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On the Wing

David Elliott, illus. by Becca Stadtlander. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5324-8

Elliott (On the Farm; In the Wild) adds a celebration of birds to his collection of lighthearted animal poetry. The subjects range from familiar backyard neighbors to birds best from nature documentaries: the Andean condor, the puffin, and the bowerbird (“Nature’s fussy,/ lovesick architect”). Some are described in rhyming verse, while others are captured in telegraphic, haikulike fragments. In “The Macaw,” accompanied by newcomer Stadtlander’s painting of the bird’s wildly colored plumage, Elliott writes simply, “Who/ spilled/ the/ paint?” Stadtlander has the challenging job of following in the footsteps of Elliott’s late collaborator Holly Meade (to whom Elliott dedicates this book). Stadtlander paints the birds with meticulous care, framing them against majestic, muted backgrounds whose overcast skies lend a somber feel. In one spread, the bent legs and swooping necks of courting Japanese cranes form an elegant frieze of classical dimensions. While the seriousness of the images is sometimes at cross-purposes with Elliott’s humor, it’s just right for the poet’s more lyrical moments, as when a bald eagle “circles like a prayer,/ on the rising columns/ of the shining,/ sun-warmed air.” Ages 3–7. Illustrator’s agent: Anne Moore Armstrong, Bright Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Over There

Steve Pilcher. Disney Press, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4231-4793-0

A shrew named Shredder lives in a woodland paradise of sculpted roots, glistening leaves, and filtered light, yet he’s anxious and lonely: “And when he swung on a rubber band and sang a little song, there was no one to sing along.” He sets off in search of something more—he’s not sure what. When the silver foil cup Shredder is using for a boat capsizes, and he’s rescued by a mole, Nosey’s casual self-introduction (“I’m a professional digger.... Wanna dig?”) is the beginning of the friendship Shredder only half-realized he was seeking. Shredder’s shrew-size den, with its bottle-cap dishes and matchbox bed, will draw smiles, while the silvery rivulets in which his boat founders testify to Pixar production artist Pilcher’s ability to produce breathtaking visual effects. Pleasing tension is set up between the narration, told from Shredder’s point of view (“When a giant shadow came over them, they hid inside a cave”), and the extra information that Pilcher reveals on the page—the cave is a pair of worn leather work boots. Pilcher’s debut will likely win Shredder more than one new friend. Ages 3–5. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat

Ayano Imai. Minedition (IPG, dist.), $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-988-8240-84-5

In this offbeat turn on the theme of the lonely recluse, Imai (Puss & Boots) draws a top-hatted, umbrella-carrying bear who doesn’t care that no one likes him: “He told himself life was perfect without anybody fussing over him.” But someone does want to be close to him—or, more accurately, to his hat. A woodpecker begins building a nest in it as Mr. Brown naps in a tree. Before the bear knows it, his hat magically begins to grow skyward, more woodpeckers join the first, and suddenly his life is filled with unsought beauty and community. Imai’s delicate, light-filled graphite and watercolor pictures do not aim for laughter. Instead, she brings wildlife and civilization into gentle, unexpected collision. A small but beautifully formed tree grows out of Mr. Brown’s tablecloth, a fish hangs from his ceiling, and grass starts to creep across his polished hardwood floors as he hibernates. There’s little interaction between words and pictures—text and illustration could easily stand independently—but Imai’s artwork has a marvelous, surreal dignity that casts a memorable spell. Ages 3–5. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen

Arin Andrews. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1675-7

Born Emerald, Arin remembers trying on his male cousin’s clothes in fourth grade, as well as crafting a “homemade funnel” to urinate standing up. As puberty progresses, Arin wears black sports bras to minimize his chest and feels “betrayed” when his period starts. Arin first thinks he is gay, but things click when he discovers online what it means to be transsexual. Like Katie Hill (whose Rethinking Normal was acquired simultaneously with this book), Arin gets help from an initially reluctant mother, who, scared by his suicide attempt, decides, “I will support you. I can’t lose you.” Around the same time Arin gets a prosthetic penis, starts taking testosterone shots, meets Katie, and realizes, “I’d never felt love this pure or strong before.” Together, they become a media sensation dubbed “America’s First Teen Trans Couple!” Arin is remarkably frank about all aspects of his transition and keeps a casual, conversational tone while discussing everything from surgical options to inner anxieties. This is a brave book that handles complicated and sensitive topics honestly and, at times, with humor. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition

