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A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

Emily Jenkins, illus. by Sophie Blackall. Random/Schwarz & Wade, $17.99 (44p) ISBN 978-0-375-86832-0

In this inventive culinary history, Jenkins (Water in the Park) traces a single dessert through the centuries as four families—from 1710, 1810, 1910, and 2010, respectively—puree blackberries and whip heavy cream to enjoy blackberry fool after dinner. “What a fine dessert!” each cook exclaims. Blackall’s (The Baby Tree) scrupulously researched ink, watercolor, and blackberry juice (!) spreads document the dress, furnishings, and cooking methods of each family, and they repay close study and comparison; watching cream-whipping technology evolve is particularly enlightening. Unfortunately, an attempt at historical authenticity backfires as the 19th-century plantation family’s blackberry fool is made for them by their slaves. The African-American cook and her daughter are not permitted to eat the dessert they’ve made; instead, they serve it to the white family, and the two are left to lick the bowl in a dark closet. The historical facts are not in dispute, but the disturbing injustices represented in this section of an otherwise upbeat account either require adult readers to present necessary background and context or—worse—to pass by them unquestioned. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Nancy Gallt, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Cat & Bunny

Mary Lundquist. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-228780-9

Lundquist’s sympathetic debut introduces inseparable friends, one in a zippered cat costume and the other in a white, long-eared bunny outfit: “Right from the start, they did everything together.” The title page pictures them swaddled among other infants in a variety of animal onesies. Cat and Bunny progress from binkies to tricycles to playgrounds, always a duo and always in their coverall suits. When Quail, a child dressed as a bird, asks to join them in their play, “Cat wasn’t sure. Bunny said, ‘Yes, of course!’ ” Bunny welcomes several children into their group and soon “was having too much fun to notice... when Cat ran away.” Lundquist ably suggests that an exclusive friendship can be stifling to one person and an anchor for the other. In amiable watercolor and pencil drawings, she pictures all the children in hooded animal costumes, a visual strategy that lets her conceal characters’ genders; this story, she implies, could be about anyone. While developing independent identities and adjusting their expectations, Cat and Bunny demonstrate how to admit new friends into a tight circle. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Around the Clock

Roz Chast. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4169-8476-4

There are only so many hours in a day, but Chast (Marco Goes to School) rules them all as she checks in on 23 geeky kids who each put a highly idiosyncratic stamp on a single, 60-minute interval. Much of the behavior she chronicles hour by hour is transgressive—or at least not on an adult agenda. “From 7 to 8, Billy’s muse/ tells him to paint the room chartreuse,” she writes, showing a young man enthusiastically spreading paint on every available surface in his bedroom. But an hour is also time enough to perform a good deed (“From 5 to 6, Steve is able/ to help his mother set the table”) or to come closer to fulfilling one’s dream (“From 11 to 12, though no one can see him/ David is planning a sock museum”). As in Chast’s brilliant work for the New Yorker, anxiety and happiness are never far from one another in these pages—the kid whose hour features a rendezvous with a frozen treat truck doesn’t look too different from the kid whose hour is marred by toothpaste that tastes “icky.” Ages 4–8. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Crystal Monkey

Patrick Nohrden. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, $16.99 trade paper (292p) ISBN 978-1-4621-1481-8

In Nohrden's debut novel, Min Li is a girl coming of age during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the years thereafter. She believes that China is the greatest country in the world, but her faith is shaken when the Red Guards exile and execute several members of her community. Growing up under Mao, she begins to question not only oppressive communist ideology, but also the traditional principles of Chinese society. She struggles against a traditional patriarchal family and mores that would keep her illiterate because of her gender and steer her into loveless marriage. Offsetting the hardships of daily life, Min Li experiences dreams of hope and a happy future mysteriously connected to a crystal monkey, a toy from her childhood. Nohrden's story offers an education in Chinese history; seen through Min Li's perspective, opportunities rise and fall during the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, the death of Mao Zedong, and the rise of Deng Xiaoping. Nohrden crafts an absorbing story about how political and social factors shape the thoughts and opportunities of individuals. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Plague of Unicorns

Jane Yolen. Zonderkidz, $15.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-310-74648-5

Yolen (Owl Moon) weaves a magical yet believable tale of myth and magic in this charming middle-grade fantasy. In the mythical kingdom of Callanshire, James, son of the Duke of Callander, is sent away at age nine to study at Cranford Abbey. The abbey, struggling to stay financially solvent, plans to make its extraordinary golden Hosannah apples into cider for sale. Unfortunately, unicorns also love these delicious apples. No matter how the monks try, they cannot get rid of the horned orchard raiders until James summons a singer named Sandy, who may have a way with unicorns. James is a hero to be emulated: he is curious, brave, and caring. His family and the monks are all well-drawn, with delightful details (James nicknames his tutor, Benedict Cumber "Cumbersome," for his dry delivery of obscure facts; Alexandria, James's sister, has eyes "like Spanish steel"). Though partially set in an abbey, this tale avoids an overt religious message. It does, however, offer a winsome example of how to live life responsibly. Ages 8–12. Agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Graphic Canon of Children's Literature: The World's Greatest Kids' Lit as Comics and Visuals

Edited by Russ Kick. Seven Stories, $38.95 trade paper (450p) ISBN 978-1-60980-530-2

