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School Ship Tobermory

Alexander McCall Smith, illus. by Iain McIntosh. Delacorte, $15.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-399-55261-8

A schooner that serves as a boarding school is the inviting setting for this breezy series opener from bestselling author Smith. Twelve-year-old twins Ben and Fee MacTavish, who board the Tobermory on the Scottish Isle of Mull, have spent ample time on their parents’ research submarine, but they have never been on a sailing ship; readers learn nautical lingo and the basics of seafaring along with the good-natured siblings. The story’s central mystery involves a sailboat moored nearby, purportedly carrying a team making a pirate movie. After some students are recruited as extras for the film, they realize that something fishy is going on, and their sleuthing uncovers the crew’s true, nefarious mission. Playful characterization grounds Smith’s story as he introduces an international cast that includes bullies Hardtack and Shark, a friendly Australian girl, a Scots stowaway on the run from abusive relatives, and a sea-savvy American boy who becomes Ben’s first real friend. Featuring crosshatched and silhouetted images, McIntosh’s woodcut-like spot illustrations, which include some comics-style sequences, fit right in with the setting, evoking vintage nautical prints. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Infinity Year of Avalon James

Dana Middleton. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-250-08569-6

“When you’re ten years old, your life’s really starting to open up. It’s just kind of a special time, a magical time when anything can happen, where the possibilities are endless.” After a tough year in which Avalon James saw her father go to prison, she and her best friend Atticus are counting on these words from Atticus’s grandfather—and on the magical possibility of “Infinity Year powers,” which supposedly kick in at age 10 and last for a year. But as the months march on, Avie isn’t having luck recognizing any new superpowers in her life. The potentially heavy theme—a parent in prison and the social isolation that follows—is well balanced by Avie’s humor and hope. As she works to be a champion speller, a few mistakes (both spelling and social) lead to severe consequences, but also give her a greater understanding of her father’s mistakes. Blending realism with just a touch of magic, Middleton’s debut novel demonstrates a keen awareness of the infinite possibilities of childhood. Ages 8–12. Agent: Susan Hawk, Bent Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Foxheart

Claire Legrand. Greenwillow, $16.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-06-242773-1

Heart-pounding adventure, a commitment to remaining true to oneself, and deft storytelling distinguish Legrand’s (Some Kind of Happiness) epic action-fantasy. Growing up in the Star Lands, a 12-year-old girl who names herself Quicksilver has lost her parents and home and has been raised in an orphanage. To make her life tolerable, she turns to something she excels at: thievery. With her rescued dog, Fox, she flees the destruction of the orphanage, trying to stay ahead of the Wolf King, a legendary figure who is loved by some and feared by others. Quicksilver’s adventure kicks into high gear as she, Fox, and a boy named Sly Boots are transported into the past with a mysterious old woman, Anastazia; together they set about the task of protecting the witches of the kingdom before all magic is annihilated. Quicksilver’s evolving relationships with Sly Boots, Anastazia, and Fox and the sacrifices their quest demands give the novel a powerful emotional core, as Legrand digs deeply into the need for (and power inherent in) connection and the friendships forged by shared adversity. Ages 8–12. Agent: Diana Fox, Fox Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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How I Sent My Hug Around the World

Donna Ellen Conrad, illus. by Monez Gusmang. Hummingbird Book, $17.99 (52p) ISBN 978-0-9852457-1-9

Tippi, a girl with cherry red braids and matching glasses, describes how her mother’s bad mood creates a chain reaction of epic proportions. When Mama is grouchy with Tippi’s brother, he pesters Tippi, who “grrrrouch[es]” at her father, and so on, leading a pair of skunk-sprayed songbirds to spread “ewwey-stewwey-cranky-with-youuey bad moods” around the world, even affecting extraterrestrials and “giant dragons from the sea.” Giving the matter some thought, Tippi reverses the looming global catastrophe by giving her mother a hug. Even when the characters are at their grumpiest, Balinese artist Gusmang’s bright, smudgy-textured illustrations suggest that better days aren’t far away; eventually, the hug spreads happiness among smiling citizens of “Argentina, Tanzania, and Indonesia,” fairy tale characters, and even a god in saffron robes giving a thumbs-up sign from his mountaintop perch. Tippi’s narration tends to be drawn-out and cloying (“Soon, I think, all living things in the whole universe will be so happy, you will see them hopping, and twirling, and leaping for stars!”), but Conrad’s story could spark conversations about how one individual can make an impact. Ages 4–8. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Teacup

Rebecca Young, illus. by Matt Ottley. Dial, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2777-4

Ottley’s (Parachute) ravishing paintings of ocean and sky distinguish this story, Australian writer Young’s first for the U.S. market. Young opens with a jolt—“Once there was a boy who had to leave his home... and find another—but Ottley’s first spread softens the blow. The boy stands on a wave-washed beach beside a wooden boat, apprehensive, yet ready for adventure. His few possessions include a teacup, which holds “some earth from where he used to play,” and his journey alternates between terror and serenity. One spread shows his boat riding up the face of a massive wave (“the boy held tightly to his teacup”), while in another, three dolphins cavort around the boat in tranquil seas. As the boy grows lonelier (“The way the whales called out to one another reminded him of how his mother used to call him in for tea”), a seed hidden in the soil in his teacup begins to grow, ready to bear fruit when he finally makes landfall; a companion appears not long after. Ottley’s paintings offer readers a thrilling share in the boy’s adventure. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Fox and the Jumping Contest

