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Hundred Feet Tall

Benjamin Scheuer, illus. by Jemima Williams. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5344-3219-2

On a snowy walk with their parents, one expecting, a young rabbit discovers a “little brown seed” and takes it back to their city home, where they plant it in a jar, promising “that you’ll help it to grow.” Over the course of the story, the slow growth that stems from both the child’s and expecting parent’s nurturing becomes apparent—the seedling begins to take root, “grows a little green stalk,” and sprouts into a sapling as the family prepares to welcome a newborn. When the young tree outgrows its vessel, the rabbit, along with grown family and a neighborhood community of various animals, plants it in a plot on the street to be enjoyed by all. Scheuer’s text communicates the sweetness of anticipation, as does Williams’s digitally rendered artwork—in most spreads, the young rabbit lovingly admires and tends to the jar while being tended to by loved ones. An affecting volume about the quiet, nourishing work of loving. Ages 4–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Eat the Cake

M.H. Clark, illus. by Jana Glatt. Compendium, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-946873-84-2

“You’re here and it’s now, so today is the day—so many good things will be coming your way!” begins Clark’s celebratory romp in verse. Glatt’s lively, abstract illustrations feature spreads of a yellow, yolk-like figure in a tassled cone hat engaging in all manner of fun—marching, dancing, star-gazing, and soaring atop a bird among many. A yellow, teal, pink, blue, and red palette is set in textural, color-rich strokes. Clark’s rhyming verse flows seamlessly through the book, inviting young readers to believe the best about themselves (“Be wild and fearless and free”) and look ahead with unabashed confidence (“And the world will be waiting, whenever you’re ready,/ to toss you your very own storm of confetti”). A jovial readaloud to mark birthdays and other joyful milestones. Ages 4–7. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Under the Love Umbrella

Davina Bell, illus. by Allison Colpoys. Scribble US, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-947534-97-1

“Up in the sky, among the stars/ There’s something you might not see.../ But over your head and just above/ There’s an umbrella of my love” begins this import, a gentle poem of affirmation. With a comforting lilt, Bell narrates a message of unshakable connectedness and belonging. Four children (named on the title page but not otherwise referenced) are shown in uncomfortable or uncertain circumstances—“Your pants are wet/ You’re meant to hurry”—all dissipated by a caretaker’s “love umbrella.” Colpoys’s painterly yet understated illustrations—in a palette of lilacs, fluorescent oranges and pinks, and earth tones—render characters, alone and in community, in a range of skin tones. For an amusing plus, the authors invite readers to seek and find umbrellas throughout the pleasing spreads. An ageless reminder, tenderly composed. Ages 3–6. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Sky Is the Limit: A Celebration of All the Things You Can Do

Lisa Swerling, illus. by Ralph Lazar. Chronicle, $14.99 (60p) ISBN 978-1-4521-7982-7

Swerling and Lazar collaborate once again on this diminutive, glittery book that cheers readers on through small accomplishments and major milestones alike. “A world full of wonder/ is waiting for you...// The sky is the limit/ of what you can do!” begins Swerling, taking readers through a list of activities in rhyming verse (“Backs to be scratched/... plans to be hatched”). Lazar’s stick figure illustrations, accented in neon and scrawled with a range of expression, bring movement and energy to one-dimensional spreads of all-white characters. The book runs several beats too long, resulting in an exhaustive litany of peppy suggestions that meander from the vague (“There are roads to be traveled// and dreams to unfold”) to the specific (“Cakes to be gobbled/ and spoons to be licked”) and sometimes puzzling (“friends to be tricked”). All ages. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Go Get ’Em, Tiger!

Sabrina Moyle, illus. by Eunice Moyle. Appleseed, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-3964-4

From sister-founded letterpress card and design studio Hello!Lucky comes a sparky benediction of sorts, encouraging young readers to believe in their tigerlike strength. Sabrina Moyle’s rhyming text strikes a balance between bubbly incitation (“No matter who you choose/ to be, you’ll be/ TERRR-IFIC./ Wait and see!”) and gentle caution (“You’ll make mistakes./ Things will go wrong./ And when they do,/ you’ll carry on”). The verse remains buoyant throughout and, together with the stylized illustrations, maintains the feel of a long-form greeting card. Printed in inviting, fluorescent colors, Eunice Moyle’s artwork conveys the same expressiveness and amplitude as does the text—the wide-eyed, cartoonish tiger in one spread is drawn as a soft, thoughtful friend with “smarts and heart”; in another, a “fierce... rising star.” An exclamatory celebration of inner strength and possibility. All ages. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Midnight Lie (The Midnight Lie #1)

