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Ugly Cat & Pablo

Isabel Quintero, illus. by Tom Knight. Scholastic Press, $6.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-545-94091-7

In a banter-filled odd-couple story, a mouse named Pablo and his feline friend Ugly Cat roam their neighborhood making trouble and eating street cart food (paletas are a particular favorite). Quintero (Gabi, a Girl in Pieces) also shows the pals’ softer side: they regret riding their English bulldog friend Big Mike around like a bull, and they get a chance to apologize when Big Mike rescues them during an attempted paleta theft gone awry. The friends’ keyed-up conversations, which intermingle English and Spanish, can ramble, but Ugly Cat and Pablo have abundant chemistry and personality, qualities that are further accentuated by Knight’s bold b&w cartooning. Ages 7–10. Author’s agent: Peter Steinberg, Foundry Literary + Media. Illustrator’s agent: Anne Moore Armstrong, Bright Group. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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How to Tame a Triceratops

Will Dare, illus. by Mariano Epelbaum. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $5.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-4926-3617-5

Dinosaurs take the place of horses in Dare’s zippy first story in the Dino Riders series, a kind of Wild West/Jurassic mashup. Josh Sanders is an ambitious young dino rider in the land of the Lost Plains, who hopes to enter the Founders’ Day Race, but his gallimimus, Plodder, is old and slow. When Josh acquires a triceratops, however, the puppylike dinosaur isn’t race ready either. Epelbaum’s cinematic, grayscale artwork plays up the rowdiness of the premise of an adventure laced with cowpoke lingo and stuffed with dinosaurs both speedy and slow. Simultaneously available: How to Rope a Gigantosaurus. Ages 7–10. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Amazing Crafty Cat

Charise Mericle Harper. First Second, $13.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-62672-486-0

In an entry-level graphic novel, Harper (the Just Grace series) dives into the mind of Birdie, a quirky worrier who loves to imagine herself as a resourceful feline alter ego, “Crafty Cat.” Birdie wants a perfect birthday, but she drops her box of panda cupcakes on the way to school. The story zigzags in and out of reality, with Birdie envisioning how future events might unfold. Harper’s line art helps distinguish what’s happening inside Birdie’s mind versus what’s actually happening, yet the story is simultaneously tricky to track and absent much of a plot. For those who share Birdie’s enthusiasm for crafting, instructions for several projects are included. Ages 6–10. Agent: Amy Rennert, Amy Rennert Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Waiting for Sophie

Sarah Ellis, illus. by Carmen Mok. Pajama (IPS, dist.), $10.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-77278-020-8

The arrival of a new baby sibling conjures mixed emotions for a boy named Liam in this sweet and relatable story from Ellis (Ben Says Goodbye), set over four chapters. At home with his grandmother, Liam waits all day and night for his parents to return with Baby Sophie, but after they finally arrive, it turns out that the waiting has just begun: “Burping and crying and diapers and a little bit of throwing up was getting boring. It was time for Sophie to learn more things.” Mok’s warm digital illustrations tenderly depict Liam’s moments of adjustment, as well as the relationship between a perceptive grandmother and her not-so-patient grandson. Ages 5–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Daisy Dreamer and the Totally True Imaginary Friend

Holly Anna, illus. by Genevieve Santos. Little Simon, $5.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-4814-8630-9

For Daisy, the real world isn’t nearly as fascinating as her imaginary one. At school, she draws a friendly monster named Posey in her journal: “Posey needs a nosey and a perfect goofy smile. And antlers. Obviously.” When a classmate tears the page, Daisy despairs—until Posey comes to life. Anna has a good handle on Daisy’s exuberant narrative voice, and the open-ended conclusion serves as a lead-in to book two, Daisy Dreamer and the World of Make-Believe, available simultaneously. Aided by Santos’s chunky, gestural cartooning, Anna readily conveys how having an active imagination can feel like magic. Ages 5–9. Illustrator’s agent: Jaida Temperly, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat!

