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Peek-a Choo-Choo!

Nina Laden. Chronicle, $6.99 (22p) ISBN 978-1-4521-5473-2

In her fourth peekaboo board book, Laden returns with a new set of rhymes for readers to complete. Peanut-shaped die-cut holes provide glimpses of the pages to come, hinting at the finished phrases. The bow of a boat peeks out from behind a cluster of cattails for “Peek a canoe!” (turning the page reveals that a small dog is doing the rowing), and a footprint pattern clues readers in to the red “Peek a shoe!” that appears in a later spread. Energetic artwork, playfully unexpected rhymes, and an inset mirror for a “Peek a I see you!” finale add up to another satisfyingly interactive readaloud. Up to age 2. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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My Dreams

Marie Fordacq, illus. by Xavier Deneaux. Twirl, $10.99 (20p) ISBN 979-1-02760-191-2

This third entry in the BabyBasics line follows a child through a fantasy dreamscape as he rides atop a bird and a whale, spends time with a princess, slides down an elephant’s trunk, and more. Deneaux brings a toylike aesthetic to the pages, drawing the scenes in chunky red, black, and white shapes, accented with foil and glow-in-the-dark elements. The first-person text consists of the boy’s accounts of his surreal travels (“Sometimes—whee!—I sail among the stars on my magic carpet”), and the imaginative variety of adventures he embarks on should leave young children with the sense that their nighttime dreams can truly take them anywhere. Up to age 2. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Who Wins? 100 Historical Figures Go Head-to-Head and You Decide the Winner!

Clay Swartz, illus. by Tom Booth. Workman, $14.95 (104p) ISBN 978-0-7611-8544-4

Who would win in an air guitar battle, Harriet Tubman or Margaret Thatcher? This spiralbound book features 100 historical figures and 50 competitions, and with each spread divided into three sections, readers can mix and match competitors at will. The result is more than 100,000 hypothetical showdowns, a battle royal that stretches across human history in delightfully ridiculous ways. Would Charlie Chaplin’s background as the mischievous Tramp give him an edge over Ada Lovelace, “Enchantress of Numbers,” when it comes to sneaking into Area 51? Who would sell more Girl Scout cookies, Susan B. Anthony or Genghis Khan? The figures, pictured as video-game-ready cartoon avatars, are ranked in seven categories—wealth, fitness, wisdom, bravery, artistry, leadership, and intelligence—which, along with brief biographies and background facts, gives readers plenty of fodder to make their case. With no right or wrong answers, there’s ample room for creative debate. Ages 8–12. (July)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Where’s Will? Find Shakespeare Hidden in His Plays

Anna Claybourne, illus. by Tilly. Kane Miller, $14.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-61067-407-2

To see, or not to see? This seek-and-find outing asks children to locate William Shakespeare and the characters from his plays hidden within 10 busy scenes. Before each one, Claybourne and Tilly summarize each play in illustrated panels, an overview of the plot, and a bit of context (“Twelfth Night is a comedy, and one again Shakespeare’s plot involves the mix-ups caused by people wearing disguises”). British illustrator Tilly ably shifts tone to match the mood and location for each play: readers can look for Puck, Bottom, and other characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a dusky forest under a moonlit sky, while Prospero’s island teems with animal life—and fairies—looking every bit as magical as it needs to be. The visual focus provides a leisurely introduction to the varied worlds of Shakespeare’s plays. Ages 7–11. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Undercover: One of These Things Is Almost Like the Others

Bastien Contraire. Phaidon, $18.95 (64p) ISBN 978-0-7148-7250-6

In a sleekly designed and cleverly imagined book, French graphic designer Contraire assembles collections of roughly a dozen insects, vehicles, animals, clothing, sporting goods, and more, printed in contrasting shades of kelly green and fuchsia that give the spreads the flat, grainy look of vintage posters. On close examination, readers can spot a playful imposter among each set of images: an ice cream cone infiltrates a grouping of tools (yet is equally made for holding in one’s hand); a pinwheel stands among trees, its handle mimicking their trunks; and a turtle’s shell is easily mistaken for a cloche hat when it’s surrounded by a fez, top hat, ball cap, and other headgear. Subtle humor combines with impeccable design as Contraire invites readers to consider perception, classification, and form. Ages 3–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Who What Where?

