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Soldier Sister, Fly Home

Nancy Bo Flood, illus. by Shonto Begay. Charlesbridge, $16.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-58089-702-0

In this slender, elegant novel from Flood (No Name Baby), half-Navajo/half-white Tess, 13, feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. Schoolmates at her Flagstaff boarding school call her names like Pokeyhontas; on the reservation she looks—and sometimes feels—more white than Navajo. Set against the backdrop of the Iraq War (the book opens with a memorial ceremony for a young Navajo woman killed in combat, and Tess’s beloved older sister, Gaby, is deployed soon after), the book successfully presents Tess’s shifting emotions as she grapples with the vicissitudes of a close sibling relationship, revels in her daily runs in the desert, and struggles to bond with a temperamental horse. Navajo traditions, ceremonies, and family relationships are described with gentle reverence; even the butchering of an ewe is depicted as a beautiful act. Navajo words and phrases are used throughout in a fashion that always feels natural. Flood lived and taught on the Navajo Nation for 15 years, and this quietly moving story of Tess’s growing maturity as she searches for her cultural identity resounds with authenticity. Art not seen by PW. Ages 10–up. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Not As We Know It

Tom Avery. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-553-53509-9

This poignant tale of a boy whose twin brother is facing his own mortality is both heartrending and uplifting. Eleven-year-olds Jamie and Ned find a strange creature—part human, part fish—washed up on the beach of their small British island after a storm. Adventurous Ned, who has cystic fibrosis, is positive that it will bring good luck and insists that they keep it in their already-packed garage full of treasures. Cautious Jamie, however, worries that this creature, whom Ned names Leonard, might foretell something more ominous. As Ned’s condition worsens and he is increasingly drawn to Leonard, Jamie’s misgivings only increase. Avery (My Brother’s Shadow) captures the boundless imagination of childhood and the reckless abandon with which these boys approach caring for a mysterious sea creature, and he doesn’t shy away from the brutality of real life. Through Jamie’s thoughtful narration, readers are treated to a hauntingly beautiful story about brotherly bonds, wrenching grief, and the untethered hope that everything will somehow work out. Ages 9–12. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Making Friends with Billy Wong

Augusta Scattergood. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-545-92425-2

In a quiet story set in 1952, Scattergood (Glory Be) shines a light on a rarely told bit of history. Introverted Azalea Ann, 11, is reluctant to spend the summer in Arkansas helping her bossy Grandma Clark, a woman she hardly knows, and she has no idea what to think of Billy Wong, who has just moved to attend a better school and help his family run the town’s small grocery. Billy is the first Chinese person Azalea has met, and she openly wonders how she could “talk to a boy who looked like he’d just moved here from China.” Despite Azalea’s reservations, they soon unite against the overt racism of Willis DeLoach, a local boy with a tough reputation. Grandma Clark, Billy, and even Willis end up teaching Azalea quite a bit about jumping to conclusions and the power of finding unexpected commonalities. Azalea’s narration is interspersed with occasional entries from Billy’s perspective, written in verse, that show his strength of character and desire to succeed, despite facing clear challenges in the segregated South. Ages 8–12. Agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hundred Percent

Karen Romano Young. Chronicle, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4521-3890-9

Believably exploring body issues, crushes, popularity, and friendship, Young (Doodlebug) captures the confused and charming voice of a 12-year-old girl who isn’t sure about much, including what she wants to be called. Sixth-grader Christine “Tink” Gouda’s school year is not going well. She feels too tall, too physically mature, and just too different from the cute, petite girls and crush-worthy boys who make up what Tink refers to as “the circle.” Tink’s best friend Jackie has decided that this year, Tink will be known as “Chris” because it sounds more grown up, but Tink isn’t sure that this new name fits her any better than her old one. Uncertainty fills each page as Tink begins a budding friendship with class clown Matthew “Bushwhack” Alva and watches Jackie try on different personas to fit in. Clever banter and some made-up words, including the “almost rude” “bushwah,” help Romano’s characters jump off the page in a thoughtful and realistic look at what it means to be on the precipice of adolescence. Ages 8–12. Agent: Faye Bender, the Book Group. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Boy Named Queen

Sara Cassidy. Groundwood (PGW, dist.), $14.95 (96p) ISBN 978-1-55498-905-8

In this brisk, insightful story from Cassidy (Not for Sale), the first days of fifth grade prove eye-opening and confidence-building for heroine Evelyn, whose home life is on the strict and staid side. Change is in the air from the outset: during Evelyn’s annual end-of-summer trip to the shoe store with her mother, they discover that the local institution has been replaced by a fluorescent-lit emporium called Budget Shoes; Evelyn winds up with a pair of canvas shoes instead of the “stiff leather loafers... that have dug at her ankles every year since kindergarten.” At school, there’s another new arrival, Queen, who shows up with a pink T-shirt, a dog named Patti Smith, and a name that makes him an instant target for jokes. Queen’s breezy self-confidence is revelatory for Evelyn, as is her introduction to Queen’s free-spirited parents (“Evelyn realizes she has never touched someone with tattoos. She’s never touched a tattoo!”). It’s an eloquent celebration of individuality and not hiding one’s true self: something that (as Evelyn knows) isn’t always simple, but (as Queen knows) actually can be. Ages 8–11. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong

A.J. Low, illus. by Andrew Tan. Andrews McMeel, $7.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-4494-7789-9

