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Book Uncle and Me

Uma Krishnaswami, illus. by Julianna Swaney. Groundwood (PGW, dist.), $14.95 (96p) ISBN 978-1-55498-808-2

Nine-year-old Yasmin loves to read. Luckily, a man known as Book Uncle has set up a free lending library on a nearby corner in her Indian city. Yasmin loves his book stall, but the mayor thinks it’s unseemly and needs to go. However, it’s election time, and Yasmin becomes determined to get Book Uncle and his stall back. Cooperation and progress are central themes in this thoughtful look on the power of words and grassroots activism, which emphasizes that even a child can make a difference. Augmented by newcomer Swaney’s delicately detailed spot illustrations, Krishnaswami’s (The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic) story immerses readers in Yasmin’s daily life and the people in it. “They all want votes,” a fruit vendor tells Yasmin as the election heats up. “Then when they get elected, they don’t do anything.” Politicos who fall short and people eager for change are just a couple of the cross-cultural similarities readers may recognize in this brisk chapter book, originally published in India. Ages 7–10. Author’s agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. Illustrator’s agent: Anne Moore Armstrong, Bright Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Well-Mannered Young Wolf

Jean Leroy, illus. by Matthieu Maudet. Eerdmans, $16 (30p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5479-7

Originally published in France, this wicked gem of a story from Leroy (Superfab Saves the Day) and Maudet (A Mammoth in the Fridge) proves that manners matter, even when one isn’t doing something terribly polite, such as hunting prey. The well-mannered wolf of the title strikes out with a butterfly net in hand, dressed in a buttoned-up polo shirt and shorts that don’t exactly scream big or bad. After capturing a rabbit, he asks, “What is your last wish before I eat you?” Freedom is out of the question, but a story isn’t, and the wolf runs home to grab a book. “I won’t move a muscle, I promise!” says the rabbit, who promptly moves several muscles to get out of there. The process repeats when the irritated wolf catches a chicken, but the tables turn after the wolf snags a human boy who sticks around as promised. Maudet’s airy, lighthearted cartooning bolsters the comic timing of Leroy’s fablelike tale, though well-used flashes of red offer reminders of the deadly stakes. And as in many fables, it’s the dishonest who suffer—not the hungry. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sky Pig

Jan L. Coates, illus. by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Pajama (IPS, dist.), $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-927485-98-9

Pigs and flying are the stuff of idiomatic legend, but a porker named Ollie is determined to make it happen in this offbeat story from Coates (Rocket Man) and Del Rizzo (Gerbil, Uncurled). With help from a young human friend, Jack, Ollie tries several methods of getting airborne, such as strapping branches to his body like wings and creating a parachute/kite hybrid. Every attempt ends with an “oooooomph!” and a “plop!” Del Rizzo stages the action in three-dimensional mixed-media scenes made from plasticine, clay, and other materials, capturing the imaginative energy Jack and Ollie bring to the task (one impressive set of wings features steampunk-style gears and straps) and the stinging defeats Ollie suffers. By the fourth time readers see the pig banged up from a fall, though, they’ll probably be ready for the story to move on, which it does with the arrival of a hot-air balloon. Coates trusts readers to fill in the gaps of things left unsaid by the text (Ollie never speaks, for starters), but occasional disconnects between storytelling and artwork may leave children puzzling over some of the scenes. Ages 4–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Faraway Fox

Jolene Thompson, illus. by Justin K. Thompson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-70711-5

In their first children’s book, the Thompsons sensitively examine the effect of human development on wildlife through the lens of a fox that has been separated from its family. Through the fox’s lonely inner monologue, Jolene Thompson plays directly to readers’ emotions as the fox remembers a bygone life with its family. “As kits, we spent our summer splashing in the stream and catching frogs while our parents went out to hunt,” she writes as the fox peers into a concrete drainage ditch, its reflection the only other fox around. “My sister would always catch the most,” the fox continues. “I wonder where she is now.” In angular digital illustrations with a fittingly somber palette, Justin Thompson creates landscapes that have seen better days: the broken-down cars, endless fences, and desolate strip malls the fox wanders past quietly but plainly suggest that humans aren’t making the most of the land they’ve commandeered. A happy reunion for the fox—thanks to the construction of a highway underpass designed to give animals a safe crossing—feels very well deserved. Ages 4–7. Agent: Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Babel

Marc Lumer, Chaim Burston, and DouBer Naiditch, illus. by Marc Lumer. Apples and Honey, $17.95 (24p) ISBN 978-1-68115-514-2

Traditionally, the Babel story is about humanity’s overweening ambitions and defiance of God. But in this retelling, the motivation behind the construction of the infamous tower is both poignant and unsettling: a collective fear that God will flood the world again, despite a promise not to. “They remembered when God broke the sky and filled with world with water,” write the authors. Lumer (Wherever We Go), working in a style reminiscent of 1950s screen print illustration, imagines the great climatic catastrophe has returned, but with a significant difference: while the sky is black and swirling waters have submerged a city, those standing on the spiraling red tower calmly regard the inundation from underneath umbrellas. As the story continues on its familiar path, there is some inspired humor: the tower sparks a fad, complete with tower hats and tower cakes; the dispersal of the new language speakers becomes an exuberant land rush (“All of us to the north!” say the Russians in Cyrillic). But it’s hard to shake that behind it all is a fundamental uncertainty: will God’s promises hold water? Ages 4–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Owl Sees Owl

