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Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

John Himmelman. Holt, $13.99 (128p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9970-6

Himmelman (Duck to the Rescue) draws on his own experience as a martial arts instructor in 12 brief tales about a rabbit named Isabel, “the best bunjitsu artist in her school.” Nearly every story concludes with a quiet lesson, and while Isabel certainly has opportunities to show off her skills, many vignettes underscore that “bunjitsu is not just about kicking, hitting, and throwing,” as Isabel explains. “It is about finding ways NOT to kick, hit, and throw.” Thus, when Isabel is challenged to a fight by the large, menacing Jackrabbit, her avoidance of the fight displays not cowardice but smarts. “So you lost on purpose?” asks Isabel’s friend Max. “No, I did not lose,” she replies. “He did not hit me.” And when Isabel attempts to become “a true bunjitsu artist” by defeating an angry wave, she realizes that gently riding the wave into shore can be more powerful than even a “spinning bunjitsu tornado fist.” Spare ink illustrations appear on every page, skillfully balancing humor, bunjitsu action, and understated grace. Like Isabel herself, this one’s a winner in unexpected ways. Ages 6–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Cats Got Talent

Ron Barrett. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4424-9451-0

Once upon a time, Hal, Dora, and Geneva led cushy lives as pet cats. Then things turned sour with their respective owners (in Hal’s case, his “despicable” curtain-tearing behavior was the source of the sourness), and they ended up as alley cats. Now Hal has an idea: they like to sing, the papers tell him that “singers earned big money,” so what if.... Readers may think Barrett, with his poker-faced storytelling, is headed toward a feline version of American Idol, or at least a tearful reconciliation with the cats’ former owners. But this wonderfully wacky book is full of surprises. What is essentially a Darwinian tug-of-war between cats and humans may not sound like a big laugh getter, but Barrett (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) pulls it off. His indomitable—okay, clueless—furry heroes, and hardboiled illustrations, whose retro style is a cross between those of Merrie Melodies and 1960s underground comics, reassure readers that, though the cats’ caterwauling has the neighborhood up in arms, nothing bad is going to happen to them. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Albie’s First Word: A Tale Inspired by Albert Einstein’s Childhood

Jacqueline Tourville, illus. by Wynne Evans. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-307-97893-6

Readers already know the end of the story: little Albie, a late talker, will become one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century. Tourville’s invented biography of Einstein turns on the idea that while his silence and accomplishments mystify his family (“How did you do that?” they ask, after he constructs a tower of cards), he’s already aware of his own powers. Tourville (Big, Beautiful, and Pregnant) spices the dialogue of her first picture book with German endearments (“Albie, my darling mausi, what did you think?” asks his mother after an orchestra performance), while debut artist Evans paints theatrically lit, sepia-tinted period scenes in which Albie and his family appear as endearing marionettelike figures. In the story’s most sentimental moment, Evans shows Albie’s parents by lamplight, reassuring each other that “they would love him just as he was.” While the book doesn’t illuminate whether something about Einstein’s childhood made him into the towering figure he became, it’s a diverting portrait of the era in which he grew up, and a noteworthy first outing for Evans. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Brianne Johnson, Writers House. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hunters of the Great Forest

Dennis Nolan. Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-59643-896-5

In another enchanting wordless fantasy from Nolan (Sea of Dreams), seven tiny, gnomish beings set off from a fairy tale village on an expedition. A gray-haired grandmother wields a spear, a girl carries a map, and bearded and mustachioed fellows trudge along with more gear. Their stringy legs and puzzled expressions draw smiles throughout, especially when something startles them. Nolan’s visual storytelling is in a league with Aaron Becker and David Weisner, and a series of breathtakingly drafted and delicately tinted spreads shows the group clambering over stones and roots, and narrowly escaping a giant toad and a terrifying chipmunk. By nightfall they’ve reached their goal: a girl roasting a marshmallow next to a campfire. Nolan draws the hunters hanging back in the long shadows of the firelight, pointing at the girl and strategizing. They manage to spirit a marshmallow (many times their size) back to their village, and the bonfire celebration that follows is crammed with incident, with a sly twist at the very end. It’s merry, timeless entertainment that children will return to with pleasure. Ages 3–7. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blizzard

John Rocco. Disney-Hyperion, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4231-7865-1

Caldecott Honoree Rocco (Blackout) recalls a journey he took as a boy during the blizzard of 1978, when he lived in a small Rhode Island town. His deft compositions use expanses of white page to convey snowdrifts and winter sky. The snow is so deep that the front door won’t open, and John and his sister have to leave through the window. In another couple of days, when food supplies dwindle, “I realized it was up to me to take action.... I was the only one who knew what equipment was required.” Making snowshoes out of tennis rackets, young John sets off for the grocery store. An epic gatefold spread shows his path through the neighborhood, with distractions duly noted (“Made an angel”; “Joined a snowball fight”). The store owners greet him kindly, and he drags his grocery-laden sled home in triumph, distributing food to his neighbors and providing for his family. A nostalgic air of Americana permeates the story, and John’s eagerness to be a hero and his display of Yankee ingenuity offer plenty of satisfaction. Ages 3–5. Agent: Rob Weisbach, Rob Weisbach Creative Management. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mine!

