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The Rescue Rabbits

Eric Seltzer, illus. by Roland Garrigue. Two Lions, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4263-5

A quartet of rabbit first responders handle emergencies with ingenuity, aplomb, and an array of their own branded products in this picture book sendup. When Edgar Elephant gets a thorn in his foot, the Rescue Rabbits extract it by elevating him in their Rescue Rabbits Super-Excavator. When ducklings need to cross the road, the do-gooders block the crosswalk with their Rescue Rabbits Limo. But Prince Rex the Rhino presents the team with a trifecta of troubles after breaking his royal mother’s ant farm—as Seltzer (Arf! Buzz! Cluck! A Rather Noisy Alphabet) recounts, Rex has “ants in his royal pants and chopsticks up his royal nose, AND he’s stuck up a tree.” With a comic focus on the bunnies’ branded goods, including their rabbit-shaped HQ, Garrigue’s (Princess Kevin) digital cartooning efficiently builds tension surrounding this mother of all rescue missions (which involves Prince Rex’s mother in a key role), while trotting out such inventions as Rescue Rabbits Monogrammed Hankies and the Rescue Rabbits Super-Chopper 9000. Readers will see in these pages a gentle spoof of cartoons and blockbusters that include endless product tie-ins, but the story also offers an amusing tribute to competency-themed pretend play. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Claire Easton, Painted Words. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Once Upon a Winter Day

Liza Woodruff. Holiday House/Ferguson, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4099-3

Milo wants a story, but his busy mother sends him to play in the snow instead. Miffed, he starts following a set of tiny mouse tracks beneath the bird feeder. As he picks up clues (a feather, a fish’s skeleton), asks questions (“Who had dug beneath the snow?”), and knits together his observations, he makes up a tale all on his own. And he’s not the only storyteller out there: the observant mouse responsible for the tracks is the protagonist of its own exciting drama—it must get a juicy red winterberry home without being eaten by a hawk. Woodruff’s (A Quieter Story) spare, evocative text (“A cold wind crept beneath Milo’s scarf”) quietly amplifies her expansive watercolor, pen-and-ink, and colored pencil drawings, which alternate between highly distilled snowy scenes and lushly detailed spreads; in one scene, the mouse scampers past a closely packed herd of velvety brown deer foraging for acorns. It’s a richly narrative landscape—one that should inspire readers to venture outside and notice stories of their own. Ages 4–8. Agent: Andrea Cascardi, Transatlantic Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Fort on the Moon

Maggie Pouncey, illus. by Larry Day. Holiday House/Porter, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4657-5

Tan-skinned brothers Dodge and Fox are planning an out-of-this-world construction project—younger sibling Dodge, the narrator, calls it “a home on the moon for all brave enough to use.” Employing a broken umbrella, a pool noodle, two car seats, and other discards, they construct a spaceship on their home’s widow’s walk and head off on a lunar mission. Plainspoken lines detail the journey winningly (“Moondust sticks to everything. We’re low on tape”), but, in this tribute to intimate sibling relationships, the imaginative adventure is almost beside the point. Watercolor and gouache pictures by Day (Found) have an immediacy that matches the brothers’ confidence and unalloyed affection. Pouncey, making her picture book debut, contributes an astute, tender portrayal of the siblings’ bond; Dodge adores and is comforted by his older brother, and together the two present a unified front against parents who are beloved but (at least in the children’s eyes) clueless. “We lie in our beds, as still as moon craters,” Dodge says, as the two wait to make their secret journey, “till we no longer hear our parents’ soft voices and the ribbon of light beneath our door disappears into darkness.” Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Jennifer Carlson, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. Illustrator’s agent: Hannah Mann, Writers House. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Helga Makes a Name for Herself

Megan Maynor, illus. by Eda Kaban. Clarion, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-328-95783-2

In Maynor’s (The Sandcastle That Lola Built) irreverent Viking saga spoof, redheaded Helga yearns to be a Viking warrior like the legendary Ingrid the Axe, begging for stories of her role model during her “monthly bath.” Helga’s parents suggest that a “farmersdotter” from a small mountain village is unlikely to join the Viking glitterati. But Helga defies them, training and outfitting herself in a ragtag warrior outfit, and with her trusty wolverine in tow (“What’s wrong with her cat?” asks a bystander), heads off to compete for an opening in Ingrid’s army. Kaban’s (Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten!) bright, digitally cartooned vignettes have the verve of classic animation, and she marches right along with Maynor’s comic beats as Helga fails twice before triumphing in sword sparring with a shout of “AROOOO!”—winning a nod from Ingrid and a mythical nickname of her very own. While even the littlest readers will guess the outcome early on, that doesn’t detract from the fun. This one’s all about Helga’s determination and self-knowledge; told by her mother to “remember who you are,” Helga shouts, battle-ready in a field of fluffy sheep, “I AM A WARRIORRR!” Ages 4–7. Author’s agent: Minju Chang, BookStop Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Justin Rucker, Shannon Assoc. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Trouble with Penguins

Rebecca Jordan-Glum. Roaring Brook, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-250-20848-4

It doesn’t take a lot for a chummy group to come apart at the seams, as anyone who’s been to a kid’s birthday party knows. The same is true for the penguins in these pages: invited to a marshmallow roast by an ice cap’s child inhabitant, they initially have a great time sharing a single fire and adorably entertaining themselves—making snow angels and juggling marshmallows as they wait for their turn with the roasting stick. But sharing gets old fast, and the ocean is soon filled with several little ice floes, each one containing a penguin who has a roasting stick and a campfire of its very own—and who is now very lonely. “Thankfully,” writes debut author- illustrator Jordan-Glum, “penguins are full of good intentions and aren’t half bad at learning from their mistakes”; everyone regroups back on the ice cap for a hot beverage and a community campfire. The knowing, parental voice keeps the story warm at the core, while the fanciful polar landscape is brought to life in bold brushstrokes, fluffy textures, and splashes of aurora-like color. Ages 3–6. Agent: Erica Rand Silverman, Stimola Literary Studio. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Class Act

