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The Reader

Traci Chee. Putnam, $18.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-399-17677-7

After 15-year-old orphan Sefia is separated from her aunt, she sets out on a rescue mission. Determined to learn the truth about her past and the rectangular object she’s spent her life hiding, Sefia eventually discovers that the item—bound paper covered in symbols—is a book. Books, reading, and writing are unheard of in the land of Kelanna, but Sefia is certain that this book holds the answers she seeks. She is joined in her quest by a mute, nameless boy, whom she rescues from a life of forced cage fighting. The book Sefia carries, which initially seems to be filled with stories and myths, becomes increasingly mysterious when she learns that the people and accounts detailed within are true. Chee’s debut is an intricate, multilayered reading experience, but the author avoids leading readers along too transparently, trusting them to puzzle together the pieces surrounding the mystery of Sefia’s past. An exploration of self-determination and the magic of the written word, Sefia’s story is an absorbing introduction to the Sea of Ink and Gold series. Ages 12–up. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Art of Holding on and Letting Go

Kristin Bartley Lenz. Elephant Rock (IPG, dist.), $12.95 trade paper (262p) ISBN 978-0-9968649-1-6

Debut author Lenz offers a thoughtful meditation on life after loss with the story of 15-year-old Cara Jenkins, a competitive climber. At a competition in Ecuador, Cara learns of a volcanic eruption near Mount Chimborazo, imperiling her parents and her Uncle Max, renowned mountaineers. With her parents safe but distraught and Uncle Max missing, Cara is sent to live with her grandparents in Michigan. Formally homeschooled, Cara adjusts to high school life, making friends with goths Kaitlyn and Nick, who are both struggling with their own traumas. With new friendships, a stronger appreciation for her grandparents, possible romance, and mysterious notes urging her to start climbing again, Cara heals even as her parents remain in Ecuador, determined to continue in Max’s honor. Lenz effortlessly explains complicated climbing terminology and intermixes moments of levity with contemplative quotations from naturalists and mountain climbers, quotes that Cara’s father uses to communicate with her. Though Cara’s ability to face her fears and help others do the same is noteworthy, the tidy ending doesn’t quite do justice to the complexity of Cara’s character and situation. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science

Jeannine Atkins. Atheneum, $16.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6565-6

Writing in free verse, Atkins (Borrowed Names) reaches back into the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to the girlhoods of Maria Merian, naturalist and scientific illustrator; Mary Anning, fossil hunter; and astronomer Maria Mitchell, all curious girls whose childhood passions led to groundbreaking work. Each grew up in a deeply bonded family and had a strongly supportive father; each fought quietly and determinedly against the obstacles of being a girl with unusual interests. In a closing note, Atkins explains that while she carefully documented the women’s adult achievements, writing in verse gave her the liberty to fictionalize details of their younger years. The result is a sensory depiction of daily life in earlier centuries—“the cottage smells of laundry soap and herbal tonics”—and a credible development of three sympathetic characters. Evocative similes abound (“a silkworm silently spins/ a silk cocoon around itself,/ like a dancer twirling/ or a baker frosting a tall cake”), building an increasing ambiance of “finding wonder” in the world. In addition to the author’s note, a selected bibliography and Atkins’s thoughts on other science biographies are provided. Ages 10–up. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Other Boy

M.G. Hennessey, illus. by Sfé R. Monster. Harper, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-242766-3

As far as his best friend, classmates, and baseball teammates know, 12-year-old Shane is a typical boy. Shane feels that way, too, but it’s not the whole story. He takes hormone blockers to prevent the onset of female puberty, and he wants to start taking testosterone. Unfortunately, his divorced parents share custody, and although his mother is supportive, his father hopes this is a phase. Debut author Hennessey effectively depicts Shane’s life as both ordinary and very particular. All adolescents chafe at parental control, but Shane’s father can prevent him from taking the drug he needs to be the person he feels he already is. All adolescents keep secrets, but when rumors start about Shane, it’s extra scary. While coping with his father, baseball rivalries, his first crush, and his friends’ reactions, Shane keeps working on his graphic novel; illustrated excerpts show how it helps him work through fears and worries. It’s another nice touch in a warm, realistic book that offers a sensitive take on a topic that’s very much in the air. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Stephanie Kip Rostan, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Going Wild

Lisa McMann. Harper, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-233714-6

In this trilogy opener, 13-year-old Charlotte “Charlie” Wilde’s life turns upside down when her mother takes a job in Navarro Junction, Ariz. As the new girl at school, Charlie faces many of the typical difficulties of starting fresh—finding friends, fitting in, and making the soccer team. Things begin to look up for Charlie when she discovers a bracelet that gives her superhuman abilities. McMann (the Unwanteds series) believably channels the voice of a confused middle school girl who wavers between being cocky with her newfound powers and self-conscious (because who isn’t at 13?). With the help of some new friends—comic-book-obsessed Maria and “tech genius” Mac—Charlie tests what the bracelet can do. However, the children don’t realize that the bracelet was stolen and that the man it belongs to is determined to reclaim it. Filled with action, adventure, and a good dollop of wish fulfillment, McMann’s superhero origin story should capture the imagination of any reader who wonders what it would be like to be more than just an average kid. Ages 8–12. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure

Ann M. Martin, with Annie Parnell, illus. by Ben Hatke. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-07169-9

