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Hope’s Melody

Jeanna Kunce, illus. by Craig Kunce. Windhill, $14 paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-944734-08-4

In this lightly illustrated chapter book from the Kunces, whose previous books include Darien and the Lost Paints of Telinoria, eight-year-old Abigail treasures the stuffed lion she calls Lionie. As Abigail debates whether to leave her current school and friends to study at a music school, Lionie comes to life. Nicknamed Gus (his real name is Augustine), he explains that he and several other animals were created by a magician long ago but separated during a storm, kicking off a quest to find the other animals and “save the world of imagination.” Scraggly b&w spot illustrations punctuate this daydream-like but drawn out story. Readers taken with the idea of a favorite stuffed animal coming to life may look past the fact that the underlying reasons for it are rather vague (of the magician: “Somehow the love between the man and his animals created a new magic in the world—the power of imagination was born into every living child”). In the end, Abigail’s personal growth as she weighs what to do about her future schooling is more engaging than the story’s fantasy elements. Ages 6–9. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Day I Ran Away

Holly L. Niner, illus. by Isabella Ongaro. Flashlight (IPG, dist.), $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-936261-89-5

In this somewhat flat take on a familiar theme, a redheaded girl named Grace recounts to her father how her disastrous morning led her to “run away” from home. Left-hand pages feature the girl’s ongoing conversation with her father at bedtime, while the indignities of her day are pictured at right. Among them: Grace’s purple shirt is in the wash, the family is out of her favorite cereal, and her subsequent tantrum lands her in time-out. Niner (I Can’t Stop!) tells the story entirely through dialogue, with color-coded fonts helping readers track who’s speaking. Grace’s frustration eventually leads her to pack up her wagon and head outdoors, and although she doesn’t get far (“ ‘Where did you go?’ ‘Nowhere. I remembered something.’ ‘What did you remember?’ ‘I’m not allowed to cross the street!’ ”), her patient mother comes up with a solution that respects Grace’s need for a little space and independence. Ongaro creates cheery scenes of domestic life, but while they successfully establish the family’s closeness, they get repetitive, particularly the many father-daughter scenes set in Grace’s bedroom . Ages 5–7. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Places to Be

Mac Barnett, illus. by Renata Liwska. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-228621-5

Barnett (The Magic Word) can be laugh-out-loud funny, but this sweet-tempered ode to friendship tips its hat to gentler classics like A Hole Is to Dig. “Hurry up! We have places to be,” Barnett writes, as the two fuzzy bears race down a road on a bike and skateboard. From there, he unleashes a stream of emotions and states of being that offer a many-sided portrait of what friendships look like. “We have places to be careful,” he writes as Liwska (Waiting for Snow) pictures the bears walking and texting, one heading for an open manhole. “We have places to be bored” shows the same bear laid up in a leg cast (the other rides a Ferris wheel outside). Other cause-and-effect vignettes appear throughout, captured with warm humor in Liwska’s soft brush-and-ink artwork. Neither bear is braver or better than the other; sometimes one knows what to do, sometimes the other takes the lead. In this cozy readaloud, friends stay true to each other no matter what. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. Illustrator’s agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Dragon Hunters

James Russell, illus. by Link Choi. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4926-4861-1

In this underwhelming opening entry in the Dragon Brothers picture book trilogy, two brothers attempt to retrieve their dog, Coco, from the dragon that has snatched her up; originally self-published in New Zealand, the books are slated to be published on an accelerated schedule in the U.S. Writing in often overworked rhymes, Russell follows the brothers, Flynn and Paddy, across their island home and up a mountain to the dragon’s den, where they narrowly escape with Coco, thanks to Flynn’s bravery and Paddy’s quick thinking: “Now, never underestimate/ a boy’s ability./ For with his rope the lad had tied/ the dragon to a tree.” Choi brings an appropriately cinematic look to the brothers’ death-defying quest, though both the central images and supplemental spot illustrations have a rough, unfinished look. By downloading a free augmented reality app, children can watch animations of the boys’ adventures on maps that appear on the endpapers, but because the AR elements aren’t integrated into the story in a meaningful way, they seem more likely to distract from the reading experience than amplify it. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Uncle Holland

JonArno Lawson, illus. by Natalie Nelson. Groundwood (PGW, dist.), $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-55498-929-4

