Shirin Yim Bridges, illus. by Sophie Blackall (Chronicle)
In this triumphant tale set in old China, young Ruby longs to attend university, where women are not allowed; but hard work and faith in her goal win her the approval and aid of her grandfather. Bridges's understated approach takes the heroine's predicament seriously while celebrating her love of learning; Blackall's poetic images recall Chinese silk-screening.
Giggle, Giggle, Quack
Doreen Cronin, illus. by Betsy Lewin (S&S)
The barnyard animals first seen in Click, Clack, Moo find themselves in a situation youngsters will likely find even funnier than the first. When Farmer Brown takes a vacation, brother Bob is left in charge and Duck seizes the opportunity for a free-for-all. This is sure to strike a chord with any child ever left in the charge of a baby-sitter.
Gossie; Gossie & Gertie
Olivier Dunrea (Houghton)
Preschoolers cannot help but recognize themselves in the guise of two irresistible goslings, who star in a pair of hand-size volumes about friendship, sharing and budding independence. Dunrea makes the most of the white space, whether it's Gossie dangling from the top of a page or a sequence of exquisitely timed illustrations depicting Gossie's mounting frustration with Gertie.
The Giant Ball of String
Arthur Geisert (Houghton/Lorraine)
In this offbeat tale of how cooperation and resourcefulness can overcome deceit, a group of young pigs use ropes, pulleys, a magnifying glass and more to reclaim their town's pride and joy, the titular ball of string, which has been stolen by neighboring villagers. Geisert's tongue-in-cheek delivery as well as meticulous drawings of the good guys' ingenuity in creating the contraptions that secure their prize make the pigs' revenge all the sweeter.
Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illus. by Robert Andrew Parker (Roaring Brook/ Porter)
A significant period in abstract artist Jackson Pollack's life, when he created Number 1, 1950 (also known as Lavender Mist), frames this outstanding picture book biography. Parker, an inspired choice as illustrator, suggests Pollack's graceful motion with the barest of penstrokes, and captures the intensity of the creative process as effortlessly as the serenity of the artist's Long Island home.
Little Rabbit Lost
Harry Horse (Peachtree)
The titular toddler begins his birthday full of big-bunny confidence—until he gets separated from his family during an outing to an amusement park. Horse reveals an eye for detail and humor: the giant bunny-themed park emphasizes the diminutive size of the book's star, and he gently imparts a subtle lesson.
Henry Builds a Cabin
D.B. Johnson (Houghton)
This second picture-book episode from Henry Thoreau's life perhaps outdoes its predecessor in extolling the virtues of a simple life and the joys of nature. As Johnson chronicles Henry erecting a humble abode where he eats, sleeps and reads, kaleidoscopic artwork in earth tones exude a sense of peace and contentment; this volume may well offer young readers a new outlook on life.
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey
Maira Kalman (Putnam)
Inviting comparison with the classic Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, this energetic and expressively illustrated work tells of a restored fireboat brought out of retirement to help ease the devastation wrought in New York City on September 11, 2001. Kalman neither lionizes nor softens her subject matter; she distills a complex situation to its most elemental forms.
Farfallina & Marcel
Holly Keller (HarperCollins/Greenwillow)
In this charming tale, a caterpillar and a gosling meet in a rain shower one day and become best friends. A series of lush paintings follows Farfallina as she becomes a butterfly and Marcel as he molts; neither recognizes the other afterwards, yet they bond nonetheless. Keller's warmhearted ending remains true to both nature and friendship that lasts through the seasons.
Barbara McClintock (FSG/Foster)
In a doll story that will win over even confirmed tomboys, an outdoors-loving Victorian child lays out the house rules to the fragile-looking, beribboned doll she has just been given: "No tea parties, no being pushed around in frilly prams." Detailed tableaux conveying period clothing and furnishings perfectly fit the mood of the story, their delicate lines and coloring belied by the robust action they convey.
Another Perfect Day
Ross MacDonald (Roaring Brook/Porter)
With a beefy hero and graphics inspired by 1930s—40s comic books, this impeccably designed volume features a forthright text that comically counterpoints a livelier tale told through the pictures. Reports of quotidian activities accompany illustrations of Jack waking in a circus tent and blasting off from a cannon on his way to work, but when things go awry for the burly fellow, a boy saves the day.
Hondo & Fabian
Peter McCarty (Holt)
McCarty's minimalist story, about a day in the life of a dog and a cat who share the same home, lets very young readers discover the wit in understated contrasts—between text and pictures and between the dog's and the cat's activities. Distinctive pencil drawings in a candlelit palette enhance the warm, nostalgic mood for an effect at once ingenuous and sophisticated.
