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What James Said

Liz Rosenberg, illus. by Matt Myers. Roaring Brook/Porter, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59643-908-5

The team behind Tyrannosaurus Dad examines how conflicts often arise from simple misunderstandings. The narrator is a primary school–aged Caucasian girl with brown hair and freckles; her friend James is an African-American boy with glasses and an openhearted smile. She stands glowering on the left side of a spread, hands on her hips. “I’m never talking to James again,” she announces. James stands on the facing page, innocently balancing books on his head. What has James done? He said, the girl has heard through the school grapevine, “that I think I am perfect.” She shuns him at school, and James, whose clowning hides sensitivity and intuition, knows something is wrong. A school art show and a blue ribbon for a picture the girl drew reveal what James actually said: “I think it’s perfect.... That’s what I tell everyone.” Phew! Rosenberg lets the characters tell their own story without moralizing, and Myers’s attention to emotion makes it easy to sympathize with them. There’s lots to talk about here. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Jenny Bent, Bent Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Float

Daniel Miyares. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1524-8

In the opening scene of Miyares’s (Pardon Me!) wordless story, two pairs of hands—one big, one small—fold newspaper into origami boats. In the spreads that follow, a boy in a yellow slicker ventures outside and waits for a downpour to end before launching his boat, which is instantly carried away by the swiftly flowing water. It slips down a storm drain, and when the boy reaches it at last, the once-proud craft is a sodden mess. At home, his father welcomes him with a hug, then holds a blow-dryer up to the boy’s wet hair. In an unexpectedly lovely moment, the boy grins widely as his hair blows sideways; readers sense his pleasure and relief. The warmth of his father’s care renews the boy, and he sets off for another adventure. Skilled draftsmanship and smart pacing distinguish Miyares’s visual storytelling. Seen against streets and houses of slate gray, the boy’s yellow slicker is the only bright color, underlining the sense that he’s in a world of his own. It’s a moment of childhood captured in multiple dimensions. Ages 4–8. Agent: Studio Goodwin Sturges. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Billy’s Booger

William Joyce. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4424-7351-5

Joyce’s recreation of an episode from his own childhood bursts with energy and warmth. Eccentric fourth-grader Billy is obsessed with the Sunday funnies, which Joyce (the Guardians of Childhood series) spoofs lovingly, and he’s thrilled about a children’s book–writing contest at school (“Billy’s brain was about to explode!”). His entry, Billy’s Booger, is included as an insert, and it’s a dead-on rendition of grade-school storytelling, complete with faux manila paper. In it, the small green product of a sneeze brings Billy such amazing math superpowers that the president appeals to him for aid: “Can you help me? I’ve got to know how many candy bars we need to give to all the kids of the US of A?” Billy’s shaky grammar and spelling keep him out of the winner’s circle, and he’s disconsolate until the librarian tells him that his book has been checked out more than any of the winners. Discovering that his wild imaginings please his peers sets Billy on the road to a career in books, and there isn’t a reader who won’t share his elation. Ages 4–8. Agent: Michael Siegel, Michael Siegel & Associates. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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First Grade Dropout

Audrey Vernick, illus. by Matthew Cordell. Clarion, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-12985-6

After Vernick’s young narrator accidentally calls his teacher “Mommy,” he believes that the only reasonable response to this humiliation (after casting aside ideas that involve magic and time machines) is to drop out of Lakeview Elementary School. (The boy takes little comfort when his teacher says, “Don’t worry. It happens every year,” all too aware that everyone—even his best friend—laughed at him.) Vernick’s tousled-haired hero may feel miserable, but he has the self-awareness, timing, and raconteurship of a master monologist; readers will be won over from his intriguing opening line (“I’ve been lots of things”) and quickly assured that this, too, shall pass. So effective is Vernick (Bogart and Vinnie) in conjuring the boy’s blush-inducing, sweat-triggering embarrassment, readers young and old will probably find themselves flashing back to their own not-quite-forgotten moments of humiliation. Likewise, Cordell’s (Special Delivery) sketchlike illustrations, composed of frenetic ink lines and punctuated with washes of bright color, are almost Feifferesque in their sense of emotional spontaneity and comic angst. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (July)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Night Animals

