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Coming Home

Greg Ruth. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-250-05547-7

As joyful reunions between soldiers and loved ones unfold around him on the tarmac, a blond-haired boy in a red T-shirt and camo shorts wonders where his soldier could be. Then, finally, it happens: “Mom!” Ruth’s beautifully observed, nearly wordless picture book combines journalistic immediacy with the intensely dramatic framings of a graphic novel, reflecting Ruth’s background in the medium (including the 2013 comic The Lost Boy). Working in tones of sunlight and khaki, Ruth moves his protagonist in and out of the foreground, almost as if he’s asking readers to scout for him in the same way that he is looking for his mother. “Sheesh!” the boy thinks, as he passes lovers locked in a kiss—a moment of levity amid his increasing anxiety. Ruth brings his story to a close at the perfect emotional moment: the boy leaps into the arms of his kneeling mother, and they hug each other tightly, their eyes closed as they savor every second. A stirring tribute to the resilience of both soldiers and those they must leave at home. Ages 4–7. Agent: Allen Spiegel, Allen Spiegel Fine Arts. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tumbleweed Baby

Anna Myers, illus by Charles Vess. Abrams, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1232-6

In her first picture book, Myers (Time of the Witches) introduces the hardscrabble Upagainstit family and their foundling child. In pencil-and-ink drawings of drought-ridden Texas landscapes, Vess (Blueberry Girl) pictures the father, mother, and children as sharecroppers in an earth-colored farmhouse. When the five siblings find a baby in a tumbleweed and debate whether to keep her, one child disapproves: “ ‘She’s a wild-all-over baby,’ said the littlest-of-all girl. ‘Put her back.’ ” They take her home anyway, only to find that the long-haired, naked Tumbleweed Baby revolts in the bathtub, flings food, and makes “a terrible ruckus.” Nevertheless, everyone but the youngest girl wants to give her a chance. Myers eases readers through the folksy story, repeating evocative names and phrases. She reveals the reason for the littlest girl’s resistance only on the last page, ending on a piquant surprise note. Vess’s child characters are awkwardly proportioned, and the baby’s size varies dramatically, yet images of dirt fields and blue skies capture the aura of mystery and hopefulness of this strange country tale. Ages 4–6. Author’s agent: Victoria Marini, Gelfman Schneider. Illustrator’s agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Dinner That Cooked Itself

J.C. Hsyu, illus. by Kenard Pak. Nobrow/Flying Eye (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-909263-41-3

Hsyu debuts with a fine retelling of a Chinese folktale about a hardworking bachelor whose kindness is rewarded. Orphaned as a child, Tuan has been raised by an elderly neighbor, Old Lin; when the time comes for Tuan to marry, Old Lin hires a matchmaker. The three women proposed by the matchmaker don’t work out for various reasons—the birth years and names of the first two women clash with Tuan’s own, while his poverty means that the third woman’s parents won’t give her away. Tuan’s luck improves after he discovers a large snail in his field, brings it home, and feeds it. Suddenly, delicious dinners are awaiting him every night—“little fried balls of pork, a plump chicken stewed with plums.” After some investigation, Tuan learns the mystery cook is a beautiful fairy sent to watch over him by the Lord of Heaven. Working in a pale, muted palette, Pak (Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?) contributes airy, rough-textured compositions that evoke both contemporary animation and ancient, weathered frescoes as the story takes a serpentine path to a happy ending. Ages 3–7. Illustrator’s agent: Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Winter Train

Susanna Isern, trans. from the Spanish by Jon Brokenbrow, illus. by Ester García. Cuento de Luz (Legato, dist.), $16.95 (24p) ISBN 978-84-15784-84-5

In the imagination of the Spanish writer Isern (The Magic Ball of Wool), all but a few of the animals of the forest migrate in winter: they pack their bags and ride the train from the Northern Forest to the Southern Forest. In spreads that read like friezes, García draws the animals in shades of sepia and ochre, accentuating the soft fuzziness of their coats and the graceful curves of their necks and tails as they wait near the ancient tree that serves as their train station. There’s even an animal unknown in North America—a genet, a carnivorous mammal related to mongoose and civets. Genet is the one who realizes that they’ve left Squirrel behind. “But if we go back, we could get trapped in the snow,” says Beaver. Squirrel is rescued safely and, amid a blizzard, the animals clear the tracks of snow so they can get underway. The tranquil bedtime diversion ends by invoking the Peaceable Kingdom, as predators and prey snuggle together, Squirrel under Eagle’s wing. The story is low-key, but García’s artwork is rich and worthwhile. Ages 3–5. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters

Laurie Ann Thompson. Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, $12.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-58270-464-7

