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The Hyena Scientist

Sy Montgomery, photos by Nic Bishop. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99 (80p) ISBN 978-0-544-63511-1

The hyena has a less-than-stellar reputation—something that Montgomery aims to remedy in the newest addition to the Scientists in the Field series. Readers join zoologist Kay Holekamp as she tracks and studies spotted hyenas in Kenya along with a multigenerational team of biologists. The narrative unfolds with all the intrigue of a detective story; as the team radio tracks hyenas in land cruisers, Montgomery recounts their observations as if they are unfolding in the moment: “Kay recognizes this hyena immediately from his spot pattern. It’s Decimeter’s younger brother, year-old Kilometer.” Montgomery shares her own riveting experiences as part of the team, including helping to dart and collect samples from a hyena: “I realize with alarm that a hyena is waking up in my lap,” she recalls. Photo-filled and perceptive, the narrative provides a window into the lives of these fascinating animals, as well as the individuals who devote themselves to their study. Ages 10–12. (May)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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30 Animals That Share Our World

Edited by Jean Reynolds. Seagrass, $14.95 (144p) ISBN 978-1-63322-500-8

Reynolds, who edits the blog The Nonfiction Minute, offers a digestible collection of 30 animal-themed essays by children’s book writers. The works focus on famous animals, such as White House pets throughout history and Seaman, the Newfoundland dog from the Lewis and Clark expedition. Other essays center on animals for which the authors have particular reverence or fear. Trish Marx writes about her terror of the wolf spiders she would find in webs as a child; she then recounts an incident in which wolf spiders in Australia were flooded out of their burrows: “If this damage in Wagga Wagga was caused by climate change, imagine the invasions and changes that may yet come.” Elsewhere, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent shares the captivating story of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Photographs accompany each short piece, along with a stylized illustration of each subject. The brief essays introduce many ideas and concepts; readers eager to learn more can do so through lists of suggested resources. Ages 8–12. (May)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night

Rob Laidlaw, illus. by Barry Kent MacKay. Pajama Press, $18.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-77278-039-0

Author and animal welfare activist Laidlaw shows some love for the undervalued bat, while celebrating the work of other bat-enthusiasts to educate the public about the animals. Laidlaw explores bat anatomy, diet, habitats, species (more than 1,300 identified), and threats facing bats today. Writing in first-person for some sections, Laidlaw describes witnessing a “tornado-like spiral of Mexican free-tailed bats” emerge from Bracken Cave outside San Antonio, Tex.; concerned citizens helped protect the cave from development that would have negatively impacted the bats. Throughout the book, Laidlaw profiles young “bat citizens,” including four- and five-year-olds Eleanor and Samson Davis, whose hot chocolate stand raised more than $100 for the Organization for Bat Conservation. In addition to the striking photographs, a gatefold features a life-size painting of a hoary bat in flight. Many readers will be inspired by Laidlaw’s implication that anyone can become an animal advocate with enough curiosity and compassion. Ages 8–12. (May)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Birds and Their Feathers

Britta Teckentrup. Prestel, $16.95 (86p) ISBN 978-3-7913-7335-5

In this quietly introspective volume featuring evocative, earth-toned prints, German author-illustrator Teckentrup (Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book) explores bird life, behavior, and anatomy through the topic of feathers. Writing in lyrical vignette-like passages, she discusses the physical structure of feathers, how they develop, bird preening and molting, and human use of feathers, among other subjects. Teckentrup relays detailed facts while maintaining an air of wonder: “Birds have to create their own thrust to move themselves through the air, but they must also keep the air resistance created by their wings and body to a minimum.” Intriguingly, Teckentrup weaves in tangential references, including the story of Icarus and the falcon feather that astronaut David Scott left on the moon in 1971. Teckentrup’s opening description of feathers may be just as apt a description for her art and words: “They are delicate, complex, extravagant, beautiful and strong—all at the same time.” Ages 6–up. (May)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Stinkiest! 20 Smelly Animals

Steve Jenkins. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-544-94478-7

In this addition to the Extreme Animals series, author-illustrator Jenkins explores aromatic animals, leading with an irresistible question: “What animal is the smelliest of all?” Emitting strong odors actually serves a purpose for many species on the list, Jenkins explains—notably, as self-defense and to protect territory (predators don’t want to be around or eat stinky animals). Mammals on the list include the honey badger, striped skunk, and ring-tailed lemur; bugs, sea creatures, and birds are also contenders: the hoatzin (aka, “stink bird”) takes a long time to digest food, resulting in “a lot of smelly gas—bird farts.” A purple sea slug called the sea hare, meanwhile, “protects itself by releasing toxic, bad-tasting purple ink.” Jenkins supplies additional facts about the animals, making their stinky characteristics just one aspect of their biology; his trademark torn-paper collages offer realistic and distinctive visual texture for each animal subject. Also available: Speediest: 19 Very Fast Animals. Ages 6–9. (May)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Bonkers About Beetles

Owen Davey. Flying Eye, $19.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-911171-98-0

