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Dragon Was Terrible

Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Greg Pizzoli. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-30049-4

There’s a dragon in the kingdom, and he’s a downright brat, pantsing palace guards, spitting on cupcakes, and even scribbling in books. As Dragon’s behavior becomes increasing egregious—he burps in church and chases after fuzzy yellow ducklings—nobody can stop him until a clever boy comes along with a powerful tool: a gripping storybook (featuring a brave dragon and a “terrible knight,” naturally). In naive, flattened cartons, Pizzoli (Templeton Gets His Wish) mixes modern and medieval with aplomb as Dragon TP’s a castle and spray paints “Dragon was here” on a wall underneath a posted notice from the king promising a reward to whomever stops Dragon (“It shall be a nice gift. Ye shall like it”). These pictures, combined with DiPucchio’s (Everyone Loves Bacon) clearly disapproving narrator (“Honestly, that’s terrible and rude,” she sniffs during the church burp scene) make Dragon’s transgressions all the funnier. The only downside may be the ending, which—though happy in a fairy tale sense—makes the taming of the wonderfully incorrigible antagonist feel a little, well, tame. Ages 4–7. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cleonardo, the Little Inventor

Mary GrandPré. Scholastic/Levine, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-439-35764-7

Setting her tale in a rococo medieval world, GrandPré (The Noisy Paint Box) joins her heroine, Cleonardo Wren, to the family tree of Leonardo da Vinci—he’s her beloved grandfather. After Cleo’s inventor father, Geonardo, shoos her out of his workshop, she retreats to the forest to make contraptions out of objects from nature—a whirligig made from dragonfly wings, a sphere of vines lifted by butterflies. Despite Geonardo’s impatience, his daughter’s presence and opinions clearly matter to him. When he comes up with a special invention for the town’s Grand Festival of Inventions, he declares, “My little Wren will love it as much as the judges.” On the big day, her inventions prevent disaster, and father and daughter become true collaborators. GrandPré’s spreads glow with richly embroidered textiles, exotic foliage, and dramatic lighting. The thorough emphasis on the importance of a strong father-daughter (and grandfather-granddaughter) bond is welcome but sometimes drawn with a heavy hand (“Delicate and strong... just like my Cleonardo Wren,” Geonardo gushes as he sets out for the contest). It’s GrandPré’s visual pyrotechnics that will entrance readers. Ages 4–8. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Kai to the Rescue!

Audrey Penn, illus. by Mike Yamada. Scholastic/Orchard, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-81636-6

As Kermit the Frog once noted, it’s not easy being green. For Kai, the new green pumper truck at the fire station, his diminutive size makes life even more complicated. “Good gracious, Kai! You’re so young and small!/ I really don’t think you can help us at all,” says Chuck, the hook and ladder truck. To his credit, Kai never stops believing in himself, and he gets a little support from the other two trucks on the team. He tries to fit in by coloring himself red with crayons, which gains him some approbation from the big trucks (“Very stylish!” says Rudy, the big pumper) but does nothing to overcome Chuck’s misgivings about his size—until suddenly, in the midst of a forest fire, being small becomes a big asset. Penn’s (the Kissing Hand series) earnest text, with its intermittent rhyming (for some reason only Chuck speaks in meter), isn’t exactly delicate in its messaging, but Yamada’s (Bedtime Blastoff!) digital illustrations bring plenty of wide-eyed energy and determination to this workplace drama. Ages 3–5. Illustrator’s agent: Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Aberdeen

Stacey Previn. Viking, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-451-47148-2

Excuses offered by erring children often start, “I didn’t mean to, but...” Previn (Find Spot!) structures her story around this time-honored formulation as a mouse’s unwise choices lead to an exciting adventure. Aberdeen’s outsize ears hang down as he reaches for the string of a red balloon: “Aberdeen didn’t mean to leave the yard. But a balloon floated by, so he followed it.” Things escalate: “Aberdeen didn’t mean to fly away. But his tail got tangled in the string.” Fortunately, after a muddy landing, an acorn snack, and a scare with a large owl, Aberdeen finds that he’s not far from home. His mother deals gently but pointedly with his transgression. “I didn’t mean to make you worry,” Aberdeen protests. “I know, sweetie,” she replies. “But you did.” It’s an oddly scolding closing note, but otherwise the story hums along, and Previn’s watercolor vignettes focus the action while emphasizing Aberdeen’s mouse-size point of view. The message about making excuses is clear, but the story offers another lesson, too: sometimes, the offer of adventure is just too good to pass up. Ages 2–5. Agent: Steven Chudney, Chudney Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration

Linda Barrett Osborne. Abrams, $24.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-4197-1660-7