“Young people everywhere are rising up and directly creating the changes they want to see in their communities and around the world—right now.” Bolstered by numerous examples of real-life activism, debut author Thompson outlines ways that children and teens can become involved in their communities. Lists and bullet points offer pointers and direction (starting a “venture journal” to gather ideas is an early suggestion), and profiles of youth-founded organizations and young activists appear throughout, along with musings based on Thompson’s own nonprofit work and experience. From discovering potential causes and passions to creating business plans, soliciting donations, and being aware of legal and financial pitfalls, Thompson offers thorough, encouraging advice for the next generation of activists. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Robot Book: Build and Control 20 Electric Gizmos, Moving Machines, and Hacked Toys

Bobby Mercer. Chicago Review (IPG, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-55652-407-3

This addition to the Science in Motion series takes readers through the basics of creating their own robots, often repurposing parts and motors from old toys, outdated cell phones, and more (motorized toothbrushes form the basis for several projects in a section devoted to “vibrational robots”). Step-by-step instructions, b&w photographs, and materials lists make each project manageable and clear, while “Robot Science” sections illuminate the mechanics underlying them (“You pulling on a string represents a muscle pulling on a tendon,” Mercer explains after readers have created an articulated humanoid hand using only cardboard, drinking straws, and string). It’s a solid starting point for readers with an interest in circuitry or engineering—or who simply like to take things apart to see how they work. Ages 9–up. Agent: Kathryn Green, Kathryn Green Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink

Gail Carson Levine. Harper, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-227530-1

“Have fun, and save what you write!” Those words close out nearly every chapter of this valuable writing guide, a companion to Levine’s Writing Magic (2006), and they form the heart of the author’s advice. Levine describes this book as the “greatest hits” of her blog, where she has discussed the craft of writing since 2009 (and where the exclamatory advice above closes out her posts). Chapters explore finding inspiration (and time to write), character- and plot-building, and writing poetry, among other topics. (Walking readers through the publication process, Levine notes, “We writers rely on the eagle eyes of copy editors! However, I still try to get the nitty-gritty right myself, and so should you.”) Questions from visitors to Levine’s blog are used as springboards, and Levine is generous in sharing her struggles, tactics, and experience. Ages 8–up. Agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Howtoons: Tools of Mass Construction

Saul Griffith, Nick Dragotta, Ingrid Dragotta, et al. Image, $17.99 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-63215-101-8

Siblings Tucker and Celine demonstrate how to create dozens of simple inventions and craft projects by using (and reusing) everyday household objects in this high-energy comics collection, which contains both new and previously published material. Organized into sections revolving around play, tools, math, science, engineering, and more, the projects typically span just a few pages, with suggestions that include creating marshmallow shooters from PVC pipe, refashioning a turkey baster into a flute, and transforming humble soda bottles in multiple ways—bird feeders, “jet packs” for a superhero costume, underwater goggles, etc. Nick Dragotta’s cartooning is every bit as imaginative as the projects offered, bringing a larger-than-life comic-book sensibility and sense of adventure to these wisecracking siblings’ investigations and tinkering. Packed with ideas and creative fodder for DIY-minded kids. All ages. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen, illus. by Mister Reusch and Heather Kasunik. Bloomsbury, $16 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-62040-706-6

Glenn and Larsen follow 2012’s Unbored with a second collection of DIY activities and ideas for children and families, this time built around the idea of game play, whether it takes place around the kitchen table, outdoors, or online. As in the previous book, the authors employ a team of contributors who bring backgrounds in video games, crafting, computers, and more to the table. Over four chapters, readers receive dozens of recommendations for existing games and apps to check out, ideas for how to “hack” said games to keep them fresh, activities that require no more than one’s body or mind, and information about the history of gaming. From creating “exquisite corpse” drawings to tossing cabers, “larping,” and everything in between, there’s more than enough to entice kids of all interests and abilities. All ages. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Coming and Going

Isabel Minhós Martins, trans. from the Portuguese by Isabel Alves and Bergen Peck, illus. by Bernardo Carvalho. Tate (Abrams, dist.), $16.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-84976-161-1

In a provocative concept book, Martins explores the evolution of human mobility—from feet to flight. A chiding, reproachful tone runs throughout, calling attention to the costs of progress: “In our eagerness, we wanted to go supersonic./ In our eagerness, we hunted for super fuels./ In our eagerness, we almost blew the fuses.../ (no, not ours, but the planet’s).” Simultaneously, Martins urges readers to take notice of humbler species, such as the tern, which travels “50,000 miles,/ without bothering a soul.” Carvalho’s arresting artwork features stylized figures and overlapping geometric shapes in bold colors—his panoramas and seascapes underscore both the Earth’s beauty and the human responsibility to preserve that beauty. Ages 5–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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