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Daydreams for Night

John Southworth, illus. by David Ouimet. Simply Read (IPS, dist.), $16.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-927018-17-0

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This collection of 13 vignettelike stories from first-time author Southworth, accompanied by Ouimet’s haunting b&w illustrations, follows in the tradition of Shaun Tan’s Tales of Outer Suburbia and Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. The stories take place in settings and circumstances that are slightly, sometimes disconcertingly, tweaked. In one, a librarian doesn’t notice when a sunflower blossoms out of his head; in another, 10-year-old Ester, who sells more cookies than any other Brownie, retires to her room for three years after trying to sell cookies to a ghostly individual at a funeral home (in the full-spread image that follows, Ester totes a wagon-full of cookies across a great lawn, peering back at the estate as birds swarm overhead). Each story stands on its own, yet they are connected through a shared enigmatic quality, offering up intriguing possibilities over explanations. Ages 8–12. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook

Paul Yee, illus. by Shaoli Wang. Interlink/Crocodile, $25 (162p) ISBN 978-1-56656-993-4

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This collection of original stories and adapted Chinese folklore (a companion to Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s Fairy Tale Feasts and Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts) features noblemen, peasants, animals, gods, and ghosts in tales that frequently address themes of greed, poverty, hunger, and atonement. Each tale, in some fashion, symbolically incorporates food and concludes with a recipe (congee, green onion pancakes, and won-ton soup are among the offerings). Wang’s cartoons, a mix of full-page illustrations and spot art, evoke Chinese folk art with bright colors, ornamental prints, and naïve figures. In addition to the recipes and details about cuisine, Yee includes proverbs, information about the origins of the stories, and brief insights into Chinese history and culture, making this a collection to feed the mind and the body. Ages 5–11. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes

Henry, Josh, and Harrison Herz, illus. by Abigail Larson. Pelican, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4556-2032-6

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Henry Herz and his sons, Josh and Harrison, offer up supernatural versions of 14 nursery rhymes, including “This Little Hydra,” “Peter Peter Goblin Eater,” and a cadaverous twist on “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” (“ ‘Zombie rotten, quite forgotten,/ How does your graveyard fare?’/ ‘With skulls and bones for steppingstones,/ It’s enough to raise your hair.’ ”). Wee Willie Winkie becomes a slinking werewolf who goes “Looking for tardy children to eat,” while “Little Witch Muffet” simply tosses the spider into her cauldron. Larson’s skillfully drafted images feature rich, mossy colors and angular, eerie beasts that are more charming than truly scary. While these sprites, ogres, and harpies are certainly fit for Halloween reading, this distinctive collection deserves to be enjoyed year round. Ages 5–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Alaska’s Snow White and Her Seven Sled Dogs

Mindy Dwyer. Sasquatch/Little Bigfoot, $10.99 paper (32p) ISBN 978-1-57061-975-5

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In this uneven regional staging of Snow White, the story unfolds in the icy Alaskan wilderness. Snow White has a placid doll-like appearance, while the wicked Queen has sharp, angular features—part Cruella de Vil, part Snow Miser. As the title reveals, the seven dwarves become a pack of loyal Huskies, and a lost musher saves Snow White from being frozen by the vindictive Queen. While there are some fun elements at play (at one point, the Queen attempts to feed Snow White poisoned moose jerky), this retelling quickly becomes convoluted. The Queen is eventually done in by a pair of magnetized ice skates that, for some reason, cause her to spin herself into the frigid water below, and the winter setting never feels particular to Alaska. Ages 4–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes

Collected by Elizabeth Hammill. Candlewick, $21.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7729-9

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More than 70 illustrators—Ashley Bryan, Eric Carle, Lucy Cousins, Shirley Hughes, Jon Klassen, Jerry Pinkney, and many more—interpret 150 nursery rhymes of various global origins. Cradle songs and rhymes familiar in the Western world, such as “Hush Little Baby” (depicted by Don Cadoret with a rabbit parent and child), intermingle with more obscure selections. A Tsimshian “laughing song” from the Pacific Northwest (“The little girl was born to gather wild roses”) offers hope for a girl’s future (it’s accompanied by a luminous, rose-filled image by Tsimshian artist Bill Helin). The careful juxtaposition of the rhymes highlights both their diversity and cross-cultural commonalities: versions of “Little Miss Muffet” from England, America, Australia, and Jamaica have the girl being frightened by a spider, grasshopper, wombat, and “bredda Anancy.” A rich and wonderfully varied addition to the bookshelf of nursery-rhyme collections. Ages 3–7. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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What If I’m an Atheist? A Teen’s Guide to Exploring a Life Without Religion

David Seidman. Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, $19.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-58270-407-4

