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Calvin

Martine Leavitt. FSG/Ferguson, $17.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-374-38073-1

In a thoughtful story presented as a single, extended letter, Leavitt (Blue Mountain) explores the impact of mental illness through the experiences of a 17-year-old diagnosed with schizophrenia. Calvin is obsessed with Bill Watterson and his comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. It makes sense: he used to have a best friend named Susie and a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, and now Hobbes has returned as a full-fledged, uncontrollable hallucination. Calvin figures that if he can just get Watterson to create a strip depicting the fictional Calvin as a healthy teenager, he’ll be fine as well, so he sets off on a perilous journey across a frozen Lake Erie from Canada to Cleveland. He’s accompanied by Susie, who may or may not be part of his delusions; either way, she’s the voice of reason as they meet an assortment of oddball characters on the lake and delve into philosophical matters. Funny, intellectual, and entertaining, it’s a sensitive yet irreverent adventure about a serious subject. Ages 12–up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenberger Associates. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I’m an Alien and I Want to Go Home!

Jo Franklin, illus. by Marty Kelley. Clarion, $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-544-44295-5

When Daniel’s snarky older sister tells him that he’s actually an adopted alien, the sixth-grader finds evidence to support her claim: he towers over his family, no baby pictures of him exist, and a meteor reportedly struck town the day he was born. Disgruntled, Daniel asks his best friends Eddie and “Gordon the Geek” to help him return to his home planet. Their efforts include attempting to cryogenically freeze Daniel in the bathtub and sell their Halloween candy to fund a trip to Russia, where he hopes to hitch a ride on a spaceship. Things really pick up once the kids concoct a madcap scheme for Daniel to phone home, à la E.T., triggering a string of disasters that culminates in Daniel’s parents’ kidnapping. Kelley’s pencil cartoons (not all seen by PW) easily tap into the story’s oddball sense of humor, while Daniel’s dry narration has an engaging sense of humor, making the book a good choice for newly independent readers. Ages 10–12. Author’s agent: Anne Clark, Anne Clark Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Darien and the Lost Paints of Telinoria

Jeanna Kunce, illus. by Craig Kunce. Windhill (windhillbooks.com), $16 (192p) ISBN 978-0-9844828-6-3

After 10-year-old Darien’s babysitter cancels, her parents have a neighbor, Miss Mildred (“old Miss Mildew” to Darien), watch her for the afternoon. What could have been a dreary day stuck indoors transforms into an adventure when Miss Mildred gives Darien a mysterious set of paints; as Darien begins creating a forest landscape, she enters the painting and an enchanted world populated by talking dragons. After winning the trust of a dragon named Amani (dragons are suspicious of humans, who capture them to melt their scales into gold, Amani tells Darien), she accompanies him on a perilous mission to rescue his parents and to help end a rift between dragons that have mated across color lines and those still clinging to ancient tradition. First-time author Jeanna Kunce creates a thoughtfully developed universe with medieval and fantastical elements (the walls of an underground city are lit by tubes filled with luminescent fish). Craig Kunce’s delicately etched b&w illustrations help add to the magic of a fantasy starring a heroine empowered to do the right thing. Ages 8–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Tortoise and the Soldier: A Story of Courage and Friendship in World War I

Michael Foreman. Holt, $16.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-62779-173-1

Foreman (War Boy) offers a fresh variation on the wartime soldier and animal buddy theme. Based on actual events, the story is told in dual flashbacks. Trevor Roberts, a British journalist, recalls a formative assignment as a young reporter (“really, I was just the office boy”) for his village newspaper during the 1950s. He is asked to cover the annual hibernation awakening of Ali Pasha, a giant tortoise (and local celebrity) owned by former Royal Navy WWI sailor Henry Friston (whom Foreman met as a boy). Instantly connecting with Trevor, Friston shares his wartime photos, memorabilia, and diary. The entries spark Friston’s passionate, sometimes humorous, reminiscences of harrowing battles with Turkish soldiers in Gallipoli, homesickness, and concern for his brothers fighting in France. The heart of the story is Friston’s serendipitous encounter with Ali Pasha, who catapults onto the soldier’s head during a skirmish and becomes a lifelong companion. The multilayered storytelling, Foreman’s dramatic watercolor illustrations, and reproductions of period mementos provide a nuanced portrait of the bonds between Friston and Ali Pasha, as well as between the older man and a curious journalist-in-training. Ages 8–12. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Story I’ll Tell

Nancy Tupper Ling, illus. by Jessica Lanan. Lee & Low, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-62014-160-1

Titles like I Love You Like Crazy Cakes (2000) have given adoptive parents ways to tell their children how they reached their new families. Ling (My Sister, Alicia May) imagines what she would say if she could convey the excitement of her child’s adoption through fantasy: “I might tell how you came from a land far away in a hot-air balloon.” Lanan (Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth) paints the arriving baby nestled in the basket of a red balloon that floats over a bed of tiger lilies as the new parents look up from their garden, startled. The mother imagines a series of stories—that her child has been delivered on horseback, by a winged angel, and more: “ ‘Not true!’ you’ll say when I tell these tales. And I’ll smile, because it will be hard to fool the brightest child in the world.” Laced with Chinese-flavored splendor throughout, Lanan’s spreads match Ling’s romance with pools of moonlight, banks of clouds, and ghosts of zodiac figures. It’s an unabashed love letter, one that many families will treasure. Ages 5–9. Author’s agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Tiptoe Tapirs

