America the Beautiful
Katherine Lee Bates, illus. by Chris Gall (Little, Brown)
Gall offers an innovative interpretation of this classic paean to the nation, blending primitive and sophisticated elements to convey a three-dimensional look. His artwork celebrates the diverse contributions of all Americans, from Sacajawea to the Tuskegee airmen of WWII. This composite portrait of the country provides a spirit-lifting accompaniment to Bates's rousing lyrics.
Eric Carle (Philomel)
In this entirely engaging book, Carle celebrates fatherhood while delivering intriguing information about several underwater species. When Mrs. Seahorse announces it is time to lay her eggs, Mr. Seahorse offers to help, and carries the eggs in a pouch in his belly. He then meets up with other male fish who are also protecting eggs. A child-confidence—building finale caps off this original tale.
Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel
Leslie Connor, illus. by Mary Azarian (Houghton)
Connor's beguiling debut children's book uses the single image of the shovel, the one item that Miss Bridie selects to take with her on a ship to America in 1856, to illuminate the whole of an immigrant's lifetime of pluck, struggle and grace. Caldecott Medalist Azarian's trademark woodcuts evoke a homespun beauty from her period settings.
Bing: Get Dressed;
Bing: Paint Day
Ted Dewan (Random/Fickling)
Bing Bunny, a charming coal-black rabbit with big green eyes, teams up with his stuffed rabbit toy, Flop, to teach preschoolers a few things. Flop's cheers and gentle admonitions accompany Bing's attempts to clothe himself and to apply a rainbow of paints. These easygoing books reflect Dewan's close observations of children and reassure readers that ordinary mishaps are bound to occur.
The People Could Fly: The Picture Book
Virginia Hamilton, illus. by Leo and Diane Dillon (Knopf)
This picture-book treatment of the title story from the late Hamilton's 1985 collection, The People Could Fly allows room for the relationship to develop between Sarah, who labors in the cotton fields with an infant strapped to her back, and Toby, the "old man," who utters the magic African words that give her flight. Making dramatic use of shadow and light in resplendent paintings, the Dillons convey the tale's simultaneous messages of oppression and freedom.
Kitten's First Full Moon
Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins/Greenwillow)
When Kitten spies her first full moon, she mistakes it for "a little bowl of milk in the sky," and her attempts to reach it contribute to an imaginative, cinematic adventure. Henkes's narrative and pictorial pacing will keep children entranced.
The Cats in Krasinski Square
Karen Hesse, illus. by Wendy Watson (Scholastic)
Based on an actual incident, Hesse's haunting story takes place in the Warsaw Ghetto. The girl narrator approaches a line of stray cats in the wartorn town square, comforts them and later employs the strays in a plan to outwit the Nazis. Watson makes a stunning stylistic departure, using a fine ink line to emphasize the ghetto's starkness and golden watercolors for the warmth of the girl's modest home with her sister. Author and artist take a complex situation and make its most important aspects comprehensible to a child.
Apples to Oregon
Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Nancy Carpenter (Atheneum/Schwartz)
The creators of Fannie in the Kitchen here present another satisfying slice of Americana, loosely based on a true story. With a folksy voice and a can-do spirit, the vivacious young narrator, Delicious, guides readers (and her family of 10) through her journey West, saving the day when the family encounters hail, drought and frost. Carpenter's brushstrokes, both delicate and broad, plus her rubbery characters add up to a rugged style that plays up the humor.
Little Rabbit Goes to School
Harry Horse (Peachtree)
Perpetually in motion, Little Rabbit (sporting an ear-shaped cap and red raincoat) makes mischief with his toy Charlie Horse in tow on his first day of school; but who is responsible—Little Rabbit or Charlie Horse? The author/artist offers a humorous and poignant exploration of a child discovering the delights of independence.
Walt Whitman: Words for America
Barbara Kerley, illus. by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)
This innovative biography begins with a look at Whitman's early years as a printer's apprentice, then centers on the wrenching events of the Civil War that so inspired the poet. With a lyricism and an ardor that echoes Whitman's own, Kerley writes of his passion for both language and for "rambling." Selznick's versatile illustrations range from stark realism to surreal whimsy.
David Lucas (Knopf)
Shy Halibut Jackson, handy with needle and thread, creates his own camouflage, rendered in Lucas's wry paintings. When the hero receives an invitation to the palace, he makes himself a bejeweled hat and coat to match the palace walls—but the event turns out to be a garden party, and the resulting attention proves agreeable to the hero. Kids will recognize the authenticity of Halibut's feelings, as his timidity gives way to confidence.
The Bremen Town Musicians:
And Other Animal Tales from Grimm
Doris Orgel, illus. by Bert Kitchen (Roaring Brook/Porter)
The creators of The Lion and the Mouse present six upbeat tales from the Brothers Grimm. Orgel stays faithful to the animal stories while adding fresh touches to her economical and witty translations. Rather than endow the characters with human qualities, Kitchen allows their true animal natures to shine through in his meticulous portraits.