Katie Rain Hill. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1823-2

Katie knew she was a girl on the inside, even when she was a suicidal kid named Luke growing up in a disjointed family in Oklahoma. Bullied relentlessly at school and unsupported by administrators, other students’ parents, and even her own father, Katie finds an ally in her mother, who stands by her child as she starts dressing like a girl, legally changes her name, and travels to get genital reconstruction surgery the day after turning 18. Along the way, Katie becomes an advocate for transgender teens, appearing on TV with her trans boyfriend Arin Andrews, whose memoir, Some Assembly Required, is being published simultaneously. Katie’s story provides solid information about what it means to be transgender and to transition, as well as “Tips for Talking to Transgender People” in the back matter. Part of what makes Katie’s story so extraordinary is that many of her struggles are entirely ordinary (she cheats on Arin, for example, lying to him when he finds out through Facebook). Being so open—and openly imperfect—makes Katie relatable on a human level, not just as a spokesperson. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Animalium

Jenny Broom, illus. by Katie Scott. Candlewick/Big Picture, $35 (112p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7508-0

Designed to mimic the experience of visiting a natural history museum, this elegant, eye-catching volume (first in a planned series) explores the animal kingdom through gorgeously detailed pen-and-ink illustrations that resemble vintage taxonomical plates. Each “gallery” is devoted to a different class of animal: invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Within, Broom and Scott highlight individual species, which are succinctly described: the tomato frog of Madagascar “is nocturnal, burying itself in the moist earth during the day and emerging to hunt at night.” It’s easy to imagine these exquisite images hanging in the gilded hallways of a museum, but unlike a museum, readers can take this experience along with them. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Inside and Out: New York

Josh Cochran. Candlewick/Big Picture, $17.99 paper (16p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7520-2

This double-sided seek-and-find book can be read from left to right or unfolded into a single panoramic image that stretches six and a half feet long. Stylish digital illustrations feature New York City landmarks, people, and objects. On one side, the city’s sights are shown from an exterior perspective; flipping the chart reveals cutaway views of what’s going on inside museums, landmarks, and skyscrapers. Eighty images are hidden within the scenes, such as a woman in pink fur walking her pink poodle, the sign for Katz’s Deli, and a saxophone. In addition, Cochran offers abundant surprises that include scatterings of aliens, ninjas, monkeys, and hot dogs. A fun-filled marriage of form and function for young urban explorers. Ages 7–10. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Park: A Foldout Book in Four Seasons

James Gulliver Hancock. Duo Press (Legato, dist.), $16.95 (6p) ISBN 978-1-938093-30-2

The pages of this large-format book unfold horizontally to create a giant panorama that showcases Central Park across four seasons. Hancock’s cartoons depict such familiar sights as couples in love, mothers walking with children, and people playing chess, walking pets, or arguing. But oddities emerge, too—a girl tosses a giant fried egg, a man inexplicably turns into a tree—and references to Georges Seurat and Lewis Carroll can be spotted. Readers are challenged to spot specific objects and unfolding stories within the busy spreads. It’s a bit like Where’s Waldo?, but with an “only in New York” sensibility. Ages 6–11. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lil’ Merl and the Dastardly Dragon

Liam Barrett. Nobrow/Flying Eye (Consortium, dist.), $13.95 paper (64p) ISBN 978-1-909263-24-6

Barrett offers an activity book with a loose narrative that clearly alludes to Harry Potter­—a poster for “The Dumble Doors” hangs in magician Lil’ Merl’s room, while Merl himself looks a bit like Harry with round eyeglasses and a purple, celestial robe. Activities guide readers through Merl’s quest, offering clues to the dragon’s whereabouts: “The jester wants to say something to Lil’ Merl before he leaves on his quest. Reorganize the juggling balls to find out what he’s trying to say.” Other opportunities include connect-the-dots, word searches, coloring activities, and mazes. A bold palette and a bevy of magical creatures should keep kids entertained. Ages 5–up. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Memory of an Elephant: An Unforgettable Journey

Sophie Strady, illus. by Jean-François Martin. Chronicle, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4521-2903-7

Whimsy, trivia, and miscellany combine in this tribute to the extraordinary life of a fictional elephant named Marcel. The gentleman pachyderm is working on “an enormous, illustrated encyclopedia,” documenting everything he has learned. Meanwhile, anonymous gifts arrive for Marcel, including a tuba that he “played in the distant past,” which sparks him to recall his life as a musician and his world travels (including being caught in the 1968 student protests in Paris). Spreads alternate between Marcel’s introspection and informative illustrated lists of buildings, musical instruments, ships, and more, which resemble offerings from a vintage mail-order catalogue. A surprise birthday party and endpages exploring animals, modern furniture, and food close out this eccentric and delightful cabinet of curiosities. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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