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Great Bear Rainforest: A Giant-Screen Adventure in the Land of the Spirit Bear

Ian McAllister and Alex Van Tol. Orca, $29.95 (96p) ISBN 978-1-4598-2279-5

This beautifully photographed book, a companion to the IMAX documentary Great Bear Rainforest: In the Land of the Spirit Bear, provides a window into a unique wilderness area located between Alaska and Vancouver Island. The spirit bear—“the expression of a rare recessive gene among black bears”—is one of several species featured in wildlife photographs. Others include coastal wolves, whales, pink salmon, and sea lions. Sidebars provide scientific insights into particular species and into the broader ecosystem of forest and sea. The authors also detail the film’s making with photos of camera crew capturing shots and descriptions of day-to-day challenges (“It was a lot of work for Ian to get a shot of sea lions hunting the herring”). The photo-heavy format provides a sense of immediacy, conveying the authors’ impassioned respect for the pristine region. Ages 9–12. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Surviving the City

Tasha Spillett, illus. by Natasha Donovan. Highwater, $18.95 paper (54p) ISBN 978-1-55379-756-2

In this haunting graphic novel, debut author Spillett and Donovan (The Sockeye Mother) present a story of girls growing up with the historical legacy of Canada’s treatment of indigenous people, particularly women and girls. Indigenous Canadian teens Dez (who is Inninew) and Miikwan (who is Anishinaabe) have always been closer than sisters; they tell each other everything and partner up to tell the story of their berry fast for a school heritage project. But after Dez learns that she can no longer live with her ailing grandmother, who is suffering from complications of diabetes, she spends the night in a park, fearing a possible move to a group home. Indigenous women routinely disappear in their city, and Miikwaan, whose own mother is dead, becomes frantic, fearing the worst. In scenes of a city spilling over with tension, Donovan renders ghosts of lost kindred walking the bright city streets alongside menacing, mostly male specters. Spillet’s appendix “Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People” adds further context and suggestions for additional reading. Ages 13–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Supers: A Little Star Past Cassiopeia

Frédéric Maupomé, illus. by Dawid. Top Shelf, $14.99 paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-60309-439-9

Left behind on planet Earth, Matt, Lily, and Benji are trying to live normal lives as school-age children and to avoid relying on their superhuman abilities. Benji believes that they should use their powers for good, while Matt wants to avoid any undue attention for fear of discovery. Even though Benji and Lily sometimes test Matt’s limits, he tries to be the best older brother he can while attempting to connect with humans. Maupomé’s new series has the familial charm of The Incredibles and a good share of Spider-Man’s awkwardness; these kids can do amazing things, but also struggle to fit in in their daily lives. Dawid’s watercolor art keeps the story’s tone light, while dialogue-free flashbacks in a subdued palette show much of the kids’ origin story in a more frantic tone. Maupomé’s affable tale may include superhumans, but it’s really about kids growing up in a world that isn’t of their own choosing, something to which every reader can relate. Ages 8–up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Apocalypse Taco

Nathan Hale. Amulet, $14.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-4197-3373-4

An entertaining blend of humor and horror drives this whirlwind tale of science gone awry. When middle school–aged twins Axl and Ivan set out with high schooler Sid on a 1:30 a.m. food run for the crew of a high school production of Brigadoon, things go very wrong. The provisions that the kids secure from a mysterious Taco Bear restaurant abruptly morph into strange tentacled beasts that attack them. After joining forces with a many-limbed grad student, the kids embark on a journey into a gooey alternate world created by a mad scientist’s legions of bioengineered squid-bees. The narrative isn’t always clear: the bewildering opening act is followed by an info dump midsection that delivers exposition via nested explanatory stories. Still, the plot’s silliness balances each scenario’s underlying terror, and artwork by Hale (the Hazardous Tales series) helps maintain this equilibrium with myriad funny details—including a cargo kilt–wearing, snow scraper–wielding protagonist—and the juxtaposition of bare suburban settings against otherworldly landscapes filled with writhing, distorted creatures. Weird, freaky fun. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Fibber

Yirmi Pinkus, based on the work of Lea Goldberg, trans. from the Hebrew by Ilana Kurshan. Fantagraphics, $12.99 (24p) ISBN 978-1-68396-178-9

Tight, cartoon-style line drawings and sprightly verse by Pinkus, based on Israeli writer Lea Goldberg’s rhyming stories, introduce Mr. Fibber, a cheerful middle-aged man in a suit who tells three tall tales. In the first, he describes falling into a bottle of juice while trying to retrieve a coin. In the second, he boards a train drawn by a large coal-eating terrier. In the last, he packs the sun in his suitcase and takes it on vacation to guarantee good weather. (Readers will appreciate the way that his surroundings remain illuminated even though the sun is in his suitcase.) Though translator Kurshan sometimes resorts to archaic diction to make rhyme and meter work (“Hear ye, for it’s a fact/ I have the sun, all hot and bright,/ it’s in my suitcase packed”), Pinkus’s meaning is always clear. The narrative proceeds at a sedate stroll with no mania in sight. The real and the surreal intermingle politely, as when Mr. Fibber is offered a drink on the train by a matronly parrot. These are the kind of stories that lead to discussions about plausibility and to plenty of make-believe play. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Rambling

