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Space Boy and His Dog

Dian Curtis Regan, illus. by Robert Neubecker. Boyds Mills, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59078-955-1

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Niko has an impressive space fantasy going, aided by a tricked-out cardboard-box rocket ship, his dog, his trusty robot toy, and Neubecker’s vivid, comically earnest cartooning. But his sister, Posh, keeps trying to hijack the narration, despite Niko’s admonition that “She is not in this story.” Then Niko decides that maybe his sister, who has proved herself dismayingly competent, could have a role after all: damsel in distress, with Niko cast as the rescuing hero. “Now Posh is part of this story,” he decides, only to discover that his leading lady won’t cooperate. Dividing the story into eight chapterlike sections, Regan (Barnyard Slam) takes readers inside the head of a very imaginative child, honoring Niko’s desire to control his story while affectionately spoofing it. It’s a funny and fresh spin on sibling conflict that offers some downright philosophical musings on the notion of authorial autonomy: We may be able to imagine any story, but can we ever claim sole ownership? Don’t our characters get a say, too? Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. Illustrator’s agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Beautiful Birds

Jean Roussen, illus. by Emmanuelle Walker. Nobrow/Flying Eye (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 (56p) ISBN 978-1-909263-29-1

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Saying that a particular shade of pink is the star of a picture book may sound strange, but in this case, it’s true. A flash of neon vermilion jumps out from nearly every page of Walker’s crisp, silkscreen-style spreads, created to accompany Roussen’s avian abecedary, which runs from albatross (“the admiral of the skies”) to zosteropidae (“finding that bird just made my day”). All the focus is on the artwork, and the supercharged pink is often used as an accent (or an exclamation point) in Walker’s rich tapestries of the birds and their surroundings. The beaks and feet of doves, the needlelike tongue of an egret, two flamingos (of course), and an old-fashioned microphone atop which a lark perches are all jolted with shots of pink. The few spreads in which it can’t be found are unaccountably quiet by comparison. There are some inelegant moments in Roussen’s meter and rhyme, but since the artwork is doing all the heavy lifting, it’s a minor quibble. The spreads are as opulent as a peacock’s tail, and they’ll send many back for long second looks. Ages 3–7. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Say Shehechiyanu

Joanne Rocklin, illus. by Monika Filipina. Kar-Ben, $16.95 (24p) ISBN 978-1-4677-3467-7

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Rocklin (Fleabrain Loves Franny) and Filipina (the Adventures of Alonzo the Chicken series) follow a girl as she expresses thanks for things big and small throughout the year. Her appreciation is conveyed through the blessing of Shehechiyanu ("Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion"). The girl uses the prayer to mark ceremonial events in Jewish tradition, such as saying a blessing upon eating a new fruit in the New Year or lighting the Hanukkah candles on the holiday's first night. Other times, the prayer is spontaneous, sweetly childlike, and from the heart, as when her baby brother takes his first step and when she hears a bird singing in the spring. Vibrant, playful watercolor drawings depict each Shehechiyanu occasion with humor and excitement, while the concise text communicates just what being thankful is all about. Children (and others) will appreciate both the message and the accompanying illustrations as they learn to recognize how many opportunities life presents for Shehechiyanu. Ages 4–8. Author's agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Illustrator's agency: Advocate Art. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation

Edited by Brett Fletcher Lauer and Lynn Melnick. Viking, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-670-01479-8

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This wide-ranging collection of poems from "one hundred younger poets firmly launched on their careers" (as poet Carolyn Forché writes in the introduction) offers a loose format that avoids dividing the poems by theme. Instead, poems about complicated love, urban and small-town life, ethnicity, violence, and myriad other topics are presented as a steady stream of powerful language, united by a sense of urgency. Josh Bell's playful "Poem Voted Most Likely" has a trace of Ginsburg ("To drink its hot-dog water like a good fellow/ To laminate the small of your back/ To act as interim liaison to the Psychedelic Mole People/ To huff on tractor fumes"), while Patricia Lockwood's "Rape Joke" takes aim at sexual aggression ("The rape joke is that you asked why he did it. The rape joke is he said he didn't know, like what else would a rape joke say?" The scope and breadth of topics, perspectives, and poetic forms make the collection a wellspring of inspiration for readers and writers honing their own skills. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brianne Johnson, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Love, Lucy

April Lindner. Little, Brown/Poppy, $18 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-40069-5

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Just before heading to college, Lucy and Charlene are on the European summer tour of a lifetime, and while in Italy, Lucy meets a free-spirited American named Jesse. Despite their short-lived possibilities for romance, Lucy falls hard and returns home to Philadelphia pining for him. Just when Lucy begins dating someone else, Jesse shows up at her school, and complicated decisions arise for her. Again turning to classic literature for inspiration as she did in Jane and Catherine (this time, E.M. Forster's A Room with a View), Lindner writes in a straightforward third-person storytelling style that allows distance for readers to observe Lucy coming into her own. Like her forebear, Forster's Lucy Honeychurch, this Lucy must sort through the muddle of her emotions—torn between a cerebral, respectable boy and a more passionate one—and learn to stand on her own convictions. The parallels to A Room With a View contribute to an overarching theme seen in both stories: rising above the social strictures placed on a spirited girl bound by propriety. Ages 15–up. Agent: Amy Williams, McCormick & Williams Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Orphan Queen

