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This Is Not the Abby Show

Debbie Reed Fischer. Delacorte, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-553-53634-8

Like Jack Gantos’s Joey Pigza books, this lively novel from Fischer (Swimming with the Sharks) offers a firsthand view of life with ADHD. Abby Green intends to be a great actress someday and is currently a math whiz, but due to her disorganization and impulsiveness, she is a failure in English class, at least according to Mr. Finsecker, “the meanest teacher in the whole seventh grade.” Instead of spending the summer at a performing arts camp, Abby has to attend summer school. Worse, she’s grounded for vandalizing a car that she (wrongly) thought belonged to Mr. Finsecker. Though Abby believes this could be her worst summer to date, things turn out differently thanks to a special summer-school teacher and classmates who accept her as she is. Abby’s first-person narrative honestly expresses her frustrations with herself and those who don’t understand her, while hilariously recounting situations at school and at home with her colorful family. With the help of her therapist, Abby learns how to manage some of her behaviors and tap into talents she didn’t realize she had. Ages 9–12. Agent: Steven Chudney, Chudney Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dara Palmer’s Major Drama

Emma Shevah, illus. by Helen Crawford-White. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4926-3138-5

Hollywood-obsessed Dara Palmer wants to be an actor, but she doesn’t look like any of the “honey vanilla waffles” that she idolizes. Ethnically Cambodian, this chatty British fifth-grader begins to wonder whether she isn’t getting acting parts because of her looks—because it surely couldn’t be for lack of talent, could it? As Dara, which means star in Khmer, tries to move past losing the starring role in the big school production, she also begins to sort out the fact that her “outsidey bit” doesn’t match her mental image of a movie star. As quirky Dara, lover of teaspoons and hater of noodles, struggles with her identity as an adoptee and her rocky relationship with her younger sister (also adopted, but white), she finds the help of a teacher she didn’t think she needed. And as Dara’s acting skills grow, so do her understanding of herself and her empathy for those around her. Like Shevah’s Dream On, Amber, this entertaining insight into the mind of an adopted child, snappily narrated and exuberantly illustrated, is sure to win readers over, one teaspoonful at a time. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Allison Hellegers, Rights People. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Big Wish

Brandon Robshaw. Scholastic/Chicken House, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-545-90410-0

Sam’s first day of middle school gets off to a rocky start when he and his best friend, Evan, have a run-in with school bully Scorpus. Then Sam learns that his father may lose his job. While walking the dog that evening, Sam makes a wish on a shooting star: the classic don’t-do-it “wish for a million wishes.” As with many wish-themed stories, things start out great: Sam secures a job for his father, heals Evan’s terminally ill father, and stands up to Scorpus. But some wishes (like acquiring superpowers) prove to be disappointing, and others (like banishing death) have consequences Sam never imagined. British author Robshaw effectively taps into a sense of youthful powerlessness that many readers will relate to. While the story charts a predictable course, Robshaw balances humorous, wish-driven disasters (such as Sam shrinking himself down to a height of five inches and promptly being snatched up by a bird) with touching moments, while reflecting on what it might truly mean to have near-omnipotent power. Ages 8–12. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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That Stinks! A Punny Show-and-Tell

Alan Katz, illus. by Stephen Gilpin. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4169-7880-0

The classroom is supposed to be a place where appropriate, upbeat language is a baseline expectation. But what if, just once, you could say something truly disruptive—with the teacher standing right there? With a keen sense for juvenile humor, Katz (The Day the Mustache Took Over) imagines the circumstances where this might be totally acceptable: an impromptu show-and-tell in which a string of rude statements turns out to be downright factual. The student presenters announce their offerings with kid-style expletives and exaggerated facial expressions to match; turn the page, and it’s revealed that those expletives are actually literal references to the items at hand. “That stinks!” perfectly describes Jimmy’s pet skunk, while “This totally bites!” is Mike’s way of warning his classmates about his pet tarantula. Gilpin’s (the Fart Squad series) caricature-style drawings of this highly expressive class give Katz’s jokes an extra goose. By the time Jordan announces “It’s the pits!” then explains, “They’re from avocados that grow on my family’s tree!” readers will be reveling in the screwy, subversive fun. Ages 4 –8. Author’s agent: Josh Adams, Adams Literary. Illustrator’s agency: Shannon Associates. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dirt + Water = Mud

Katherine Hannigan. Greenwillow, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-234517-2

Hannigan (Gwendolyn Grace) introduces a heroine whose imagination soars sky-high as she plays with her dog. The endpapers offer a preview of the creative role-play within, presenting a bird’s-eye view of the girl’s yard complete with a key (“tree house = airplane”; “front porch = pirate ship”). Equations set up the girl’s pretend-play scenarios (“Sheet + Flowerpot + Stick = Her Majesty, the Queen”), and Hannigan uses watercolors and digital embellishments to bring the fantasies to life. The merging of mathematical equations and imaginative play is clever, but the story falls short in a few areas. The girl and her faithful dog (who serves as her trusty knight, first mate on a pirate ship, and more) are expressive, but the rough-hewn watercolor portraits never feel at home in their slickly digital surroundings. A couple of potentially jarring moments during their adventures—the girl jumps from her tree house using a bed sheet as an (ineffective) parachute and later pretends to drown in her kiddie pool—leave this equation not quite adding up. Ages 4–8. Agent: Victoria Wells Arms, Wells Arms Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Leon the Raccoon Discovers the World

