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Picky Eaters

Ellen Jackson, illus. by Amy-Clare Barden. Sterling, $7.95 (16p) ISBN 978-1-4549-1901-8

Attention children who won’t look beyond chicken fingers and fries at mealtime: you’re not alone. By lifting flaps, readers can discover the favorite foods of 10 animals, including koalas, caterpillars, pandas, and honeybees. Jackson’s rhymes never miss a beat, approaching the animals’ dietary habits with humor (“Giant whales can get their fill/ when they swallow tons of krill/ African egg-eating snakes/ swallow eggs as if they’re cakes”), and Barden’s softly textured digital illustrations bring a clean, fresh atmosphere to each page. The only downside? After celebrating so many finicky diets, it’s unclear how many kids will take seriously Jackson’s closing suggestion to “Put a new food on your plate.” Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Kendra Marcus, Bookstop Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Itsy Bitsy Duckling

Jeffrey Burton, illus. by Sanja Rescek. Little Simon, $5.99 (16p) ISBN 978-1-4814-8655-2

Burton and Rescek welcome the spring in this spin on “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which follows The Itsy Bitsy Reindeer and other collaborations. Rescek’s cozy-cute artwork highlights numerous animal families in addition to the featured duckling: frogs and colorful bugs take shelter from a storm (“Down came the rain/ and chased the snow away”), purple birds sing from a tree branch, and bears in nightcaps and pajamas stretch in their burrow after a winter of hibernation. Burton’s rhymes hit the occasional off note, but children should find it easy to get swept up in the atmosphere of energy and exploration. Ages 2–4. Illustrator’s agency: Bright Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hair

Leslie Patricelli. Candlewick, $6.99 (26p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7931-6

The round-headed baby who has starred in Patricelli’s Boo!, Hop! Hop! and numerous other board books has long been defined by the single, curly hair springing from its head. But what happens when that hair needs a trim? With the baby’s hair now resembling a mangled car antenna, Mom whisks her child to a salon for kids, where the baby calmly submits to the experience (“I put on a funny cape and sit in an airplane!”), providing reassurance for kids whose hair may also be getting a little unruly. Patricelli’s bold acrylics are as entertaining as ever in this warm and funny tribute to the messy everyday life of a tot. Up to age 3. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Amazing Animals: A Spin & Spot Story

Liza Charlesworth, illus. by Brandon Reese. Cartwheel, $8.99 (16p) ISBN 978-0-545-78383-5

Readers are invited to locate 64 animals in eight habitats in this board book outfitted with several spinning wheels. The sheer variety of animals introduced—jaguars and sloths in the jungle, bobcats and coati in the desert, puffins and orcas in the Arctic, among many others—is the book’s strongest suit. The inset wheels are a not-so-novel novelty, doing nothing but rotating through the names of the eight animals on each spread. And because all of the animals are essentially wide out in the open, this is best thought of as a matching game for very young children working on animal identification, rather than a seek-and-find one. Up to age 3. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sleepy Toes

Kelli McNeil, illus. by Cori Doerrfeld. Cartwheel, $8.99 (26p) ISBN 978-1-338-03072-3

Toddlers with a variety of skin tones prepare for bed, one body part at a time. Using gentle repetition, newcomer McNeil moves from toes to tummies and so on: “Are your fingers getting sleepy?/ So very, very sleepy?/ All day long they feel along—/ touchy, tickly fingers.” Doerrfeld plays into the lulling mood in soft, smudgy portraits that show the kids using their bodies to the utmost during the day (to play) and at night (to tuck in pets and stuffed animals). The overall sense is that for these kids—and, by extension, readers—bedtime is just one more thing they’ve got completely under control. Up to age 3. Illustrator’s agent: Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Baby Animals Take a Bath

Marsha Diane Arnold, illus. by Phyllis Tildes. Charlesbridge, $6.99 (10p) ISBN 978-1-58089-538-5

Arnold and Tildes showcase eight young animals getting clean in distinctive ways. The text is limited to punchy, two-word phrases (“Snow bath/ Sun Bath/ Steam bath/ Puddle Bath”), and the animals are identified on the back cover. Framed in wavy-edged black borders, Tildes’s animal portraits reflect the animals’ naturalistic behaviors—a zebra foal lolls in the dust, an elephant calf sprays itself with its trunk—while still ensuring they look as adorable as possible. A closing scene featuring a human baby mid-bath cements the connection between the way we get clean and the ways animals do. Up to age 3. Author’s agent: Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d

