Fall’s noteworthy new releases vary widely in tone and complexity, but all contain fundamental truths and address topical issues that will resonate with young readers.

Picture this

The Shade Tree (Greystone/Aldana Libros, Sept., ages 4–10) by Korean artist Suzy Lee is the retelling of a Korean folktale with “a great political message,” says Aldana Libros publisher Patsy Aldana. “A young stranger tricks this greedy rich man into selling him the shade of a large old tree on his property that he won’t share with the poor villagers. It really speaks to right now, with the heat that we’re experiencing.” It also fits well on the Aldana Libros list, according to Aldana, who notes that the Canadian imprint’s mandate is to publish illustrated books in translation that North American children would otherwise not be exposed to, “because they’re not seen as commercially viable by the big imprints.”

Significant changes were made to The Shade Tree to prepare it for the North American market. “The original Korean edition was quite a bit narrower, and it’s a foldout book,” Aldana says. The Aldana Libros edition translated by Helen Mixter contains conventional spreads but retains one foldout page because, Aldana says, “the tree grows and grows and grows: that’s part of the point of the story.”

The interplay between human beings and the natural world also takes center stage in Coyote’s Wild Home (Gryphon, Oct., ages 6–9), the picture book debut of Pulitzer Prize winner Barbara Kingsolver, who cowrote it with her daughter Lily Kingsolver, an environmental educator. Paul Mirocha’s illustrations were inspired by a visit to Barbara’s farm in Virginia.

Gryphon publisher Emilie Buchwald solicited Kingsolver to write a book about coyotes. The imprint, which publishes illustrated books about animals, was developing a series about wildlife, with each volume written by a leading expert on a specific topic. Though Kingsolver had written previously about the importance of coyotes in maintaining balance in ecosystems, she initially intended to turn down the request. “I had no idea how to fit such complex ideas into a child-size narrative,” she says. It was Lily who proposed the concept: intertwined stories of a coyote pup and a girl’s adventures in the forest. Insisting that predators need better representation in children’s literature, the coauthors say they enjoyed drawing upon their expertise to dismantle false narratives about coyotes.

Blexbolex’s The Magicians (Nov., ages 9 and up) is the fifth title from the French artist to be introduced to the English-language market by Brooklyn-based indie Enchanted Lion. This time out, Blexbolex weaves the tale of three shape-shifting magicians—an elephant, a blackbird, and a human girl—who pop out of their hiding places, only to be pursued by a fierce young hunter and a mechanical lion-dragon, both intent on vanquishing them.

Not only is The Magicians visually stunning, with illustrations saturated with vivid colors, says associate editor Emilie Robert Wong, but “it’s also an action-packed fantasy adventure, an amazing story that’s all about magic.” There are also topical themes, she points out: “questions about creativity, and childhood, and nature, and how that kind of magic should be fostered, allowed to take root in all of its messiness and disorder.”

Françoise Mouly, who founded Toon Books to publish comics and graphic novels for early readers, describes the press’s first hardcover picture book, Gotta Go! (Sept., ages 5–7), by New Yorker cover artist Frank Viva, as a “straightforward” story with a “not very complicated plot” that nevertheless will dredge up memories for adults of their own childhood mishaps. In the book, a boy named Owen ignores his mother when she suggests he use the bathroom before they leave home. Later, when it’s urgent that Owen find a toilet, his grandfather saves the day.

“This is not just a funny book,” Mouly insists, noting that Gotta Go! was inspired by Viva’s reflections upon the aging process. “When you get older you have to pay attention to things you’ve totally ignored as a grown-up—like how often you pee. It brought Frank back to being a kid in many ways. And grandparents can be more empathetic than parents.”

Disclosing that a colleague who had recently lost her grandfather cried while reading Gotta Go!, Mouly says, “I felt sorry for her, but at the same time, that’s the best book review.”

Dystopian futures

Newbery Medalist Donna Barba Higuera conceptualized her latest middle grade dystopian novel, Alebrijes (Levine Querido, Oct., ages 10–14), after listening to a public radio segment during the pandemic about drones made to look like birds. Set 400 years in the future, after climate change and other disasters have ravaged Earth, Alebrijes is the story of a young migrant field worker punished by an oppressive regime for a crime he did not commit. Levine Querido senior editor Nick Thomas says Higuera’s latest is about “a world that has been destroyed, and now has incredibly limited resources,” and explores how humans from different groups get along in such a place. He adds, “I think of climate change and migration, and I think of this book and its connection to our world.”

Five years ago, Europa Editions expanded into YA fantasy with French author Christelle Dabos’s A Winter’s Promise, the first volume in the Mirror Visitor quartet. In October, Dabos returns with the standalone Here, and Only Here. Noting that the story is set in the self-contained and highly stratified world of a school dominated by “a godlike prince” who rules over the various cliques, as well as the outcasts, Europa publisher Michael Reynolds says there’s “something really unusual about this book.” Dabos writes “so effectively” about the turbulence of adolescence, Reynolds explains, but she “pushes the emotional truth of being a teenager far into the world of fantasy.” YA fantasy is “all about the worldbuilding and character development,” and in Here, and Only Here, Dabos has created a world “that seems so immaculate, so extraordinary, you just slide into it.”

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