Osborne (Miles to Go for Freedom) examines immigration to the United States from the 19th century to the present, and the accompanying reactions from Americans already here—reactions she describes as “startlingly similar and consistent.” Opening as non-English Europeans traveled to U.S. shores in greater numbers, Osborne succinctly traces how various communities (Germans, Swedes, Italians, Chinese, and others) were alternately vilified, with xenophobia, nativism, and prejudice coming into play again and again. Numerous quotations from migrants (and, later, refugees) offer humanizing stories of struggle and striving, as if to offset the dehumanizing attitudes toward the groups at large. As Osborne moves into contemporary immigration, readers will have no trouble seeing the numerous parallels between the examples drawn from the nation’s history and ongoing conversations that sound very familiar. It’s a heartfelt plea to listen to and learn from our past. Ages 13–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America

Gail Jarrow. Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, $18.95 (200p) ISBN 978-1-62091-738-1

Jarrow concludes her Deadly Diseases trilogy (after Red Madness and Fatal Fever) with a harrowing, in-depth exploration of the reappearance of bubonic plague at the turn of the 20th century. After briefly detailing earlier outbreaks of plague, Jarrow focuses on the Third Pandemic, which began in 1880s China before spreading to India, Hawaii, San Francisco, and beyond. Augmented by archival illustrations and photographs (including some gruesome ones showing the effects of the plague), her gripping narrative balances the clock-racing work of scientists and officials attempting to understand and stop the plague with entwined themes of fear, prejudice, and anger (“San Francisco’s Chinese population had been unlucky enough to live near the harbor where plague entered the city”). Extensively researched, with numerous resources for readers looking to study the topic further. Ages 10–up. (May)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Milestones of Flight: From Hot-Air Balloons to SpaceShipOne

Tim Grove. Abrams, $21.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2003-1

Grove, chief of museum learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, follows First Flight Around the World with a tour of aeronautical history that cites 27 milestones. Grove begins with the launch of the first “manned” flight of a hot-air balloon at Versailles in 1783 (the balloon’s occupants were a sheep, duck, and rooster), continuing on to the Wright brothers’ Flyer, Robert Goddard’s rocket, the 1947 breaking of the sound barrier, and numerous space missions. (Grove even gives a spot to Star Trek’s starship Enterprise, noting that “[Gene] Roddenberry’s vision of men and women of difference races, nationalities, and even species working together... influenced real spaceflight.” Period photographs, illustrations, and documents complement a crisply written and informative look at the past and present of flight, with glimpses of its future. Ages 10–14. (June)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Splat! The Most Exciting Artists of All Time

Mary Richards. Thames & Hudson, $19.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-500-65065-3

In the fourth book in a series that includes Eureka! and Genius!, Richards profiles 20 well-known visual artists, moving chronologically from Michelangelo to Warhol. After a brief overview of ancient art, including the Lascaux cave paintings and China’s Terracotta Army, Richards devotes four pages to each artist, providing sketches of their backgrounds and artistic goals, full-page reproductions of some of their best-known works, a few paragraphs on their upbringings and careers, and supplemental images, timelines, sidebars, and tidbits. Succinct writing provides clear snapshots of the artists’ struggles, beliefs, and influence (of Jackson Pollack’s work, she writes, “The act of making art was now as important as the final work in the gallery”). Though Frida Kahlo and Barbara Hepworth are the only women who receive full profiles, many more appear in a closing “Movers and Shakers” section that briefly introduces innovative contemporary artists. Ages 9–up. (May)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Alpha, Bravo, Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes

Sara Gillingham. Phaidon, $19.95 (120p) ISBN 978-0-7148-7143-1

Gillingam (How to Mend a Heart) delivers a handsomely designed alpha-to-zulu overview of nautical codes, focusing on signal flags and the NATO phonetic alphabet while also covering Morse code and semaphore. Weathered, silkscreenlike images of various vessels appear at left, joined by explanations of the flags’ meanings (“The tango is a complicated dance between two people. The TANGO flag is used to indicated a complicated movement that two ships make together”). Right-hand pages feature a pronunciation guide, a young sailor demonstrating each semaphore position, the Morse code translation, and details about the ships. In a lovely addition, the flags themselves are bound between the facing pages, printed on paper with a linen-y texture. It’s a fascinating and accessible tour of nautical communication past and present. Ages 5–7. Agent: Amy Rennert, Amy Rennert Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Super Simple Cartooning for Kids

Rosa M. Curto. Barron’s, $11.99 paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-4380-0826-4

In an accessible drawing guide originally published in Spain, Curto walks readers through the basics of cartooning, covering topics that include testing out a variety of facial features, drawing heads from different angles, using hands to expressive effect, and introducing symbols used to denote movement, dizziness, and speed. As the book progresses, Curto moves from human characters to anthropomorphic flowers, fruit, stars, and various animals, all while encouraging children into individualize their artwork and think critically about what they are creating (“It’s important to give your characters a sense of movement, even if they are very simple”). Curto’s own cartoons underscore how easily doodles can be turned into characters, and a guide to comic book elements like dialogue balloons and panels offer young artists tools to turn their drawings into narratives. Ages 7–10. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/20/2016 | Details & Permalink

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