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Princess Pistachio

Marie-Louise Gay, trans. from the French by Jacob Homel. Pajama Press (Orca, dist.), $12.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-927485-69-9

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Gay (the Stella and Sam books) introduces a mercurial heroine named Pistachio Shoelace in this early reader series launch. An anonymous birthday gift of a golden crown confirms the redheaded, freckle-faced girl’s belief that she is actually a princess from an island kingdom, where she was showered with lavish presents—“silver skates, invisible kites, a parrot that spoke five languages”—until a jealous witch whisked her away to live with “adoptive parents.” Pistachio’s jubilation over “discovering” her regal origins gives way to outrage when her parents and friends refuse to appreciate her royal status (“My real mother would never deny me anything,” Pistachio huffs). Worse still, her baby sister, Penny, insists she’s a princess (or rather “pwincess”), too. Airy spot illustrations keep the comedy fresh, drolly portraying Pistachio’s lofty airs, which result in not-infrequent rages when the world doesn’t bend to her will. Gay gives full credence to Pistachio’s volatile emotions—she often lashes out at her sister in ways that are uncomfortably believable—which makes the reconciliation between the girls feel a bit rushed as the story concludes. Ages 5–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Three Mouths of Little Tom Drum

Nancy Willard, illus. by Kevin Hawkes. Candlewick, $16.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5476-4

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Little Tom Drum’s mother scolds him the night before his birthday party when he begs for another slice of strawberry pie: “Have you three mouths?” When he sneaks downstairs for more and gets caught, two more mouths appear on his face. He can’t go to school (“What would people say?” his father groans), so he tinkers in his workshop, assembling a wishing machine kit and wishing for his old, one-mouthed face. Little Tom’s ingenious creations are the story’s greatest charm—as the months pass, he invents artificial paws for dogs and speedy shoes for grandmothers, drawing fans. “We don’t want you to look like everybody else!” cry the children who have grown to love him. It seems to be a setup for a story about accepting oneself—a story that might comfort readers who don’t look like others—but Willard (The Flying Bed) supplies a happy ending after all, one that restores Tom’s “normal” appearance while (oddly) regressing his age. The tale enthralls nonetheless, especially with Hawkes’s (Remy and Lulu) lush pen-and-ink panels, a winsome combination of small-town wholesomeness and mechanical fantasy. Ages 4–8. Author’s agency: Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Monkey and Duck Quack Up!

Jennifer Hamburg, illus. by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-545-64514-0

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With a three-day cruise on the line as a prize, Monkey drafts his friend Duck to participate in a rhyming contest. Two more challenges quickly emerge: phlegmatic Duck is the exact opposite of hyperactive Monkey, and all Duck wants to say is “Quack.” It’s a recipe for last place, unless Monkey can turn Duck’s deficits into a winning ticket. Although little more than an extended sketch, the story has its rewards. Fotheringham’s (A Home for Mr. Emerson) bright, bold artwork has intriguing textures and reinforces the characters’ Odd Couple personalities. Hamburg (A Moose That Says Moo) gives the story serious read-aloud potential as she combines the repetition of “Quack” with Monkey’s struggle to stay calm (“Okay. Look, Duck./ Clearly you’re a wee bit stuck./ Stand up straight and lace your shoes./ We MUST be on that three-day cruise!”). The final joke (spoiler alert: Duck’s vocabulary is more extensive than he lets on) is tailor-made for a womp-womp-womp “sad trombone” sound effect. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Jennifer DeChiara, Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Pat Hackett. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tiara Saurus Rex

Brianna Caplan Sayres, illus. by Mike Boldt. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-61963-263-9

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Who will be the next Miss Dinosaur? Patty Saurus in her “velvet gown and four inch heels”? Sarah Topps and her three-horn hoop-twirling talent? As if. The makeup artists and talent coaches backstage seem to know that the only real contender is an intimidatingly toothy T. rex named Tina: “Her brilliant smile seems to say,/ ‘Don’t bother to compete.’ ” Sayres (Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?) establishes an enticing undercurrent of ominous tension—is Tina, the sole carnivore in the pageant, simply eating her way through the contestant field? Boldt’s (Colors versus Shapes) digital pictures, which have the look of lavish acrylic artwork, reveal that the other contestants have simply fled; a happy ending that turns on the one dino who stays behind (as well as Tina’s weakness for flattery) is rushed. These collaborators clearly have affection for the world of footlights and dressing rooms, and they find plenty of comedy in according these unlikely contestants all the respect they are due. Ages 3–6. Author’s agent: Teresa Kietlinski, Prospect Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mission: New Baby

Susan Hood, illus. by Mary Lundquist. Random, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-385-37672-3

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How do you defuse the emotional upheaval of a new baby’s arrival? Reframe it as a special ops assignment worthy of a Tom Cruise or Matt Damon vehicle. “Headquarters is about to get a brand-new recruit,” writes Hood (Rooting for You), and it’s up to the nascent older siblings to “train the new kid on the team.” Readers follow big brother and sisters in four families as they carry out 16 assignments, articulated in the no-nonsense cadence of a top agent’s briefing: “#7. Crack codes” accompanies a trip to the farm, where Lundquist’s (Cat & Bunny) winsome watercolors show an older brother explaining that “baaa = sheep” while “maaa = goat.” As the babies grow, the assignments become more collaborative; “#15. Go Undercover” finds a boy and his now-toddler sister on a surveillance exercise in their blanket fort. A recurring toy robot character is extraneous, but otherwise Hood and Lundquist carry off the conceit with sunny aplomb, complete with a genre-appropriate diaper joke: “Dad? In need of assistance here! Code name: Number Two!” Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Baby Swap