Kate McMullan, illus. by Jim McMullan (HarperCollins/Cotler)
A boisterous New York City garbage truck narrates this thoroughly engaging husband-and-wife collaboration. In this hilarious homage to an unsung hero, readers get a peek at the truck's cavernous tail end where hurled garbage bags gather, and hear the unlikely hero's loud burp as his belly gets compacted; he freely admits to his stench, but youngsters will delight in his noise and his humble yet essential mission.
New York's Bravest
Mary Pope Osborne, illus. by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher(Knopf)
Osborne draws on the story of real-life New York City firefighter Mose Humphrey for this tale set in 19th-century New York City, with its cobblestone streets and trolley cars. The prose and artwork deftly balance the subject's tall-tale qualities with his down-to-earth duties in a resonant tribute to everyday heroism.
Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School
Mark Teague (Scholastic)
Ike, a crafty pooch, would have his owner believing that a dog's life is hardly to be envied, as he sends her self-pitying letters from obedience school, where he's been sent to clean up his act. But readers learn the hilarious truth: brightly colored vignettes depict the pampered pup at a spa-like academy, juxtaposed with trumped-up black-and-white prison-like scenes that illustrate Ike's imagined hardship. Readers will howl with amusement.
Eloise Takes a Bawth
Kay Thompson, with Mart Crowley, illus. by Hilary Knight (S&S)
Forty years in the making, this Eloise tale finds the irrepressible heroine taking a soak that sends water cascading through the pipes of Manhattan's Plaza Hotel and making a splawsh at the Venetian Masked Ball. Knight's cutaway views of the hotel's plumbing and the plucky gal's water-balletic antics will thrill children of all ages.
M.T. Anderson (Candlewick)
Anderson fully imagines a society dominated by the "feed"—a next-generation Internet/television hybrid, which provides an endless media blitz of news bulletins and commercials, directly hardwired into the brain. Frightening in its realistic depiction of what is possible in a culture addicted to information, this novel is a guaranteed conversation-starter.
Postcards from No Man's Land
Aidan Chambers (Dutton)
Jam-packed with ideas and passionate characters, this sophisticated novel entwines two narratives, one centered on Jacob and set in mid-1990s Amsterdam and the other in 1944, during the Battle of Arnheim, involving Jacob's grandfather. Along with literature, art and love, the plot touches on euthanasia, adultery and bisexuality, themes that contribute to Jacob's self-knowledge as he learns to cope with ambiguity.
Rachel Cohn (S&S)
Cohn proves that joie de vivre can bubble out of serious themes in this irresistible coming-of-age story. Booted out of boarding school, narrator Cyd Charisse (named after the movie star) reports on the quirks of her San Francisco family, then flies to New York City to meet her biological father and his two grown children; her exuberantly slangy voice exerts an almost magnetic force.
Sarah Dessen (Viking)
Juggling her plans to enter Stanford in the fall with her adjustment to her romance-writer mom's fifth marriage, Remy is steadfastly cynical about love—which may jeopardize her relationship with an imperfectly charming, struggling musician. Dessen balances wickedly funny moments with universal teen traumas.
The House of the Scorpion
Nancy Farmer (Atheneum/Jackson)
In this eerily realistic depiction of society 100 years hence, the wealthy class harvests the organs of clones to prolong their lives. By assuming the perspective of Matt, the clone of a drug lord and supreme ruler of Opium, bounded by the U.S. to the North and Aztlán (formerly Mexico) to the South, Farmer explores vital and soul-searching questions about what it means to be human.
Neil Gaiman, illus. by Dave McKean (HarperCollins)
After Coraline and her parents move into an old house, her mother and father go missing, and a locked door leading to a parallel world—in which a man and woman creepily resemble her father and mother—holds the key to their whereabouts. With psychologically complex imagery and ominous Victorian-esque drawings, this electrifyingly creepy tale will haunt young readers for many moons.
Stoner & Spaz
Ron Koertge (Candlewick)
Perhaps not since Harold and Maude has there been such a likable unlikely romance: 16-year-old narrator Ben, who has cerebral palsy, falls for druggie Colleen. Thanks to sophisticated plotting and Ben's razor-sharp perceptions, which are peppered with film allusions, every character here seems fresh and interesting.
A Corner of the Universe
Ann M. Martin (Scholastic)
In this novel narrated by insightful and sympathetic Hattie, the 12-year-old discovers her family has a secret: her Uncle Adam, sent away years ago because of his "mental problems." The author authentically conveys the ripples Adam sends through this small town when he returns during the summer of 1960, and limns the complex relationship between the heroine and her uncle as they meet some painful challenges.
