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The Nian Monster

Andrea Wang, illus. by Alina Chau. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8075-5642-9

Wang’s story begins as Xingling and her grandmother hang red paper decorations for the Chinese New Year in Shanghai. Po Po explains that the Nian Monster once plagued China by eating whole villages. Since the monster is afraid of “loud sounds, fire, and the color red,” the decorations prevent its return. The Nian Monster seems no more than a fantasy, but as Xingling cooks, he leaps onto the family’s balcony. “I have come to devour this city!” he roars, causing buildings to shudder. Xingling turns out to be a cool-headed hero. “Have a bowl of long-life noodles first,” she advises the monster. “If you live longer, you can conquer more cities.” More crafty culinary thinking slows Nian down further (bony fish, sticky glutinous rice), and a fireworks scheme sends him packing. Wang’s story thrills but doesn’t threaten: Chau’s wonderfully vivid watercolors give the monster doe eyes and a round body that make him seem like a cranky, overgrown teddy bear, and Wang shares cultural information about the Chinese New Year with the lightest of touches. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Justin Rucker, Shannon Associates. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Groundhog’s Runaway Shadow

David Biedrzycki. Charlesbridge, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58089-734-1

Punxsutawney resident Phil, a furry brown groundhog, and his shadow have been constant companions but are growing apart, both in terms of personal proclivities (“Phil loved scary movies. Shadow, not so much”) and all-around outlook (“Phil liked to be on time. Shadow liked to stop and smell the roses”). Biedrzycki (Breaking News: Bears to the Rescue) maximizes the differences between Phil and Shadow by giving the groundhog and his fellow animals an almost three-dimensional roundness, setting them in a carefully detailed and brightly colored world. Shadow, meanwhile, is rendered in flat, fuzzy-edged, gray-blue silhouettes, though that doesn’t stop him from flirting with a rabbit on the subway or letting loose a giant burp while Phil quietly eats dinner. After matters come to a head, Shadow decamps to explore the world, eventually leading a remorseful Phil to seek out his absent companion. The somewhat drawn-out story can seem more like a platform for Biedrzycki’s comic vignettes of Shadow’s outsize behavior, but the Groundhog Day references are kept to a minimum, making this a story that could be enjoyed any time of year. Ages 4–8. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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If I Could Drive, Mama

Cari Best, illus. by Simone Shin. FSG/Ferguson, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-30205-4

Inviting Mama to take a spin in his cardboard box car (“the zippiest car in the whole world!”), young Charlie takes firm control of both the driver’s seat and the role of narrator. As Charlie and Mama make stops around their house, mimicking familiar mom-and-kid errands (the library, the diner, the nail parlor), his exuberant running commentary reflects a wealth of observations gleaned as a backseat passenger and Mama’s sidekick. “Back in the car we sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ because it’s our favorite traveling song,” writes Best (My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay). “But only you do the motions since both my hands have to be on the steering wheel.” Shin’s (The Red Bicycle) light-as-soufflé vignettes reveal that Mama is game for anything, even letting Charlie apply nail polish at the “Pretty Please” salon (aka the bathroom). Readers may wonder how the car survives a sprinkler shower and a scrub down without falling apart, but otherwise this is a wonderful tribute to an imagination in perpetual motion. Ages 4–6. Illustrator’s agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Big Bear, Small Mouse

Karma Wilson, illus. by Jane Chapman. S&S/McElderry, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4814-5971-6

This is more an opposites primer than a full-fledged story, but it’s nonetheless a fine addition for fans of Wilson and Chapman’s Bear series. “Big, big, big!” Bear is friends with “small, small, small!” Mouse, proof that opposites not only attract but are also fun to look at. As the duo walks through the forest, various friends appear—readers will recognize Badger, Rabbit, and others from the previous Bear books—representing additional contrasts in terms of size, speed, audio level, and habitat: “What’s that up above?/ There’s a flutter in the sky./ Wren is flying low,/ while Owl is soaring high.” The circle of friends is complete when the birds’ geographic opposites, Mole and Gopher, “tunnel up and join the happy crowd./ The sun sets on the quiet woods,/ but all the friends are loud!” Chapman alternates lush forest scenes with distilled images set against white backdrops—a nifty visual contrast of its own—before wrapping up with the friends seeking shelter in Bear’s lair; the cave party, aglow with firelight, is a lovely and reassuring signature of the series. Ages 3–7. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words

Ruth Roche, trans. from the Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann, illus. by Madalena Matoso. Enchanted Lion (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-59270-208-4

A boy named Pedro gradually learns how to read, gaining a new understanding of once-indecipherable images on street signs and buildings. Matoso’s blocky graphics underscore themes of sight and learning on multiple fronts: the palette (vermilion, blue, and pea-soup green) echoes the RGB color model, and the illegible scribbles Pedro sees on milk cartons, buses, and elsewhere slowly shift into recognizable characters after he learns about letters like A and D at school. In so doing, Matoso lets readers share in Pedro’s disorientation, perhaps never more than when Pedro’s father tells him that “through your letters you’re starting to understand more of what you see.” The text of the scene is set against a dizzying backdrop of overlapping red and green stripes; taking a moment to think about what they are seeing (as Pedro often does), readers will realize it’s a close-up of Pedro’s father’s sweater. It’s a smart, thoughtful chronicle of learning in action, and it would pair well with Sergio’s Ruzzier’s recent This Is Not a Picture Book! for discussions about how literacy transforms the unfamiliar into the known. Ages 3–6. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Friend Ship

Kat Yeh, illus. by Chuck Groenink. Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4847-0726-5