Aspiring 10-year-old detective Samuel Tan Cher Lock, who prefers to go by Sherlock Sam, and his robot sidekick, Watson, prove that the promise of food is a great way to solve a mystery in this series opener from Low, a pseudonym for the husband-and-wife writing team of Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez. Auntie Kim Lian’s heirloom recipe book is missing, and it’s up to Sherlock Sam to find it so that Auntie can make her famous ayam buah keluak (a chicken stew). There are banter and jokes aplenty as Sherlock Sam and Watson investigate, and details incorporated throughout the story (as well as a glossary) help contextualize the Singaporean setting (the book was originally published in that country in 2013) and Sam’s family’s Peranakan heritage. If the mystery wraps up a bit too neatly and quickly, the book’s balance of problem-solving and goofy humor (as well as Tan’s chunky black-and-white cartooning) should leave readers looking forward to Sam’s future cases (Sherlock Sam and the Ghostly Moans in Fort Canning is available simultaneously). Ages 7–12. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Anne of Green Bagels

Susan Schade and Jon Buller. Papercutz, $14.99 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-62991-465-7

This hybrid comic/chapter book from spouses Schade and Buller (Scarlett: A Star on the Run) revolves around Anne, an 11-year-old forced to move back to her grandparents’ cookie-cutter suburb when her eccentric father abandons the family to try out his “latest wacky invention.” Anne’s spirulina bagels attract the eye of classmate Brendan, who makes the title’s joke. He’s also the winner of last year’s school talent show, which piles more tension on Anne; she’s thinking of entering the show with her new friend Otto, who offers her social support and musical collaboration. Meanwhile, Anne uncovers evidence that her father has more to do with the comedy TV show they adored watching together (it’s a Simpsons clone) than she knew. Used in both spot illustrations and panels, the duotone artwork is strongest in dream sequences that show Anne wrestling with her father’s betrayal and her love for him. While the dialogue sometimes turns smarmy (“Show ’em you like it,” says Otto, suggesting that they name their musical duo the Green Bagels. “And you’re proud to be who you are”), it’s breezy entertainment with a suitably happy ending. Ages 7–10. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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What a Beautiful Morning

Arthur A. Levine, illus. by Katie Kath. Running Press Kids, $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7624-5906-3

Noah’s grandfather has always been boisterous and full of song, launching each day with a signature catchphrase—“What’s on the docket?”—that promises nonstop fun. But this summer, Grandpa’s memory is failing him, and he doesn’t always recognize Noah; Kath’s (More Than Enough) watercolors depict the older man with the radiance literally drained from his face. While never mentioning a specific medical condition, Grandma tells a devastated Noah that “we have to appreciate what he still has, not focus on what he’s lost.” As Noah comes to terms with his new relationship with Grandpa, including learning that singing can still connect them to each other, his sense of the world widens: he can have “his own docket” (acting independently in the world), as well as a docket with Grandma, who, one senses, has always been a willing second banana to her lively husband. It’s a lovely, bittersweet story, and Levine (Monday Is One Day) carefully modulates a challenging emotional arc, offering readers just the right measure of hope. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Susan Cohen, Writers House. Illustrator’s agent: Justin Rucker, Shannon Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Pirate’s Perfect Pet

Beth Ferry, illus. by Matt Myers. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7288-1

When Captain Crave’s mother sends him a checklist from a pirate magazine, he realizes that he’s missing something important. “Eye patch?” the checklist reads. “Check,” Captain Crave says. “Hook?” “Check it out!” he says, showing it off. “Peg leg?” “On me to-do list.” “Pet?” “Pet?” Captain and crew leave their ship and swarm ashore, startling a beach full of sunbathers: “They caused quite a commotion, as good pirates should.” A master of bubbly, sunshiny, high-spirited spreads, Myers (Cock-a-Doodle-Doo-Bop!) paints the pirates leaping the fence into a farm, storming the zoo (where an encounter with a lion lets Captain Crave cross “peg leg” off his to-do list), and, at last, the pet store. “Shiver me Shih Tzus,” cries the captain. “Thar be piles of pets!” One with colorful feathers draws attention by pooping on his hat. Ferry (Land Shark) fills her yarn with loads of pirate lingo and affectionate pokes at pirate tradition, while Myers’s luscious, thickly painted illustrations look as if they’ve been frosted. Readalouds don’t come much rowdier. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Elena Giovinazzo, Pippin Properties. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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NanoBots

Chris Gall. Little, Brown, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-37552-8

Gall (the Dinotrux books) introduces miniature robots with infinite potential for adventures on and off the page. A “great inventor”—later pictured as a confident boy in round eyeglasses—builds the microscopic NanoBots, which have specialized shapes and functions. (Unlike the mostly-male Dinotrux, the NanoBots often are described with feminine pronouns.) MechanoBots, with various pincers and tools, “can fix anything, even in the hardest-to-reach places.” ChewBots, smaller than a paperclip and resembling golden garbage cans, eat pink bubblegum and other “nasty, icky stuff” to keep rooms clean. MediBot, a silver-white doctor, banishes “germy invaders” from a nostril, and a steely Lady Lance-o-Bot keeps garden insects away from tomatoes. At a creators’ convention, the NanoBots team up to repair a human-size robot, yet receive no recognition because they are “too small to be seen” by the judges, cementing ideas that small can be mighty and a job done well is its own reward. Gall’s precise illustrations, metallic palette, and ready-for-action heroes should captivate the imaginations of mechanically minded readers, as will closing notes about real-life uses of nanotechnology. Ages 4–8. Agent: Erica Rand Silverman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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