Lawson (Sidewalk Flowers) draws on some checkered family history as he shares the story of his Uncle Holland, who “liked stuff that was pretty, and sometimes he couldn’t help stuffing that pretty stuff into his pockets.” After being caught 37 times by police, Holland was given an ultimatum: go to jail or join the army. Lawson paints the story’s emotions and dilemmas in broad strokes, and Nelson (The King of the Birds) follows suit in collages that combine cartoonish characterizations with photographic clothing elements. Although Holland’s family is bereft about the situation—his brothers sob exaggerated tears, his father “decided to spend the rest of his life watching his fish swim around in his fish tank”—Holland joins the military and takes to creating and selling paintings in the (unnamed) tropical location he is stationed. Lawson addresses tricky topics like criminal activity and parental disappointment with candor and care, keeping readers involved every step of the way. “What would you do if you were Holland?” he asks. On the facing page, Nelson paints a pair of empty boxes awaiting check marks: one for the army, one for jail. Ages 4–7. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Poor Louie

Tony Fucile. Candlewick, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5828-1

This story of a displaced “sibling” centers on a tiny dog named Louie, the indulged pet of a young urban couple. He sits at the dinner table with them, and they buy him cute sweaters: “Yep. Life was pretty perfect with just the three of us.” Then the couple’s friends start having babies, and soon it’s supper on the floor for Louie, and name-choosing sessions (“Pablo, Packard, Patrick, Paul...”) instead of movies in bed. Mom’s stomach grows ever larger, pushing Louie to the edge of the bed; one shocking day, it even kicks him. When the couple comes home with a stroller, Louie decides that it’s time to leave. Stories like these can dip from comedy into moments of deeper emotion, but Fucile (Mitchell Goes Bowling) keeps things fizzy all the way through, and his retro ’60s-style artwork is just right for its upbeat pace. Some of the preggers jokes are pitched at adults (like the pickles and soda crackers on the table), but readers of any age can appreciate its frank yet funny treatment of the physical and emotional changes of pregnancy. Ages 3–7. Agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Holly’s Day at the Pool

Benson Shum. Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4847-0938-2

Most hippos love the water, but not the heroine of Shum’s first picture book, part of the Walt Disney Animation Studios Artist Showcase series. Holly has imagination to spare: when faced with the task of retrieving her sister’s favorite toy from a tree, Holly envisions herself climbing a mountain to rescue the piglet, Piggy Wig. But when it’s time to go to the pool, Holly’s flights of fancy aren’t quite so heroic. Decked out in a ruffled swimsuit, the small pink hippo asks her father a series of what-ifs as her worries play out dramatically. Concerned about the water being cold, Holly shivers on an iceberg; afraid of getting water in her eyes and ears, she recoils under a waterfall, while Daddy offers common-sense solutions (“Wipe the water away if it gets in your eyes”). A second chance to rescue Piggy Wig finally gets Holly in the water. Shum’s crisp, creamy illustrations never let Holly’s worst-case scenarios get too dark—they’re unlikely to provoke aquatic nervousness among readers—but the dialogue-driven text and tepid imagery don’t do much to move the story’s emotional needle. Ages 3–5. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Over and Under the Pond

Kate Messner, illus. by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle, $16.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4521-4542-6

As day turns to night, a boy and his mother take in the sights above and below their rowboat in this contemplative follow-up to Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. Messner’s elegant narrative, written from the boy’s perspective, creates an intimate connection with the setting (“Over the pond we drift, heads tipped up to the sun. A woodpecker clings to a teetering pine, digging for ants”), and Neal’s milky mixed-media images examine the pond and its inhabitants—moose, painted turtles, ospreys, and others—from virtually every angle, soaring high above the water and down into its depths to dazzling effect. Ages 5–8. Author’s agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Dance of the Violin

Kathy Stinson, illus. by Dušan Petricic. Annick (PGW, dist.), $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-55451-900-2

In The Man with a Violin, Stinson and Petricic wove a fictional story around the real-life event of violinist Joshua Bell performing in a Washington, D.C., subway station. Now, they turn to Bell’s youth, detailing how he fell in love with music and once, at a music competition, requested a “do-over” when his performance got off to a shaky start. Petricic once again uses bright swoops and streaks of color to visualize the sensory joy that music can elicit as Stinson’s direct writing underscores the rewards of dedication to one’s art—and not being afraid to start fresh when things go south. Ages 5–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Old Turtle: Questions of the Heart

Douglas Wood, illus. by Greg Ruth. Scholastic Press, $19.99 (56p) ISBN 978-0-439-32111-2

Wood’s Old Turtle, last seen in 2003’s Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, returns in his third and most accessible book, in which a group of children and adults with pressing questions seek his counsel. Dominated by rich reds and golds, Ruth’s graphite and watercolor images create a sense of joy, even when the questions turn to evil and death. Old Turtle answers each inquiry with calm, steady encouragement, and his considered responses (“Death is but the shadow that life casts. It is always with us, and to fear it is to fear life itself”) will linger with readers young and old. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Allen Spiegel, Allen Spiegel Fine Arts. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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