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Vanilla Ice Cream

Bob Graham. Candlewick, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7377-2

Letting his airy, bird's-eye view watercolor images do most of the telling, Graham (The Silver Button) melds the globe-spanning journey of a scavenging sparrow and a toddler's outing with her grandparents in a tale that subtly celebrates the world's interconnectedness, as well as one of the great "firsts" in the life of a child. After the sparrow ("He is young. He is curious... and bold") pecks his way into a bag of rice aboard a truck in India, he's soon an accidental stowaway on a ship that heads across the sea, arriving in a big-city port. Before long, the sparrow's hunger leads it to a cafe, where young Edie Irvine sits in her stroller, beside her grandparents and family dog. When the bird catches the dog's attention, "in just one fleeting moment" Edie is part of a minor mishap that sends an ice-cream cone sailing into her lap and gives the girl her first taste of vanilla ice cream. Graham's sequential panels convey a true sense of travel in a story that calls to mind the "butterfly effect," even as it follows a bird. Ages 4–6. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nuthouse

Eric Litwin, illus. by Scott Magoon. Little, Brown, $18 (32p) ISBN 978-0-316-32244-7

Hazel and Wally Nut, anthropomorphic nuts who live in an impressive tree house with their parents, have no interest in bedtime. They prefer to stay up playing, dancing, howling at the moon, and singing "We're nuts! We're nuts! We're nuts," ignoring Mama Nut's increasingly stern request: "All little Nuts need to go to bed." Magoon's (Spoon) digital illustrations create a boisterous world for the Nut family to inhabit (their home features a ball pit and an observatory), and Mama's "coif" lends her a particularly authoritative presence as she gives her little nuts "the look." Pete the Cat author Litwin leans heavily on nut-related puns (while Wally and Hazel pretend to be astronauts, an off-stage voice announces, "Houston, we have a praline!" as Hazel plants a flag for the "Unutted States"), which give the book a fairly one-note brand of humor as it makes its way to a reassuring bedtime conclusion. Readers can listen to and/or download Litwin's bluesy spoken-sung performance of the book and two additional songs at www.TheNutFamily.com. Ages 3–6. Author's agent: Amy Rennert, Amy Rennert Agency. Illustrator's agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (July)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Thunder

Bonnie S. Calhoun. Revell, $16.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2376-7

Calhoun’s first YA novel is set in post-apocalyptic America, where Selah Chavez goes against her family’s wishes and hunts for Landers, a people with distinctive markings who are captured and sold to a business known as the Company for reasons unknown. Those who live in the Mountain, the underground colony where the Company is located, have been protected from the devastation of the outside world. When Selah captures, then loses, a Lander named Bodhi Locke, she becomes one of the hunted when the same markings appear on her body. Calhoun (Cooking the Books) paints a dark, serious world and does not shy away from the violence that her characters suffer as they struggle with prejudice and even genocide, the latter activity veiled by justifications of scientific knowledge and progress. At times, the story suffers from clichéd writing or overdramatized incidents, but despite its shortcomings, Calhoun’s novel, which inaugurates the Stone Braide Chronicles, is on balance an entertaining and suspenseful read that will please those who enjoy intrigue and grimness. Ages 12–up. Agency: Hartline Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Willie’s Redneck Time Machine

John Luke Robertson with Travis Thrasher. Tyndale Kids, $9.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-4143-9813-6

Duck Dynasty scion Robertson teams with novelist Thrasher (the Solitary Tales series) for the first in a four-book series of choose your own adventure–style stories. At the outset, readers assume the character of Willie Robertson, who heads the Duck Commander company. Written in second-person, the narrative places readers among Robertson family members, confronting a variety of dilemmas and choices. Time travel is the plot device; “you” discover an outhouse in the Duck Commander warehouse that turns out to be the titular time machine. Story variants range wildly over millions of years, from the eras of dinosaurs and Noah’s ark through the 1990s with its fashionable mullets and on to 2319, when people use fantastical devices such as “controllocks” and “batter shatters.” As with the TV show, humor leavens many of the scenarios. Tying everything together is the simple message that care for family and friends and love of God are key elements of living a good life and making good decisions. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Olive Tree

Elsa Marston, illus. by Claire Ewart. Wisdom Tales (NBN, dist.), $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-937786-29-8

A stone wall divides two houses owned by families with children; a gnarled olive tree grows on Muna’s land, and the olives drop on Sameer’s land. Although Muna’s family, gone “during the troubles, because they were different from most of the people in the village,” has returned home, they maintain a polite distance, disappointing Sameer’s hopes for a friend. The children engage only to disagree over who the olives belong to. After their fight, “the olives went on dropping in Sameer’s yard... but nobody ever gathered them.” Ewart’s (One Cold Night) watercolor illustrations deftly employ color to signal the story’s emotional developments. For example, warm hues of gold and green permeate the opening pages; in a center spread, a billowing blue storm washes over the small green village, with jagged lightning striking and killing the olive tree. In the final pages, a dusky purple backdrop and broken golden boughs convey a somber yet promising mood. Marston (The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria) subtly transforms the story’s sadness into hope as the children surprise each other with acts of quiet generosity. Ages 5–up. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer

