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7 Days of Awesome: A Creation Tale

Shawn Byous, illus. by Colin Jack. Zonderkidz, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-310-74349-1

Byous (Because I Stubbed My Toe) and Jack (A Pirate's Mother Goose) offer a whirlwind tour of the biblical creation story that's more Dr. Seuss than King James (the book's scripture references actually derive from the New International Version). Opening with a question aimed at readers ("Hey! Where did you come from?/ And what about me?"), Byous follows a portly redheaded man and a pair of children on what seems to be a trip back in time to reveal "how it all began." The children serve as reader surrogates as they accompany the man through each of the seven days, traveling in an array of oddball vehicles that include an egg-shaped helicopter and a flying boat held up by balloons. Byous keeps his exclamatory rhymes light and upbeat ("And look! What a hoot!/ Today, God made fruit!"), and Jack's cartoons have the loose energy of storyboard sketches. While there's a slight disconnect between text and art (the unnamed, Willy Wonka–esque man is an unusual choice of guide), it's still a playfully engaging introduction to this Bible story. Ages 4–8. Illustrator's agency: Shannon Associates. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hector and Hummingbird

Nicholas John Frith. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-545-85701-7

Everybody has one: the treasured friend who's just a little, well, annoying. For Hector, a bear living "deep in the mountains of Peru," that friend is Hummingbird. When Hector wants a little quiet time to enjoy a juicy piece of fruit, scratch his back, or take a nap, Hummingbird sticks to him like glue, commenting on and copycatting everything Hector does. "Hector? Hec-torrr??" says Hummingbird, flitting his wings and bobbing in the air, his jabber stacked in appropriately pointy dialogue boxes. Hector blows his top and storms away, then hits on a brilliant friendship-saving strategy—which is also a time-honored preschool teacher gambit. "Hummingbird," he says with a bright but ever-so-sly smile, "can you copy me now, by being really, really quiet?" Frith, in a terrific debut, writes with a light touch and an astute ear, making what could have been a familiar odd couple story feel fresh and new. Most impressive of all is his artwork: rendered in a gorgeously florid palette of brown, pink, turquoise, and olive, it evokes both midcentury illustration and vintage barkcloth. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Chuck and Woodchuck

Cece Bell. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7524-0

A first-grader named Caroline narrates this beguilingly offbeat story from Bell (I Yam a Donkey), drawn in the artist's characteristic childlike style. During show-and-tell one day, Woodchuck, her classmate Chuck's pet, dazzles the class with a circus-style balancing act: "Woodchuck was so cute and funny that even our teacher agreed that he should come to school every day." It looks like the story is going to concentrate on Woodchuck and his gift for entertainment, but that's not what happens. Instead, Woodchuck serves as a go-between in a quiet love story between Caroline and Chuck, a shy but thoughtful boy who sees moments when Caroline needs help and sends Woodchuck to her aid. When Caroline's caught in the cold without a hat, "Woodchuck gave me a hat to wear. I think it was Chuck's hat." Chuck sends Woodchuck to the rescue several more times, but when Caroline forgets her lines in the school play, it's Chuck himself who helps her out. Chuck's cumulative acts of kindness draw attention from Woodchuck's flashiness to a deeper place, and Bell's creation respects the intense emotions of schoolroom crushes. Ages 4–8. Agent: Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The SheepOver

John and Jennifer Churchman. Little, Brown, $17.99 (36p) ISBN 978-0-316-27356-5

Originally self-published and based on animals who live on the Churchmans' Vermont farm, this story opens "way past bedtime" on an icy winter night with Laddie the sheep dog discovering that Sweet Pea the lamb is very sick. The entire farm springs into action; Alison the vet is consulted, and soon Sweet Pea is recovered and ready to celebrate with the party described in the title, complete with leis to wear, yummy snacks, dancing under a disco ball, and a favorite bedtime story. John Churchman's photo-illustrations are gauzy and multi-layered, an impressionistic approach that works well when portraying the late-night emergency or the farm's inhabitants. The pictures feel fussed over and unfocused during the party scenes—there's nothing wild or woolly about the festivities, and the partygoers look sphinxlike and bored—yet the storytelling works. With characters delineated almost solely in terms of their actions (only Laddie emerges as a genuine personality) and a serene, unadorned narrative voice, the Churchmans capture something that feels like a modern-day fairy tale. Ages 3–6. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Super Jumbo

Fred Koehler. Dial, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3923-9

Little Jumbo, the cute little elephant from How To Cheer Up Dad (2014), is back, this time making mischief in the name of his superhero alter ego, Super Jumbo. Once again, Koehler's narrator is firmly aligned on the side of his hero, while the pictures tell another story: when Super Jumbo's father discovers that his son has ransacked the refrigerator and made a barbell out of two watermelon halves and a broomstick, the narrator notes, "No one seemed to appreciate his super strength." After Super Jumbo has "tirelessly crusaded" his way into being a nuisance (disrupting traffic, chasing a cat up a tree), the neighborhood is ready to revoke his cape and mask, but Super Jumbo still has one friend who thinks he's pretty super. Although this story veers a little too much into sitcom territory, Koehler's artwork continues to impress: his thick black outlines give his characters a reassuring emotional groundedness, and he finds the comic sweet spot in each composition, such as when Super Jumbo flattens himself on the crosswalk as he helps a snail family across the street. Ages 3–5. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Let's Play!