Corey R. Tabor. Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-239874-1

Illustrator Tabor (A Dark, Dark Cave) makes his debut as an author with an energetic story about a jumping contest among a group of animals, a contest that Fox is determined to win. “While the other animals practiced, Fox schemed,” Tabor explains, and “When you’re a fox, every contest is a scheming contest.” Tabor’s mixed-media cartoons create friendly and funny animal characters whose personalities come through loud and clear. “Bear jumped loudest,” waving his arms in giddy delight and scattering the judges’ scorecards. And although Elephant can’t get off the ground, “she didn’t mind. She was good at other things.” When Fox’s turn arrives, he leaves the competition in the dust—quite literally—as the camouflaged jet pack he’s wearing sends him rocketing into orbit. The pages are full of small details, both visual and verbal, that flesh out the animals’ world and will keep readers chuckling (during the award ceremony, Fox can be spotted careening ever closer to the podium). And the witty resolution suggests that cheaters can still do pretty well for themselves now and again. Ages 4–8. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Real Cowboys

Kate Hoefler, illus. by Jonathan Bean. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-14892-5

Writing in prose with the lilt and plainspoken poetry of a classic cowboy song, debut author Hoefler makes a winning case that those who are home on the range are self-aware, empathic, conscientious, “as many different colors as the earth,” and include “girls, too.” Hoefler’s text seamlessly blends the workaday with a sense of wonder. “Real cowboys are good listeners,” she writes in one such passage. “They’re always listening to their trail boss and to the other cowhands. Sometimes they listen for trucks, and wolves, and rushing water. And sometimes they just listen to the big wide world and its grass song.” Bean (This Is My Home, This Is My School) beautifully echoes the allusive, musical quality of the text while nodding to the archetypes of the Old West. Working in layers of stenciled four-color imagery, he portrays steers mottled like fine marble, the blinding fury of a dust storm, and an endless night sky of sparkling stars. It may well persuade readers to trade their ninja outfits for chaps, bandanas, and 10-gallon hats. Ages 4–7. Illustrator’s agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Worst Breakfast

China Miéville, illus. by Zak Smith. Black Sheep, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-61775-486-9

Miéville (Railsea) lets it rip in this stomping, howling rant about a bad meal of legendary proportions. “You can’t have forgotten the worst breakfast!” cries the older of two dark-skinned sisters sitting at the kitchen table. “The toast was burnt! The smell!/ The smoke! It made us choke!” The younger sister’s admission that she doesn’t remember merely spurs the older one on. “And the porridge!... It should be creamy, made of oats,/ not gunk scraped off the hulls of boats.” The festival of gustatory horrors builds to a page-long litany of medieval-sounding (but real) dishes: “Salmagundi, gruel, stinking bishop, and liver.... syllabub, muktuk, and limpin’ Susan.” Punk artist Smith’s neatly framed dialogue boxes and crisp black contours have a buttoned-up look, but no: tentacles wave from inside bowls, monsters smile amid mountains of vile sausages, and a blue alien juggles cherry tomatoes. As the pages turn, the towers of bad food grow ever loftier. In the end, a simple tea strainer saves the sisters from another terrible meal. This one’s for families enamored of new words, exotic foods, and strong opinions. Ages 3–7. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Bear Who Wasn’t There

LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-59643-970-2

Despite the title, the increasingly frustrated narrator of this lighthearted metafictional tale clearly expects a bear to show up: there are bear footprints all over the pages. But the other animal characters (plus one tree) are no help whatsoever. They include a spotlight-hogging duck who is busy shilling his own book, The Duck Who Showed Up; a prankster mouse; and a turtle wearing a fake bird’s beak over his nose. “Where is the Author?” the narrator finally demands as the silliness escalates, but even though she dutifully appears (and bears a striking resemblance to Pham), she seems a little confused herself. “Did I draw all this?” she says, taking in the goofball characters who fill the spread margin to margin. “Man, I have been busy.” The extensive repertoire of perplexed expressions, combined with lots of smart-alecky humor and sight gags (including a very funny, bear-shaped “bird pyramid” with the aforementioned turtle at its base) should leave readers feeling like they’re in on a very clever joke. Ages 3–6. Agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Red Prince

Charlie Roscoe, illus. by Tom Clohoy Cole. Templar, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8912-4

Game of Thrones this is not: debut author Roscoe and illustrator Cole (Wall) set this adventure in a modernish monarchy, and no one meets a gory end. But their story of a young prince defying an invading force while dressed in red pajamas certainly strives to tap into the high-stakes drama and chiaroscuro imagery of high fantasy. The invaders arrive as an eerie black-sail flotilla in the dead of a snowy night (one of Cole’s many bravura nocturnal images) after the unsuspecting inhabitants have “shut their doors and lit their fires.” Left alone by his parents, the Red Prince is captured and thrown into a dungeon, but he escapes with the help of his faithful dog, and a chase ensues across a frozen landscape. The people of Avala cleverly and sartorially rally to his cause, a turn of events that borrows a little from the classic “I am Spartacus” scene and a little from Where’s Waldo? Roscoe and Cole never let things get too dark or dire for the young prince, but the cinematic imagery and breathless escapes should keep the target audience rapt. Ages 2–5. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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