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Zorgoochi Intergalactic Pizza: Delivery of Doom

Dan Yaccarino. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-00844-2

Pizza delivery has never been as dangerous or exciting as in this whimsical first novel from author-illustrator Yaccarino (Doug Unplugged), in which Luno, the scion of an ancient and respected pizza-making family, faces an enemy bent on taking over the pizza industry for an entire galaxy. To stop the dreaded Vlactron, Luno must travel through time, master the Zorgoochi Pizza Toss, learn the Whey of Life, and locate the long-hidden Golden Anchovy. Luno’s allies are a neurotic, sentient pizza oven and a hyper-intelligent mutated garlic clove, while his enemies include deadly calamari, legions of enslaved insects, and a fleet of heavily armed pizza delivery ships. Cheap jokes and bad puns fly fast and furious (at one point, Luno meets the Mozzarella Monks, practitioners of Tai Cheese) as Yaccarino cooks up an action-packed slice with everything on it, including the anchovies. The humor is decidedly goofy, but the story’s charming sincerity makes it a delight. Yaccarino’s loose, cartoony illustrations appear throughout, and the characters’ exaggerated features and gangly limbs befit the frenetic, action-adventure plot. Ages: 8–12. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Brother’s Shadow

Tom Avery. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-385-38487-2

Just over a year ago, 11-year-old Kaia White found her older brother, Moses, dead, and her life has been a “hazy, jagged dream” ever since. Kaia has stopped doing her homework, pushed her friends away, been taunted at school for her distant behavior, and been neglected by her Mum, who loses her job and drinks. Worry consumes Kaia until an unnamed, wild boy appears at school in “dirty, raggedy clothes”; he darts around and speaks only in animal sounds. Despite the fact that the boy never speaks to Kaia, he provides a needed distraction, shaking Kaia out of her “frozen stuck” mind-set and becoming her nonjudgmental confidante and amusing companion. Kaia’s road to recovery is paved with a strong interest in trees, a resilient ex-friend, and Moses’s remembered “Rules for life” (“Memories are like a cup of tea—don’t hold them too tight”). British author Avery (Too Much Trouble) immerses readers in Kaia’s heavy thoughts and dreamlike, trapped state. Her confessional narration and self-aware observations yield a believable and haunting portrait of grief. Ages 9–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Missing Pieces of Me

Jean van Leeuwen. Amazon/Two Lions, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4778-4729-9

Ten-year-old Grace Louise “Weezie” Dawson has a load of heavy responsibility, taking care of her two younger siblings and their home in the Happy Days Trailer Park while her hard-bitten single mother waits tables at Pancake Heaven. Taking refuge in memories of her late, affectionate Gramma Emmeline and daydreaming about the father she has never known, Weezie worries about proving true her mother’s constant criticism (“Momma says I’m a bad girl,” the novel begins). Suddenly Weezie can’t stop telling lies, and she grows obsessed with finding her father. Weezie’s perception of the unfairness of her mother’s harsh treatment, told in skillful, unadorned language, slowly swells throughout the story as she enjoys small triumphs like befriending a haughty stray cat, making a new school pal, and discovering a talent for art. Van Leeuwen (Cabin on Trouble Creek) avoids a happy ending that would ring false with the novel’s unstinting realism, but Weezie’s newfound strength and her growing understanding of the murkiness of life and love make for a satisfying finish. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Iron Trial

Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-545-52225-0

Set in a magic-inflected version of the present-day U.S., this first title in the Magisterium series combines the talents of Black (Doll Bones) and Clare (the Mortal Instruments series) in a thrilling coming-of-age story that embraces fantasy tropes while keeping readers guessing. Twelve-year-old Callum Hunt has been raised to distrust magic. Mages killed his mother, and his father has warned him that the Magisterium, a school where young mages are trained, is a deathtrap. Callum’s attempts to fail the entrance exam go awry, and he is chosen to apprentice under Master Rufus, along with fellow students Aaron and Tamara. As Callum, Tamara, Aaron, and their classmates embark on their first of five years of schooling, Callum realizes how little he knows of his own heritage. The strange, subterranean Magisterium is vividly rendered, and a string of ominous revelations will leave readers eager for future installments. Fans of both authors will enjoy getting to know this well-rounded cast in the first steps of their adventure. Ages 8–12. Agent: (for Black) Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary; (for Clare) Russell Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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When Aunt Mattie Got Her Wings

Petra Mathers. S&S/Beach Lane, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1044-1

Best friends Lottie the chicken and Herbie the duck from Lottie’s New Beach Towel and its sequels face the death of Lottie’s Aunt Mattie. Their sorrow is palpable, yet the story requires familiarity with Mathers’s characters. When Herbie learns that Mattie is ailing, he protests that she is a nurse. “She isn’t sick; she’s ninety-nine years old,” Lottie replies. “You mean it’s like her motor is all worn out?” Herbie asks, his metaphor complicating the information about nursing and old age. Lottie hurries to the hospital and finds Mattie gazing out the window at a billboard picturing a passenger jet; after a bit of conversation, Mattie closes her eyes peacefully. A wordless page pictures a group of birds welcoming Mattie to a plane labeled “Out of This World Airlines”—the source of the book’s euphemistic title. Mathers’s landscape layout moves the action ahead in placid, thoughtful, comics-style panels; Herbie arrives to comfort Lottie, and the friends celebrate Mattie’s life and scatter her ashes. Heartfelt though it is, this tale muddles the common experience of grief with distracting extraneous details. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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What to Do When You’re Sent to Your Room

