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Mr. Squirrel and the Moon

Sebastian Meschenmoser, trans. from the German by David Henry Wilson. NorthSouth (IPS, dist.), $18.95 (48p) ISBN 978-0-7358-4156-7

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Meschenmoser’s story opens as a wheel of yellow cheese rolls off its wagon, hurtles off a cliff, and lands on a branch outside a squirrel’s home. In the same sort of misidentification that drove Meschenmoser’s Waiting for Winter, Mr. Squirrel concludes that the yellow cheese is the moon, and worries that he’ll be fingered as its thief: “He’d be arrested and thrown in prison.” A silent spread pictures the squirrel’s fears with mordant humor as he appears in a small prison uniform, reflecting remorsefully as his human cellmate works on a piece of embroidery. (Further inspection reveals a miniature squirrel-sized latrine along the back wall.) The action heats up as a hedgehog, billy goat, and crew of mice join the fray (further crowding the imaginary prison cell of the conscience-stricken squirrel) until they can work out how to put the cheese back where it belongs. Meschenmoser’s soft pencil portraits of the squirrel’s inner fears teeter right at the sweet spot between anguish and humor. The story’s deepest pleasure comes from the contrast between its ever-more-ridiculous scenarios and the artist’s solemn, classically proportioned drafting style. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Harlem Renaissance Party

Faith Ringgold. HarperCollins/Amistad, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-057911-1

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“The crowd roared. The celebration was on,” writes Caldecott Honoree artist Ringgold (Tar Beach), conjuring a magical celebration in which a boy named Lonnie and his uncle Bates meet the giants of the Harlem Renaissance. They eat chicken and waffles at Well’s, see a parade led by Marcus Garvey, meet a string of the era’s musicians and writers, and finally encounter the man Lonnie admires most—poet Langston Hughes. Lonnie is stage-struck. “Do you write, Mr. Lonnie?” Hughes asks him. “Yes, I guess so,” Lonnie answers. “Then you are a writer,” Hughes declares. Ringgold’s bold, heavily outlined figures give the heroes the look of icons, an effect enhanced by placing them against backdrops of hot red and bright blue. While the narrative and dialogue have the unfortunate air of textbook prose, cramming as much information into each episode as possible (“Mr. Robeson, you are a great singer, actor, and athlete”), there’s rich inspiration here, especially in Ringgold’s characterization of the African-American experience. “Black people didn’t come to America to be free,” Lonnie says. “We fought for our freedom by creating art, music, literature, and dance.” Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Spring

Carin Berger. Greenwillow, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-225019-3

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Berger’s (A Perfect Day) crisp, meticulous paper compositions give her work a distinctive, tailored look. Neatly trimmed paper shapes are mounted above fields of muted green and ivory, casting thin slivers of shadow on the page. Maurice, a bear cub, knows he’ll wake up to his first spring, and he’s too excited to sleep. He leaves the cave he shares with his mother to start his search early. Hurrying along a forest path, dwarfed by towering pines, Maurice feels a spark of cold, holds up a snowflake, and mistakes it for something else. “Spring?” he asks. On the Great Hill, he revels in a blizzard of snowflakes, a tour de force of lacy paper shapes, and collects them in his sack. When he awakens months later, his sack is empty, of course, but real spring and a splendid shower of flower petals give him new joy. Even the youngest readers have the satisfaction of knowing more about snow and spring than Maurice does, and the balletic grace of Berger’s artwork provides exceptional visual drama throughout. Ages 4–8. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Glamourpuss

Sarah Weeks, illus. by David Small. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-60954-8

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The eponymous angora, a pampered pet of childless “gazillionaires,” has one job: “to be glamorous, and she was very good at it.” But when a pampered Chihuahua named Bluebelle—who seems to have no compunction about dressing up as Carmen Miranda and Scarlet O’Hara, or doing tricks to get attention—comes for an extended stay, Glamourpuss is nonplussed. Are her diva days over? Or could it be that this rival is, deep down, a soul mate? Weeks’s (Pie) narration is fittingly over-the-top (on one page alone, characters boom, squeal, and drawl) and helps build empathic envy for a character who could otherwise come off as a spoiled brat. But it’s Small’s (Catch that Cookie) exuberant ink line and strategic washes of colors that make this book—he shows that it’s possible to spoof the 1% without eating the rich, all while giving Bluebelle and Glamourpuss outsize emotional lives. Glamourpuss’s darkest moment, which finds her sprawled on a staircase in despair, is worthy of Douglas Sirk, while Bluebelle channels the neurotic energy of Judy Garland. Ages 3–5. Agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Wonderful Year