Hanmin Kim, trans. from the Korean by
Sera Lee. Holiday House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-3395-7

Distinctively stylized paintings distinguish this cautionary tale from South Korean author-illustrator Kim. Set “long ago in a jungle where many animals lived,” the story introduces Tapir and Little Tapir, who are quiet and cautious by nature (“Tiptoe, tiptoe. They were careful not to step on an ant”). This alone isn’t enough to keep them safe, however. In a frightening sequence, an orange leopard with needlelike teeth and hooked claws tears through the jungle after them. Just as suddenly, a new danger reveals itself: “Bang! Bang! Bang!” blasts a hunter’s shotgun as three round bursts explode just over the animals’ heads. Following the tapirs’ tiptoeing example allows the leopard and his intended prey to survive. Intriguing details await careful readers (is that Kim himself tiptoeing behind his tapir heroes on the inside front cover?), and the inky silhouetted vegetation and animals’ vacant, ghostlike eyes both help establish a sense of the jungle as a mysterious, unpredictable place. But while readers are left with the assurance that the hunter “left the jungle, never to return,” the violent encounter casts a lingering pall. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Two White Rabbits

Jairo Buitrago, trans. from the Spanish by Elisa Amado, illus. by Rafael Yockteng. Groundwood (PGW, dist.), $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-55498-741-2

Hope and hardship coexist in this haunting look at refugees fleeing home in hopes of a safer, more secure life. While strongly suggestive of Mexico, the setting is never mentioned explicitly, nor are the reasons why the young narrator and her father are traveling. For the girl, counting—chickens on the side of the road, people encamped by train tracks—offers a stability that her day-to-day life cannot; numbers are constant, even when you’re always on the move. On every step of their journey, which includes fording a muddy river on rafts built on rubber tires and riding atop a rusted-out train, they are joined by a narrow-eyed coyote, a visual metaphor for those who smuggle migrants and refugees across borders, not always with good intentions. Colored in drab browns and blues, Yockteng’s illustrations emphasize the closeness between father and daughter without downplaying the dangers they face. Buitrago and Yockteng (who previously collaborated on Jimmy the Greatest!) leave the family’s story open-ended, powerfully underscoring the idea that there are few certainties in the life of a refugee. Ages 4–7. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Goodnight, Good Dog

Mary Lyn Ray, illus. by Rebecca Malone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-28612-2

There’s a famous Onion headline, “Dog Experiences Best Day of His Life for 400th Consecutive Day,” that essentially describes where Ray and Malone’s small yellow dog is coming from. His owner, a girl with braids, has bid him goodnight; the house has become “moon quiet”; and his “moon-round bed” beckons. But how can he settle down after a wonderful day of running in the grass, chasing the “yellow ball of sun bouncing across the sky,” and eating a bowlful of food? Ray, who prose was so captivating in Stars, again proves herself a gifted writer, capable of highly distilled poetic prose that’s beautifully accessible and allusive. Malone’s (Hug Hug!) bright acrylics, simple shapes, and minimalist detailing (two highly expressive dots stand in for the dog’s eyes) are a terrific match; her canine hero is endearingly eager and trying to behave, yet certain that the world revolves around him. When he does finally fall asleep, lulled by the same memories that were keeping him awake, he becomes an excellent role model for readers, as well. Ages 4–7. Author’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dear Yeti

James Kwan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-30045-6

If you’re searching for a mythical, reclusive creature, an epistolary strategy is as good as any. That’s the thinking of the two hikers in newcomer Kwan’s story, who send the local Yeti polite letters via bird, alerting him to their intentions and progress. “Dear Yeti,” they write, having ascended into the mountains. “We found some tracks, poops, and hairs, so you must be close. We would really like to meet you. Hikers.” The correspondence remains one-sided, but Yeti is clearly touched: he arranges snacks and shelter, and reveals himself just in time to keep them from becoming a grizzly bear’s dinner (“Please don’t eat my friends,” are the first words he utters). It’s a sweet-natured story with a subtle, irresistible narrative momentum, and it’s beautifully drawn as well—Kwan’s snowy landscape feels just distant enough, with quirky touches that include trees that resemble popsicles. If some readers begin to suspect that Yeti might be the hikers’ father, and the whole adventure a fantasy... well, that doesn’t lessen the nobility of the quest, does it? Ages 4–7. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ice Cream Work

Naoshi. Overcup (SCB, dist.), $14.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-9834917-3-6

Using the Japanese art of sunae, which involves sprinkling colored sand over an adhesive surface, newcomer Naoshi follows a character named Ice Cream Man through a week’s worth of work. Ice Cream Man isn’t a vendor making the suburban rounds in his truck—he’s a human/ice cream cone hybrid, whose long lashes, waffle-cone romper, and knee-high boots give him a decidedly feminine appearance. In softly textured, slightly psychedelic spreads, Ice Cream Man picks up a variety of odd jobs, spending Monday curled up next to a slice of cake, Wednesday crouched in a manhole wearing an ice-cream cone turned traffic cone on his head, and Friday risking life and limb as a golf tee (five forest creatures give grim salutes as the golfer tees up, his club inches from Ice Cream Man’s head). Much of text consists of lists of each job’s pay, qualifications, and duration (the golf gig requires “courage” and pays “20,000 cream/hour”). It’s as strange as it sounds, but it’s also the sort of book that could easily capture the imagination of kids drawn to the culinary fantasylands of Strawberry Shortcake or Candyland. Ages 3–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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