The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard
Gregory Rogers (Roaring Brook/Porter)
In this very funny, wordless escapade, a modern-day boy boots his soccer ball through the backstage window of an empty theater. When he goes to retrieve the ball, he is literally transported to the heyday of the Globe Theater. His interruption of the drama in progress precipitates one of his own: Shakespeare himself pursues the boy through the London streets. Rogers uses a comic-book approach to animate the slapstick characters, while his English architecture and countryside are technically precise.
Sarah Stewart, illus. by David Small (FSG)
The husband-and-wife team here explores the subtle, intense bond shared by Belle and Bea, her caregiver. Stewart wastes not a word as her text sets a rhythm to the duo's days: doing chores together and strolling on the beach each afternoon. When tragedy nearly strikes one day, it is as though Bea feels in her bones that something is wrong, and when she comes to Belle's rescue, Small's portraits convey their ineffable connection.
The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!
Mo Willems (Hyperion)
In Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, the titular hero was subordinate to an unseen authority figure; now he must contend with a pesky interloper of his own, as he bargains with a cunning duckling over a hot dog. Through voice bubbles, body language and expressive sizes and shapes of type, Willems crafts a comical give-and-take between the two birds.
Jeanette Winter (FSG/Foster)
Winter's spare narrative and deceptively simple illustrations chronicle how two South African sisters, on their way to New York City on September 11, 2001, to display their roses in a flower show, offer a measure of hope in the midst of grief. Winter's effective use of color underscores the sense that small acts of kindness can bring a ray of light to even the darkest day.
Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illus. by Marc Rosenthal (Harcourt/Silver Whistle)
This cheerful look at a day in the life of Mr. Rally, who drives a big yellow backhoe, accompanied by his dog, reinforces counting skills as the pair completes five separate jobs. Rosenthal's pictures in a fittingly earth-toned palette hark back to classic picture books with the appealing old-fashioned feel of Margaret Bloy Graham or Virginia Lee Burton.
Frank Cottrell Boyce (HarperCollins)
The irresistible premise of this novel asks: How would you spend a lot of money fast? The Cunninghams have moved to a new neighborhood; Anthony, a precocious fifth-grader, plays on people's sympathy, while Damian, the beguiling fourth-grade narrator, is obsessed with saints and constructs a makeshift "hermitage" near the railroad tracks. While Damian is there, a bag with more than £250,000 drops from the sky. Damian believes it's from God, but Anthony suspects otherwise. Readers will madly flip the pages to figure out its true source.
Al Capone Does My Shirts
Gennifer Choldenko (Putnam)
It's 1935, and 12-year-old narrator Moose Flanagan and his disabled older sister have just moved to Alcatraz Island, where their father works as an electrician and guard. The warden's daughter flouts her father's rule about discussing the convicts and hatches a scheme to make money from her mainland classmates who want to have their clothes laundered by the infamous inmates. Choldenko captures the tense, nuanced family dynamics touched off by Moose's sister's disability as skillfully as she handles the mystique of Alcatraz and the exchanges among Moose and his friends.
Sharon Creech (HarperCollins/Cotler)
Twelve-year-old narrator Annie likes hearing the sound of her bare feet hitting the grass, running alongside her friend Max and spending time with her grandfather. But her grandfather is growing forgetful, and her mother is pregnant. Moreover, Max joins the track team, and his eagerness to win drives a wedge between him and Annie. Through Annie's observations, in free verse, Creech eloquently captures the contrast between the baby's embarkation on life and Grandpa's slow withdrawal from it.
Bucking the Sarge
Christopher Paul Curtis (Random/Lamb)
For this vibrant tale of a battle between greed and morality, Curtis takes readers to modern-day Flint, Mich., to meet wealthy 15-year-old Luther T. Farrell. He drives an $85,000 vehicle (using a phony driver's license) and his education fund is worth more than $90,000. But Luther lives under the thumb of "the Sarge," his hyperstrict mother, who has lied, cheated and extorted her way to wealth. This winning tale comes to a gratifying resolution, in which all characters get what they deserve.
The Sea of Trolls
Nancy Farmer (Atheneum/Jackson)
Fans of Viking and adventure tales will sail through this meaty volume to discover the fate of 12-year-old Jack and his sister, Lucy, kidnapped from their homeland by Olaf One-Brow and his crew. The plot thickens as the two travel across the sea, to where King Ivar the Boneless reigns with his half-troll wife. Jack winds up making a pilgrimage to the heart of troll country to try to save his sister from the queen.