Betty MacDonald’s beloved Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle always had one-of-a-kind ways to remedy children of their annoying or impolite habits. Now, nearly 70 years later, her singular magic can enchant a new generation, thanks to this delightful contemporary follow-up from Martin (Rain Reign), writing with MacDonald’s great-granddaughter, Parnell. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is off searching for her husband, “called away some years ago by the pirates,” so great-niece Missy Piggle-Wiggle arrives in Little Spring Valley to take over her duties. After settling into the upside-down house and reacquainting herself with Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s unusual pets, Missy follows in her great-aunt’s footsteps, using a “Greediness Cure” on Petulance Freeforall (it shrinks everything she claims for herself) and a watch that chimes with “the sound of a thousand bells gonging and a million phones ringing” to help with Heavenly Earwig’s tardiness, among other humorous fixes. (the authors are more than up to the task of coming up with wonderfully oddball names for the children, as in MacDonald’s original books.) Missy’s blossoming romance with a quirky bookstore owner gives this magical tale extra spice. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–11. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Pablo Finds a Treasure

Andrée Poulin, illus. by Isabelle Malenfant. Annick (PGW, dist.), $9.95 trade paper (32p) ISBN 978-1-55451-866-1

Poulin (The Biggest Poutine in the World) and Malenfant (Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress) transport readers to an unspecified Latin-American nation where siblings Sofia and Pablo spend their days combing through a mountain of trash in search of anything that might be sold to help the family make ends meet. There’s no danger of their situation being sugarcoated or romanticized: Pablo is knocked to the ground in the scramble to pore over newly deposited trash, and Sofia cuts her arm retrieving a single blue boot, which Pablo immediately puts on, even though it’s too big for him. Malefant uses angry scribbles of black to capture the dirty, dangerous environment; splashes of pale color highlight the siblings’ mutual devotion and moments of muted hope. One such moment is Pablo’s discovery of a gold chain, a treasure that is nearly stolen away by Filthy-Face, a violent man who claims the children’s findings. It’s a grim reminder of the harsh realities of contemporary poverty, and adult readers should be prepared to fill in details not explained within the story itself. Ages 6–9. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Don’t Cross the Line!

Isabel Minhós Martins, trans. from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn, illus. by Bernardo P. Carvalho. Gecko Press USA (Lerner, dist.), $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-776570-74-4

Originally published in Portugal, this raucous story blends metafictional elements with sharp political commentary that makes it clear that people—and that includes ghosts, aliens, spacemen, animals, and a newborn baby—won’t suffer injustice. At issue: a guard, under orders from one General Alcazar, refuses to let anyone cross over to the right-hand page of the book. “But why?” asks a confused citizen. “Is there some terrible danger? Are we being invaded?” Nope, the guard explains, “my general reserves the right to keep the page blank, so he can join the story whenever he feels like it.” Soon, the left-hand page is crowded with outrageously varied (and none-too-pleased) characters with bean-shaped noses and wide eyes, painted in vivid, crayon-box colors by Carvalho, who previously collaborated with Martins on The World in a Second and other titles. After a boy’s ball bounces onto the empty right page, the floodgates are effectively open, and when the tyrannical general appears, he’s no match for the assembled masses. Though the scenario is ludicrous and the execution playful, it’s a pointed reminder of where power and authority lie. Ages 5–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Samson in the Snow

Philip C. Stead. Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-62672-182-1

Stead (Ideas Are All Around) returns to themes he’s made his own: friendship, acceptance, and love for small, ordinary objects that most people overlook. Together, his observations form a gentle theology. Samson is a mammoth who wears an expression of furry concern. He’s first seen weeding his dandelion patch. (Aren’t dandelions weeds? Not to Samson.) A red bird appears: “Would you mind if I took some flowers for a friend?” the bird asks. “He is having a bad day.” Samson hears this wistfully: “He wondered what it would be like to have a friend.” When a blizzard descends, Samson thinks immediately of the bird, his concern etched in a wordless vision of the tiny animal sprawled in the snow, and sets out to rescue her. Samson trudges over broad, snowy plains, eventually finding a mouse—the very friend, it emerges, for whom the flowers were intended. Together they find the bird, not a moment too soon. The contrast between the very large and the very small contributes to the story’s magic, and so does Samson, a hero who is tender, patient, and loyal. Ages 4–8. Agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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I Will Not Eat You

Adam Lehrhaupt, illus. by Scott Magoon. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4814-2933-7

As Theodore debates eating the noisy animals that pass by his cave, Magoon (Breathe) delivers laughs using nothing more than the creature’s eyes shifting left and right, all that readers can see of him. Theodore decides against eating the animals, but when a boy with a hobbyhorse and garbage lid shield roars in Theodore’s face, Theodore emerges, a hulking red dragon. The boy is undaunted. He shines his flashlight in Theodore’s eyes and pokes at his snout with his wooden sword. “That’s it!” Theodore snarls. “I will eat you!” Magoon’s bold, angular, digitally rendered drawings capably juggle action, suspense, and comedy. After boy and dragon dash through a patch of flowers and emerge with floral crowns, the boy bursts out laughing. “It’s hard to eat someone when you’re sharing a laugh,” Theodore realizes. By focusing on Theodore’s thoughts and perspective, Lehrhaupt (Chicken in Space) adds unexpected nuance to this David and Goliath story—it’s not clear who’s the aggressor and who’s the victim. What is clear is that size doesn’t matter and laughter trumps fear. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Alexandra Penfold, Upstart Crow Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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