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Hans Christian Andersen: The Journey of His Life

Heinz Janisch, trans. from the German by David Henry Wilson, illus. by Maja Kastelic. NorthSouth, $18.95 (56p) ISBN 978-0-7358-4388-2

This fanciful picture biography by Janisch opens as a girl in a coach headed for Copenhagen puts a startling question to the passenger sitting across from her: “Are you old?” Kindly Hans Christian Andersen is happy to answer this question and more: “I’m always pleased to meet inquisitive children.” He traces, as if telling one of his own stories, the arc from his family’s poverty and his father’s illness (“All night long the family could hear him coughing and talking feverishly”) to fame and success (“The son of the poor cobbler was now being invited to the homes of lords and princes”). He speaks of the power of fairy tales to “hold a mirror out in front of other people without them realizing it.” With a featherlight touch, Kastelic paints Andersen’s earlier life in somber sepias and switches to full-color, bright spreads as his fame grows. Readers will smile over scenes from Andersen’s tales: swans reflected on lakes, courtiers in doublets and parti-colored leggings, swallows darting to and fro. Janisch’s story reads like a fairy tale, and, more gratifyingly, it ends like one, too. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Girl on a Motorcycle

Amy Novesky, illus. by Julie Morstad. Viking, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-593-11629-6

In 1973, a 28-year-old woman got on a motorcycle in Paris and circled the globe alone, crossing continents, scaling mountains, and visiting parts of the planet that most people never see. This engaging picture book biography by Novesky (Cloth Lullaby) is full of the sense of freedom that its subject, Anne-France Dautheville, a white woman, reveled in. Although things went wrong—her bike broke down repeatedly, and she fell often—her experiences as a traveler affirmed her expectations: “I want the world to be beautiful, and it is beautiful. I want people to be good, and they are good.” Morstad uses delicate lines and luminous wash to draw the things the “girl” carried (“girl,” used throughout, is an English translation of the French word demoiselle, which Dautheville used for herself), the people she met, and the scenery she rode through. Readers follow her from the Yukon, where she finds transcendent beauty in a warm pool under the Northern Lights, to Afghanistan, where she climbs the great Buddhas of Bamiyan, and home to Paris. She drinks in new experiences and brings new ideas everywhere she goes: “Who are you? ...Where are you going?” girls in Bombay ask her. Though the book fails to address matters of privilege inherent in global travel, it’s a testimony to fearlessness that challenges traditional gender expectations. Ages 5–9. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Twins (Twins #1)

Varian Johnson, illus. by Shannon Wright. Graphix, $24.99 ISBN 978-1-338-23613-2

Maureen and Francine are sixth graders and Black identical twins about to embark on their first day at O’Connor Middle School. For the first time ever, the two don’t share the same schedule or the same activities—Maureen is in Cadet Corps, while Francine looks forward to new experiences and spends time in an after-school program. Francine is determined to strike out on her own outside of their shared twin identity, but Maureen, who doesn’t mind their similarities, isn’t as confident in making new friends. Even their previously shared friend group is being pulled in different directions—not that Francine notices. When Maureen decides to run against Francine as her only competitor for student council president, the election’s high stakes sweep them up, resulting in slander campaigns, poster defacement, and high tensions at family dinner. Johnson’s (The Parker Inheritance) graphic novel debut depicts a realistic and relatable sister relationship alongside a close-knit family’s bond. Combined with Wright’s simple yet expressive art style, it’s an engaging read that speaks to worries of burgeoning self-identity and tween change. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Telephone Tales

Gianni Rodari, trans. from the Italian by Antony Shugaar, illus. by Valerio Vidali. Enchanted Lion, $27.95 (212p) ISBN 978-1-59270-284-8