Gianna Marino. Viking, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-451-46954-0

Scary creatures who are themselves cowardly are always good for giggles. In Marino’s sweet-tempered nocturnal comedy, large, scary animals flee from the threat of still larger and scarier animals. Marino (Following Papa’s Song) paints her detailed animal portraits on black backgrounds, paying fine attention to composition and the textures of fur. A skunk asks a possum hiding in a hollow tree stump what he’s doing. “Shhhhhh!! I’m hiding,” says Possum. “What are we hiding from?” asks Skunk, now just a set of bright eyes in the dark of the stump. “Night animals!” replies Possum. In search of a less crowded space, they venture forth: “Help me!” says a wolf, who thinks he’s being followed by a bear. They’re all scared, big and small, and Marino ramps up the excitement until the animals encounter the scariest creature of all (hint: it lives in a tent). Bonus visual subplots involves Skunk’s stench and Possum’s tendency to... play possum. The spreads are polished, the story moves fast, and the laughs keep coming. Ages 3–5. Agent: Deborah Warren, East West Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Pat-a-Cake Baby

Joyce Dunbar, illus. by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick, $15.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7577-6

Ten years after Shoe Baby, the mother-daughter Dunbars return with another baby-centric spin on a nursery rhyme. Never mind the late hour: there’s a rosy-cheeked baby chef in the kitchen—“a cookie baby/ a pat-a-cake baby”—and she’s ready to cook up a cake for the Man in the Moon. She gets eager assistance from the pixie-size Candy Baby, Jelly Baby, and Allsorts Baby, who share her gleeful disregard for doing things in a neat or orderly fashion. Pat-a-Cake Baby whips together all the ingredients (yes, there’s a break for licking the bowl and “each other”), frosts, and decorates with abandon, producing a cake that’s “very gooey/ chewy yimmy yummy... so creamy/ so magic moonlight dreamy.” Daughter Polly Dunbar’s pictures are a confectionary dream: ingredients fly around the pages in balletic swoops, the typography dances, and the babies’ energy is boundless—it’s a candy-coated version of Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. Joyce Dunbar’s text has only a passing connection to the Mother Goose rhyme, and her baking-themed wordplay (“It’s hulla-balloony-moon-time!”) is the literary equivalent of a sugar high. Ages 2–5. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Night World

Mordicai Gerstein. Little, Brown, $18 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-18822-7

Caldecott Medalist Gerstein (The Man Who Walked Between the Towers) lifts two everyday miracles up for celebration—the way that night transforms objects into unfamiliar forms and shadows, and the way that morning restores them to their original splendor. One morning before dawn, a black cat jumps onto the bed of a boy. “Me-out!” Sylvie tells him. “It’s coming.” Gerstein paints the two as black shapes on soft gray; as they creep through the house, sleeping family members and bulky pieces of furniture create graceful, abstract compositions. For Gerstein, night is not a problem to be solved. The boy wanders without anxiety, and everything unfolds with a sense of leisurely pleasure. He wonders at the starry sky (“The air is warm and sweet.... This is the night world. There are shadows everywhere”) and struggles to identify familiar things. “Are those lilies and sunflowers? Where are their colors?” Now, animals begin to gather in anticipation: deer, an owl, a porcupine, rabbits. “It’s coming,” they murmur. What’s coming is clear, but readers will find their hearts beating faster despite themselves. The sky begins to lighten, becoming a pale, milky green. A turn of the page and the sky grows brighter; the animals retreat: “This is our bedtime.” Yet another page turn, and the boy greets the rising sun. “It’s here!” says Sylvie. The sun casts long yellow rays, and the flowers are revealed in all their glory. It’s a remarkable achievement, gratifying for the way simple pencil lines and casual strokes of color are used to create the luminous spreads. Gerstein’s sure eye and patient observation of each moment of the dawn provide all the drama this narrative needs. Ages 3–6. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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