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The Coming Storm

Regina M. Hansen. Atheneum, $18.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5344-8244-9

In this leisurely paced narrative, Beatrice “Beet” MacNeill, 15, slowly begins to suspect that her Prince Edward Island community is being haunted by a sinister supernatural force after her cousin Gerry’s ghost appears to her upon his tragic drowning in 1949. A year later, following Gerry’s mother’s death, her elegant niece Marina Shaw comes to town, promptly taking a particular interest in Gerry’s son, Baby Joseph. Suspecting there’s more to Marina than meets the eye, Beet and her best friend Jeannine investigate, uncovering a strange pattern of drownings stretching back over a century amid sightings of a legendary kelpie. Beet’s first-person perspective proves immersive (“Lorsh, did Gerry turn red, seeing her! Made me laugh to kill myself”). Drawing upon maritime myth and Scottish folklore to weave an eerie story filled with magic and music, Hansen intertwines Beet’s narrative with historical flashbacks as the mystery unfolds. There’s a gentle subtlety to this atmospheric debut, with the ocean becoming a character of its own alongside presumed-white characters. Ages 12–up. Agent: David Dunton, Harvey Klinger. (June)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Magical Imperfect

Chris Baron. Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-76782-0

It’s autumn 1989 in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Giants have a chance at the World Series, and small earthquakes are occurring with increasing frequency. After his mother is admitted to a hospital (“The roads/ her thoughts take/ are too windy”), 12-year-old Etan, a budding artist, largely stops speaking. Since his father works construction all day, Etan spends afternoons with his Jewish grandfather, who immigrated from Prague in 1940; Etan watches him repair jewelry, listens to his musings on faith and the old days, and runs errands for the neighbors. One errand leads him to the home of Malia Agbayani, a solitary Filipina girl known cruelly among schoolchildren as “the creature” due to her acute eczema. Etan and Malia quickly bond; he admires her singing, she his artwork, and as their friendship deepens, they find solace and support—and, in the nearby forest, seek a magical cure for Malia’s skin. Telling Etan’s story in first-person verse, Baron (All of Me) creates a close-knit community of adults and authentic intergenerational relationships, but it is Etan’s honest and lovable voice, and its growing strength, that carries this tender novel. An extensive author’s note discusses the earthquake of October 1989 and the history of Angel Island. Ages 9–12. Agent: Rena Rossner, Deborah Harris Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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What Do You Know?

Aracelis Girmay and Ariana Fields, illus. by Ariana Fields. Enchanted Lion, $17.95 (56p) ISBN 978-1-59270-321-0

Authors and sisters Girmay and Fields give voice to a variety of beings, imagining love itself asking, “What do you know?” and listening carefully to the response. The question is asked of a well, bees, and a forest, among other entities. “When love comes to the farmers and asks,/ What do you know,” one spread reads, a farmer responds: “I know work and weather/ and the hands of the sun and the rain.” In softly tinted art with the feel of sketchbook pages, a brown-skinned farmer carries heavy baskets across her shoulders. On another spread, laundry waves from lines strung between brick buildings, and a historian answers, “I know history speaks when we listen,/ for the quietest stories among the stories.” Fields draws as if setting down memories or dreams, with forms that repeat: people and birds with downcast gazes, bears with great claws, landscapes that undulate like ocean waves. Employing incantatory lines that conjure flame-like warmth and reverence, Girmay and Fields acknowledge the kind of knowing that’s older than books. Ages 7–up. (June)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Summer Camp Critter Jitters

Jory John, illus. by Liz Climo. Dial, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-593-11098-0

In this endearing companion to the collaborators’ First Day Critter Jitters, the critters are back, and they’re as worried as ever—this time, about attending sleepaway camp. John shares each critter’s concern with winning candor. Norman the snake, for one, is worried about making friends: “Have you ever bumped into a snake in the woods? It doesn’t usually go so well,” a speech bubble reads, as the dot-eyed reptile imagines other critters fleeing in fear. Climo’s expressive, fine-lined comics-style drawings, rendered digitally, similarly don’t pull any punches (Chauncy the mouse imagines a looming, wholly unscalable bunk bed) in art that offers reassurance in its soft hues, visual crispness, and clear empathy. The group mournfully sighs all the way to Camp Super Fun, but an inadvertent team exercise and the late arrival of Sloth—initially mistaken for a campfire ghost—changes the mood dramatically, forging a tight bond across the group and instilling a newfound appreciation for camp life. Camp veterans won’t find the resolution surprising, but the creators handle the subject matter expertly, with psychological astuteness and humor. Ages 4–8. (June)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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When Grandfather Flew

Patricia MacLachlan, illus. by Chris Sheban. Holiday House/Porter, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4489-2

In this elegiac story about love and loss, a youngest grandchild becomes his grandfather’s eyes when the older man begins to lose his sight. Milo is “not a talker,” explains his older sister Emma, who narrates, but he pays attention when Grandpa catalogs the birds he loves, the bald eagle chief among them: “The eagle sees the full sky, he sees the world!” Grandpa says. In loose watercolor, pastel, and graphite art, Sheban (Three Squeezes) captures the grace and power of the birds Grandpa admires, and conveys the grandeur of the rural landscape that the family occupies. When Grandpa’s sight becomes more limited, Milo turns out to have been listening carefully. “What’s that bird?” asks Grandpa. “I can hear him in the fruit trees, but I can’t see him.” “Cedar waxwing,” Milo promptly replies. And it’s Milo who helps his family understand what has happened when his grandfather isn’t there anymore. MacLachlan (Wondrous Rex) creates deeply sympathetic characters in a few sentences, and invites readers to share in the lives of a family nurtured by the natural world—and comforted by it in their grief. Ages 4–8. (July)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Tiny Barbarian

