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I Am Not a Chair!

Ross Burach. Harper, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-236016-8

A giraffe, new to the jungle, can’t seem to persuade his fellow animals that he isn’t a piece of furniture. To them, he’s a chair, and chairs are for derrieres. “I’m a giraffe,” the giraffe complains to no one in particular (which is part of the problem) after being sat upon once again. “Can’t they see? I have spots and ears and eyes”—he points to his ossicones—“and whatever these things are.” Burach (There’s a Giraffe in My Soup) pursues the chain of consequences triggered by his wonderfully ridiculous premise with gleeful doggedness. The result is a steady stream of silliness that leads to a classic punch line, in which the core misunderstanding saves the put-upon protagonist from being eaten by a lion; a bonus final joke turns the tables yet again. Rat-a-tat dialogue and freewheeling cartooning, featuring a bounty of googly eyes and goofy expressions, make this a great readaloud for anyone who’s ever felt objectified or misunderstood—a wide audience if ever there was one. Ages 4–8. Agent: Lara Perkins, Andrea Brown Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Bob and Joss Get Lost!

Peter McCleery, illus. by Vin Vogel. Harper, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-241531-8

In his first picture book, McCleery joins Vogel (The Thing About Yetis) to introduce a George Costanza–esque worrywart named Bob and his pal Joss, more of a laid-back Jeff Spicoli type. Vacationing at a tropical resort and feeling bored, they rent a boat and get shipwrecked on what they think is a deserted island. Joss quickly discovers that they’re pretty much back where they started (he shows up in subsequent vignettes with resort food and gear) but he’s so chill that Bob never picks up on the clues, and instead spends most of the pages fuming and fretting. The duo’s GPS coordinates are noted at the top of each spread, information that serves as an additional wink and nudge. But the book’s real raison d’etre seems to be a classic odd couple bantering thusly: “ ‘We are lost!’ cried Bob. ‘We can’t be lost,’ said Joss. ‘I know where I am.’ ‘You do?’ ‘Yes,’ said Joss. ‘I’m here on a boat with you.’ ” Vogel’s cartooning has verve, but a little of this repartee goes a long way. Ages 4–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Cat Named Swan

Holly Hobbie. Random House, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-553-53744-4

“Then he was alone.” With this abrupt opening sentence, Hobbie (Hansel & Gretel) launches readers and her hero—a solitary, homeless kitten whose family has vanished—on an extraordinary trajectory. After barely surviving life on the streets, the kitten is taken to a shelter and adopted by a family who name him Swan. Everything changes. The once-scruffy Swan turns sleek. He has the run of the house and garden (one particularly memorable image is a close-up of his green eyes, mesmerized by butterflies). He sleeps wherever he wants—a sense of privilege familiar to any cat owner. Loving voices call him Swannie and Swansie, and his habits are affectionately observed (“Aren’t those paws clean?” muses one of his owners. “They must be clean by now”). “After many days had passed,” Hobbie writes, “he knew that the days would continue to come and go in the same way.” With a remarkable combination of restraint and narrative power, Hobbie turns an animal adoption story into something much more: a meditation on the quotidian bliss of unconditional love. Ages 3–7. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Laundry Day

Jessixa Bagley. Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-62672-317-7

Tic and Tac are badgers, brothers, and bored: the title page is littered with the activities and toys they’ve exhausted. Ma Badger corrals the boys into helping hang the family’s laundry on a clothesline, leaving them to finish while she runs an errand. This mundane task proves so much fun that, in short order, the brothers improvise a clothesline that zigzags through their yard, hanging “everything they could find that wasn’t nailed down” on it: clothes, bedding, kitchen utensils, an alarm clock, a bunch of carrots, a checkerboard, a fishbowl, and much more. Ma Badger delivers the punch line for this effervescent comedy sketch, translating “as you sow, so shall you reap” into a fitting punishment. Bagley, who dealt with more somber themes in Boats for Papa and Before I Leave, uses her tidy, detailed rendering style to great comic effect. She stages much of the action along a single plane, letting readers savor the improbable “wash” as it adds up, then pulls back for a birds-eye view so they can admire the full extent of the brothers’ mischievous domesticity. Ages 3–6. Agent: Alexandra Penfold, Upstart Crow Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Our Own Private Universe

Robin Talley. Harlequin Teen, $18.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-21198-2

Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon is a preacher’s daughter, a talented musician, “the black girl with braids,” and bisexual—though not everyone knows about that last item. Aki has never had a girlfriend or boyfriend, but during a youth group trip to Mexico, she finally allows herself to explore. Sparks fly when she meets a girl named Christa, even though Christa is closeted about her own interest in girls. Aki, meanwhile, worries about coming out to her father while dealing with her older brother, Drew, who plans to drop out of college and enlist in the army; both situations have the potential to cause conflict with their father, and they also serve as neat parallels to larger conversations within their church about war and gay marriage. Talley (As I Descended) realistically explores first love and first sexual experiences against a backdrop of faith, family, prejudice, and social justice. Though these themes aren’t explored as deeply as Aki and Christa’s conflicted and increasingly steamy relationship, it’s a valuable portrait of teenage girls learning to be honest with themselves and others. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Carve the Mark