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Teenagers have enough trouble navigating questions about their identity. So where should they turn when they stop believing in religion? Journalist Seidman offers a guide for teens struggling with unbelief, particularly those who are likely to experience hostility or ambivalence about their change in convictions. He begins by painting a multifaceted portrait of what unbelief looks like, going beyond the currently popular, and vocal, New Atheism. He discusses life as an unbeliever in a possibly negative environment, giving point-by-point analyses of common debates between theists and atheists, and projects possible arguments. Covering a large amount of ground, Seidman synthesizes thoughts, questions, and data from an impressive number of sources to help teens forge a new path with confidence and knowledge. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of a deeper analysis of religions and their practices. Overall, however, Seidman is respectful, and he urges his audience toward considerate open-mindedness, making this an excellent primer for teens needing guidance in navigating the culturally contentious and personally troublesome waters of religion. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Roller Girl

Victoria Jamieson. Dial, $12.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-8037-4016-7

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When Astrid’s mother takes her and her best friend Nicole to a roller derby event, Astrid is intrigued, but Nicole is left cold. The rift between them grows as Astrid signs up for derby camp, while Nicole opts for ballet. Astrid works her tail off, makes friends, finds a mentor in a star skater named Rainbow Bite, and, at last, appears in her first bout. She also undergoes some uncomfortable preadolescent ordeals before reconciling with Nicole, in scenes that Jamieson (Pest in Show), in her first graphic novel, keeps blessedly free of smarminess. Jamieson’s full-color cartooning has a Sunday comics vibe, and her pacing is faultless. Astrid struggles to do right as she tries to understand her soured friendship with Nicole, and she narrates her own failures with heartwarming candor (“I don’t know why I did it. I didn’t mean to hit them”). When she comes up with an elaborate scheme to bolster a teammate’s failing confidence and carries it off despite the pressure of their upcoming bout, readers will want to stand up and cheer. Ages 9–12. Agent: Paul Rodeen, Rodeen Literary Management. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Lunch Witch

Deb Lucke. Papercutz (Macmillan, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-1-62991-162-5

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Grunhilda the witch is out of work, but after hitting the classified ads, she secures a new gig in a school cafeteria. “Another day, another thousand cartons of curdled milk to hand out,” says Grunhilda, grinning. “I love this job.” Yes, Lucke’s (Sneezenesia) take on the adventures of a cafeteria employee is basically the polar opposite of Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady books. From the olive, stain-splattered backgrounds to Lucke’s scraggly-sketchy renderings and semi-grisly plot twists, this one’s for kids who like their comedy (and their magic) dark. Worried that she’s about to be revealed as a witch, Grunhilda, who’s cut from the same cloth as Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull, reluctantly agrees to create an intelligence potion for struggling student Madison. Thanks to interference from Grunhilda’s undead witch ancestors, the potion turns Madison into a toad, and Grunhilda tries to set things right. “Was this Mexican yam dug in the dark?” she asks a grocer while gathering ingredients for an antidote. “It’s certified fair trade, but I can’t commit to dug in the dark,” he replies. A wickedly funny start to this series. Ages 7–10. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rad American Women A–Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History... and Our Future!

Kate Schatz, illus. by Miriam Klein Stahl. City Lights/Sister Spit (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 (64p) ISBN 978-0-87286-683-6

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This lively abecedary introduces 25 inspiring women and their accomplishments, from environmentalist Rachel Carson (“R is for Rachel”) and rocker Patti Smith to lesser-known history-makers like Wilma Mankiller, who became the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation, and transgender author/artist Kate Bornstein. Schatz opens with a discussion of different meanings of rad/radical (“A radical can be a person who wants to make big changes in society”), and the snappy mini-biographies that follow hit the highlights of the women’s lives and legacies in an accessible, conversational tone. Bright hues provide backdrops for Stahl’s angular cut-paper portraits, which emphasize the subjects’ power, humor, and strength. The letter X “is for the women whose names we don’t know.... For the women who aren’t in the history books, or the Halls of Fame.… The women who made huge changes and the women who made dinner.” This inspiring and diverse tribute to artists, journalists, sports phenoms, judges, and more culminates with an energizing A–Z list of “26 Things That You Can Do to Be Rad!” and a reading list to encourage further exploration. Ages 8–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle

Jude Isabella, illus. by Simone Shin. Kids Can, $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-77138-023-2

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Blending fiction and nonfiction, Isabella (Chitchat) chronicles a bicycle’s long journey as it transforms lives across continents. A North American boy named Leo diligently saves up his money to buy a bike he calls Big Red. After Leo outgrows Big Red, he donates it to an organization that sends needed bicycles abroad. Via truck and freighter, Big Red makes its way to Burkina Faso and a girl named Alisetta, who uses it to aid her family’s sorghum business. When Big Red is damaged in an accident, Alisetta, lacking funds for repairs, donates it to a man who refurbishes it as an ambulance. Rendered in a muted palette, Shin’s rough-textured illustrations capture the joy in the faces of each new caretaker of Big Red. Endnotes provide information about the story’s West African setting and explain how readers can get involved in bicycle-donation efforts. A vibrant introduction to the ripple effects that repurposing tools and objects can have, particularly for readers growing up in a society prone to disposability. Ages 8–12. Illustrator’s agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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