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Super George and the Invisible Shield

Laurie P. Mendoza, illus. by Cheryl Francis. SCF Press, $12.95 paper (32p) ISBN 978-0-9990337-1-5

George, a boy with blue-black hair that swoops into a cowlick, insists on being called Super George and dons a cape to match the moniker. When others tease him with names like “Curious George” or “George Washington,” George’s anger gets big and scary: “Whenever George yelled, he imagined the sound racing out of his mouth, getting bigger and bigger and bigger until it crashed against the other person like storm waves.” Taking a cue from his favorite TV superhero, Silent Knight—who is also teased—George wishes for an invisible shield to ward off hurtful words. His wise, purple-haired grandmother suggests perhaps he has one already; he just needs to activate it, by taking calming, deep breaths. Giraldo delivers a relatable story about willpower and taming angry emotions, enlivened by Bertelle’s spirited and pleasantly jumbled comics-style art. Ages 7–10. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Whole Bunch of Feelings: What Do They Mean?

Jennifer Moore-Mallinos, illus. by Gustavo Mazali. Barron’s, $9.99 paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-4380-1147-9

Moore-Mallinos explores 44 different emotions through scenarios involving a multiracial cast of cartoonlike characters. A boy looks solemnly out the window at the rain: “I was so disappointed when my best friend and I planned to go to the park but we couldn’t go because a big thunderstorm came”; he and his friend find a fun, indoor activity to do instead. For each emotion, Moore-Mallinos encourages readers to reflect on their own experiences. Part of understanding emotions is also recognizing them in others, she suggests. An older sister watches her baby brother sleeping: “Warm clothes and a full belly make my brother feel content. He has everything he needs, plus a lot of love. What makes you feel content?” It’s a constructive toolbox for recognizing and articulating emotions. Ages 5–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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What Happens Next

Susan Hughes, illus. by Carey Sookocheff. Owl Kids, $19.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-77147-165-7

An unnamed, intellectually curious child with a mop of hair is chased, teased, and ridiculed by a girl referred to as “Bully B.,” who “looks me up and down. Shoves my books. Calls me Weirdo.” Sookocheff illustrates the characters with simple strokes, giving them an indistinct appearance, which hints at the potential for any child to be bullied—or perhaps be a bully. Pale tones are accented by pea green, light blue, and tangerine, signifying various emotional states. At the urging of the child’s mother, the narrator responds to Bully B.’s cruelty with an anecdote about interconnectedness and the universe. Their moment of shared awe and common humanity results in a subtle change: “What’s Different Now: Not everything. But enough.” Hughes’s suggestion that reaching out to bullies can be more effective than standing up to them is a brave and big-hearted one. Ages 4–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Big, Brave, Bold Sergio

Debbie Wagenbach, illus. by Jamie Tablason. Magination, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4338-2794-5

Sergio is a snapping turtle who spends time with other “Snappers” as they do things like pluck ducks’ tail feathers and play soccer using snails as the balls. Though he feels “big,” “brave,” and “bold” when he takes part, he also knows that the Snappers aren’t being nice. Though another Snapper, Big Clay, tells him to ignore his “squishy feelings,” Sergio refuses to pick on a tiny fish—and the Snappers turn on him. Readers may recognize the dynamics of bullying cliques in the Snappers, while grasping the significance of Sergio’s decision to stand up against their cruelty. A tidy, happy ending may not reflect the outcomes readers see in their own lives, but paired with Tablason’s bold, splashy cartoons, the message about kindness and listening to gut feelings will make an impression. Back matter advises parents how to help nurture empathy in children. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Simon and the Big, Bad, Angry Beasts: A Book About Anger

Ian De Haes. Flyaway Books, $16 (40p) ISBN 978-0-664-26355-3

For a child named Simon, if his v-slanted eyebrows aren’t an indication that he’s angry, the wild beasts he rides on sure are: “The third time he got very angry, it was because his mother had told him no. Suddenly his alligator transformed into a terrifying lion!” When he’s forced to eat all of his soup, his anger is a glowering rhinoceros, and a “frightening” red dragon earns him the title “Simon the Terrible” as other children flee. Soon, though, Simon feels alone. Belgian author-illustrator De Haes’s creatures are about as menacing as pint-size Simon himself (despite their bared teeth, it’s not hard to picture them rolling over for belly rubs). De Haes conveys emotion through contrasting red and blue tones and brings the story to a gentle close as Simon’s anger transforms again, this time into “pretty butterflies.” Back matter offers tips for parents on handling anger. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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This Makes Me Happy

Courtney Carbone, illus. by Hilli Kushnir. Rodale Kids, $13.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-63565-057-0