Ida B... and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World
Katherine Hannigan (HarperCollins/Greenwillow)
This perceptive first novel digs deep inside the soul of nine-year-old narrator Ida B Applewood. Ida B cherishes her free time alone outdoors, talking to the brook and the trees in the orchard. After her mother is diagnosed with cancer, the heroine's world turns upside down. Hannigan shows a remarkable understanding of a stubborn child's perspective, in this honest portrayal of loss and rebirth.
Katy Kelly, illus. by Adam Rex (Delacorte)
Third grader Lucy Rose introduces herself with such appealing self-assuredness that readers will hate to say goodbye on the final page. With her recently separated mother, the heroine has moved to Washington, D.C., near her grandparents, who play a significant role in their granddaughter's life. The redhead narrates in breathless sentences that call to mind Eloise's endearing chatter, and the incidents she recounts range from comical to genuinely affecting.
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
E.L. Konigsburg (S&S/Atheneum)
Margaret, half-sister to narrator Connor from Konigsburg's Silent to the Bone, takes center stage here: at age 12, she is causing a stir at summer camp by opting out of activities she "would prefer not to" do. Although her uncles (who reside at the titular address) begin by bailing her out, Margaret ends by making a stand for them. The author once again ably demonstrates how one young person can make a difference.
Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt)
Le Guin poses probing questions about the power and responsibility of being gifted, through the eyes of 16-year-old narrator Orrec. As Orrec explains to a runaway Lowlander the history of the Uplands, where various family lines live side by side—each with a hereditary "gift" that "protects" them—he gradually awakens to the other consequences of gifts and the pressure on each generation to manifest them.
L.S. Matthews (Delacorte)
Narrated by a child whose gender is concealed by the nickname Tiger, this first novel grounds its allegorical plot in the tactile quality of its storytelling. Tiger's parents are relief workers about to lead their family out of an unnamed country being ravaged by war. When Tiger finds a fish swimming in a puddle near their home, the child becomes determined to take it on the journey. Keeping the narrative carefully attuned to a child's perspective, Matthews allows just enough detail—and heart—to let the audience enjoy this story at any level, literal or otherwise.
Hilary McKay (S&S/McElderry)
In this return visit to the British family from Saffy's Angel, 12-year-old Indigo takes the spotlight with his younger sister, Rose, who is concerned about Indigo's victimization by a gang of bullies. The gang also torments Tom, an American who is staying with his grandmother in England. As a friendship evolves between Indigo and Tom, as well as between Tom and Rose, the Casson clan also slowly comes to terms with their parents living separate lives. McKay's realistic portrayal of the family's dynamics are at times riotous, at times bittersweet.
Donna Jo Napoli (S&S/Atheneum)
Napoli sets this Cinderella story in China during the 14th century, when it was customary to bind girls' feet. Napoli manages to grant her heroine an independence that remains authentic to her time, and creates both an adventure and a coming-of-age story that will have readers racing to the finish.
How I Live Now
Meg Rosoff (Random/Lamb)
This riveting first novel paints a frighteningly realistic picture of a world war breaking out in the 21st century. Daisy, a 15-year-old Manhattan native, goes to stay with cousins on a remote British farm, and terrorists soon invade and occupy the country. Like the ripple effects of paranoia and panic in society, the changes within Daisy come gradually: she goes from a disgruntled teen to a courageous young woman motivated by love and compassion.
The Burn Journals
Brent Runyon (Knopf)
This book based on Runyon's own experiences draws readers into the world of an eighth-grader whose life is changed irrevocably the day he deliberately sets himself on fire. Despite its dark subject matter, this powerful chronicle of Brent's journey to heal celebrates life and provides an opportunity to slip inside the skin of a true survivor.
The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing but the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel
Charles D. Cohen (Random)
In this hefty, assiduously researched volume, generously sprinkled with crisp reproductions of the artist's work, Cohen sets out to demystify Geisel's genius. He provides insight into the evolution of a remarkable creative mind, allowing the story to unfold largely through Dr. Seuss's own words and pictures.
Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance
Laban Carrick Hill (Little, Brown/Tingley)
This compelling history documents the artistic, literary and musical surge of black culture in Harlem from 1900 to 1924, presenting the events and personalities that led to both its ascension and decline. Hill weaves in many voices, solo and in groups, along with brief bios of lesser-known heroes. The inviting layout makes use of blocks of jazzy colors and type plus a smattering of period illustrations.
The Race to Save the Lord God Bird
Phillip Hoose (FSG/Kroupa)
Those who raced to save the Ivory-bill and its Southern U.S. habitat, reports Hoose, were neither as swift nor as wealthy as those who raced to shoot it and turn its preferred sweet-gum trees into lumber. The author shares a forceful tale of a species' decline and, in the process, gives a history of ornithology and environmentalism.
Please see the December 6 issue for a feature from Adult Forecasts, "The Year in Books."