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A Month of Mondays

Joëlle Anthony. Second Story (Orca, dist.), $10.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-77260-026-1

Suze Tamaki was three years old when her mother, Caroline, walked out on the family. Now, 10 years later, Caroline has returned to Victoria, B.C., ready to get to know Suze and her older sister, Tracie. After Caroline left, Tracie and Suze made a pact, promising never to speak to their mother again. Suze is secretly curious about Caroline, but Tracie is holding her to their promise, so Suze keeps her meetings with Caroline a secret. Suze is also balancing problems with friends and at school: Suze keeps getting sent to the office, and her grades are average at best, though Suze’s English teacher sees her potential, moving her into an honors class. Anthony’s (The Right & the Real) characters, both central and secondary, are fully dimensional, and Suze and Caroline’s frustrations are realistically portrayed as they make awkward attempts at a fresh start (such as when Caroline unthinkingly gives Suze a gift basket that includes a bottle of Prosecco). Suze’s dry—borderline sardonic—narration makes for thoroughly entertaining reading as Anthony sympathetically explores the vulnerability of the early teen years. Ages 9–13. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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No Fear!

Steve Moore. Harper, $13.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-220330-4

Syndicated cartoonist Moore (In the Bleachers) introduces a self-described benchwarmer in this first installment in the King of the Bench series, profusely illustrated with scribbly b&w cartoons. Steve is happy to spend most of his time “on the pine” as his coach puts it: “Benchwarmers like me observe life from just the right angle,” Steve explains. “I’m not sitting too high up, where I look down on the rest of the world.” After one of Steve’s teammates is struck while at bat (“Way too gory to show!!” crows the black-box-censored cartoon accompanying the incident), Steve has developed a bad case of Bean-O-Phobia. Still, he would rather not end his first season as one of Spiro T. Agnew Middle School’s Mighty Plumbers with a batting average of zero. Smart advice from Steve’s father finally gives him the courage he needs to confront his fear. Populated with colorful characters and gross-out gags (Coach Earwax has a habit of cleaning out his ears with car keys), this offbeat sports story will satisfy Timmy Failure and Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans. Ages 8–12. Agent: Alan Nevins, Renaissance Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Army Brats

Daphne Benedis-Grab. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-545-93205-9

In this realistic snapshot of military family life, tight-knit siblings Tom (12), Charlotte (10), and Rosie (6) are proud army brats, accustomed to moving from place to place, but Fort Patrick will be the Baileys’ first experience living on base. Their mother, an intelligence officer, promises them that “Things on post are safe,” and they initially delight in the freedom they’re given to explore the orderly community. But a combination of mean girls, a bully, and a rash of disappearing dogs have the kids questioning their safe idyll, while adding a sense of unified adventure to their days. The novel is threaded with details that speak to the rituals and lingo of military life, from shopping (“We’re black on flour. Would you guys run to the commissary and pick some up?”) to eating at the officer’s club. Filled with fierce female characters and strong sibling bonds, both blood and adopted (Rosie was adopted from China at age three), this celebration of family from Benedis-Grab (The Angel Tree), a PW contributor, will speak to military and civilian readers alike. Ages 8–12. Agent: Sara Crowe, Pippin Properties. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd)

Julie Bowe. Penguin/Dawson, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3693-1

Just after her parents reveal that they are getting divorced, nine-year-old Wren Jo Byrd is sent to spend the summer with her grandparents, avoiding messages from her best friend, Amber, and the painful changes back home. Returning for the new school year, Wren finds that Amber has an outspoken and confident new best friend, Marianna. With her friendship in shambles, Wren continues to keep her parents’ divorce to herself, but she soon discovers that secrets have a way of turning into lies. Bowe (the Friends for Keeps series) effectively conveys Wren’s fears and frustrations: “I’m don’t know why I’m the one who has to go away when none of this was my idea,” she confides to her cat, Shakespeare. Wren’s decision to hide her difficulties at home, even as it affects her life on many fronts, powerfully illustrates how deeply upsetting family changes can be. Bowe’s genuine portraits of the key relationships in Wren’s life—with her friends, parents, and even the often-difficult Marianna—make for a warm and rewarding story about dealing with change. Ages 7–9. Agent: Steven Chudney, Chudney Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Mystery of the Troubled Toucan

Lisa Travis, illus. by Adam Turner. WorldTrek, $5.99 paper (126p) ISBN 978-1-936376-24-7

This sixth installment in the Pack-n-Go Girls Adventures series, mystery chapter books featuring young heroines from around the world, transports readers to the Amazon rainforest. After nine-year-old Sofia Diaz’s parents announce that they are separating, her father takes her with him from their home in Miami on a trip to Brazil. Though Sofia is brooding over this recent development and wondering whether her father will continue to be a part of their lives, the sights of Brazil distract her from her pain. She soon meets a girl her age, Júlia Santos, whose passion for protecting the rainforest animals from poachers and other threats proves infectious. After the girls discover pink dolphins called botos that have been tied up by poachers, they attempt to find out who is responsible. Travis writes clearly and engagingly, infusing the story with information about conservation and the rainforest, as well as Portuguese vocabulary (a glossary is included). Turner’s b&w cartoon spot illustrations do a fine job of capturing the local flora and fauna, while tapping into the unfolding mystery and the camaraderie between the girls. Ages 6–9. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Make the Earth Your Companion

J. Patrick Lewis, illus. by Anna and Elena Balbusso. Creative Editions, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56846-269-1