In this addition to the Dealing with Feelings series, an African-American child describes her class field trip to the county fair, illustrated in Kushnir’s cozy, upbeat art. At the fair, she goes on a roller coaster, has her face painted, and visits the petting zoo. Even a happy day has minor setbacks—the girl can’t have any bake sale treats because she is allergic to nuts: “I feel left out. My teacher sits down next to me. She has allergies, too.” On the bus ride back, she reflects on her busy day: “Many thoughts bounce around in my head. I focus on them one at a time. What am I feeling? I am feeling happy.” Carbone models being mindful of all emotions, while suggesting that happiness is not always about what occurs but how one chooses to look at circumstances. Ages 4–6. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Not ’Til Tomorrow, Phoebe

Julie Zwillich, illus. by Denise Holmes. Owl Kids, $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-77147-172-5

In her second outing, Phoebe—a tough-minded, brown-skinned girl in ladybug boots—has a hard time waiting for tomorrow. Her mother promises pancakes in the morning and ice cream in the afternoon, while at school there will be a party—but none of it is happening today: “There was nothing fun about waiting. And that’s exactly what you had to do to get to... tomorrow.” As Phoebe’s frustration mounts, she imagines herself as a brown bear who growls from the back seat and “bumped Mama’s seat with her back paws.” Holmes works in fine ink outlines and pleasing digital colors, providing a sense of intimacy to Phoebe’s home life and school community. A tearful conversation with her grandmother inspires Phoebe to appreciate the tomorrows in store and to relish a good night’s sleep. The story’s not quite a prescription for mindfulness, but following Phoebe’s lead may take readers a step closer to living in the moment. Ages 3–7. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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My Feelings and Me

Holde Kreul, illus. by Dagmar Geisler. Sky Pony, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5107-3533-0

Adults don’t always express their emotions, suggests Kreul in an introductory note addressed to “Grown-ups,” which makes it hard for children to know how to navigate their own. A small cast of pale-skinned kids experience different emotional states in the author’s practical guide to coping with feelings, illustrated with Geisler’s bright, emotive cartoons. “Sometimes I stomp on the floor in rage, or I break something. Then no one can get too close to me,” says one girl, her ponytail flying and a jagged, lightning bolt-like shape flashing behind her. Elsewhere, a boy comforts a friend in need: “Because I know my own feelings, I can often understand other people’s feelings, too. It’s nice to feel that I can help others.” Kreul, a therapist, provides an affirming look at how understanding emotions is key to expressing them safely and constructively. Ages 3–6. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The King of Birds

Alexander Utkin. Nobrow, $16.95 (72p) ISBN 978-1-910620-38-0

Gamayun, a human-faced bird from Slavic mythology who tells stories, greets readers in this intriguing graphic-novel rendering of Russian folktales. Like Russian nesting dolls, each tale is born from the previous one, and they often cross back into other stories later on. What starts as an attempt to steal an apple of eternal youth from the garden of a warrior princess leads to a war between the mammals and birds. After winning, the King of Birds struggles to survive and is saved by the kindness of a merchant. The king is indebted to the human, whom he flies to faraway lands and awards him a treasure that he is not allowed to open. Utkin’s work is mesmerizing and haunting both visually and narratively, his striking characters wavering between majestic and malevolent. Though much of the story occurs in the wild, Utkin switches up earthy hues for bright backgrounds and beings that cover the range of colors—notably shades of bright blue and gold. Readers will find themselves easily seduced by Utkin’s artwork and storytelling. Ages 10–up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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La Matadragones

Jaime Hernandez. Toon, $16.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-943145-30-0

For his retellings of three traditional Latin American tales, Hernandez (the Love and Rockets series) creates panel artwork that’s satisfyingly crisp and sure. In the first story, an unnamed but resolute young woman uses a talking magic wand to slay a dragon and win a husband. In the second, a rat named Ratón Perez falls into a vat of soup, and the community grieves for him—until an old woman realizes that he might not be dead. In the third, Tup, a lazy but enterprising young man, enlists ants to do his farmwork and outwits his older brothers. Fairy tales with brown heroes and heroines are rare, and these stories are full of unexpected twists, as a rat wins the heart of a woman (“I have been meaning to ask you to go out with me for a long time,” Ratón Perez murmurs to Martina) and industrious ant employees build an earth oven and roast Tup’s corn while he naps. Sensitive readers may be disturbed by the mourning rituals in the second story, in which grieving birds cut off their own beaks and tails. Available in English and Spanish. Ages 8–12. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/23/2018 | Details & Permalink

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