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Pine and the Winter Sparrow

Alexis York Lumbard, illus. by Beatriz Vidal. Wisdom Tales, $15.95 (28p) ISBN 978-1-937786-33-5

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Lumbard (Everyone Prays) retells a Cherokee tale about why trees lose their leaves in winter. A sparrow cannot make the seasonal trip south with his family because his wing is injured, so he seeks winter shelter from a variety of trees. The oak, maple, elm, and birch haughtily refuse to help, but a humble, sharp-needled pine takes pity on the bird and provides him with a seasonal home. Come spring, the pine’s kindness is rewarded by the Creator, who allows the tree to remain green all year long. The pacing of Lumbard’s telling builds suspense (“Oak huffed and puffed. Then he huffed and puffed some more. Finally he grumbled, ‘Go away, little fellow’ ”). The spreads by Vidal (A Library for Juana), with their fine detail and muted colors, vividly depict trees that vary vastly in color, shape, and leaf. The message about kindness is obvious, and the one about nature’s beauty and changes is subtle and visually persuasive. A foreword from Native American storyteller Robert Lewis connects Lumbard’s story, which has several variants among native peoples, to indigenous ideas about the sacredness of nature. Ages 4–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Land Outside

Daniel Landin. Daniel Landin, $2.99 e-book (54p) ASIN B00HUKC4AC

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This archetypal tale is made fresh and enchanting by mesmerizing illustrations. The central character, a small manta ray, is a restless soul, curious about the “land outside,” the place beyond the familiar sea that the ray inhabits. When a sea lion describes that land, the ray dreams of it and fervently longs to be there, praying hard until one day he finds himself transformed into a bird in the land where everything “was magnificently new.” Very soon the restless ray seeks more, and is transformed again and again until, like the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy, he comes to understand the value of home. The narrative is a bit long for the attention spans of youngest readers, but Landin’s art, done in digitally manipulated acrylic, oil, and pencil, depicts creature after creature in a riot of color and settings. The dominant blue of the sea setting provides a soothing anchor that could make this a perfect bedtime story, one that might prompt colorful dreams of worlds outside. A visually arresting book. All ages. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula

Andi Watson. First Second, $14.99 ISBN 978-1-62672-149-4

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In loosely sketched and tidily framed b&w panels, British author/artist Watson creates a sweetly spooky underworld setting for a story that’s part coming-of-age romance, part comedy of manners. Princess Decomposia, a young woman whose black gowns and bat-wing pigtails suggest a grown-up Wednesday Addams, is working herself to the bone to keep her invalid father’s kingdom running smoothly, meeting with delegations (including werewolves and Japanese yokai monsters) and trying to find a replacement for the cook who left for a prison “where the food is more nourishing.” The princess gains a much-needed ally—and potential love interest—in Count Spatula, the dapper vampire she hires as a chef, whose adventurous recipes are a hit (the visiting Zombie General is thrilled to do battle with a Mud Monster Cake that comes alive at dessert). But persuading the woebegone king of Count Spatula’s virtues isn’t easy, threatening to stop this nascent romance (un)dead in its tracks. With an amusing (and occasionally decomposing) cast of floating skulls, eyeballs-on-skeleton-legs, and more, it’s a comic that will charm younger readers and adults alike. Ages 13–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Miranda Paul, illus. by Elizabeth Zunon. Lerner/Millbrook, $19.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4677-1608-6

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One woman’s efforts to rid her Gambian village of trash sparks a recycling movement in this uplifting tale inspired by true events. As a girl, Inatou admired the colors and myriad uses of the plastic bags that began to proliferate in her community. But years later, the same plastic bags, festering in trash heaps or floating through the air, have become a menace to humans and animals. Compelled to make her home beautiful, Inatou gathers the bags, cleans them, and crochets them into purses. She teaches other women to do the same, and an ecologically-minded enterprise is born. Notes of hope, determination, and empowerment suffuse Paul’s story, which the author explains was informed by her volunteer work as a teacher in the Gambia. Incorporating real plastic bags into her mixed-media collages, Zunon, who grew up in West Africa, juxtaposes the brown, dusty landscape against splashes of color and vibrant printed dresses and head coverings worn by the village women. A glossary and list of suggested reading are included. Ages 5–9. Author’s agent: Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America

Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Jamey Christoph. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8075-3017-7

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Weatherford’s (Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century) spare, lyrically formatted prose combines with Christoph’s (the Origami Science Adventures series) stylized illustrations to tell the story of 20th-century African-American Renaissance man Gordon Parks. The present-tense narrative takes readers from the birth Parks barely survived through the odd jobs of his early years to his adulthood as a self-taught photographer and later novelist, musician, photojournalist, and director. Troubled by what he sees in the nation’s capital, “Park vows to lay bare racism/ with his lens.” His iconic 1942 photograph, “American Gothic,” depicts African-American cleaning woman Ella Watson, broom in one hand and mop in another, the U.S. flag as her backdrop. “She knows all too well/ that the opportunities/ the flag symbolizes are denied her/ because of skin color.” Christoph’s spreads echo the pared narrative with a muted palette and modest styling, but their impact is powerful. One shows Parks observing black families who live in rundown alley dwellings as the shiny, white U.S. Capitol building looms in the distance. An afterword fleshes out Parks’s story and includes a few b&w photos he took, including “American Gothic.” Ages 5–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Seeker

