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The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie

Chris Van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-547-31582-9

Thinking of getting a hamster? Read this first. Caldecott Medalist Van Allsburg chronicles the bleak existence of Sweetie Pie, neglected by one child after another. The hamster’s first owner prefers screen time and sells Sweetie Pie to a boy with a hostile dog—readers receive a close-up, rodent’s-eye view of the dog’s slavering jaws. Next comes Cousin Sue, a girl with malicious eyes, who forces her pet into a clear plastic ball and rolls him down a hill (“Exhausted, Sweetie Pie waited for the girl to rescue him, but she never came”). Eventually, the hamster does time as a school pet. At the holidays, a boy promises “to take care of him,” only to forget him on a playground as snow begins to fall; Sweetie Pie sinks “into a deep and frigid sleep.” Van Allsburg does not play for laughs or pull his punches: when a teacher suggests that a kind child must have saved the icy hamster, “The children knew better.” Sweetie Pie’s grim and all-too-realistic experience raises ethical dilemmas, and a squirrel-ex-machina conclusion offers a happy ending, but little comfort. Ages 4–8. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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I’m Going to Catch My Tail

Jimbo Matison. Abrams, $14.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1382-8

Matison, an artist and writer whose work has appeared on TV and online, debuts with a wackily original two-character story based on quotidian cat behavior. The tail turns out to be as vivid and vocal a character as the cat it’s attached to, and over the course of the book, the relationship between the two is in constant, funny flux. Initially their interactions are as between the hunter and hunted: “I’m going to catch my tail,” the cat screams, to which its tail replies, “No you’re not.” But they are also revealed to be co-conspirators (“Toilet paper fun!”), confidantes (“It’s dark under here,” admits Cat, having chased Tail under the bedclothes. “Yeah, let’s go,” agrees Tail), and a mutual source of comfort (Tail is uniquely qualified to provide the hug that Cat really wants). Matison’s drawings have the wild, scrawled looked and frenetic dynamism of contemporary animation, but there’s a strong sense of discipline underlying all the craziness on these pages, whether verbal or visual, and not one line or joke feels indulgent or wasted. Ages 3–7. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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By Day, by Night

Amy Gibson, illus. by Meilo So. Boyds Mills, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59078-991-9

Gibson’s (Catching Kisses) gently undulating verse pays tribute to the children of the world, who are portrayed in their homelands in scenes that highlight topographical and cultural distinctions, and in settings that underpin the universality of their daily experiences and emotions. (The opening image shows five children from diverse ethnic backgrounds yawning and stretching as they awaken in a sort of global bed with a sun motif on the blanket.) So’s (Water Sings Blue) illustrations gracefully balance scenarios grounded in specific places and moments with smaller images of children getting dressed in the morning, being swaddled and cared for by parents, and discovering the joy of reading (“We learn to read; books open doors/ to worlds we’ve never known before”). In one spread, a bustling Caribbean marketplace appears opposite a picture of an African woman crafting a toy zebra, while live ones graze behind her (“We buy and sell. We give and trade./ We offer what our hands have made”). The author is donating her proceeds from this poignant, understated book to the Global Orphan Project. Ages 3–7. Illustrator’s agency: Heflinreps. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Infinite Sea

Rick Yancey. Putnam, $18.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-16242-8

From an explosive start that reveals the boundless malevolence of Yancey's conquering alien Others, this gut-wrenching sequel to The 5th Wave careens on a violent course of nonstop action. Heroine Cassie, renegade soldier Ringer, and fellow survivor Ben have led a band of military camp escapees to a decaying hotel somewhere in Ohio. With winter approaching, they squabble over how to attempt survival, with Ringer questioning whether Cassie's refusal to budge until they know what happened to Evan, who helped them escape but who may be an Other, means she's fallen in love with the enemy. Reversals and double-reversals abound. At one point, Ringer admits to dizziness, a sensation readers may share. "Bluffs inside bluffs, feints within counterfeints. I'm in a game," she says, "in which I don't know the rules or even the object." Despite the gore, inhumanity, and senseless losses, Yancey manages an ending that both shatters and uplifts. While readers may not yet fully understand what the Others are up to, the title, an allusion to a speech made by Shakespeare's Juliet, is a clue to what's driving the survivors: love. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brian DeFiore, DeFiore and Co. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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