As Hedgehog lies in a “lonely little nook of a lonely little tree,” she hears someone say, “Friendship is out there—all she has to do is look.” She thinks friendship is a real ship—Groenink (Rufus the Writer) supplies a sepia-toned diagram of its masts and sails—and sets off in her own ship to find it. Everywhere Hedgehog lands, she asks animals if they’ve seen the Friend Ship. They always say no but eagerly board her ship to join in the search. Children will readily realize that Hedgehog’s ship is the Friend Ship, but the animals keep searching. Eventually, Yeh (The Truth About Twinkie Pie) assures readers, they’ll find what they are looking for, “Yes, yes, yes, yes-yessity-yes.” Groenink’s animals radiate sweetness, but it’s the aura of his vignettes and spreads that draws the eye. Warm sunsets glow like polished wood, and starlight gleams from skies of Prussian blue. The depth and quality of the light gives the spreads a hint of the sacred—just right for this hymn to friendship. Ages 3–5. Author’s agent: Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Goodnight Everyone

Chris Haughton. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-9079-3

Haughton (Shh! We Have a Plan) sets aside his characteristically loopy humor in order to lull young children to sleep. Even the colors are soft-pedaled. As a palette of incandescent colors fades from hot vermilion to deep indigo, a series of graduated pages describes, from small to large, the growing drowsiness in the forest as night falls: “The mice are sleepy... the hares are sleepy... the deer are sleepy.” Even Great Big Bear stretches and yawns. Only Little Bear resists: “Well, I’m not sleepy,” he declares. But the rest of the forest creatures are too tired to play with him, and as the pages grow ever darker, into magenta and violet, Little Bear starts yawning and stretching, too. Despite their stripped-down, angular construction, Great Big Bear and Little Bear convey a sense of furry realness—especially when Little Bear gets “a great big goodnight kiss” from Great Big Bear, a massive, comforting presence. Children listening to Haughton’s story might not fall asleep, but they’ll have to admit that it’s getting to be about that time. Ages 2–5. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rhino Rumpus

Victoria Allenby, illus. by Tara Anderson. Pajama (IPS, dist.), $14.95 (24p) ISBN 978-1-927485-96-5

Bedtime preparations prove anything but restful for three rhino siblings in this slice-of-life story from the team behind Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That (2014). Mama rhino is the voice of reason as Allenby describes the household chaos in rhymes that bound along with her young heroes: “One little rhino making faces./ Two little rhinos leave their places./ Three little rhinos butting heads./ Little rhinos, in your beds!” Working in pencil crayon, Anderson gives the rhinos human routines and accessories (one of the babies wears a hair bow, and Mama has a set of pearls), and she plays up the physical comedy of their rambunctiousness, whether it’s a rhino sending food and drink flying during dinner or a bathtub pileup that leaves “one little rhino feeling squashed.” Allenby interrupts her rhymes with a handful of sound effects (“Fidget fuss frump/ Huff harrumph”), as well as a brief bedtime song that helps shift the story’s mood to one of calm. It’s a playful celebration of both the commotion of daily life and the love among members of a family. Ages 2–4. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from Around the World

Yee-Lum Mak, illus. by Kelsey Garrity-Riley. Chronicle, $14.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-4521-2534-3

In a project born out of a blog of the same name, Mak introduces 64 words from more than a dozen languages that describe emotions, situations, and aspects of being that aren’t always easily translated. Garrity-Riley’s dainty mixed-media illustrations, dominated by muted browns and blues, echo the moody tone of several words, as well as the cross-cultural juxtapositions that arise. The elegance of soigné, the mixed messages described by the Turkish word nazlanmak, and the Scots word tartle (for stumbling over someone’s name) are neatly reflected in a semi-awkward cocktail party scene. The Swedish word smultronställe (a “personal idyll free from stress or sadness”) translates literally to a “place of wild strawberries,” which is where Garrity-Riley shows a blonde girl reclining in wavy grasses, eyes closed in delight. Brief definitions, parts of speech, and language of origin accompany each word; the lack of phonetic pronunciations might disappoint readers looking to add these words to their lexicons immediately, but it’s nothing a little Googling can’t fix. Author’s agent: Scott Treimel, Scott Treimel NY. Illustrator’s agency: Christina A. Tugeau Artist Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Emotionary: A Dictionary of Words That Don’t Exist for Feelings That Do

Eden Sher, illus. by Julia Wertz. Razorbill, $19.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-59514-838-4

Sher, best known for her role as middle child Sue Heck on the sitcom The Middle, debuts with a mordant assemblage of more than 150 portmanteau words, designed to alleviate “dyscommunicatia,” aka “the inability to articulate an emotion through words.” Definitions, pronunciations, and root words (“name + amnesia” creates “namenesia,” “forgetting someone’s name literally one second after they’ve introduced themselves”) accompany each word. Wertz (Museum of Mistakes) fleshes out several words’ meanings in b&w comics, starring herself and Sher, that aren’t afraid to get a little grisly: blood, guts, and disembodied limbs go flying after an “irredependent” Sher collapses under the weight of a heavy box, having refused Wertz’s assistance. Sher freely admits that the collection is born out of her own neuroses and communication struggles, and most chapters deal in recognizable moments of self-doubt, social anxiety, and introversion; a final chapter explores “fleeting moments of happiness,” including feeling relievedly “cancelated” when plans fall through. For emotionally “idiovated” readers, this is a wry reminder that they aren’t the only ones who feel that way. Ages 12–up. Author’s agent: Erin Malone, William Morris Endeavor. Illustrator’s agent: Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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