In this Earth-centered prayer, Lewis (The Navajo Code Talkers) catalogues the ways the natural world can teach humans wisdom. “Make the Earth your companion. Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do,” he begins, as Art Deco–style animals parade peaceably before a backdrop of bare trees. “Learn from the sea how to face harsh forces,” Lewis continues. “Let the river remind you that everything will pass. Let the lake instruct you in stillness.” The Balbusso sisters convey the progression from power to stillness with quiet force: a Greek ship battles the rolling waves of the ocean, an adult and a child are carried along the river’s current in a canoe, and a personified moon gazes at its reflection in a glassy lake. Elsewhere, delicate combed lines give texture to a lion’s mane, trace the grain of wood, and follow the lines of bird flight. Ghostly, translucent silhouettes alternate with objects that possess volume and heft, from iris blossoms to rocky outcrops. Lewis’s invocations create a sense of reverence, and their secular vocabulary makes them useful in a variety of settings. Ages 6–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea

Kate Hosford, illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska. Carolrhoda, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4677-3904-7

An imperious monarch embarks on a quest in this wry story from the team behind Infinity and Me. “I must find the perfect cup of tea!” the queen barks at her butler, James. “Stop slouching and get me my coat!” Aloft in a hot-air balloon, she orders James to stop in verdant, tea-growing regions, encountering children who invite the royal to do things queens don’t ordinarily do, then share tea with her. In Japan, she meets Noriko and snuggles a cat (“That was rather strenuous”). In India, where tea is prepared with ginger and star anise, Sunil invites her to play soccer. “Her Majesty does not dribble,” James informs the boy. “Well then,” Sunil responds, “it’s time she tried.” In Turkey, she meets Rana, who dances. Swiatkowska’s delicious, old-world pastels render each character a distinct individual; the Queen has peculiar flyaway hair, and Sunil’s missing a front tooth. The details give Hosford’s round-the-world tale offbeat charm, and readers will smile as they watch the Queen shed her haughtiness and embrace her own capabilities. Ages 5–9. Author’s agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra

Marc Tyler Nobleman, illus. by Ana Aranda. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-17443-8

Nobleman (Boys of Steel) introduces a comic trio—three goats named Pep, Bumsie and Jayna—who debate the best way to handle the goat-eating chupacabra that lurks atop a nearby hill. Jayna, the bravest, proposes a pre-emptive attack: “There’s lots of us and only one of him.” Bumsie is anxiety-ridden: “W-what does the chupacabra eat for b-breakfast?” (“Goats,” Jayna replies.) And Pep’s a realist: “No veggies?” They meet the monster soon enough, and though they succeed in temporarily distracting it with other objects to devour (candelabras! cucarachas!), the moment of truth arrives as the chupacabra reveals its favorite food—which does indeed start with “goat.” References to Latin American food and culture appear throughout (“The whole chimichanga,” says the chupacabra, and Pep corrects, “You mean ‘the whole enchilada’ ”), and debut illustrator Aranda’s vibrant mixed-media artwork amplifies the book’s cross-cultural brand of humor; her chupacabra, with its beady nose, spiky purple ears, and lovely flowered hide, wouldn’t threaten a cat (although it throws a scary shadow). Readers will be sorry when this one is over. Ages 5–8. Illustrator’s agent: Adriana Domínguez, Full Circle Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Road Home

Katie Cotton, illus. by Sarah Jacoby. Abrams, $15.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2374-2

Sober, dark, and elegant, Cotton’s poetry imagines the voices of forest parents speaking to their young as they prepare for winter. Newcomer Jacoby contributes luminous watercolors that view the wild landscape through the animals’ eyes: tiny nests, tree branches, and intricate tangles of vines and weeds. Cotton (Counting Lions) concentrates on the struggle to survive and stay fed, and on the words of truth and reassurance old share with young. “Our wings are sore,/ There’s far to go/ before our flight is flown,” says a migrating songbird to its offspring as they wing across a great river, a ray of sunlight illuminating the trees below. “This road is hard, this road is long,/ this road that leads us home,” the animals repeat. A mother mouse builds a nest with her baby, wolves stalk prey (“We’ve claws to grip and jaws to bite”), and rabbits escape them and take refuge under mounds of snow: “Let’s curl up close, lost in leaves,/ lost in velvet sleep,” the mother rabbit murmurs. Cotton and Jacoby bring wild lives close, observing them with intimacy and giving them dignity. Ages 5–7. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Princess Cora and the Crocodile

Laura Amy Schlitz, illus. by Brian Floca. Candlewick, $18.99 (80p) ISBN 978-0-7636-4822-0

Legions of schoolchildren will empathize with overscheduled Princess Cora, whose well-meaning but misguided royal parents insist that a regimen of boring reading, mindless exercise, and frequent bathing is the only way to ensure that she’ll be fit to inherit the throne. After they refuse her a dog, Cora channels her simmering anger into a letter to her fairy godmother, which she then rips up—a toothless act of rebellion that Schlitz (The Hired Girl) infuses with magic: “Because it was a letter to her fairy godmother, every scrap turned into a white butterfly and flew away.” Cora’s godmother gets the message, delivering a pet the monarchs justly deserve: a crocodile with an outsize id and none of Cora’s impulse to please. In illustrations that amplify Schlitz’s wry humor, Caldecott Medalist Floca (Locomotive) produces a reptile that delightfully runs amuck. A mop wig and frilly dress let princess and croc to swap places, allowing Cora much-needed freedom while the crocodile trades insults with the Queen (“Reptile!” “Mammal!”) and gnaws on the fitness-obsessed King (just a little). Utterly charming from start to finish. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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