Veronica Roth. HarperCollins/Tegen, $22.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-06-234863-0

Roth (the Divergent series) returns with a gripping space opera about two individuals who share a planet but come from very different worlds. Cyra belongs to the ruling family of the Shotet, a people wrestling for planetary power against the gentle, prophetic Thuvhesit. Like all people, Cyra has a “currentgift” bestowed by the galactic current that connects all living things, but hers is darker than most: she lives in debilitating pain, eased only when she unleashes it on another—a fearsome spectacle that her cruel, power-hungry brother often forces her to employ. Akos, raised among the Thuvhesit and kidnapped by the Shotet, has a similarly singular currentgift: his touch relieves Cyra of her pain. Forced together, the two become hesitant friends and unlikely allies as the simmering tension between their two nations reaches new heights. Roth’s worldbuilding is commendable; each nation is distinct, interacting with the current in ways that give insight into her characters’ motivations. Amid political machinations and forays into space, Roth thoughtfully addresses substantial issues, such as the power of self-determination in the face of fate. Readers will eagerly await a second installment. Ages 14–up. Agent: Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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By Your Side

Kasie West. HarperTeen, $9.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-245586-4

After two high school students get locked in the local library over a three-day weekend, they end up sharing intimate details of their lives with each other, even though Autumn is well aware that Dax’s “reputation wasn’t exactly stellar,” and he thinks she is a “naïve, spoiled priss.” When Autumn emerges, she finds her life in chaos: her family and classmates thought that she had been in a car accident involving her friends. As Autumn copes with the consequences of the weekend, she turns to Dax, a lonely foster kid, for distraction and comfort. West (P.S. I Like You) offers a largely formulaic story of a golden girl falling for a bad boy, from the initial accident that throws the unlikely pair together to the path their relationship takes and its effect on Autumn’s friendships. Fans of opposites-attract romances, though, should enjoy watching Autumn and Dax find each other, even as the two teens pushback against a host of judgments, expectations, and assumptions. Ages 13–up. Agent: Michelle Wolfson, Wolfson Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Frostblood

Elly Blake. Little, Brown, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-316-27325-1

Seventeen-year-old Ruby Otrera is a Fireblood with a poorly controlled ability to create and control flame, but her kind have been outlawed and persecuted by the cold-wielding Frostbloods, who rule her land. After her true nature is discovered and her mother killed, Ruby is imprisoned, then freed by members of a rebellion seeking to defeat the tyrant Frost King. Ruby hones her skills with the aid of a sullen Frostblood named Arcus, only to be captured again, this time sent to fight as a gladiator for the king’s entertainment. This is a strong debut for Blake, though the overall structure and plot points will be familiar to fans of stories in which a specially skilled young woman is manipulated into overthrowing a corrupt regime, alongside untrustworthy allies and a sexy-yet-mysterious guy. But while the story hits some predictable beats, the overall execution is solid, and as the kickoff to Blake’s Frostblood Saga, it succeeds in laying down intriguing framework for the books to come. Ages 12–up. Agent: Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dreadnought

April Daniels. Diversion, $14.99 trade paper (276p) ISBN 978-1-68230-068-8

A transgender teenager is transformed into her ideal self after being imbued with the powers of the world’s greatest superhero in this thought-provoking first book in the Nemesis series. As the latest iteration of Dreadnought, 15-year-old Danielle is expected to train with the local team, the Legion Pacifica, until she’s ready to become a full-fledged hero. Unfortunately, her parents would rather “cure” her and turn her back into Danny, and her reception among the other heroes is mixed at best. Danielle teams up with vigilante heroine Calamity to track down the previous Dreadnought’s murderer, only to stumble upon a plan to destroy the human race. In an impressive debut, Daniels skillfully conveys Danielle’s pain, confusion, and emotional complexity as she faces a host of detractors and conflicts. While Danielle’s supernatural transformation comes off as an easy solution compared to journeys of real-world trans teenagers, the novel’s comic-book trappings allow for a fascinating exploration of gender identity in a fantastical setting. Danielle’s evolution from confused teen to confident hero is entertaining and inspiring. Ages 12–up. Agent: Saritza Hernandez, Corvisiero Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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H Gorilla Dawn

Gill Lewis, illus. by Susan Meyer. Atheneum/Dlouhy, $16.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4814-8657-6

In the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, rebel soldiers have started an illegal coltan mine that will make them rich but has endangered the native habitat. Among those imprisoned in the soldiers’ camp are Imara, a girl with a disfiguring scar who is believed to have supernatural powers; Bobo, a 14-year-old intent on clearing the name of his father, a missing wildlife ranger; and Kitwana, a baby gorilla destined to be sold off and smuggled to the city. Using a narrative that shifts among all three characters, Lewis (Moon Bear) weaves an enrapturing tale of survival as the orphans hatch a plan to return the gorilla to his family while plotting their own escape. Imara, plagued by a demon who bleats in her ear, is resistant to helping the other children held hostage and used for slave labor, but she cannot avoid developing a maternal tenderness for Kitwana. By focusing on the plight of one sick animal, Lewis crystallizes broader issues of corruption, destruction, and rebirth while exploring deep psychological scars and traumatic events in a war-torn region. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 9–13. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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