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Let Liberty Rise! How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty

Chana Stiefel, illus. by Chuck Groenink. Scholastic Press, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-338-22588-4

Groenink’s cartoon-style illustrations jauntily animate Stiefel’s account of how children helped ensure the Statue of Liberty would stand tall in New York Harbor. When money to complete the statue’s pedestal ran out, newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer appealed to readers to raise funds. Digitized gouache and pencil vignettes show an inclusive group of earnest children making contributions, from a “poor office boy” mailing in a nickel to a kindergarten class in Iowa lining up to send more than a dollar. Donations from both children and adults raised more than $100,000 toward the pedestal’s completion. While a late spread reveals the full-height Lady Liberty amid a firework-filled inaugural celebration, the story ends on a quieter note, with the radiant statue backed by sunlit storm clouds, welcoming shipboard immigrants into the harbor. A timeline, bibliography, and further reading list, as well as additional statue facts and archival photos, conclude this true tale of cooperation among all ages. Ages 6–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Wilbur Wright Meets Lady Liberty

Robert Burleigh, illus. by Wendell Minor. Holt/Ottaviano, $19.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-62779-368-1

In this measured telling, previous collaborators Burleigh and Minor recount the first public flying exhibition of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s airplane, during a 1909 technology showcase in New York City. As the pages turn, Wilbur Wright straps a red canoe to the bottom of the Wright Flyer before piloting it over New York Harbor, around the Statue of Liberty, and over the Lusitania. Omniscient narration juxtaposes Wilbur Wright’s measured, methodical actions and observations (“His feet brace... His grip tightens”) with mounting excitement: “The Flyer angles upward into the air: Ten feet. Thirty feet. Fifty!” Though enthusiastic commentary flanks the moment-by-moment account, the description of Wilbur’s skilled, unruffled performance creates an understated tone. Realistic gouache watercolors offer varying perspectives that give scale to both statue and plane. Bookending the story is a second one about a boy who was inspired on that day; intermittent spreads depict sepia-toned portraits of Juan Trippe—who would later found Pan American Airways—alongside imagined spectator comments. Back matter includes creators’ notes, a brief recap of the Wright brothers’ endeavors, and other information about the exhibition. Ages 5–9. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Popcorn Bob

Maranke Rinck, trans. from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier, illus. by Martijn Van der Linden. Levine Querido, $14.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-64614-040-4

In the Netherlands, nine-year-old popcorn lover Ellis has a talent: popping each kernel of microwave popcorn—“every single one.” When her school undertakes an eating campaign banning unhealthy food, though, her fathers place the family microwave in the shed, which she quickly claims for her “secret popcorn paradise.” Surprised at the appearance of a single large unpopped kernel and intent on her nosh, Ellis defies a key packaging rule—“Never put a kernel in the microwave twice”—sticking it in for a reheat. There, it sprouts limbs and a face, making a round of laughably absurd expressions on the rotating microwave turntable before donning a cowboy hat and boots, introducing itself as Popcorn Bob, and, to Ellis’s surprise and annoyance, demanding increasing amounts of food. Comedic hijinks and unlikely friendship ensue, punctuated by Popcorn Bob’s habit of exploding when angry. Ellis’s straightforward narration (“People who call me Ellis-the-Bellis don’t get any popcorn,” Rinck writes) pairs well with speech bubbles and Linden’s scratchy b&w art to create an amusing series starter that’s just right for young fans of the absurd. Ages 7–12. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

Cynthia Schumerth, illus. by Mary Reaves Uhles. Sleeping Bear, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5341-1042-7

In energetic rhymes and onomatopoeic text, debut author Schumerth details popcorn’s journey from seed to snack. As the pages turn, an inclusive group of children prepare the soil and tend the sprouts (“Dig the ground up with a hoe./ Plant the seeds and hope they grow”); watch for growing stalks (“Ears sprout hair that’s fuzzy red”); harvest, shuck, and dry ears of corn; and at last pop the resultant kernels into their final delicious form. Vibrant unlined illustrations by Uhles make use of textural close-ups to show the children invested at every stage of the plant’s journey; one spread includes a kid’s-eye view of weeding. Though a smattering of scientific words sometimes slows the text’s otherwise steady rhythm (“Not strong enough to hold this load.../ The shells (called pericarps) explode”), Schumerth and Uhles offer a lively introduction to the science behind a favorite munchable. Back matter includes more information about why popcorn pops, along with a popcorn-related science project and craft. Ages 6–7. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Seventh Raven

David Elliott, illus. by Rovina Cai. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-35825-211-5

Rich with evocative language (to “bake the coarse bread/ And spin the fine thread/ And weave the rough cloth”), this subtle verse novel retells the Grimms’ “The Seven Ravens” through a lens of perseverance and change. Though all his parents want is a daughter, “girlish” misfit Robyn lives a stifling life as the youngest of a temperamental woodsman’s seven competitive sons. When their sister, April, is born “dying and thin,” their father angrily curses all seven to become ravens; Robyn discovers a love of flight while the others experience only torment. Fifteen years later, upon discovering her brothers’ smocks, April sets out with a carved harp to find them and loose the spell, a quest that will require a horrible sacrifice from the book’s femme characters. Elliott (Voices) makes the propulsive mix of formal and concrete poetry and blank verse sparklingly accessible for teen readers, with repetitions and Cai’s (Elatsoe) inky illustrations weaving multiple narrators into a beautifully unified volume. Fans of lyrical retellings such as Malinda Lo’s Ash will find this bittersweet quest a warm welcome into myth and verse. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 14–up. Author’s agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Castle School (for Troubled Girls)