Olivier Tallec. Chronicle, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4521-5693-4

Tallec follows 2015’s Who Done It? with another round of questioning, with readers asked to identify the culprits in a series of low-stakes domestic incidents. Like the previous book, the pages lift vertically, and the low, squat dimensions of the book play into the mock police-style lineups depicted in Tallec’s droll pencil-and-acrylic illustrations. “Who stepped in paint?” he asks as readers see red footprints tracked across a living room. Four animals, all looking guilty, line up below, but the trace of red on the duck’s webbed feet is a dead giveaway. The could-be perpetrators often point at each other in an attempt at misdirection, but the evidence generally speaks for itself. Determining who did what is half the fun, but there’s plenty to talk about and enjoy in these quirky vignettes. Ages 3–5. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Who’s Next? Guess Who!

Anton Poitier, illus. by Sophia Touliatou. Kane Miller, $9.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-61067-533-8

This guessing game of a book, a follow-up to Who’s Ready to Play?, introduces a long procession of friendly cartoon animals, including an elephant, fish, frog, giraffe, piglet, and snail. Poitier announces the arrival of each animal in short, alliterative phrases (“Buzzy Bee came next, with a tatty toucan”) before posing a question to readers, “Guess who was next?” Readers can make a stab at the answer by looking at the right edge of the spreads, where the soon-to-be-featured animals’ tails and rear ends can be seen. Before long, the pages are crowded with Touliatou’s wide-eye, goofy-looking animals, though some of them slip away, too (“Who left?” asks Poitier), adding a memory-building component to the raucous fun. Ages 2–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Nightmare Escape

Greg Grunberg, illus. by Lucas Turnbloom. Graphix, $12.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-545-82604-4

In this first book in the Dream Jumper series, Ben's nightmares are taking a toll on his life. When his mother takes him to a sleep doctor, he slips into a sleep-coma, where he discovers a dream world and learns that only he, as a "dream jumper," can help others escape the monsters preying upon resting minds. The story reads like Nightmare on Elm Street for kids, combined with a classic adventure motif that includes the geeky and verbose sidekick, romantic interest, and insightful sage (who happens to be a bunny) to guide the hero. Actor Grunberg, in his print debut, and Imagine This cartoonist Turnbloom turn out a brisk adventure with just enough grotesquerie (syringe-wielding nightmare doctors, vampiric pursuers in suits) to intrigue but not outright terrify readers; the panels and wording are spacious, allowing readers to focus on the key aspects of any given panel. Guy Major keenly works the colors so that even during the plot's direst moments, one still gets a sense of light. This tactic aligns with the story's theme and keeps the mood from descending too far into the darkness. Ages 8–12. (June)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Watching Traffic

Jane Ozkowski. Groundwood (PGW, dist.), $16.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-55498-843-3

In her first novel, Ozkowski captures the momentousness of the summer after high school. Eighteen-year-old Emily is spending these months in her small Canadian hometown, working for a catering company that mainly serves funerals. Her friends Lincoln and Melissa are heading to Australia and college on scholarship, respectively, but Emily is aimless. Even though it's been 15 years, everyone in town still thinks of Emily as "Suicide Baby," after her mother killed herself in a hotel room with Emily by her side. When she begins dating Tyler, new in town from Toronto, his unawareness of her personal history sets Emily free, allowing her to regain some faith and confidence, and repair her relationships with her friends, especially Melissa, who is trying to accept that she's a lesbian. While the plot slides into melodrama on occasion, Ozkowski's thoughtful novel covers substantial emotional ground with authenticity. The burden of potential and the simultaneous blessing and curse of facing an abundance of possibilities at once are themes that will resonate with readers facing the uncertainty of their own futures. Ages 14–up. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tell Me Something Real

Calla Devlin. Atheneum, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6115-3

In a story of betrayal and unsettling change, set in the 1970s, debut novelist Devlin introduces Vanessa, a middle child who feels as though her sisters outshine her and whose mother is dying of cancer. Vanessa and her sisters regularly travel back and forth from their home in San Diego to Mexico with their mother as she undergoes experimental cancer treatments involving Laetrile, a controversial cyanogenic drug illegal in the U.S. Soon, Vanessa's mother invites Caleb, a teenage boy with lymphoma, and his mother to move into the family's home, joining them in the commute for Laetrile. Writing through Vanessa's intimate and perceptive perspective, Devlin unspools the teenager's story languidly as she copes with loss, new love, and the ways her family is falling apart, especially after disturbing revelations about her mother's condition come to light. It's transporting reading, with a powerfully evoked 1970s setting, and readers will eagerly sink into Devlin's richly detailed writing, accompanying Vanessa on a journey marked by moments of deep connection and equally profound pain. Ages 14–up. Agent: Faye Bender, the Book Group. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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