“Every evening—no matter where he was—at nine o’clock on the dot, Signor Bianchi put in a phone call to Varese and told his little girl a story.” In the 70 brief stories told within this frame, the irrepressible Rodari plays with words, numbers (“eleventy thousand sporty-seven hundred and thirty-three”), time, and space. In bold shapes and bright colors, Vidali (The Forest) plays right along: his images read as an homage to Bruno Munari, who illustrated the first Italian edition in 1962. At times whimsical, absurd, and subversive, the stories carry readers along roads made of chocolate, under skies that rain Jordan almonds, and into children’s private language. They also speak to today’s urgent concerns—human connection, the injustice of inequality, and the dangers of authoritarianism. At every turn, Rodari remains emphatically on the side of the young, reminding readers that “the whole world already belongs to every child that comes into it.... They need only to roll up their sleeves, stretch out their hands, and take it for themselves.” Numerous gatefold spreads and tipped-in pages add to the rich texture of this beautifully produced volume. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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No Place for Monsters

Kory Merritt. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-358-12853-3

Twelve-year-old new kid Levi doesn’t want to be Kat Bombard’s class work buddy: she’s as loud, disruptive, and energetic as he is quiet, studious, and reserved—and she tells unbelievable stories about having been abducted by aliens. They become tentative friends, however, and when several local children vanish, including Levi’s beloved younger sister Twila, only Kat and Levi remember they even existed. Monsters are preying upon suburban Cowslip Grove, and the duo must discover what lurks in the shadows and below their home’s surface before they become the next victims. With this darkly humorous, fully illustrated romp, Merritt (The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York) creates a world threatened by all manner of horrors, from banal (petty neighbors) to the unspeakable (being completely forgotten by loved ones). Merritt’s scratchy black-and-white line illustrations expertly embody Levi’s calm practicality, Kat’s hyperactive exuberance, and the twisting otherworldliness of their cryptid foes. Solid use of light and shadow manipulate the atmosphere and tension levels as the story goes from mundane to frightening, while tongue-in-cheek visual jokes make every scene worth studying. Weird, wild, and warmhearted, this is a real page-turner for the spooky season. Ages 8–12. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Historically Inaccurate

Shay Bravo. Wattpad, $10.99 paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-98936-537-3

Bravo’s sincere but slow-moving debut opens with an unusual meet-cute: boy meets girl during the petty theft of a piece of cutlery. Still reeling from her mother’s deportation to Mexico, 18-year-old college freshman Soledad “Sol” Gutierrez impulsively agrees to steal a fork from an elderly couple’s home in a bid to join the history club and find her place at Westray Community College. Following a disastrous mid-theft encounter with her victims’ college-age grandson, Ethan Winston, who is Black, Sol’s growing sense of guilt leads her to befriend him and attempt making amends; amid further club activities and capers, an unlikely romance blossoms between them. When the club’s initiation exploits attract unwanted attention, Sol and Ethan’s relationship—and the new life Sol has constructed for herself—threaten to collapse. While the novel’s inclusive supporting cast is underwritten and its first-person, slice of life–style narration occasionally veers into the mundane, Bravo’s portrait of how deportation of a loved one scars those left behind elevates the material: Sol’s choices, in life and love, do not exist inside a vacuum. The result is an earnest and timely read with convincing stakes. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Hide and Seeker

Daka Hermon. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-338-58362-5

Zee, sixth-grader Justin’s best friend, has been missing for over a year—404 days to be exact. Now he’s home, and his mother, Mrs. Murphy, is throwing a party. Invited along with Justin are other close friends Nia and Lyric, as well as the neighborhood bully, Carla, and her twin brother, Quincy. While waiting for the guest of honor, another neighborhood kid, Shae, arrives and suggests that they play hide-and-seek. The game devolves into a flurry of rule-breaking soon interrupted by the arrival of a changed, scarred Zee, who conveys a cryptic message: “One day soon you’ll leave from here and fight against all you fear.” When the game’s players develop a mysterious mark and begin to disappear one by one, Justin and his friends must find a way to defeat a chilling foe in a world made up of their darkest fears. Hermon’s standout debut offers spine-tingling prose that pulls no punches; nuanced depictions of grief, friendship, and fear; engaging characterization that makes readers root for its largely Black cast; and a reassuring ending that leaves room for future installments. Ages 8–12. Agent: Emily Keyes, Fuse Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Furia