Having been sparsely represented in the first three Graphic Canon volumes, children's literature is featured exclusively in this anthology of more than 40 fables, fairy tales, and classic stories adapted into comics. Like its predecessors, the book allows readers to see timeworn stories in a new light, whether it's Lance Tooks's trio of Aesop's fables, set in the worlds of tabloid celebrities and love-struck gangsters; Sandy Jimenez's take on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, featuring David Bowie and Freddie Mercury; or R. Sikoryak's Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which spoofs Bil Keane's "Family Circus." Nearly all the contributors chose to adapt early, gnarlier versions of stories that were sanitized over the years, most notably by Disney for its animated films; through their efforts, the stories reclaim some of their original eccentricities and philosophical merit. These dazzlingly varied renderings run the gamut from haunting to comical while offering visceral reminders that children's stories are often densely layered, infinitely transposable, and peddle in imagery both macabre and whimsical. It is the unfettered imagination of these stories that make them not only wildly entertaining, but also vessels of forgotten truths. All ages. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Stitching Snow

R.C. Lewis. Hyperion, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4231-8507-9

Even by the rough-and-tumble standards of the frozen planet Thanda, Essie is unusual—she likes to cage-fight angry men just back from working in the mines, and when Essie isn't fighting, she's a mechanic, fixing ships and tinkering with drones. After a stranger named Dane crashes on Thanda, Essie tries to help him, but ends up getting kidnapped. She's taken to Dane's planet, Candara, where his people plan to trade her to the king in exchange for the release of Candaran prisoners, one of whom is Dane's father. Essie is a valuable find—she's actually a young princess who escaped the clutches of the stepmother who tried to kill her when she was nine. In this interplanetary retelling of Snow White, debut author Lewis reveals a talent for worldbuilding and creating complex, memorable characters. As Essie owns up to her past and takes control of her fate, SF and fairytale fans alike will enjoy watching her beat the odds and find romance in the process. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Jesus Jackson

James Ryan Daley. Poisoned Pen/Poisoned Pencil, $10.95 trade paper (278p) ISBN 978-1-9293-4506-9

Daley's first novel revolves around the psychological and philosophical conflicts facing 14-year-old Jonathan Stiles. His older brother, Ryan, has just been found dead in a ravine; Jonathan believes he was killed, but everyone else thinks Ryan's death was accidental. Jonathan attends the ultra-religious St. Soren's Academy, where he is a loner, due in part to his atheism. In a state of shock and confusion following Ryan's death, Jonathan meets Jesus Jackson, a self-proclaimed "Spiritual Contractor" who wants to help Jonathan rediscover his faith. Though Jonathan frequently reflects upon matters of belief in the aftermath of Ryan's death, he is more concerned with avoiding his classmates and their disingenuous sympathies and finding Ryan's killer. The last time Jonathan and his friend Henry saw Ryan was during a "drug-enraged fistfight," and a football player is their chief suspect. Daley believably depicts Jonathan's conflicting emotions as he passes through the stages of grief. Yet Jesus Jackson comes across more as a gimmick than a real catalyst for Jonathan's developing understanding of loss, faith, and the unknown. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Little White Lies

Katie Dale. Delacorte, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-385-74067-8

As far as anyone knows, Louise "Lou" Shepherd is "a normal fresher starting at uni," but she's actually living under an assumed name in order to escape her family's notoriety—her uncle is in jail, her cousin is in a coma, and all of England associates her family with scandal. At school, she runs into Kenny, a boy who knows all her secrets, and meets Christian, a handsome stranger she'd like to date, but who harbors secrets of his own. Soon Lou's past is colliding with her present as she makes disturbing discoveries about her university friends and how their histories connect to hers. Dale (Someone Else's Life) has wound an overly complicated and circuitous thriller that leaps from one event to another. An abundant use of exclamatory dialogue gives the impression that Dale's characters are virtually shouting at each other (Lou's friend Vix is a particularly egregious offender). Along with a profusion of plot twists, the result is a frantic, scattered read. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jenny Savill, Andrew Nurnberg Associates. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Incredible Story of Henry N. Brown

Anne Helene Bubenzer, trans. from the German by Bryanna Klarr Weiche. Nortia (Itasca Books, dist.), $24.95 (300p) ISBN 978-1-940503-04-2

In her debut novel, German writer Bubenzer uses a device usually employed in stories aimed at young readers to follow 10 unrelated families in nearly as many nations through most of the 20th century. Henry N. Brown is a teddy bear created in 1921 by a grieving young Englishwoman whose husband went missing in WWI four years earlier. Sometimes lost, sometimes abandoned, sometimes given away, Henry discovers his particular role in each household, learning about life, love, and loss while dispensing his wisdom to readers. Henry's owners not only stretch across geographical borders, they also encompass a wide range of ages and personalities, and while the book's overall structure is predictable, Henry's stay with each family is a novella in itself. What could be a cloying, saccharine story has a straightforward compassion, gentleness, and humor, thanks to Bubenzer's graceful writing. A pleasing saga, but one that may have difficulty finding an audience: not many teenagers will pick up a book with a teddy-bear narrator, and younger children may find the length, and some of the subject matter, daunting. Ages 14–up. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/17/2014 | Details & Permalink

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