Ame Dyckman, illus. by Ashley Spires. HarperCollins, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-288164-9

Growing up presents a number of challenges waiting to be “conquered,” from first steps to toilet training, so a boy named Tiny has no trouble imagining that he’s a Viking-esque hero like the one on a nearby marquis. “He saw himself defending his realm,” writes Dyckman (That’s Life!); “He saw himself protecting his family.” Plus, there’s “all that stuff”—the barbarian outfit, which light brown–skinned Tiny approximates with a colander for a helmet, a bathroom rug for a cape, and a cardboard tube as a club. With his trusty kitty beside him, he’s ready to bop anything lurking in the backyard, including a dragon (the hose) and a giant broccoli (a shrubbery). But with the arrival of bedtime, Tiny must conquer the “most challenging foe of all: THE DARK!” It’s a familiar story line and resolution, but readers should find themselves carried along by lively digital art and comic rhythms from Spires (Turtle and Tortoise Are Not Friends) that are reminiscent of a satisfying cartoon episode. Tiny, an indomitable, highly expressive protagonist, carries the tale, and his all-caps cry of “CONQUER EVERYTHING!”—set in ornate type—may very well start resounding through readers’ own pretend play. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Scott Treimel, Scott Treimel NY. Illustrator’s agent: Claire Easton, Painted Words. (July)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Except Antarctica

Todd Sturgell. Sourcebooks Explore, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-72823-326-0

Readers of animal facts books are accustomed to the phrase “on every continent except Antarctica” being applied to myriad species. But how do the animals themselves feel about this categorization? Based on the reaction of a turtle who dons a cozy hat and starts out on a we’ll-show-you expedition to the frozen south, the same way as young readers who’ve been told something is off limits: defiant. Joining the passel of critters following the turtle, a snake archly informs the book’s unseen and increasingly frustrated narrator that its species is “known to break the rules.” After an unpleasant trip stacked on top of the turtle’s back, they arrive in Antarctica only to discover that it is, indeed, exceedingly cold. But while the narrator can’t resist a smug “HA!” as they leave, that triumph is fleeting: the emperor penguin has just heard that it is found only in Antarctica. Digitally colored pen and ink drawings vary tonally—a couple of threateningly stormy spreads veer away from the book’s otherwise comical vibe—but debut creator Sturgell has a savvy sense of visual pacing, and the meta-comic repartee is spot-on. “Why would a dung beetle travel to Antarctica with a turtle and an owl?” the narrator asks. “Two words,” replies the beetle: “Penguin poop.” Ages 4–8. Agent: Molly O’Neill, Root Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Book No One Wants to Read

Beth Bacon. HarperCollins, $12.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-06-296254-6

Originally self-published in 2017, this companion to I Hate Reading features a range of colorful, interactive content guided by a fourth-wall-breaking narrator. Bacon takes on the fast-talking voice of the book itself: “If you think reading is boring, try sitting around all day facing the wall, cover closed, doing a whole lot of nothing,” the book complains. On the next page, an image of a light bulb offers, “Hey,/ I might/ have an idea/ that helps us/ both,” inviting emerging readers in on a ruse: pretending to read. The book proceeds to cajole readers to turn (and sometimes shake, scratch, or smack) pages, participate in multipage jokes, and peer at optical illusions. Bold graphic design and bright monochrome backgrounds ensure that the book holds plenty of visual appeal. While encouraging page-turning is prioritized over a cohesive narrative, this tome is well designed to engage reluctant young readers. Ages 6–10. (June)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Nia and the New Free Library

Ian Lendler, illus. by Mark Pett. Chronicle, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4521-6686-5

A brown-skinned, noodle-limbed child named Nia unites Littletown by reminding it of libraries’ importance in this “Stone Soup”–inspired tale. When the Littletown Library, already old and abandoned, is carried away by a tornado, the town’s residents wonder what to do with the empty lot. Nia, apparently the library’s sole visitor, crafts a selection of tales from memory, calling the collection the New Free Library and offering it to residents. When her fellow citizens complain about errors, clever Nia merely hands them a pencil and paper to fix things. Lendler relays the tale in rhythmic, dialogue-heavy prose, offering allusions to classics (“What exactly is a rumpus?”). Pett illustrates in warm washes of color, with comic-style panels featuring a cast of figures of varying ages and skin tones. An entertaining narrative extolling the community-building virtues of libraries. Back matter includes an author’s note. Ages 5–8. (June)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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What Would You Do in a Book About You?

Jean Reidy, illus. by Joey Chou. HarperCollins, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-304150-9

With whimsical, Seussian rhymes, Reidy employs a second-person perspective, inviting readers to consider the myriad lives they might access through imagination and books. Offering options from a variety of genres, including fantasy and speculative fiction, Reidy traces multiple paths—including, perhaps confusingly,“a book about you in a book about YOU.” Digital art by Chou offers layered geometric art against bright kaleidoscopic backgrounds, with Mary Blair–inflected figures of varying abilities, hair textures, and skin tones appear as hot air balloon riders, wizards, mermaids, and more. Concluding by asking readers to consider the richness of their possible futures (“If your life were a book/ with pictures and pages,/ what would you do/ to be read through the ages?”), this encouraging read will find itself at home among gifty books handed to milestone-approaching kids. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/07/2021 | Details & Permalink

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