Ann Stott, illus. by Stephen Gilpin. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6052-9

Ben, the hero of this funny how-to, has spent so much time in his bedroom that he’s wallpapered an entire corner with photos torn out of a sports magazine. “My entire room should be completed by the summer,” he notes with... pride? Yes, Ben assures readers, being sent to one’s room as punishment can be the epitome of “me time” for the well-prepared kid: productive (“This is also a good time to sort my baseball cards”) and reflective (when better to decide what video games he wants as birthday gifts?). Ben can even improve his “special-ops skills” with the help of his expressive pug, who joins him during his temporary banishment. Gilpin (100 Snowmen), working in an exaggerated cartoon realism reminiscent of Mad magazine, has created a ne plus ultra of a messy boys’ room, and his portrayal of Ben is very much in sync with the cool confidence and strategic smarts articulated in Stott’s (I’ll Be There) matter-of-fact first-person narration. It just confirms what parents have feared all along: going to one’s room isn’t exactly doing hard time. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Shannon Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Telephone

Mac Barnett, illus. by Jen Corace. Chronicle, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4521-1023-3

Barnett (Extra Yarn) and Corace (I Hatched!) prove delightful collaborators as they inject new fizz into an old parlor game. On a telephone wire above a street lined with houses, a maternal-looking pigeon turns to a cardinal holding a baseball bat. “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner,” she says. A page turn provides a comic pause as the cardinal filters what it’s heard through its love of baseball. “Tell Peter: Hit pop flies and homers,” the cardinal whispers to the goose on the wire next to him. The goose, wearing aviator’s goggles, has its own set of mental filters (“Tell Peter: Prop planes are for fliers”), and the fun continues down the wire. The pale blue sky and mounds of white clouds behind the birds lend a spacious, desultory air to the proceedings, yet the concentrated areas of texture and pattern where the birds interact are crammed with visual interest. The idea that one’s own passions affect the way one engages with the world is a subtle concept, but it’s presented with verve and humor. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Pig and Small

Alex Latimer. Peachtree, $15.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56145-797-7

Friendship takes work, and it’s often tempting to throw in the towel. Pig and tiny Bug have a rocky start filled with resentment, thoughtlessness, and frustration. Pig takes Bug for a bike ride and “couldn’t help feeling as though he’d done most of the pedaling.” Bug bakes a tiny chocolate cake that Pig eats in one bite, “without appreciating the way Bug had decorated it. But when Pig hits on the idea of taking Bug to the movies (The Pirate, the Ninja, and the Invisible Dog—perhaps the ultimate crowd-pleaser), things turn around in a snap, and the two discover there is plenty they can do together, and that what they can’t do (play catch or hide and seek) is no biggie. Latimer (Lion vs. Rabbit), whose deadpan visual comedy is always a treat, once again proves he’s adept at conveying life lessons with the lightest of touches. Addressing the vicissitudes of friendship in a conversational and slyly funny voice, he reassures readers that liking someone needn’t be a matter of all or nothing: a little imagination and understanding can go a long way. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wednesday

Anne Bertier, trans. from the French by Claudia Z. Bedrick. Enchanted Lion (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-59270-152-0

Starring a vivid orange circle and a crisp-edged blue square, French artist Bertier’s meditation on geometrical shapes has a timeless feel. The book’s design and printing, in pure hues on creamy matte pages, make it a pleasing object in and of itself. Little Round and Big Square meet every Wednesday to play. “Butterfly!” cries Big Square, dividing itself into two triangles to create a bowtie-like insect. “I’m a butterfly, too!” cries Little Round, showing off its own semicircular “wings.” After a minor disagreement (“You’re showing off. I’m not playing anymore”), the two discover that the game is even better when they cooperate: “We’re a hat, a boat, a bowl! This is so great!” Whether the square is contributing sections of itself for a boat’s sail or the handles of a bowl, the contrast between orange and blue makes every page pop. Cheery, upbeat writing and pared-down subject matter make it a fine choice for a younger audience, who will enjoy picking out the forms in each spread—and then, perhaps, experimenting on their own with paper and scissors. Ages 3–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sam’s Pet Temper

Sangeeta Bhadra, illus. by Marion Arbona. Kids Can, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-77138-025-6

Tired of waiting for his turn at the swings, Sam gets “madder and madder until he was the maddest he had ever been in his whole life.” Suddenly, a scrawled black blob with horns, raccoonlike appendages, and a bright red mouth appears; anyone who’s watched a pharmaceutical commercial will know it’s the externalized version of Sam’s temper. Seeing the Temper’s impact makes Sam realize just how out of control it is—and how hard it is to control it. But Sam’s mother insists that he can’t keep passing the emotional buck: “Tempers cause trouble,” she says, after Temper draws an unflattering caricature of Sam’s teacher on the blackboard and Sam gets sent home early. “Now you have to do something about it.” Debut author Bhadra shows she can build a compelling narrative arc, and her ending is knowing and funny (the Temper moves on to a toddler). If the story can occasionally feel overwritten, it’s because Arbona’s (Magic Clothesline) expressionistic drawings have a fever-dream vividness. Her demented, mercurial Temper is primitivist gem—the appalling dynamo that lurks within us all. Ages 3–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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