Davey offers a fact-filled, strikingly illustrated introduction to beetles (an addition to the About Animals series). Working in a dramatic graphic style, Davey renders the beetle subjects with crisp, geometric precision, while representing the exquisite range of colors and patterns to be found among the roughly 400,000 known species. Sections with playful headings (such as “Born This Way”) explore topics including beetle life cycles and metamorphosis, while infographics convey details about beetle anatomy, biology, and behavior: one chart demonstrates fireflies’ flight and flash patterns. Elsewhere, images focus on the beauty and ecological resilience of particular species: a longhorn beetle shows how its blotchy black, gold, and orange markings allow it to camouflage itself against tree bark. Davey offers a dazzling exploration of some of Earth’s most diverse, ubiquitous—not to mention, kaleidoscopic—insects. Ages 5–9. (June)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Big Book of the Blue

Yuval Zommer. Thames & Hudson, $19.95 (64p) ISBN 978-0-500-65119-3

This third title in the Big Book series focuses on ocean biodiversity. Opening spreads discuss sea animal families, sea creature locomotion, and how aquatic species breathe, followed by spreads devoted to specific animals. Zommer’s illustrations are more whimsical than naturalistic—creatures peer at one another with expressive, close-set eyes—but fun, accompanying captions provide factual insights: “a tuna has a super streamlined body which helps it to glide through the water.” Though Zommer doesn’t give readers much geographical sense of different ocean regions, the scenes feature tonal shifts in water color, from pale, tropical blues to the “inky darkness” that is the domain of anglerfish, blobfish, and gulper eels; the portrait layout also enhances the sense of ocean depth. Zommer introduces a seek-and-find element (“Can you find... exactly the same sardine 15 times in this book?”), which will lead readers to discover additional facts and surprises within the teeming underwater scenes. Ages 4–up. (June)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Frog’s Life

Irene Kelly, illus. by Margherita Borin. Holiday House, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8234-2601-0

Nature writer Kelly (Even an Octopus Needs a Home) provides a warm and vividly detailed examination of frogs. Airy spreads offer facts about frog species, behaviors, diets, common predators, habitats, and life cycles—from fertilized egg, through life as a tadpole, to full-grown frog. Italian artist Borin renders her subjects in graceful watercolors, adding naturalistic detail through pen and pencil outlines and accents; the frogs’ brilliant array of skin colors are represented in mosaiclike patterns. A cutaway image shows a frog’s internal organs, while another graphic depicts a frog in the process of shedding its skin: “the frog stretches, turns, and ‘hiccups’ to loosen its old skin and pulls it over its head like a sweater,” Kelly writes. A section on ecological threats facing frogs concludes with a call for readers to protect the amphibians in their own local habitats. Ages 4–8. (May)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Super Potato #1: The Epic Origin of Super Potato

Artur Laperla. Graphic Universe, $8.99 trade paper (56p) ISBN 978-1-5124-4021-8

Super Max has a luxurious blond coiffure, a cape, big muscles (737, to be exact), and an outsized ego. So, it’s humiliating when Doctor Malevolent shoots him with a new weapon and turns him into a potato. Now, he’s Super Potato, a tiny figure with spindly arms and legs, and he’s devastated: “Super Potato cries like a baby surrounded by onions.” He still has superpowers, though, and once he rigs up a new costume for his potato-shaped self, he’s ready to do battle with Doctor Malevolent (who looks like a slimmed-down Gru from Despicable Me) again. Super Patata has been available in Laperla’s home of Spain for several years; this is its U.S. debut, and its uncredited English translation sounds natural and doesn’t fumble. Laperla’s parody strikes an easy comedic tone from the first page, and its wackiness unspools effortlessly. Full-color panel artwork combines caricature with handsomely drafted backgrounds of cityscapes and spaceships, and Laperla nails Super Potato’s expressions of rage and exasperation. A promising start to a series with appeal to strong and reluctant readers alike. Ages 7–11. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Unfortunates

Kim Liggett. Tor Teen, $17.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8100-2

At 17, Grant Franklin Tavish has a very bright future ahead of him. The son of a senator, attending an elite school, surrounded by peers of similar social and economic standing—Grant’s life should be simple. Except that, after the “incident” (a car accident caused by Grant that kills “a carful of people”), he can’t help but feel that he is literally getting away with murder. Wracked with guilt, Grant decides the only way to face the consequences of his actions is to ensure that he does not return from a solitary caving trip—a Tavish family rite of passage. Grant’s plans are spoiled when an avalanche, which he believes he’s responsible for, traps four teens in the caves with him. Determined to save their lives, Grant is not only forced to face his own demons and finally own up to his actions, but also to use every ounce of survivalist skill he has in order to make it out of the caves alive. Liggett (The Last Harvest) uses elements of horror in this tale of psychological suspense. Her characters are prodded in the right direction by an external force that may very well be a figment of a guilty imagination. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jaida Temperly, New Leaf Literary & Media. (July)

Reviewed on 05/18/2018 | Details & Permalink

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