Laura Godwin, illus. by Rob Dunlavey. Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-553-49782-3

A small barn owl embarks on a solo journey by night in this quietly enchanting reverie. Godwin (One Moon, Two Cats) traces the owl’s explorations in a single poem composed of four-line, four-word stanzas: “Home/ Mama/ Brother/ Sister/ Tree/ Nest/ Hop/ Look.” Midway through the owl’s travels, after it has flown past “Fall/ Leaves/ Red/ Yellow” and mice scampering over pumpkins, it spots its own reflection in a stream (“Owl/ Sees/ Owl”), and the poem’s mirrorlike structure is revealed; as the owl returns to its sleeping family, Godwin inverts the stanzas that appeared in the first half of the book, to almost palindromic effect. Working in a variety of media, Dunlavey (Over in the Wetlands) creates a sleepy rural landscape for the owl to traverse, shifting between close-ups of the bird, its white face aglow in the moonlight, and more distant views from above and below. It’s a story that finds a lovely balance between the joys of independence and the comforting security of home. Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. Illustrator’s agent: Elena Giovinazzo, Pippin Properties. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tinyville Town Gets to Work!

Brian Biggs. Abrams Appleseed, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2133-5

Biggs kicks off the Tinyville Town series, focusing on hard-working, civic-minded folks, from the police officer to the trash collectors, who share their expertise to make a city work. This first entry introduces the setting and cast through a problem that needs solving: a traffic jam (“The baker can’t open his bakery. And the bus driver can’t get to the bus stop”). Biggs breaks the trouble down with admirable clarity, providing a backstory (“The old bridge was built when Tinyville Town was much smaller,” says the town engineer) and showing how a design must reflect a variety of needs (the city planner wants a bridge that can anticipate future growth, and the major wants a structure that’s “beautiful to look at”). For construction fans, there are three detailed spreads devoted to the bridge’s creation. The visuals are more stylized than in Biggs’s Everything Goes series—while Tinyville Town is diverse, everyone has the same toylike body shape—but the mood is similarly exuberant and attentive to detail. And the can-do spirit is off the charts. Two Tinyville Town board books are available simultaneously. Ages 3–5. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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First Snow

Bomi Park. Chronicle, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4521-5472-5

In her debut, Korean artist Park captures the quiet mystery of snow. A small child with rosy cheeks and straight hair stirs under her quilt as she hears a noise: “Pit, pit, pit against the window. Glistening, floating in the night.” Alone, she dresses in the velvety darkness and ventures outside, her red scarf the only note of color in the black-and-white spreads. White, canvaslike texture peeks through the black paint in places, mimicking the way bright surfaces catch small amounts of light in the darkness. Outside, the girl sets to work making a snowman, rolling a snowball along dense urban streets, through a field, and past an elevated train line. In the forest, she passes through a light-filled opening into a realm of snowy fantasy, arriving at a place where children rise into the sky to fly with the snowmen they’ve made. Then, just as quietly, reality returns. Park’s artwork recalls the child portraits of mid-20th-century artists like Eloise Wilkin, but gives them new dignity with a somber palette. Together with the spare, unobtrusive text, the images evoke an atmosphere of enchantment. Ages 2–4. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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You’re My Boo

Kate Dopirak, illus. by Lesley Breen Withrow. Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4424-4160-6

Though the title might suggest a hip, slangy ode to parental affection, Dopirak’s debut picture book takes a cuddlier approach as a mother fox describes her children in a series of rhyming terms of endearment: “You’re my peek-a-boo, my sneak-a-boo,/ my laughing-till-you-squeak-a-boo./ Go! Stop! Walk! Run!/ You’re my funny honey bun.” Working in a loose, cartoony style, newcomer Withrow uses rough strokes of pencil, vibrant collage elements, and digital coloring to create a friendly patchwork backdrop for the small domestic dramas that unfold over a single day. While these foxes have a happy home, it isn’t all smiles and giggles—there’s squabbling between the two siblings, a broken toy, and a tiny slip and fall, all of which are resolved with a bit of parental TLC. Dopirak’s rhymes can get a bit treacly (“You’re my yuck-a-boo, my yum-a-boo”), but they’re unerring in their rhyme and meter and, along with Withrow’s tender illustrations, create a comforting mood from start to finish. Up to age 8. Author’s agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. Illustrator’s agency: Christina A. Tugeau Artist Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Origami Chic: A Guide to Foldable Fashion

Sok Song. Capstone Young Readers, $14.95 paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-62370-771-2

Song (Crease + Fold) clearly explains how to use origami to create tiny skirts, blouses, swimsuits, and fashion accessories just the right size for paper dolls, scrapbooks, or other methods of display. Each exercise opens with a quick rundown of the item’s history or use (“The LBD—also known as the little black dress—is an absolute must for any fashionista’s closet”), followed by illustrated step-by-step directions for folding crop tops, rompers, high heels, sunglasses, and other objects. More than 40 removable sheets of origami paper—featuring animal prints, florals, and other vibrant designs—are included. Ages 9–13. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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