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Three Magic Balloons

Julianna and Paul Margulies, illus. by Grant Shaffer. Random House, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-101-93523-1

First, some backstory: the late Paul Margulies, a legendary ad man, wrote this story for his daughters, one of whom now stars in The Good Wife. Shaffer, making his children’s book debut, is also the husband of Julianna Margulies’s co-star Alan Cumming. In the story, three sisters are rewarded with magic balloons after selflessly spending their treat money on food for the animals at the Children’s Zoo. That night, the balloons carry the girls and their beds into the heavens (“It was like a garden, but no garden you have ever seen”), where they meet fantastical beasts, sing with three angels, and return home escorted by color-coordinated songbirds. Whipped up from elements reminiscent of Grimm, Andersen, and a dash of Joseph Campbell, the story aims for a soufflé-like tone, although passages like “the creatures didn’t need food. They were nourished by the kind thoughts of children,” can get a bit sugary. But Shaffer’s stylishness, cheery palette, and fluid lines effectively counter any preciousness; he choreographs all the floating, soaring, and prettiness so skillfully that the images really do seem lighter than air. Ages 3–7. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, WME. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rules of the House

Mac Barnett, illus. by Matt Myers. Disney-Hyperion, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4231-8516-1

Barnett focuses his inimitable blend of energy and fiendish imagination on children’s fascination with the rules. The scene is a vacation cabin with a posted set of regulations. Keep the rug clean, scrub the bathtub, feed the wood box, and “Never—ever—open the red door.” Younger brother Ian is a rule-follower who tucks his shirt in and always packs his toothbrush. Jenny, his older sister, breaks all the rules—and she pinches, too. After she defiantly opens the red door, the rug, bathtub, and woodstove transformed into large-as-life monsters that are ready to eat her (“ ‘Rulebreaker soup for dinner,’ they sang.... It wasn’t a very clever song, but the tune was catchy”). Underdog Ian comes to her rescue by cowing the monsters with Socratic reasoning: “Don’t you guys have toothbrushes?” he asks. “When you break the Toothbrush Rule, very bad things happen.” Myers’s acrylics revel in horror-movie parody, like the hellish light emitted by the red door and the bearskin rug stalking the siblings in their bunk beds. No solemn moralizing, just a rib-tickling, slightly subversive readaloud. Ages 3–5. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Lion Inside

Rachel Bright, illus. by Jim Field. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-545-87350-5

With his bright saucer eyes and huge winglike ears, Mouse looks like he wouldn’t fade into any background. And yet, “He got stepped on and sat on./ He missed out on stuff./ Ignored and forgotten.../ his mouse life was tough.” Watching how the “shouty and proud” Lion dominates, Mouse decides that he needs to add a roar to his repertoire, and he risks being eaten to offer himself up as a pupil to Lion. But Mouse soon discovers that having a big roar isn’t synonymous with having a perfect, fearless life. Bright (the Love Monster books) seems to leave no self-help bromide unturned (“It felt like the scariest thing he could do.../ But if you want things to change, you first have to change you”). But Field (Frog on a Log?) is in top form, offering so many imaginative framings (several spreads contain multiple vignettes, each one a winner) and irreverent characterizations (Lion is a Miles Gloriosus with a mane) that readers will feel carried along by his visual and comedic generosity. Ages 3–5. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Suite for Human Nature

Diane Charlotte Lampert, illus. by Eric Puybaret. S&S/Atheneum/Dlouhy, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4169-5373-9

Lampert wrote the libretto for Wynton Marsalis’s 2004 Suite for Human Nature, an allegory about how love tames aggressive emotions. In this adaptation, Puybaret’s (Alice in Wonderland) gauzy and graceful paintings on linen create an ethereal ambience; a fairylike Mother Nature with umber skin and a flowing aqua gown with petal accents sustains the weather, flora, and fauna. Mother Nature tends the Earth and cares especially for humans, but she also yearns for children of her own. One by one, she crafts little troublemakers named Fear, Hate, Envy, Greed, and Fickle. The gender dynamics are questionable, since all are boys except flirty Fickle. While Mother Nature governs the seasons, “waking up bulbs” in spring and “ripen[ing] the fields” in summer, she leaves humans in charge of her children and returns to an ever-more-volatile populace. At last, after consulting with the four winds, the anxious Mother Nature creates girl twins who model patient Love. Reminiscent of the story of Pandora’s box and other creation tales, this gently told allegory avoids its violent implications and favors optimistic resolutions. All ages. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dragonfly Kites/Pimithaagansa

Tomson Highway, illus. by Julie Flett. Fifth House (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, dist.), $19.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-89725-263-5