Sue Heap. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6888-4

Heap (Danny’s Drawing Book) adds to the bookshelf of titles about kids struggling with sharing. In this case, the guilty party is a girl named Amy, who is very attached to her orange blanket. And her bear. And her bunny. And her bird. One can almost feel the hug Amy gives her three stuffed animals as Heap shows them sprawled out on the blanket. “I love you all,” she tells them, “because we’re together and because you’re MINE.” Reality quickly intrudes in the form of Amy’s twin brothers, who grab Bunny and Bear and “whirled and twirled them around and around,” and Baby Joe, who has a soft spot for Bird. Toy snatching and hurt feelings ensue, but Heap doesn’t make Amy suffer a dark night of the soul (or a parental scolding). Rather, she already knows what she needs to do, and she distributes the toys among her brothers. It’s perhaps an unrealistically rapid turnaround, but Heap’s naïve pencil-and-acrylics art expresses so much joy at the siblings’ reconciliation that some readers might just be tempted to see what happens when they share. Ages 2–5. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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In Search of the Little Prince: The Story of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Bimba Landmann. Eerdmans, $17 (34p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5435-3

Through dreamlike images with echoes of Brancusi and Dalí, Landmann explores the creative and emotional impetus behind the creation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. Landmann infuses her storytelling with mystery and melancholy as Saint-Exupéry develops a fascination with flight, travel, and writing, serving as a courier pilot, befriending the Bedouins of Morocco, publishing a novel, and flying once again during WWII. The seeds of The Little Prince become rooted in moments of serenity amid the stars of the desert and in loneliness while living in New York City: “Every once in a while, on a blank sheet, he drew the outline of a child. Perhaps it was a young poet. Perhaps it was the prince of some unknown planet... he didn’t know yet.” A haunting ode to a complex individual, and a natural pairing with Peter Sís’s recent The Pilot and the Little Prince. Ages 7–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School

Suzanne Slade, illus. by Nicole Tadgell. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8075-0897-8

Slade highlights Washington’s devotion to education by focusing on his role in the creation of a schoolhouse for black students in Tuskegee, Ala., which would eventually grow to become Tuskegee University. The construction process is arduous: digging for clay to bake bricks was difficult enough; thousands of bricks were ruined when two kilns Washington built broke. Squirrely pencil lines and milky watercolors lend an ephemeral quality to Tadgell’s art. The focus on the hard work at the heart of accomplishment makes this story especially rewarding and relatable; a closing quote from Washington drives home the underlying message: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” Ages 7–10. Illustrator’s agent: Christina A. Tugeau. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank

Paula Yoo, illus. by Jamel Akib. Lee & Low, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-60060-658-8

In detailed and inviting prose, Yoo shares the story of activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yunus, beginning with his childhood in the city of Chittagong (then part of India). Yoo describes Yunus’s growing awareness of the injustice of global poverty and of the power of peaceful protest to incite change. Scenes include Yunus’s presence on the steps of Capitol Hill, where he rallied for peace between Bangladesh and Pakistan, and his return to a ravaged Bangladesh following the war, where his compassion and economic knowledge lead to the development of Grameen Bank. Akib’s grainy, jewel-toned chalk pastels contrast a sense of scarcity and deprivation with one of warmth and humanity. Yoo makes the significance of Yunus’s contributions understandable, relevant, and immediate. Ages 6–11. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Friends for Freedom: The Story of Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass

Suzanne Slade, illus. by Nicole Tadgell. Charlesbridge, $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-58089-568-2

At a time when “it wasn’t proper for women to be friends with men” and “You weren’t supposed to be friends with someone whose skin was a different color,” Anthony and Douglass sought out each other based on mutual respect and a shared commitment toward equality. Tadgell’s carefully drafted and evocative watercolors capture both the past and present obstacles Anthony and Douglass faced, from Douglass’s youth as a slave to rotten eggs hurled at the two when they appeared in public together and combative differences of opinion, as when the Fifteenth Amendment proposed to give voting rights to black men but not to women. Author and artist notes and a time line conclude a powerful testament to a friendship that spanned decades as it challenged conventions and “helped America grow up, too.” Ages 6–9. Illustrator’s agent: Christina A. Tugeau. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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