Nick Bruel. Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-59643-611-4

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Bad Kitty creator Bruel alternates between goofy humor and gentle reflection in four seasonal episodes starring an unnamed girl in a small town. “Winter Wear” hams it up as family members, pets, and even household objects remind the girl to dress warmly before she goes out. “You’d better wear your gloves,” a purple hippo named Louise calls out. “You’d better wear your hat,” says the refrigerator. “Spring Splendor,” a quieter episode, shows the girl and her dog trying to enlist the cat in their make-believe game with an improvised ballad. “Summer Sidewalks” goes for broke as the girl and Louise the hippo walk along the sidewalk, the girl melts in the heat—literally—and Louise tries reconstituting her in the freezer, her hippo physique adding an extra layer of comedy as she waddles between the freezer and a TV show about a can of beans. In “Fall Foliage,” the girl and a tree ponder the significance of losing all one’s leaves, and the story circles around to the beginning. Bruel offers surefire readaloud laughs as well as space for pondering. Ages 2–6. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My New Team

Ryan Howard and Krystle Howard, illus. by Erwin Madrid. Scholastic, $16.99 (112p) ISBN 978-0-545-67491-1

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Ryan Howard, a first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, and his wife, Krystle, make a fine team of their own in this first book in the Little Rhino series, inspired by Ryan’s childhood. Second-grader Rhino loves baseball and dreams of going pro, but the presence of class bully Dylan on his current team is making his life difficult. Rhino’s devoted grandfather and older brother trot out shopworn advice about ignoring bullies or turning them into friends, but the authors wisely resist an unrealistically tidy ending. Instead, Rhino gradually learns the benefits of being a good friend both to peers who are receptive (like his quiet buddy Cooper) and to those whose attitudes are slow to improve, like Dylan. Readers will find it easy to share in Rhino’s frustrations and triumphs. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 7–10. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Beast Keeper

Lucy Coats, illus. by Brett Bean. Grosset & Dunlap, $5.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-448-46193-9

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Eleven-year-old Demon has his work cut out for him when his father, the god Pan (who he has just met for the first time), steals him away from his human mother and assigns him to look after the Stables of the Gods. In this rippingly funny first book in the Beasts of Olympus series, readers get an alternate perspective on classic Greek myths as Demon tends to the Cretan Bull, Hydra, and other creatures that have suffered at the hands of gods and heroes—especially Heracles (“Nice people did NOT go around pulling skins off poor innocent lions”). Bean’s dynamic cartoons amp up the comedy and drama, while a glossary and pronunciation guide round out a story that, underneath its fun, offers food for thought on everything from absentee parenting to the mistreatment of animals (even immortal ones). Simultaneously available: Hound of Hades. Ages 7–9. Author’s agent: Sophie Hicks, Sophie Hicks Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Original Recipe

Jessica Young, illus. by Jessica Secheret. Capstone/Picture Window, $8.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-4795-5878-0

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Third-grader Finley Flowers stars in this entertaining series opener, in which she is trying to win her school’s cook-off competition. Young’s story, told in 12 chapters, focuses on Finley and her best friend Henry as they experiment with a slew of culinary mashups. Readers will get a kick out of considering the... interesting concoctions Finley and Henry whip up—strawberry-garlic burritos or salad dressing soup, anyone? Secheret gives the characters oversize heads and dainty, doll-like features in her full-color spot illustrations, helping highlight their personalities. As friendship and family dilemmas spike the plot, Young avoids handing easy victories to her determined and undeniably creative heroine. A recipe for Finley’s PB&J Spaghetti is included (hot sauce makes it “KAPOW-erful”), but most of her creations are, blessedly, left to readers’ imaginations. Ages 6–8. Author’s agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agency: Bright Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Eva’s Treetop Festival

Rebecca Elliott. Scholastic, $15.99 (80p) ISBN 978-0-545-68363-0

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A self-possessed owl named Eva Wingdale has personality to spare in this diary-style first book in a series that joins the Branches line of early chapter books. With her love of “making stuff” and her sky-high ambitions, Eva has the makings of a lifestyle mogul (and with her jaunty beret, sneakers, and body assembled of brightly patterned shapes, she looks the part, too). But for now, Eva’s concerns are more immediate: spearheading the first-ever Treetop Elementary Bloomtastic Festival, which she conceived of herself. Asking for help isn’t Eva’s forte, but eventually she learns the importance of delegation—a key lesson for any future CEO. Appealing visuals (the text and art are set against the lined pages of Eva’s diary), punny dialogue, a few pratfalls, and Eva’s unflagging enthusiasm make for lively reading. Ages 5–7. Agency: Bright Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Family Adventure

Jacqueline Jules, illus. by Kim Smith. Capstone/Picture Window, $4.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-4795-5790-5

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Three three-chapter stories comprise this humorous first book in the Sofia Martinez series, which features a highly personable elementary schooler and her tight-knit Hispanic family. In the first tale, Sofia struggles to stand out from her two older sisters, opting to take a cue from Baby Mariella and her oversize, attention-getting hair bow. Sofia and her cousins have a messy time making a piñata for their abuela in the second story, and an escaped pet mouse wreaks havoc in the third. Spanish words and phrases, printed in pink, appear throughout the text and dialogue (a glossary is included, though most of the Spanish words are decipherable through context), and Smith’s illustrations give Sofia and her family warmth and style—they look ready to headline an animated series of their own. Ages 5–7. Illustrator’s agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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