Hilary McKay (S&S/McElderry)
In this tale of an eccentric, entirely engaging British family,. Saffy's discovery of her true birthright leads to an unlikely friendship, a covert trip to Siena and a new appreciation for the exuberant and eccentric artist family that raised her. The author exposes the inextricable link between joy and pain, while applying a generous dose of humor.
The Same Stuff as Stars
Katherine Paterson (Clarion)
In this compassionate novel set in rural Vermont, 11-year-old Angel looks out for her seven-year-old brother after their mother leaves them with their paternal great-grandmother. The heroine's blossoming friendship with a mysterious "star man," combined with her intelligence and abiding trust in the direst of situations, will persuade readers that she will rise above her circumstances.
Blue Eyes Better
Ruth Wallace-Brodeur (Dutton)
Ten-year-old Tessa grapples with enormous guilt when her brother dies during a joy ride that she had overheard him planning. Tessa's first-person narration reflects every nuance of her feelings, as well as the impact of her brother's death on her parents, in a deeply moving novel that explores one family's loss and grieving.
Garret Freymann-Weyr (Houghton)
In this story of 14-year-old Ellen's attraction to her older brother's best friend, complexities more far-reaching than just sexual concerns come to the fore. After Ellen asks the two about the nature of their relationship, she finds herself confronting a whole new set of questions. This thoughtful novel mines the many confusing signals that accompany awakening sexuality.
The One-Eyed Giant; The Land of the Dead
Mary Pope Osborne, illus. by Troy Howell (Hyperion)
For graduates of D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, these launch titles in the Tales from the Odyssey series for middle-graders reexamine episodes from Homer's epic. Osborne pares down each adventure into easily absorbed, swiftly paced episodes that serve as a delectable introduction to Homer and Greek mythology.
When My Name Was Keoko
Linda Sue Park (Clarion)
A brother and sister alternate as narrators in this well-constructed novel set in Japanese-occupied Korea (1940—1945). Through use of shifting perspectives, Park points up the differences between male and female roles in Korean society; as the war intensifies, each family member asserts his or her individuality and ups the emotional ante.
Jerry Spinelli (HarperCollins/Cotler)
Spinelli here enters the consciousness of the social pariah, beginning with Donald Zinkoff's early school days of invisibility and ignorant bliss, then zeroing in on the turning point in fourth grade when his fellow students dub him "Loser." The author skillfully balances Zinkoff's mistreatment by his peers with abundant love from his family and friendship with his quirky neighbors.
Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929
Karen Blumenthal (S&S/Atheneum)
This fast-paced, gripping account of the market crash of October 1929 puts a human face on the crisis, setting the scene in the affluent post—WWI society and chronicling the six-day descent into chaos. The author deciphers market terms and introduces key players in this compelling portrait of a defining moment in American history.
Confucius: The Golden Rule
Russell Freedman, illus. by Frédéric Clément (Scholastic/Levine)
Freedman delves deep into Chinese history, smoothly weaving its culture and language into this intelligent, comprehensive biography. The author explains Confucian philosophy succinctly without dumbing it down; Clément's moody, ethereal illustrations complement the thoughtful text while accentuating the mystery of Confucius's life.
Chewing the Cud
Dick King-Smith, illus. by Harry Horse (Knopf)
After stints as soldier, farmer, salesman and factory worker, among other occupations, "at last I've found something I can do reasonably well," concludes this warm and witty memoir by the author of Babe: The Gallant Pig. How King-Smith arrived at his career as a writer makes for delectable fodder in this conversational volume, peppered with accomplished pen-and-inks, for readers of all ages.
This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie
Elizabeth Partridge (Viking)
Drawing on primary sources and original interviews, Partridge offers intriguing insight into the singer as well as the creation of his songs. Lucid discussions of political and social conflicts give young readers access to the issues that so frequently inspired the songwriter, while judiciously deployed quotations infuse the text with Guthrie's charismatic if erratic personality.
Saladin: Noble Prince of Islam
Diane Stanley (HarperCollins)
Turning to the 12th-century ruler known as "the Muslim saint-king" who was "praised even by his enemies as 'the marvel of his time,' " Stanley demonstrates her superb skills as a biographer and illustrator. In examining Saladin's response to the Crusades, she crystallizes many of the issues still at the root of global conflicts today.
Peacock and Other Poems
Valerie Worth, illus. by Natalie Babbitt (FSG)
These 27 poems by the late Worth re-imagine everyday encounters, urging readers to take pleasure in sensory experience, from the metamorphosis of nature in "October" to a sly caution against vanity in the titular poem. Babbitt's drawings play up the poems' wry simplicity.