Pip Jones, illus. by Ella Okstad. Faber & Faber (PGW, dist.), $8.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-57130-250-5

In a punchy rhyming escapade, debut author Jones introduces an inventive girl named Ava and her invisible cat, Squishy McFluff. When household mishaps coincide with Squishy’s arrival, it’s time for him to go—until Ava’s clever Great Grandad Bill intervenes. Jones’s singsong verse is long-winded at times (“He’s ever so small,/ he just doesn’t know better./ He felt very bad/ for unraveling that sweater,/ And you must understand/ that kittens are frisky,/ He didn’t deliberately/ spill Daddy’s whisky”), though it gives the story the feel of an epic poem. Norwegian artist Okstad’s pink and teal graphics nicely highlight the mischievous goings-on. Available simultaneously: Supermarket Sweep! Ages 5–7. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Quest for Z: The True Story of Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon

Greg Pizzoli. Viking, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-670-01653-2

Pizzoli takes readers to the pre-GPS era, when “maps of the world still included large ‘blank spots’,” and introduces cartographer/explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in 1925 while looking for the remnants of an ancient city deep in the Amazon rainforest. Fawcett dubbed this once-mighty metropolis “Z”—maybe, Pizzoli speculates, “because the lost city seemed to be the most remote place in the world, the final stop, like the last letter of the alphabet.” As he did in Tricky Vic, Pizzoli combines flat illustrations and elements (like speech balloons) with archival materials, giving the pages the feel of an animated educational film. The narrative can be a little hard to track as Pizzoli recounts the several expeditions Fawcett led for the Royal Geographic Society prior to his private, doomed search for Z. But hardly a page goes by without an enthralling or gory detail, such as the discovery of an expedition scout found “dead, with forty-two arrows in his body,” an incident Pizzoli depicts with an image reminiscent of the classic Saul Bass poster for Anatomy of a Murder. Ages 7–10. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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If Sharks Disappeared

Lily Williams. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-62672-413-6

Williams defends sharks as not scary but essential in her children’s book debut, as a family’s boat outing frames a narrative that examines the role that these ancient, oft-misunderstood predators play in ocean ecosystems. The family’s daughter serves as a silent host as Williams’s spreads posit the dire consequences that could result if sharks disappear, such as the disappearance of fish and a subsequent surge of plankton growth that “could make the ocean a thick sludge.” While the scenario is alarming, Williams’s cartoons maintain a lighter note, featuring undersea creatures that often sport very human expressions. After taking readers to the hypothetical brink of disaster, Williams circles back and reassures with the message that sharks are still around and that “all species depend on one another to survive.” In the endnotes, readers learn about the biggest threats to sharks: appetites for shark fin soup, overfishing, and other harmful practices. A bibliography and a list of dos and don’ts wrap up a well-executed environmental primer that will leave readers considering the interconnectivity of the planet and its inhabitants. Ages 4–8. Agent: Minju Chang, Bookstop Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Wildman

J.C. Geiger. Hyperion, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4847-4957-9

Lance Hendricks plays by the rules. He’s first chair trumpet, his 4.0 GPA has won him a college scholarship to study business, and he and his longtime girlfriend are about to have sex for the first time. He’s a machine, always moving forward, until his car dies in rural Washington State, far from his Oregon home. The car was a gift from his absent father, and Lance won’t leave it, even when the repairs drag out for days. During this unscheduled break from regular life, Lance hangs with the locals at the town’s one bar, answers to the nickname Wildman, jumps trains, and spends time with lovely and unconventional Dakota. Debut novelist Geiger strands Lance a couple hours and a world away from comfort, setting up a dramatic climax in which Lance has to decide who to be—the rule-following boy he was raised as or the man who wants to play music and can’t stop trembling when he’s with Dakota. The book’s world is a bit binary—it’s either dreams or drudgery—but it effectively conveys the necessity of finding one’s true self. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sara Crowe, Pippin Properties. (June)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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We Come Apart

Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-68119-275-8

In a verse novel told through alternating points of view, Crossan (One) and Conaghan (The Bombs That Brought Us Together) introduce teenagers Jess and Nicu, who meet during mandated community service after shoplifting. Jess is standoffish, secretly struggling with her mother’s abuse at the hands of Jess’s stepfather. Nicu, a recent emigrant from Romania, has traveled to London with his parents to collect and sell scrap metal, saving to pay for his impending arranged marriage. Seeking connection in an unfamiliar and unfriendly landscape, Nicu is drawn to Jess, and as their tentative friendship deepens, they develop a bond built on a common heartache and hope for escape. Jess’s perspective is shared through uncomplicated declarative poems that don’t mince words or shy from her violent home life. In contrast, Nicu’s poems, while thoughtful, are stilted, intended to reflect his unfamiliarity with English, “the tough watermelon to crack,/ a strange language with many weird wordings.” Unfortunately, it’s a gamble that doesn’t pay off, effectively reducing his character to caricature and undermining the novel’s empathetic intentions. Ages 14–up. Author’s agent: (for Crossan) Julia Churchill, A.M. Heath; (for Conaghan) Ben Illis, Ben Illis Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/21/2017 | Details & Permalink

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