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My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth

Ann Turner, illus. by James Ransome. Harper, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-075898-1

With plainspoken lyricism, Turner imagines Isabella Baumfree narrating her own story: the violent dehumanization she endured as a slave, her escape from slavery, and how she evolved into the figure known as Sojourner Truth. Turner is unflinching in her account of the abuses inflicted on Baumfree by slave-owners: “I was always getting beat./ Once he fired up a bunch of green/ sticks in the fire hardened like stone/ and beat me until the blood ran.” After securing her own freedom, Baumfree gained legal help to retrieve her enslaved son, and embraced a new role as a civil rights activist and preacher. Ransome’s watercolors infuse the story with emotion, from the agony of separation (her 11 siblings were “sold off one by one”) to her impassioned speeches and the contentment and satisfaction she eventually found. Ages 6–10. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century

Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Raul Colón. Knopf, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-375-85606-8

Weatherford and Colón create a rapturously described, evocatively illustrated account of the life of groundbreaking African-American opera singer Leontyne Price. Her musical path began in the segregated South where, as a child, she was inspired by hymns, opera music on the radio, and the success of Marian Anderson. Price’s natural talent eventually led her to Juilliard, theatres, and television. Colón works in subdued blues, browns, and creams, textured with the fine lines that are his trademark. Yet when Price sings, fiery, vibrant shapes represent the music pouring out of her as she appears in Porgy and Bess, Madama Butterfly, and Aida. While Weatherford addresses the barriers Price faced, her love of music and the presence of those who supported her are deeply felt: “The song of her soul soared on the breath of her ancestors.” Ages 5–9. Illustrator’s agency: Morgan Gaynin. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos

Stephanie Roth Sisson. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-59643-960-3

Sisson’s loosely sketched mixed-media illustrations trace the life of Carl Sagan, beginning with his childhood spent in Brooklyn, an environment seemingly ill-suited to learning about the stars. Yet thanks to his natural curiosity, a visit to the World’s Fair, and the library, Sagan’s awareness of science and the universe grew. The book does, too—a spread depicting the hazy sun over Brooklyn rooftops unfolds to show it in space (“Our sun is a big ball of fiery gas held together by gravity,” Sagan learns). Sisson goes on to recap Sagan’s later endeavors, including becoming an astrophysicist, appearing on TV, and sending messages into via the twin Voyagers. A broader message about the role wonder plays in innovation resonates throughout this story, which concludes with extensive biographical and source notes. Ages 4–8. Agent: Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews

Kathleen Benson, illus. by Benny Andrews. Clarion, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-10487-7

Artist Andrews’s own striking paintings illustrate the story of his life and work, eloquently told by Benson. With an often difficult childhood spent working in cotton fields, Andrews found inspiration for his childhood drawings from workers in the field, “church ladies’ hats and the preacher’s Bible stories,” comics, and movies. Andrews’s eventual departure from Georgia—first through the Air Force, then to art school in Chicago—led to a broadening of his subject matter and style. In New York City, his artwork increasingly reflected his social conscience: he painted Harlem residents, living at the advent of the civil rights movement. His images blend whimsical elements—tree leaves resemble globular mosaic glasswork in one scene—with stark depictions of struggle, emphasizing his efforts to find intersections between creativity and social justice. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens

Nina Nolan, illus. by John Holyfield. HarperCollins/Amistad, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-087944-0

Hailing from New Orleans, Jackson was “born with nothing” but a voice that would carry her from singing in church services and on porch stoops to the March on Washington, where her vocal performance preceded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Holyfield’s lavish acrylics express Jackson’s vitality as she belts out songs, whether in church or working as a maid. Moments of fear are conveyed with equal power, showing a young Jackson huddled to keep warm in an unwelcoming Chicago cityscape, which are rendered in murky grays and icy blues. After her move to the city, Jackson continues to sing in churches throughout the South, eventually recording a gospel album, becoming a celebrity, and performing at Carnegie Hall at age 38. An uplifting tribute to an artist of uncommon talent and determination. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Escape from the Lizzarks

Doug TenNapel. Scholastic/Graphix, $19.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-545-67647-2