Jodi Meadows. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-231738-4

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First in a fantasy duology, this tale of a young royal fighting to retake her country from invaders intertwines espionage, secret identities, a debate on the ethics of violence, and the threat of Wraith, a supernatural force that seeks to overwhelm conquered and conquerors alike. A hypercompetent fighter, forger, and spy, 17-year-old Wil keeps her magical abilities secret, since magic has been banned as the cause of the relentless wave of Wraith that has destroyed neighboring kingdoms, turning harmless animals into devouring monsters and perverting nature wherever it spreads. Wil's more mundane transgressions of the Indigo Kingdom's law are enough to attract the attention of a mysterious vigilante, Black Knife. Wil increasingly finds herself disagreeing with her own leader, the ruthless Patrick, and coming to trust Black Knife. Though Black Knife's identity proves unsurprising, along with the outcomes of Wil's interpersonal relationships, Meadows (the Incarnate trilogy) delivers a powerful coming-of-age story as Wil discovers that there are "lines [she] will not cross, not even to take the vermillion throne." A cliffhanger sets up the concluding volume. Ages 13–up. Agent: Lauren MacLeod, Strothman Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Inherit Midnight

Kate Kae Myers. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-61963-219-6

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In an adventure/drama rife with family dysfunction, 17-year-old Avery VanDemere is the child of an affair that scandalized the whole family and left her an outsider. With her mother dead and her father an alcoholic, she was raised by her severe grandmother, the family matriarch, who is obsessed with the VanDemeres' ancestry. After falling ill, Grandmother decides to hold a "Last Standing Heir" contest to determine who will inherit the family business and fortune. Avery, an underdog, learns that her mother is actually alive, living in Croatia, and that she has been writing Avery letters every year on her birthday. Avery strikes a deal with the family lawyer (whose son develops into a love interest), winning the right to see one letter per successful challenge; soon, she is traversing the world, digging for diamonds and seeking out VanDemere family history. Myers (The Vanishing Game) serves up hyperbolic action, melodramatic twists, and romance as the petty and fumbling VanDemeres try to best one another for money. While Avery‘s happy ending is a bit pat, this globe-trotting race offers no shortage of thrills. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Everybody Knows Your Name

Andrea Seigel and Brent Bradshaw. Viking, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-670-01562-7

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Through alternating perspectives, Magnolia, an introverted 17-year-old singer, and Ford, who is trying to escape a family with "a real close relationship with local law enforcement," reveal what happens when they both get chosen for an American Idol–style television show and fall in love. After Magnolia learns that Ford has told her (and the show's fans) a pretty big lie, she decides to ice him out. Of course, they still have to continue competing against one another while living in a mansion with their fellow contestants. Though the reality-show premise is well-trodden territory, and neither the show nor the other competitors are all that fleshed out, both protagonists grow in notable ways (especially Magnolia, who learns to see others in less black-and-white terms), and Siegel (The Kid Table) and first-time novelist Bradshaw create some steamy scenes for the characters. Like many actual reality shows, attention-grabbing secondary characters and storylines keep the story moving, but without contributing much substance. Ages 12–up. Agent: Douglas Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Flying Classroom

Erich K%C3%A4stner, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell, illus. by Walter Trier. Pushkin (PRH, dist.), $13.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-78269-056-6

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Originally published in 1935 and charmingly illustrated by Trier, Kästner's (Emil and the Detectives) pleasingly sentimental tale of early 20th-century boarding-school life gets the opportunity to reach a new audience, courtesy of Bell's new translation. A varied group of boys—cowardly Uli, ever-starving future boxer Matthias, gentle Martin, and writerly orphan Jonathan Trotz—come together in the final days before Christmas break to present a play, "The Flying Classroom," to their schoolmates. The heart of the novel centers on the boys' intricate layers of friendship and deep admiration for their housemaster. During a string of vignettes infused with sweet nostalgia, secrets are discovered, books are burned, bones are broken, and Christmas is almost spoiled. Still, the story shows its age, at times—along with somewhat old-fashioned language ("Now then, off you go, you bandits!"), fighting, bullying, and tobacco use are present. While the narrative frame and ensemble cast might prove a challenge to less mature readers, the rewards of meaningful and lasting emotion, portrayed throughout, is worth the effort. Ages 9–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Project Blastoff

Mark Kelly with Martha Freeman. S&S/Wiseman, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4814-1545-3

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Former astronaut Kelly (Mousetronaut) digs into his own childhood and NASA background in this layered story. Launching the Astrotwins series, the novel is set in 1975 New Jersey and introduces the Kelly twins, impulsive Mark and more level-headed Scott, who share a curiosity about space travel and a knack for finding trouble, especially when it comes to disassembling gadgets. On a visit to their grandfather's lakeside cabin during the summer before sixth grade, they embark on their most outlandish escapade yet. Along with several friends—including a physics prodigy, a computer whiz, and a mechanic's daughter—the twins build a spaceship capable of orbiting the Earth. Kelly and Freeman (the First Kids Mysteries series) mingle fact and fiction as they use the friends' own voices and thought processes to distill scientific and mathematical properties involved in spacecraft construction and rocket propulsion. Though the fantastical prevails when they achieve liftoff, realistic sibling and peer relationships, illuminating science, and some streamlined aeronautical history keep the story grounded—in a good way. Ages 8–12. Agent: Robert Barnett, Williams & Connolly. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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