s holiday classic to sing the praises of soon-to-be college students and send them on their way. There’s more than a little hyperbole involved (“They had aced it in preschool,/ read books by age four./ And before they turned six,/ they had joined the Peace Corps”), and the occasional dash of adult humor offsets the cute format (of the SATs: “they feared if they froze,/ and the scores they got sucked,/ the rest of their lives/ would be totally... ruined”). Dalton creates a genial, if somewhat nondescript cast of everypeople, from crowded quads filled with readers, guitar-strummers, and sunbathers to the proud family members who gather around the grill to send off the college-bound teens with a barbecue. Just the thing to tuck into a teen’s stocking (or maybe shower caddy). Ages 17–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Country, ’Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights

Claire Rudolf Murphy, illus. by Bryan Collier. Holt, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8226-5

“More than any other, one song traces America’s history of patriotism and protest.” Murphy’s (Marching with Aunt Susan) sweeping opening line sets the stage for subsequent examples of how marginalized groups have adopted and changed the song, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” A straightforward narrative examines the song’s various versions. Beginning in 1700s England as an anthem supporting King George II, the melody was put to use across the sea in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, along with the abolitionist, farmworkers’, suffragist, Native American, and Civil Rights movements. Collier’s (Knock, Knock) striking full-spread collages invite close inspection. Layered textures and hues, photographs, and intricate paper designs create eye-catching and sometimes haunting illustrations. In one scene, runaway slaves escape through dark woods, the silhouettes of African-American children’s faces forming mountains and shrubs. A boy’s face stares out at readers from a hole in a tree trunk, as faded, anguished faces blend into the bark. “My country, ’tis for thee,/ Dark land of slavery,/ For thee I weep.” Source notes offer more details about each spread, and a bibliography and resource list are included. Ages 5–9. Illustrator’s agent: Marcia Wernick, Wernick & Pratt. (June)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sometimes It Lasts

Abbi Glines. Simon Pulse, $9.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-4814-0670-3

Small-town girl Eva and bad-boy Cage (previously seen in While It Lasts) make a steamy duo in this addition to Glines’s Sea Breeze series, which offers little unexpected, but plenty of explicit sex, yearning, and misconstrued signals. Eva has already been through a lot, having lost both her mother and her first serious boyfriend, Josh. When she meets Cage, a talented baseball player with a wild side, she’s surprised that she falls so hard for him, and so fast. She’s sure Cage is the one for her, until her father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Cage, away at college on a baseball scholarship, turns up in compromising photos. Devastated, Eva finds comfort with Josh’s twin brother, Jeremy, even as Cage vows to win her back. It’s clear from the beginning where this relationship is headed; the writing is often overdramatized and clichéd, the many sex scenes full of flicked nipples, invading tongues, and wet panties. It’ll fit the bill for those looking for a quick, raunchy read, but anyone seeking a story with real legs should look elsewhere. Ages 16–up. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Best Friend, Maybe

Caela Carter. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59990-970-7

In her second book, Carter (Me, Him, Them, and It) sets up an intriguing situation: at the end of junior year, three years after Coley and Sadie stopped being best friends, Sadie invites Coley to a family wedding in Greece. Why? Sadie isn’t saying, any more than she ever told Coley why she dropped her in the first place. Coley impulsively says yes, but she has reasons for going: she wants to get away from her perfect (and perfectly dull) boyfriend, and she’s curious about who she is if she’s not the good girl her family and church expect. Cue the consequences—the people who were once Coley’s second family have changed. Sadie’s mother is angry at Coley, Sadie’s older brother has gotten hot, there’s a hostile and seemingly jealous cousin, and mercurial Sadie is alternately lovable and maddening. Unfortunately, the combination of complex plot machinations and Coley’s naiveté (which keeps her from seeing twists readers may spot sooner) make the book feel over-plotted and slow, with confusions and conflicts dragging on. Ages 14–up. Agent: Kate McKean, Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Murder Complex

Lindsay Cummings. Greenwillow, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-222000-4

Cummings debuts with a bloody dystopian thriller, in which what’s left of humanity hides behind the great Perimeter and scrabbles over increasingly scarce resources. No one dies from natural causes, thanks to nanites in humans’ bloodstreams, and as a result violence and murder are commonplace. Sixteen-year-old Meadow Woodson fights to the death to earn a job that will let her feed her family. Everything changes when she meets Zephyr James, a mysterious young man secretly programmed to be a killer. Together, they confront the darkest secrets of their society, while battling each other and a host of other enemies. Cummings takes her dystopian setting to almost ludicrous extremes before springing a flurry of surprises on readers. The frequent perspective switches between Meadow and Zephyr are almost whiplash-inducing, and the characters prove hard to sympathize with: Meadow kills with worrisome casualness, Zephyr is almost too tormented by his role, and their predictable romance has little grounding. The setting remains nebulous, and the cliffhanger ending leaves much to be resolved. Ages 14–up. Agent: Louise Fury, L. Perkins Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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