The peaceable life of a young “Nnewt” named Herk is shattered when a group of marauding Lizzarks invade his village in this first title in TenNapel’s fantasy saga, which began as a webcomic and which imagines an epic conflict between amphibious and reptilian creatures. Though confined to water due to his underdeveloped legs, Herk manages to escape certain death, but winds up alone in the outside world, barely able to drag himself across the ground. From here Herk’s journey to herodom begins, as he meets new friends, flees dogged enemies, and tries to find his footing (in more ways than one). While keeping the action rolling, TenNapel (Cardboard) shapes Herk’s world, an expansive and magical everglade populated by strange creatures and steeped in history and lore. His soft spot for oddballs and outcasts gives the book a warm emotional center that, along with offbeat humor and some slapstick moments, balances the story’s not-infrequent violence (Herk’s mother puts up a good fight, stabbing one Lizzark in the chest before being brutally cut down with a sword). A visually rich and abundantly imaginative adventure that lands some serious emotional punches. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)■

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Vivian Apple at the End of the World

Katie Coyle. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-544-34011-4

Level-headed straight-A student Vivian Apple and her wild best friend Harp are among those left behind after thousands of believers in the evangelical Church of America are “Raptured,” exactly as prophesied by the church’s founder, Beaton Frick. After receiving a mysterious phone call from California, the girls, wondering if their vanished parents might still be alive, drive cross-country in search of the truth behind the church, whose popularity has skyrocketed in the wake of national tragedies. Along for the ride is cute but cagey Peter, who knows more about the organization’s inner workings than he’s letting on. Coyle imagines an America in which politics, capitalism, and entertainment, and religion have combined to create a culture of intolerance and judgment that doesn’t end with the Rapture. The result is a scathing commentary on contemporary religiosity and fear-mongering in the face of the unknown, as well as the extent to which we surrender ourselves to interests that are not our own. Skillful plot twists, mordant humor, and careful characterizations make this a memorable coming-of-age story and a noteworthy debut. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sarah Burnes, Gernert Company. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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I’m Glad I Did

Cynthia Weil. Soho Teen, $18.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-61695-356-0

Grammy-winning songwriter Weil makes an impressive YA debut with this period novel set against the rapidly changing music industry of the early 1960s. Sixteen-year-old JJ Green dreams of being a songwriter, and opportunity knocks when a music publisher in New York City’s Brill Building offers her a three-month gig as an assistant. Unfortunately, her successful parents want her to follow in their footsteps and study law. They allow JJ to accept the position on one condition: if one of her songs isn’t recorded within three months, she “has to give up this crazy songwriting thing and never mention it again.” JJ embraces the challenge but is sidetracked by charismatic figures she meets at her job: a mysterious, green-eyed boy; her estranged Uncle Bernie, whose shady music business dealings have made him the black sheep of the family; and a once-famous blues singer, whose violent death leads to startling discoveries. Showing both the bright and the dark sides of the music business, Weil crafts an enticing tale of a sheltered teenager’s induction into a world where ambitions and morals are repeatedly tested. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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I Was Here

Gayle Forman. Viking, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-451-47147-5

As she did in If I Stay, Forman offers an introspective examination of the line between life and death, and the courage it takes to persist. College freshman Meg’s suicide shocks no one more than her best friend Cody. To make Meg’s death even more unsettling, the last six months of her emails are missing from her computer. Certain that an outsider—a correspondent of Meg’s—pushed her to take her own life, Cody embarks on a quest to identify the culprit. Her journey proves both enlightening and dangerous as she traces the steps Meg took during her last weeks of life. As the pieces of a disturbing puzzle start to fit together, Cody takes an enormous risk to come to terms with Meg’s final decision and her own guilt. Beyond exploring Cody’s grief, this psychologically incisive book delves into her complex relationships with Tricia, her single mother; Meg’s more conventional family; and, most profoundly, the boy who stole and wounded Meg’s heart shortly before her death. Ages 14–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Prey

Tom Isbell. HarperTeen, $17.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-221601-4

In actor and first-time novelist Isbell’s dystopian future, kids like Book are all too common—orphaned, congenitally deformed by nuclear fallout, and living in “resettlement camps” after EMPs rendered electronics useless. Book believes that life in Camp Liberty is still better than the lawless outside world until a runaway from another camp shows him the truth: he and his friends are society’s “Less Thans,” being raised for the rich and powerful to hunt for sport. As Book begins planning his escape, he meets Hope, a girl in a neighboring camp, who is an identical twin, the government’s perfect test subjects. The two protagonists work well together, though their romantic story line—including a halfhearted love triangle—is a bit forced. But the book plays to its strong suits, with plenty of peril (human and otherwise) and illuminating glimpses of the world outside the camps that allowed this system to thrive. First in a planned trilogy, the story delivers its message without moralizing and will keep readers rooting for Book and Hope. Ages 13–up. Agent: Victoria Sanders, Victoria Sanders & Associates. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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