Tonya Bolden, illus. by Eric Velasquez. Abrams, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-0792-6

Bolden (Maritcha: A 19th Century American Girl) expands a pleasingly simple premise into a depiction of the profound possibility of prayer. It’s night. An “amber orb”—the moon—floats above the city, and a boy startles awake in bed, having forgotten to say his nightly prayers. Velasquez (My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart) shows the subjects of the boy’s prayers—“people with no homes,” the hungry, the lonely, “for wars to end.” His prayers move from his outer circle of concern to his inner, as the boy includes his parents, “Grandma Grace,” “Mikey, his turtle,” and his wish for his teacher “to read a story every day.” Velasquez’s illustrations, done in mixed media and oil on watercolor paper, convey mostly urban scenes in dark blues and browns, each illuminated by moonlight, which are both peaceful and full of detail. The book offers young readers plenty to look at, along with a simple message about the way prayer unites everyone, as the multicultural subjects in Velasquez’s gorgeous illustrations make clear. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Jennifer Lyons, Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Rubin Pfeffer, Rubin Pfeffer Content LLC. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America

Russell Freedman. Holiday House, $20 (96p) ISBN 978-0-8234-2921-9

Commemorating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1965 march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Freedman (The Boston Tea Party) delivers a thorough account of the context and events leading up to and through this momentous protest. The book’s eight chapters pull readers into the decades-long struggle via clear, concise storytelling and myriad quotes from participants, many of them young at the time. “Algebra gave way to activism,” writes Freedman. “This explosion of teenage activism alarmed some parents and took the white authorities by surprise.” The momentum-building narrative and often-graphic b&w photos captivate as they recount demonstrations big and small: from sit-ins and “wade-ins” (for desegregated beaches) to the well-known Selma schoolteachers’ march and “Bloody Sunday” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Freedman details day-by-day the culminating several-thousand-strong march to Montgomery, which spurred the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Current threats to the act are described in an epilogue. A timeline, select bibliography, source notes, and index round out this well-researched story that honors the many who stood up and fought against inequities at the ballot box. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Katherine Applegate, illus. by G. Brian Karas. Clarion, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-544-25230-1

In this poignant picture book, Applegate streamlines the story told in her Newbery-winning novel, The One and Only Ivan, about an African gorilla captured by poachers and caged in a Washington State mall for 27 years as a tourist attraction. The third-person narrative diminishes the immediacy of the story somewhat, but supports the nonfictional bent of this account. While Applegate omits some of the novel’s darker bits, as when Ivan’s elephant friend at the mall dies of neglect, many grim moments remain, and she is clear about the injustice of the gorillas’ situation (“Poachers with loud guns and cruel hands stole the little gorilla and another baby”). Karas’s (Tap Tap Boom Boom) muted illustrations capably reflect the contrasts between Ivan’s happy early life in Africa, his gloomy years in captivity, and his eventual transfer to a new home, with grass and other gorillas, at Zoo Atlanta. A detailed afterword fills out Ivan’s story and imparts the sad news of his death in 2012. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Elena Giovinazzo, Pippin Properties. Illustrator’s agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Before After

Matthias Arégui, illus. by Anne-Margot Ramstein. Candlewick, $19.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7621-6

French artists Arégui and Ramstein don’t just explore the idea of before and after in this wordless book—they pursue it with fervor. Crisply outlined digital images are tinted with muted pastels and splashed with warmer colors. Some are serious, others contain flashes of wit, and an air of scientific objectivity makes the humor even funnier. Many images are naturally suited to the theme—a caterpillar on the left becomes a butterfly on the right, and an acorn becomes an oak tree. A volcano that has erupted appears bare and lifeless; on the facing page, a dense jungle has grown up around it. A pile of ingredients becomes a cake; several pages later, the cake disappears, leaving a lonely slice on a crumb-filled plate. Other images are complex, surprising, and even puckish. The chicken-and-egg problem is addressed (though not solved), and a baby primate in that same volcanic jungle turns into a well-known ape, clinging to a skyscraper and swiping at airplanes. It’s a fascinating examination of the work that time does, and it offers new possibilities—and smiles —every time it’s read. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

A.S. King. Little, Brown, $18 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-22272-3

High school graduation has already prompted Glory O’Brien to confront the chronic malaise she’s felt since her mother’s suicide 13 years earlier. Then she and Ellie, a friend who lives in a hippie commune across the street, swirl the ashes of a mummified bat (you read that right) into their beers, and both girls begin receiving “transmissions” from everyone they encounter: “We could see the future. We could see the past. We could see everything.” From these visions, Glory learns of a second Civil War, set in motion by misogynistic legislation aimed at preventing women from receiving equal pay for equal work. Writing an account of the events she’s learning about from the transmissions helps Glory see a future for yourself and understand the ways in which her mother’s legacy and her father’s love have shaped her into the thoughtful, mature young woman she is. The bizarre bat-swilling episode recedes, revealing a novel full of provocative ideas and sharply observed thoughts about the pressures society places on teenagers, especially girls. Ages 15–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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