Jimmy Cajoleas. HarperCollins, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-249878-6

Buddy Pennington has “durn horrible luck” despite his scoundrel daddy’s legendary good fortune. After he accidentally burns down half of his mother’s bakery on his 11th birthday, Buddy sets off to river country to track down his beloved Pop, a “wild soul” and lauded card player. Just after he arrives, a crew of baddies sent by legendary crime lord Boss Authority kidnaps his dad, leaving him with little more than a knife and his father’s Parsnit cards. A meandering river pursuit brings Buddy an unlikely friend, Tally, one of the spider-folk, and the two make their way to a magical swamp, wherein lie the Creepy, rumored to snatch babies; a human head–shaped card den; and the truth about Buddy’s parents’ past and his own rotten luck. As Buddy’s story moves toward a high-stakes duel, a riveting metanarrative details the game of Parsnit, in which players draw on bewitched decks to fashion a tale: “You Orate the story well enough and it might as well be real.” Flaws and redemption, rambling and heading home are at the heart of this colloquial swamp adventure by Carjoleas (The Good Demon), which considers the components of a real good tale all while telling one. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Moon Within

Aida Salazar. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-338-28337-2

Writing in clear, lyrical first-person verse, debut author Salazar gives voice to 11-year-old dance enthusiast, Oakland-based Celi Rivera, as she grapples with her changing body and a first crush, as well as familial and cultural expectations about growing into womanhood. Celi describes her heritage as “Black-Puerto Rican-Mexican-ness,” and she is particularly dreading the start of her period, because her mother insists that she celebrate with a “moon ceremony,” an ancestral Mexica tradition. For Celi, “I’d rather crawl into a cave/ than have a stupid moon ceremony!” Celi confides in and values her gender-fluid best friend, Marco. But when her skateboarding crush, Ivan, is insensitive toward Marco, Celi has to decide where her loyalty lies. Short, vignettelike passages explore Celi’s growing sense of agency over her body and beliefs, and the discovery of her personal rhythm in dance and in life. With sensitivity, Salazar purports that menstruation is a source of feminine strength, inexorably and beautifully connected to the moon cycle. The broader message is one of acceptance, celebration, and resistance: a period is just a period, Salazar suggests, but it’s also so much more. Ages 8–12. Agent: Marietta B. Zacker, Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Differently Normal

Tammy Robinson. Piatkus, $13.99 paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-349-41904-6

Growing up with a single mother and an autistic sister, Bee, has taught Maddy to keep her expectations low. There’s no time or money for college, and though she tries to pursue her passion for photography, most of her life is given over to work and caring for Bee. She’s certainly not looking for romance. But when Albert, who works at Bee’s therapeutic riding stables, notices Maddy, her life takes a turn. Albert is a good guy with problems of his own: his macho, overbearing father routinely bullies and demeans him. He can’t wait to leave town, but Maddy can’t picture a scenario that would let her leave with him. Still, they enjoy the love that they find, until tragedy intervenes. This is New Zealand author Robinson’s first book to be published in the U.S. Unfortunately, flat characters, a predictable plot, and frequent passages of workmanlike prose may distract readers from Maddy and Albert’s love story and lessen the impact of the eventual tragedy. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Angel Thieves

Kathi Appelt. S&S/Dlouhy, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4424-2109-7

The Texas Buffalo Bayou is both an evocative character and setting in this atmospheric novel about an angel thief searching for redemption. Cade doesn’t enjoy helping his father steal stone angels from graveyards, but it helps to ease financial burdens for the kind, elderly antiques dealer who took in Cade and his father when Cade was an infant. Still, stealing doesn’t seem right to Cade, and he wonders what Soleil, his religious new crush, would think if she found out. Cade wants to do “something good” to make up for his sins, and he finds that opportunity in Zorra, an abused ocelot left to die in her cage. The vivid bayou setting serves as the connecting force as Appelt (The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp) intertwines the present-day story of Cade and Zorra with a historic tale involving a former slave and the angel monument that guides her and her daughters to safety. Using short vignettes and multiple viewpoints (including that of the bayou) that can make the novel feel overfilled, the author shows the best and worst sides of humanity and underscores the powerful force of the bayou, which both holds and erases secrets. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Five Feet Apart

Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. Simon & Schuster, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5344-3733-3

High school senior Stella Grant has cystic fibrosis and is tired of living a life in which “CF gets the final say.” Stella is strong and goal-oriented—she manages her medications with an app she designed and uses YouTube Live to educate others about CF. Her to-do list is a mile long, but she’s truly thrown off course when she meets artist Will Newman, another CF patient in a new drug trial at the hospital where they are both staying. Eight months earlier, he was diagnosed with B. cepacia, which knocked him off the lung transplant list and also means that he must stay several feet away from Stella or risk her health, even when they start falling for each other. She chastises him for not following his care plan; he trivializes her vigilant focus (“So is your plan to die really, really smart so you can join the debate team of the dead?”). Adapted from a screenplay, the novel uses alternating points of view to capture the teens’ desires to explore and seek freedom. The characterizations are thinly fleshed out, but readers interested in The Fault in Our Stars–style tales may root for them and their budding romance. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 03/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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