Alyssa Sheinmel. Sourcebooks Fire, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-7282-2098-7

Following the death of her best friend, high school senior Moira Dreyfuss skips school, sneaks out at night, and gets a tattoo. Frustrated, her parents send Moira to the Castle School in Maine, a talk therapy program that provides new circumstances to “troubled” girls. Moira’s distrust of therapist Dr. Prince is heightened by his rules, including a strict curfew and no phones or junk food. As the semester progresses, Moira becomes friendly with the 11 other girls at the school, and with roommate Eleanor, she uncovers a mystery—a second castle housing 12 boys also in treatment but living with little supervision. While Moira’s viewpoint guides the novel, Sheinmel (What Kind of Girl) sensitively explores the reasons that brought each girl to Castle School, including addiction and kleptomania, emphasizing conversations between the healing schoolmates and between Moira and Dr. Prince. Despite a lengthy wrap-up, Sheinmel’s introspective story skillfully illustrates the weight of grief, the difference between adaptive and nonadaptive reactions to trauma, and the healing power of radical acceptance. Ages 14–up. Agent: Mollie Glick, Creative Artists Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Mirror Season

Anna-Marie McLemore. Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-62412-3

Folding in elements of Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” McLemore (Dark and Deepest Red) whips up a magical realist tale as spellbinding as the pan dulce creations described within this novel’s pages. Known as the pastry witch of San Juan Capistrano, queer Mexican American teen Graciela “Ciela” Cristales works at her family’s pastelería and has inherited her late bisabuela’s ability to “know what bread or sweet would leaven the heart of anyone she met.” After Ciela and a visiting “boy in plaid flannel” are both sexually assaulted at the same party, however, her gift disappears—and a strange season begins in which trees vanish overnight and objects suddenly turn into magical mirrored glass. But when the boy from that night, Lock Thomas, unexpectedly enrolls at Ciela’s high school several months later, with no memory of his assault, Ciela must decide whether to reveal what she knows or keep the truth to herself. With haunting prose and sharp insight, McLemore expertly combines the piquant with the sweet (“I dream of pale fingers pulling me apart like sugar dough”), exposing the fragility and complexity of Ciela and Lock’s hearts post-assault with due consideration and care. Ages 13–up. Agent: Taylor Martindale Kean, Full Circle Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Lost in the Never Woods

Aiden Thomas. Swoon, $18.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-25031-397-3

Coping with tragedy and growing up too fast takes center stage in this compassionate rural Oregon reimagining of Peter Pan. Five years ago, Wendy Darling and her brothers vanished in the dangerous woods outside town—and six months later, on her 13th birthday, she alone was found, amnesiac, with her brothers’ blood under her fingernails. Now 18 and ready for nursing school, Wendy compulsively sketches a sinister, twisted tree as well as Peter Pan, the imaginary protagonist from her mother’s bedtime stories. When children start disappearing again, the real Peter appears, fearful of growing up and begging Wendy to help find his rogue shadow, locate the children that his shadow is stealing, and perhaps save her still-missing brothers. But as Wendy’s memories begin to resurface, she realizes that Peter’s been keeping secrets—and that she’ll need to face her own painful truth. Despite a somewhat simplistic antagonist, Thomas’s (Cemetery Boys) immersive prose and nuanced, trauma-informed perspective add real depth to Barrie’s classic characters. Readers of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series and Laura E. Weymouth will settle into this emotionally generous update. Ages 13–up. Agent: Jennifer March Soloway, Andrea Brown Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Elephant in the Room

Holly Goldberg Sloan. Dial, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2994-5

Book and animal lover Sila Tekin finds hope, joy, and friendship when Veda, a traumatized circus elephant, enters her life. After an immigration issue arises for the sixth grader’s mother, her planned eight-day trip from Oregon to Turkey becomes an eight-month separation for the family. Sila misses her mother desperately, withdrawing at school and with her Kurdish father, a mechanic who moved to America to seek political asylum. When Sila accompanies her father to work one day, she befriends Gio Gardino, an elderly widower and lottery winner who purchases Veda from a defunct circus troupe that passes through their town. With the help of new friend Mateo Lopez, an autistic Mexican American classmate, Sila cares for Veda and fights to reunite her with her mother; the girl also begins to come out of her shell and feel hope again. Though the final chapters rush to an implausibly tidy end, Sloan (To Night Owl from Dogfish) fully builds the emotional interiors of each character, including Veda. This heartfelt tale thoughtfully conveys the agony of family separation, the beauty of nature, and the power of friendship to overcome tremendous difficulties. Ages 10–up. Agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Wild River

Rodman Philbrick. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-338-64727-3

Newbery Honoree Philbrick twines a heartfelt message about teamwork and forgiveness with realistic dangers in this page-turning survival story. As part of a leadership project, rising sixth grader Daniel Redmayne is chosen to go whitewater rafting in Montana with four of his New Hampshire classmates. “Not a likely pick for anything,” quiet, pale-skinned Daniel isn’t sure why he was selected for this group, but he welcomes a break from sharing a room with his three younger brothers, even if it means having to open up to his raft mates: obnoxious Deke and sidekick Tony, who are white; confident Mia, who is Latinx; and reserved Imana, who is Black. When the planned-upon river turns out to be dry, though, the two adult guides change course, driving 100 miles to Montana’s Crazy River without communicating the change. Disaster strikes immediately, separating the kids from their guardians with only a backpack of emergency supplies. Though Daniel’s bipolar father is insensitively referred to as having “been in your own crazy river,” a battle for power keeps the tension high, as do plenty of twists and cliffhangers, which create enough uncertainty to keep the pages turning. Ages 9–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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