Yamile Saied Méndez. Algonquin, $17.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-61620-991-9

Méndez (Where Are You From?) infuses her YA debut with sparkling vitality straight from the pitch in this powerful coming-of-age story set in Rosario, Argentina. Camila Hassan, 17, knows that “lies have short legs,” but her budding career as a soccer player—and romance with childhood friend Diego—would not exist without them. Under pressure from parental expectations and an abusive father, Camila takes pains at home to conceal her after-school activities and passion for fútbol. On the field, however, she lets loose and tears it up as Furia—fierce futbolera and captain of Eva María Fútbol Club. When her team qualifies for a major tournament that requires a parental signature to participate, Camila must find the strength to reveal the truth and continue pursuing her goals in a community rife with machismo and rigid ideas about gender and ambition. Weaving rich cultural specifics and electric energy into her prose, Méndez crafts a dynamic, feminist narrative that commands attention from the very first line. At its core, this novel is a full-hearted love letter to Argentina and “incorrigible girls” everywhere, emboldening readers to stand up for themselves and chase the dreams they hold dear. Ages 14–up. Agent: Linda Camacho, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Early Departures

Justin A. Reynolds. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-062-74840-9

Though they were once the closest of friends, it’s been awhile since teens Jamal and Quincy have spoken—following his parents’ accidental death two years ago, Jamal cut ties without explaining why. After the two have a fight at a beach party one evening, Quincy drowns while trying to save another. Carrying the guilt of the argument and the friends’ past, Jamal accompanies Quincy’s mother to a facility that can bring him back temporarily from the dead. Seeing this as a chance to make amends and revive the friendship, Jamal wrestles with the pain of his parents’ death and seeks to get Quincy to forgive him before his reanimation ends. In this gratifying contemporary novel, Reynolds (Opposite of Always) tenderly explores the complexities of decision-making while grieving, the limited life spans of close relationships, and the painful unpredictability of death. Jamal and Quincy’s casually comedic dynamic adds a lifeline of hope to an otherwise heartbreaking narrative that reminds readers to make the most of the time they are given. Ages 14–up. Agent: Beth Phelan, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Cooper B. & the Scavenger Hunt (Cooper B. #1)

Michael Shane Leighton, illus. by Luana de Souza Sinclair. vii, $24.99 (294p) ISBN 978-1-73545-591-4

Eleven-year-old Cooper B., an introspective orphan with a portentous pendant, mysteriously appeared as an infant in Cooper, Maine, which became his namesake. After 11 foster homes, Cooper B. is sent to St. Mary’s Academy for Exceptional Youth by his strange social worker, Ms. Pedigree. Soon, the quartet of likable protagonists—human orphans curious Cooper, intelligent Aria Santiago, and bumbling redhead Miles O’Malley, plus pink-haired extraterrestrial Serra—overcome bullies, the child welfare system, and malicious aliens, forging new friendships in Serra’s world, Alyssum. Enrolling at Grayson Academy, the group uncovers sinister secrets about their school and about the revered crimson-hooded society of Bollcrees, who support the Absolute Council, the supposed saviors of ancient Alyssum. When Cooper and his friends learn that certain children can wield the Guild, or powers they must train to use, additional mysteries about Cooper’s personal history, Alyssum itself, and Grayson begin to materialize. Though events, settings, and characters bear strong resemblance to elements of the Harry Potter series, Leighton’s prose and humor flow well and his worldbuilding skills are compelling, resulting in an intriguing, energetically paced series starter. Ages 10–up. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 10/23/2020 | Details & Permalink

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