Mary Losure. Candlewick, $19.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7063-4

In this charming biography of Isaac Newton (1642–1727), Losure (Wild Boy) posits that “this last sorcerer—this greatest of all alchemists—was the same man who banished magic from the scientific world.” Portrayed as an uncommonly inquisitive, albeit reclusive, thinker with a secret addiction to alchemy (not an unusual preoccupation in a period when the borders between science and magic were uncertain), Newton may have written as many as a million words regarding alchemy, papers he kept while destroying many related to his revolutionary work in other fields: mathematics, optics, and what is now called physics. Interspersing engrossing chapters about alchemy (but largely ignoring the last third of Newton’s life), Losure uses a light touch to trace his childhood endeavors, his rise from student to professor at Cambridge’s Trinity College, his prickly relationship with other scientists in the Royal Society (Newton became a member in 1672), and the publication of his masterpiece, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, in 1687. Period images and afterwords with curiosity-spiking headings such as “Stinks, Bangs & More Chymical Secrets” bring additional depth and interest to this study of Newton’s surprising pursuits. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret Project

Jonah Winter, illus. by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6913-5

Secrets seldom come grimmer than in this unsettling tale, which describes the Los Alamos nuclear lab and the creation of the atomic bomb. The mother-son team behind Diego and other picture book biographies pairs an informational tone with simmering ambiguity. Their story opens on “a peaceful desert mountain landscape,” where a coyote howls, an artist (Georgia O’Keeffe) paints, and a Hopi man carves a kachina doll. After the government commandeers a private school, “the most brilliant scientists in the world” arrive to take up nighttime research, their twilit activities contrasting with sunny New Mexico settings in ochre, pink, violet, and sage. Jonah Winter repeatedly refers to “shadowy figures” at work on a mysterious “Gadget,” and Jeanette Winter pictures them as anonymous, steel-gray silhouettes. When the men gather in a bunker to test the Gadget, the narration disappears. In a chilling wordless sequence with a drab, light-sucking background, a white-gold and blood-red mushroom cloud blossoms, followed by an empty spread in glossy black. An author’s note explains what happened next. Sure to spark conversation about ethics and the use of nuclear weaponry, this powerful book demands a wide readership. Ages 5–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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We Are Okay

Nina LaCour. Dutton, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-525-42589-2

Over the winter holidays, college freshman Marin opts to remain in an empty dorm in New York rather than go home to California. The reasons she decides to stay gently unfold one layer at a time, in an introspective novel that powerfully explores her solitude and conflicted emotions against the backdrop of a stormy, icy winter. Marin’s temptation to burrow under the covers and “stay in bed all day” has to be put on hold when an old friend, Mabel, comes for a visit. As Mabel attempts to persuade Marin to return to San Francisco (at least for a while), Marin is forced to confront the past she is trying to forget, namely the summer that began with Marin and Mabel taking their friendship into thrilling new territory and ended with the death of Marin’s caretaker grandfather and the exposure of disturbing secrets. Through Marin’s memories and cautious conversations with Mabel, LaCour (Hold Still) conjures a moving portrait of a girl struggling to rebound after everything she’s known has been thrown into disarray. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sara Crowe, Pippin Properties. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Season of Daring Greatly

Ellen Emerson White. Greenwillow, $17.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-246321-0

Like the TV series Pitch, White’s novel traces the dramatic ups and downs of a female professional baseball player trying to prove her worth. Jill Cafferty’s plans to attend Stanford are put on hold after she gets drafted to pitch for one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league teams. Already a media darling, Jill gains even more fame after accepting the offer. Living away from home with a host family, she often feels lonely and homesick despite having been taken under the wing of a fellow player. And there are a number of people, including some of Jill’s new teammates, who would like nothing more than to see her fail. Beyond giving an insider’s view of baseball players’ daily routines and lives, White (the President’s Daughter series) offers a credible portrait of a young woman breaking traditional gender boundaries while being scrutinized by the entire nation. Although some of the storyline is predictable, well-defined characters will draw readers in, and the open-ended conclusion will leave them contemplating how far Jill’s talent might take her. Ages 13–up. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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