Lucie Papineau, trans. from the French by Susan Allen Maurin, illus. by Tommy Doyle. Auzou (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 (32p) ISBN 978-2-7338-4182-2

Leon, “a city raccoon, born and bred,” expands his comfort zone in this straightforward and quietly encouraging story from Papineau (Lulu’s Pajamas) and newcomer Doyle. Leon loves exploring the city by night—in one scene, Doyle shows him riding on a scooter past the glowing windows of brick buildings, accompanied by his friends. Leon is “horrified” after his mother proposes a trip into the country to visit family: “After all, everyone knows that country raccoons are very different from city raccoons. They don’t know anything about anything!” After a clandestine road trip in the back of a truck, Leon and family arrive in a rural landscape of rolling hills, grazing cows, and starlit skies. Although Leon is initially frosty toward his cousins, a campfire (with plenty of marshmallows) and the discovery that his cousins actually know a thing or two turn Leon’s attitude around. Doyle does his part to make the country look magical in digital illustrations that combine cartoon characterizations of the nocturnal animal cast with soft-focus backgrounds. Ages 3–up. Illustrator’s agency: Jacky Winter Group. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Groovy Joe: Ice Cream and Dinosaurs

Eric Litwin, illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. Scholastic/Orchard, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-88378-8

First-time collaborators Litwin (Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes) and Lichtenheld (Friendshape) inject raucous rhymes and humor into their lesson about sharing: it’s the sugar that helps the medicine go down. Groovy Joe is a laid-back dog with golden fur. When readers first see him, he’s strumming his guitar, serenading a bird. A delicious treat arrives (“Groovy Joe was living the dream/ He had a spoon and a tub of doggy ice cream”), but before he can dig in, a little dinosaur stomps in: “He put on a bib! He pulled up a chair. What did Joe say? ‘It’s awesome to share!’ ” Two larger dinosaurs appear in succession, but Joe’s ready to share with them all. Not even the end of the ice cream stops the fun. This celebration of sharing has everything: an ice cream–themed refrain for kids to shout out, big stomping dinosaurs who can also cut a rug, and a lovable furry dog. A free reading/singing of the story is available online, offering fodder for boisterous readalouds at libraries, daycare, or school. Ages 3–5. Agent: Amy Rennert, Amy Rennert Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rex

Simon James. Candlewick, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7294-2

In an entertaining tale of prehistoric (adoptive) parenting, James (Nurse Clementine) introduces a “terrifying tyrannosaurus” who loves to harass the local populace: “He scared the stegosaurus. He scared the brontosaurus. He scared every saurus he saw!” One night in his cave, the foreboding dino is awakened by a tiny T. rex who has hatched from an abandoned egg. Having found the large sleeping dinosaur, he speaks his first word: “Dada!” Rex eagerly imitates his new role model, whose iciness begins to melt. But after he bluntly denies paternity (“You know, I’m not really your dad. You found me in a cave”), Rex sets off to discover “where he really belonged.” James’s loose watercolor-and-ink illustrations comically highlight the contrast between the dinosaurs’ sizes and personalities, especially in scenes that show Rex trying to keep up with his adoptive father’s tree-uprooting, boulder-smashing, and dino-scaring. Rex’s night alone in the woods is just scary enough (even herbivores have menacing teeth in James’s world), and the tender closing reunion puts to rest any question of who Rex’s father really is. Ages 2–5. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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My Thumb

Karen Hesse, illus. by Rich Deas. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-312-67120-4

Hesse’s redheaded narrator begins and ends this book as an unrepentant thumb sucker, but it’s her very intransigence that makes this tribute to the First Digit so refreshing. Even if there are hints that she won’t be a thumb sucker forever (“You make it hard to run,/ and beat a drum,/ and eat a plum”), this is a girl who knows what she wants. “There’s nothing mum could say or do/ to break the bond between us two,” Hesse (Spuds) writes. “It’s like there is some kind of glue,/ that no one, nothing, can undo.” Deas (Cock-a-Doodle Dance!) generally contributes literal interpretations of the rhymes, but he has some standout moments: in one, the narrator assumes the no-nonsense demeanor of a teacher and, with the help of a pointer and chalkboard, explains that she has already outgrown baby bottles, pacifiers, diapers, and nose-picking. For the most part, this is Hesse’s language-fest, and she doesn’t disappoint, ending the story with a string of rhymes that gamely employs kung fu, Peru, déjà vu, snafu, and IQ. Ages 2–4. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler's Atomic Bomb

Neal Bascomb. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-545-73243-7

In a young readers' companion to The Winter Fortress, Bascomb offers a riveting account of Norwegian resistance efforts to prevent Germany from developing the atomic bomb by sabotaging a Norsk Hydro plant in Vemork, the world's sole producer in 1939 of "heavy water." Developing an explosive using nuclear fission depended on this critical ingredient, and on April 9, 1940—soon after the Nazis' increased orders for heavy water were refused by Norsk Hydro's management—Germany invaded and seized control of Norway's industrial sector. In response, Norwegian saboteurs trained in the U.K. to destroy Vemork's heavy water production, under the direction of the British Special Operations Executive and Capt. Leif Tronstad, an exiled Norwegian professor and well-connected informant. Bascomb's detailed narrative builds tension through each attempt, narrow escape, and comeback. Clear summaries of the science involved and the wartime interests of both the Allies and Germany accompany vivid descriptions of the principal participants and their motivations, the rigors of Norway's climate and terrain, and the risks calculated (and those unforeseen), producing a gripping account of individual and collective heroic effort. Ages 12–up. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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