Written in English and Cree, this second book in Highway’s Magical Songs of the North trilogy, first published in Canada in 2002, gains new artwork from Flett (Wild Berries). The story follows brothers Joe and Cody as they play games along a Manitoba lakeshore, where they spend summers in a tent with their mother, father, and dog, Ootsie, “who was almost a person.” Much of the boys’ activity revolves around creating names and stories for various objects and animals they discover, but their favorite game involves gently tying strings around dragonflies, turning them into living kites. Although that particular “game” may give some children and adults pause, Highway’s matter-of-fact text and Flett’s crisp, gently textured forms create a loving portrait of a family in communion with their environment. Ages 6–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Marisol McDonald and the Monster/ Marisol McDonald y el monstruo

Monica Brown, trans. into the Spanish by Adriana Domínguez, illus. by Sara Palacios. Lee & Low/Children’s Book Press, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-89239-326-8

In her third bilingual picture book, Marisol McDonald, who is of Scottish and Peruvian descent, highlights her love of words that begin with the letter m, except for one: monsters. After a couple nights of less-than-great sleep, Marisol takes control of her fear by making a friendly three-legged sock monster. Beyond the full Spanish translation of the story, Brown integrates occasional Spanish words into the English recounting in a way that feels natural to Marisol’s daily experience (“If monsters were real, would they have mamis?” she asks her Mami). Her anxieties about the unknown are relatable, and Palacios’s cozy mixed-media images never let things get too scary for readers with their own insecurities regarding los monstruos. Ages 5–8. Author’s agent: Stefanie Von Borstel, Full Circle Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Kendra Marcus, Bookstop Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Charmed Life/Una vida con suerte

Gladys E. Barbieri, trans. into the Spanish by Carolina E. Alonso, illus. by Lisa Fields. Arte Público/Piñata, $14 (32p) ISBN 978-1-55885-827-5

In a story likely to leave readers thinking about class and privilege, a Latina girl named Felicia accompanies her Mamá to a gated mansion, where she works as a housecleaner. Felicia can’t resist exploring, peeking into a nursery and swinging on a backyard playscape, where the house’s pregnant owner joins her. Mrs. Fitzpatrick discusses her great-grandparents’ immigration from Ireland and gives Felicia a charm bracelet—Felicia adores it, though text and art reveal her mother’s discomfort with the gift. Barbieri draws clear parallels between the struggles and aspirations of immigrants past and present, while Fields’s illustrations practically glow with the promise of the “charmed life” Felicia desires. Her mother’s wistful closing line, “Yes, Felicia, you will have a very charmed life,” hints at the lengths to which parents will go for their children. Ages 4–8. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Happy Birthday, Poco Loco!

J.R. Krause and Maria Chua. Amazon/Two Lions, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2638-6

In Krouse and Chua’s follow-up to Poco Loco (2013), the eponymous, disaster-prone ratón uses his birthday fiesta to show off his latest invention: the Cake-Baking Bunk Bed. What could go wrong? For starters, Robo-Vacuum, Poco Loco’s robotic vacuum cleaner, begins devouring cake after cake, overloading the machine: “Robo-Vacuum adds mucho más leche, harina, azúcar, and huevos. It cranks the power to máximo.” As the house is drenched in a torrent of pink frosting, Poco Loco attempts to locate his missing friends. The characters speak in an organic hybrid of Spanish and English (a glossary, with pronunciations, appears at the front of the book), and the in-your-face digital artwork makes the most of the unabashedly silly story line. Ages 3–7. Agent: Jennifer Mattson, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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My First Book of Indonesian Words: An ABC Rhyming Book of Indonesian Language and Culture

Linda Hibbs, illus. by Julia Laud. Tuttle, $12.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8048-4557-1

Written in cheerful rhymes, this companion to My First Book of Chinese Words and other titles presents an alphabetical introduction to Indonesian words, expressions, food, and other aspects of the country’s culture. Laud’s sleek digital illustrations feature wide-eyed figures enjoying traditional cuisine (“P is for pedas. It’s so spicy hot you’ll squeal—/ Sambal made from chilies/ we enjoy with every meal”) and taking part in various activities, such as a smiling boy with tousled hair seen surfing (“O is for ombak,/ the waves on the shores,/ rising high, crashing down./ The surfers want more!”). Hibbs provides occasional background and context (noting that the Indonesian language, Bahasa Indonesia, “doesn’t have words that start with Q, V, X, or Z”), rounding out a warm, informative overview of the country’s sights and sounds. Ages 3–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Royal Easter Story

Jeanna Young and Jacqueline Johnson, illus. by Omar Aranda. Zonderkidz, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-310-74870-0

In this addition to the Princess Parable series, princesses Joy, Grace, Faith, Charity, and Hope prepare for their annual Easter pilgrimage and jubilee, during which they will deliver a cross, gifts, and decorations to townspeople “as we remember all that Jesus has done for us.” When the princesses find a lost child during a storm, they pray to God to help guide their caravan through the rain. Tiaras and dresses unspoiled, the princesses safely arrive and reunite the child with her mother. Aranda’s doe-eyed princesses—white-skinned, slender, and virtually identical—are rendered in a generic Disney-lite style, but despite a few inelegant phrases (“a frantic yet joyful-looking mother came running toward them”), Young and Johnson’s story provides an effective framework for discussions about service to others. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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