Arwen Elys Dayton. Delacorte, $18.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-385-74407-2

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In this powerful beginning to a complex family saga, 15-year-old Quin Kincaid, her biracial cousin Shinobu MacBain, and their friend John Hart train on the Kincaid family’s Scottish estate to become Seekers, warriors who slip through space and time. Historically, Seekers used their powers and weapons—chameleon whipswords and nightmarish, sanity-stripping disruptors—to right wrongs. When Quin and Shinobu venture on their first mission, they find they’re destined to be assassins for Quin’s brutal, manipulative father. The novel’s appeal lies less in the slightly futuristic, slightly alternate-history setting, than in the way the nascent Seekers cope with betrayal: Quin and Shinobu flee to Hong Kong, where Quin chooses a path of therapeutic amnesia, and Shinobu plunges into drug use and dangerous salvage diving. Meanwhile, John risks becoming what he most despises as he seeks revenge and possession of his family’s “athame,” the tool that allows Seekers to cut through the fabric of reality. Worldbuilding can be sketchy, but Dayton (Resurrection) excels at creating memorable characters, among them Maud, the “Young Dread,” an ageless child whose mysterious clan is linked to the Seekers. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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No Parking at the End Times

Bryan Bliss. Greenwillow, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-227541-7

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Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, live in a van in San Francisco, begging for meals from local churches and waiting for the end of the world with their fervently religious father and dutiful mother. After their zealot preacher’s prediction falls short, the teens approach their breaking points, desperate for some semblance of normalcy. The family’s hapless circumstances provide a distinctive backdrop for this contemplative coming-of-age tale, Bliss’s debut. As a homeless teen, Abigail is unfairly and abruptly cast in a parental role when her parents fail to provide the basic necessities, selling their home and giving their money to a man who is little more than a con artist. Bliss’s languidly paced story focuses on Abigail’s internal turmoil as she questions her faith, her parents’ sanity, and her bond with her brother. But there are plenty of external events to push the story forward, from the siblings’ late-night explorations with street kids they befriend to Abigail’s jogs, which serve as much-needed escapes from her claustrophobic existence. Ages 14–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Forgetting

Nicole Maggi. Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-4926-0356-6

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Seventeen-year-old Georgie wakes up from an emergency heart transplant to find that she is somehow experiencing memories from the heart’s former owner, a Jane Doe who apparently committed suicide. But each new memory costs Georgie one of her own. When she meets Nate, a boy eager to help her find the truth about the girl he knew as Annabel, Georgie loses the memory of her past crush to discover that Annabel was in love with Nate—making it difficult for Georgie to untangle her own feelings for him. The more she learns of her heart’s former owner, including that she was a victim of sex trafficking, the more Georgie becomes ensconced in a bleak, dangerous world foreign to her prep-school existence. Maggi’s (Winter Falls) supernatural premise can be difficult to swallow at first, but her passion comes through in the honest portrayal of a privileged girl facing horrors and abuse that exist under her very nose. Readers will watch in suspense as Georgie decides how much she’s willing to sacrifice to see justice done. Ages 14–up. Agent: Irene Goodman, Irene Goodman Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Shutter

Courtney Alameda. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-04467-9

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Alameda makes a strong debut with this fast-paced urban fantasy/horror novel, which sees the last remnants of the Van Helsing and Stoker bloodlines running an organization dedicated to fighting the restless undead. When Micheline Helsing, daughter of the American branch’s leader, takes her team to confront a murderous ghost, all four of them are infected by a terrible curse that will kill them in under a week if they can’t find a cure. Unfortunately, Micheline’s father would rather put them in quarantine instead of help them. The crew goes on the run, and as they battle undead monsters, elude the living, and confront the sins of the past, they learn that the solution to their fatal dilemma may lay closer to home than they expected. Alameda’s worldbuilding is strong—this alternate version of San Francisco is dangerous and unpredictable—and her characters evoke shows like Buffy and Supernatural. The story has plenty of room to grow, and readers will be left eager to see what Alameda has in store next. Ages 13–up. Agent: John M. Cusick, Greenhouse Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Glass Arrow

Kristen Simmons. Tor Teen, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3661-3

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This grim cautionary tale opens taut and suspenseful, with its heroine being hunted down like an animal, her adopted family slaughtered and scattered. Fifteen-year-old Aya, raised a free female in the wilderness outside the capitol city of Glasscaster, is taken to the “Garden” to be groomed and sold at auction, valuable primarily for her breeding potential. Determined and resourceful, Aya fights daily for her freedom, making herself unsuitable for auction while plotting to save her remaining family from assimilation into a nightmarish patriarchy. Her only ally is one of the mute, Roma-like, “Drivers”—a boy she names Kiran who first tries to kill her and then risks everything for her. A world where girls and women are commodities to be sold and resold is frightening enough; more chilling are the girls who embrace their fate or the women who participate in the system for profit and status. However, Simmons (the Article 5 series) invests little in backstory; the origins of this dystopia are murky, and the men tend to be flatly drawn mustache-twirlers. Ages 13–up. Agent: Joanna MacKenzie, Brown & Miller Literary Associates. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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