Marie Rutkoski. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-374-30638-0

Rutkoski returns to the world of the Winner’s Trilogy with elaborate descriptions and lush worldbuilding. Nirrim, a Half Kith, has lived with the Ward’s motto, “It is as it is,” never questioning the harsh rules that govern her kind or the walls that separate her from the Middling and High Kith grounds. She keeps her head down, justifying the forged passports she makes for her caretaker, Raven, through “midnight lies,” falsities “told for someone else’s sake,” meant to help those seeking to escape the Ward. When turning in a magical bird lands her in jail and Nirrim meets Sid, an attractive traveler avoiding an impending marriage, Sid questions why no one remembers the city’s history or its gods. The harder Nirrim falls for Sid, the closer she gets to uncovering the truth about herself and her city, a truth that many are desperate to keep hidden. Despite uneven pacing, Rutkoski offers a captivating LGBTQ love story, atmospheric in the vein of Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Charismatic characters and compelling chapter cliffhangers build intrigue throughout. Ages 14–up. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Behind the Mirror

Bon Blossman. Bon Blossman, $12.95 paper (333p) ISBN 978-1-09-599284-5

A dystopian world on the other side of a mysterious mirror awaits 17-year-old Ella in Blossman’s sci-fi/fantasy blend. After Finley’s wealthy father outbids Ella’s for an antique mirror, the friends, along with their new friend Diane and Finley’s cousin Brodie, discover that they can travel through it. On the other side is the Dark World, an alternate version of their small town, where violence and death rule. There, they meet a mystic named Cipher and witness desolation. Diane seems to know more than she lets on, while Ella feels energized and discovers fire-generating capabilities. However, whenever they cross through the mirror, mischievous doppelgängers wreak havoc back home. Worse still, Finley’s unruly brother becomes trapped in the Dark World, and his doppel is a murderous psychopath who recognizes Ella as someone special. Adding tension are speculation about Ella’s parentage, friends whose loyalty comes into question, and a government conspiracy. Few plot points are resolved in this series opener, with new ones introduced in a cliffhanger ending. Though genre readers will recognize familiar twists within the quirky first-person narrative, Blossman’s quickly paced narrative will likely still find fans. Ages 14–up. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Anna K (Anna K #1)

Jenny Lee. Flatiron, $18.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-23643-2

TV writer Lee modernizes Anna Karenina with a heavy serving of Gossip Girl in her ambitious YA debut. Seventeen-year-old Anna K, who is half-Korean and half-white, sits at the center of her elite Connecticut private high school social scene. Though she loves her Harvard boyfriend, an encounter with the handsome Count Alexia Vronsky in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal leads to a flirtation that becomes something more. Dutiful Anna struggles with who she wants to be amid social expectations, and Vronsky offers her a chance to act impulsively. Filled with a compelling supporting cast—including Anna’s clueless but charming older brother—this retelling focuses on a New York City filled with teen socialites who have unlimited access to money, designer goods, and drugs. The superficial narrative leans heavily on slang and designer name-dropping, failing to conjure the original’s heft, occasionally exoticizing Anna’s beauty, and at times losing sight of its own deeper themes, including class issues. Details about the wealthy behaving badly abound, however, offering plenty for readers looking to enjoy the Gossip Girl side of the story. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sally Wofford-Girand, Union Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Thorn (Dauntless Path #1)

Intisar Khanani. HarperTeen, $18.99 (512p) ISBN 978-0-06-283570-3

Princess Alyrra of Adania fears her violent brother, so it’s a relief when her mother, the dowager queen, arranges for the pale-skinned teen’s marriage to brown-skinned Prince Kestrin of faraway Menaiya. While en route to Alyrra’s new home, her spiteful traveling companion, Valka, strikes a deal with a sorceress who is an enemy of the Menaiyan royal family. The witch casts a spell swapping the women’s identities and preventing Alyrra from telling anyone; in return, Valka will help her exact vengeance upon Kestrin. Once in Menaiya, Valka banishes Alyrra from the palace, so she takes a job in the royal stables tending geese. Though Alyrra—now nicknamed Thorn—grows content, she knows she must try to reverse the enchantment; Valka’s betrayal of the well-intentioned Kestrin seems imminent, and the beleaguered Menaiyan working class needs a compassionate princess. This originally self-published reimagining of “The Goose Girl” ends abruptly and leaves some plot threads dangling. Overall, however, Khanani delivers a moving, character-driven tale that tackles difficult topics (justice, domestic violence) with empathy and grace. Ages 13–up. Agent: Emmanuelle Morgen, Stonesong. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Only Mostly Devastated

Sophie Gonzales. Wednesday, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-31589-2

Summers end, and with them summer flings. But Ollie’s relationship with Will was great, and when Ollie’s Californian family stays in North Carolina to help his sick aunt, he hopes that the fling can continue—if only Will would text him back. Ghosted, Ollie starts senior year at a new school, makes friends, comes out (he’s been out for years, but now he has to do it again), and realizes that Will goes to the same school. He’s a varsity basketball star, a closeted one. Narrator Ollie is deeply sympathetic, but both teens’ feelings—love, hate, lust, grief, and, for Will, insecurity about coming out—are convincing, as are conversations about the different dynamics of being out in San Jose and small-town North Carolina. Though Gonzales (The Law of Inertia) is Australian, she gets most U.S. details right in this Grease reboot, creating an inclusive cast and giving weight to many parts of Ollie’s multifaceted life, including his aunt’s illness, the cousins he babysits, and his friendships. Ages 13–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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