Herv%C3%A9 Tullet, trans. from the French by Christopher Franceschelli. Chronicle, $15.99 (68p) ISBN 978-1-4521-5477-0

Tullet (Press Here; Mix It Up!) develops his innovative, interact-with-the-book project still further as readers travel through the book with a yellow dot. "So, will you take me along? It's easy: Just follow the line with your finger," says the dot. Readers trace Tullet's spidery, squiggly black scrawl across the pages: "Wow! That's really way up high... and really way down low!" the dot exclaims as the ink line arches, then dives. Tullet, always a fountain of new ideas, sends the line swirling and creates a carousel of dots to circle. There's a tunnel for the dot to go through and a page full of menacing splotches ("I really don't like this page," the dot says anxiously). Most of the interactions are hits—readers help the dot vault over a red blob, at which point it lands, the dot claims, in the reader's hair—with a couple misses mixed in (tucked deep within the book's gutter, the dot is nearly unfindable on a hide-and-seek page). Regardless, Franceschelli provides another fine translation, and Tullet's fans will rush to add this to their collection. Ages 3–5. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Mommy Goose: Rhymes from the Mountains

Mike Norris, illus. by Minnie Adkins. Univ. of Kentucky, $19.95 (48p) ISBN 978-0-8131-6614-8

Norris presents nearly 50 charming nursery rhymes inspired by the culture, language, and traditions of Appalachia, which are accompanied by folk artist Adkins's hand-carved and brightly painted figurines (the duo previously collaborated on Sonny the Monkey and Bright Blue Rooster Down on the Farm). References to home cooking, farm animals, music, and misbehavior from young and old folks alike pepper the rhymes, a mix of brief, easy-to-memorize fare ("Pray for the pot./ Pray for the pot./ Sometimes it's full,/ Sometimes it's not") and longer offerings (in one early poem that spans several pages, "The raccoons ate up all the corn,/ Climbed in the car and honked the horn./ They played the radio and danced,/ And tried on Granpaw's underpants"). Wearing eyeglasses, a blue hat, and a stern, schoolmarmish expression, "Mommy Goose" herself makes several appearances, holding up rhyming messages about words written on what looks like wood shavings or bark ("A word can be sour,/ or sweet as a kiss,/ soft as a purr,/ harsh as a hiss"). Though the rhymes are grounded in Appalachian soil, their often-silly humor and the rough-hewn whimsy of Adkins's figurines should have broad appeal. All ages. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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My First Easter

WorthyKids/Ideals. WorthyKids/Ideals, $5.99 (20p) ISBN 978-0-8249-1977-1

This board book features bright, clear stock photographs of subjects associated with the Easter holiday, both in traditional religious and secular senses. Single objects appear on the left and right pages—sometimes closely associated ("church," "prayer"; "bunny," "carrots"), sometimes not ("jellybeans," "hat")—and all labeled in a bold, chunky font. Other items include a bird and a nest, a cluster of tulips and a purple bunny, and a palm branch opposite a Bible. A gentle introduction to Easter with plenty of opportunities for adults to explain the symbols in greater detail. Ages 2–5. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler

Russell Freedman. Clarion, $17.99 (112p) ISBN 978-0-544-22379-0

Freedman (Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain) illuminates a small but powerful student movement that used a secretive leaflet campaign to oppose Hitler’s regime. Siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl and a few of their like-minded friends at the University of Munich began the White Rose resistance: “All of them were repelled by what was happening in Germany. They yearned to speak freely, to be entirely themselves again.” Nine chapters with titles such as “Rumblings of Doubt” and “ ‘We Are Your Bad Conscience’ ” (wording aimed at Hitler from the fourth leaflet) depict how the Scholls started out as Hitler Youth and gradually became disenchanted with the Nazis’ monolithic message of conformity and hate. Thoroughly researched, with numerous archival photos, this well-told story of the White Rose opposition unfolds chronologically and with building suspense. From the Scholls’ childhood in Nazi Germany to their eventual executions and the legacy of their daring acts of nonviolence, Freedman seamlessly places their story within the larger context of WWII. Source notes, a bibliography, and an index complete this inspiring historical narrative. Ages 10–12. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Suffer Love

Ashley Herring Blake. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-544-59632-0

Hadley’s family is trying to repair itself after the discovery that her father was having an affair. Sam’s family is in a similar situation—his mother was the one involved with Hadley’s father. After the two teenagers meet at school, they begin to fall for each other, but Hadley is unaware of the connection between their families; Sam regrets keeping this secret from her but worries it could ruin their fragile new romance. Shifting between Sam and Hadley’s points of view—with anger and disillusionment viscerally apparent in each of their voices—debut author Blake puts the teens in a near-impossible situation, adeptly showing how Sam and Hadley can be more adult in handling the complications of romance than all four of their parents. The two scenarios Blake sets up (Hadley’s family tries to stay together, while Sam’s starts over) both emphasize the painful ways that infidelity takes a toll on entire families. Readers will be left thinking about the ways love can both hurt and heal. Ages 14–up. Agent: Rebecca Podos, Rees Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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