Jan Ormerod, illus. by Andrew Joyner. S&S/Little Simon, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1914-7

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It’s lovely to have one more reminder of the late Ormerod’s talent. Caroline Crocodile deems her baby brother a smelly, “no fun” drooler who “takes up all the room” on Mama Crocodile’s lap. Stuck minding him in the shopping district, she does what any red-blooded, capitalist kid would do: she goes to the “Baby Shop” and tries to trade up. The shopkeeper doesn’t miss a beat and matches Caroline with a series of substitute babies—a panda, an elephant, and twin tigers—all of which prove to be ill-advised (the panda devours a cafe’s bamboo furniture; the elephant breaks the town fountain). It will come as no surprise that Ormerod handles Caroline’s burning jealously and misplaced attempts to steer her own destiny with comedic deftness and emotional acuity, never overplaying her prose or premise. And while Ormerod was a gifted artist, she has a worthy collaborator in Joyner (The Terrible Plop). His composition and pacing feel effortless, and his repertoire of vivid expressions—which include Caroline’s impressive gamut of looks as well as the panda’s funny-creepy unchanging stare—makes every page pretty near perfect. Ages 3–6. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Little Red’s Riding ’Hood

Peter Stein, illus. by Chris Gall. Scholastic/Orchard, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-60969-2

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Stein (Bugs Galore) and Gall (Dinotrux) give a familiar fairy tale an automotive makeover, turning Little Red into a boyish red scooter, making the wolf a monster truck named Tank, and recasting Granny as a pink golf cart. The pages burst with vehicular jokes (Little Red thinks “Something felt out of alignment” upon arriving at Granny Putt Putt’s house, and her bed is a car lift). The result is inspired silliness. The unabashedly broad text taps into the target audience’s burgeoning interest in wordplay and spoofs, while offering opportunities for adults to display their acting and sound-effect chops (“KERRUNCHHA-CHA-CHA!”). But it’s Gall’s bold pictures that give the narrative its horsepower. He imagines the scooter’s hometown of Vroomville as a sprawling, curvilinear fantasyland with gentle hills, zigzagging roads, and car-themed stores like “Spare Attire.” Little Red has bright, expressive headlight eyes, while the hulking Tank is just scary enough—and so big that he can’t be contained on a single page. Ages 3–5. Author’s agents: Adrian Ranta, Wolf Literary Services, and Gillian MacKenzie, Gillian MacKenzie Agency. Illustrator’s agent: George Nicholson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Just Itzy

Lana Krumwiede, illus. by Greg Pizzoli. Candlewick, $15.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5811-3

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Everybody has a backstory, including the Itsy Bitsy Spider. Readers meet “small for his age” Itzy on his first day of “spindergarten,” when he’s eager to prove there’s nothing “Bitzy” about him. But Itzy is thwarted in all of his attempts at becoming a web-spinning, fly-catching spider (his obstacles include a girl eating curds and whey, and an old lady who likes to swallow critters of all sizes whole) until he discovers his older brother, Gutzy, trapped on a roof. Spider, meet waterspout. Krumwiede (the Psi Chronicles) does some passable spinning herself, creating a spider school culture with its own mantra (“Keep your eye on the fly”) and values (big spiders never bring mom-packed lunches to school; they catch flies on the fly). But the story never gets beyond mild-mannered in its narrative momentum or humor. And while Pizzoli’s (Number One Sam) use of color and texture is as strong as ever, his spiders look schematic and have little in common with the quirky personalities that populated his previous books. Ages 2–5. Author’s agent: Molly Jaffa, Folio Literary Management. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems/Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales

Julie Paschkis. Holt, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-62779-103-8

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In 12 tantalizing poems, written in English and Spanish, Paschkis shows herself to be a sensitive observer of the animal kingdom, as well as of language itself, finding humor, eccentricities, and unexpected connections in both. The two versions of each poem aren’t exact mirrors (in English, a grazing cow enjoys a “Slow munch./ All day lunch,” while in Spanish it’s “Una comida/ sin fin”), and finding the intersections and divergences in the verse is a thrill. A sense of linguistic interconnectivity is also evident in Paschkis’s warm gouache paintings, which (like her work in Pablo Neruda) features words painted on leaves, grasses, and swirling waters, reading like exercises in rhyme, alliteration, and word association (in a rainy scene, crows are painted with word pairs like crass/brash and bruju/brusco). Paschkis’s imagery can be haunting, contemplative, or playful (a “dancing whale” becomes a “ballena bailarina”), and the results are uniformly excellent. Ages 4–8. Agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Hero Twins: A Navajo-English Story of the Monster Slayers

Jim Kristofic, illus. by Nolan Karras James. Univ. of New Mexico, $19.95 (52p) ISBN 978-0-8263-5533-1

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Kristofic, author of the memoir Navajos Wear Nikes, and newcomer James recount a portion of the Navajo creation story, following the birth of the Hero Twins, their growth and training, and their efforts to locate their father (the Sun) for help in defeating the naayéé (monsters) that threaten their people. James’s vivid pencils combine elements of geometric Navajo symbolism and iconography with a superheroic comic-book sensibility brought to both the brothers and the terrifying creatures they battle (an artist’s note sheds light on James’s vibrant use of color). While this is both a challenging and a streamlined recounting, the briefly described episodes of the brothers’ exciting encounters with rocks, reeds, and dunes that threaten to crush, slice, and boil them, among many other perils, may prompt readers to seek out more information about the brothers’ exploits. Ages 9–13. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/28/2014 | Details & Permalink

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