Jerry Craft. HarperAlley/Quill Tree, $12.99 paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-288551-7

In this companion to Newbery winner New Kid, eighth grader Drew Ellis embarks on a turbulent second year at the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School in the Bronx alongside best friends Jordan Banks and Liam Landers. Drew and Jordan, who are both African American, face different struggles: Jordan, an aspiring cartoonist from Washington Heights, Manhattan, wishes he could attend art school instead, while Drew, an excellent basketball player from the Bronx, worries he’ll fulfill a stereotype if he joins the school team. Yet they both suffer microaggressions at their predominantly white, upper-class private school; in one scene, a non-Black student runs her hands through Drew’s hair, despite his vocal discomfort, and in another, white students give Black classmates—excluding Jordan—“reparations” after watching an exploitative film called The Mean Streets of South Uptown. Interwoven comics by Jordan further depict his experiences as a light-skinned Black boy, while parodic chapter title spreads offer levity. Deftly weaving discussions of race, socioeconomics, colorism, and solidarity into an accessible narrative, Craft offers a charming cast journeying through the complicated landscapes of puberty, self-definition, and changing friendships, all while grappling with the tensions of attending an institution that structurally and culturally neglects students of color. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. Agent: Judy Hansen, Hansen Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love, & Truth

Edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson. Crown, $18.99 (128p) ISBN 978-0-593-12161-0

“There are myriad versions of ‘The Talk’ because there are myriad ways to be human,” reads the Hudsons’ (We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices) foreword to this richly inclusive volume. Here, the pioneer founders of Just Us Books present a riveting collection of 17 candid discussions on racism, identity, and self-esteem by 30 Black, Indigenous, and other children’s book creators of color. A wide variety of storytelling modes—poetry, essays, lists, letters, “comix frames”—move each conversation forward in an engaging manner. In “Remember This,” Renée Watson, with illustrations by Shadra Strickland, offers powerful affirmations to Black girls on how to “love the kink of your hair, the width of your hips, and the brown of your skin.” In “Not a China Doll,” Grace Lin explains stereotypes about East Asian women and advises resistance in a heartwarming illustrated letter to her daughter. Through contributors’ personal experiences with systemic issues, readers will recognize the necessity of having open dialogue with loved ones. A compelling call to action for readers of any background to initiate ongoing conversations about change. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Big Questions Book of Sex and Consent

Donna Freitas. Levine Querido, $18.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64614-018-3

“We need to acknowledge and embrace our vulnerability if we are going to have challenging, important conversations about sex and consent,” explains Freitas (The Healer), a scholar and teacher, before she launches into complex topics, often considered uncomfortable, to guide readers in “build[ing] a framework” regarding relationships, identity, and consent that respects and values a diversity of experiences. Addressing the reader directly and sharing personal anecdotes, Freitas positions herself as both authority and friend. She informs readers while using herself as an example to subvert and respond to misconceptions and assumptions, including frequently conflicting messaging around religion, sexuality, and romantic and sexual relationships. Diving into topics such as relational ethics, sexual identity, stereotypes, feminism, fear, shame, and the inequalities that people of color face, Freitas offers opportunities for reflection and real-life application of the ideas discussed through journaling exercises and suggested resources, as well as messages from a variety of prominent authors to their 12-year-old selves. Though Freitas’s frequent reminders that she cares about the reader may distract, this volume actively works to affirm and explore ideas surrounding sex and consent thoughtfully and accessibly. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret Life of Sam

Kim Ventrella. HarperCollins, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-294118-3

Samuel West just wants to go back to when his Pa was alive and spinning wild tales. But Pa, the only parent Sam ever knew, died recently in a car accident. Now, Sam is dragged from Bayou St. George, La., by his paternal Aunt Jo, who’s “stayed away... the past four Thanksgivings,” to her home in Holler, Okla. Isolating himself, Sam is buried in “thoughts... like spiders that hid away in cracks anytime you tried to swat them.” But when he finds a hollowed-out tree and “a cat with half a face” who leads him inside, he discovers a doorway to an alternate Bayou St. George where he’s reunited with Pa. Ejected back into Holler and only able to visit his father at certain times each day, Sam befriends Edie, a fellow seventh grader with an absent father, and learns more about his Aunt Jo, a veteran and an amputee who organizes Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Soon, Sam must choose between the two worlds before he becomes trapped. Ventrella (Hello, Future Me) brilliantly renders Sam’s gentle nature, defensiveness, and deep sadness; her evocative prose and the small but resonant cast shine, and Sam’s voice effectively relays his path toward the other side of grief. Ages 8–12. Agent: Brianne Johnson, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Scritch Scratch

Lindsay Currie. Sourcebooks, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-72820-972-2

Chicago seventh grader Claire Koster, 12, appreciates the predictability and comfort of science—which is why her father, an author obsessed enough with creepy Chicago history to quit his job teaching history and start a ghost tour bus company, is driving her up the wall. Equally aggravating is watching her best friend and fellow science lover, Casley, slowly replace her with new girl Emily Craig, who likes makeup and clothes. But when Claire assists her father on a tour one night, she is startled to discover an unexpected passenger: a pale, dark-eyed little boy, “six, seven tops,” who just may be a ghost. Claire must soon acknowledge that not everything can be explained by science; she discovers a scrap of paper reading “396” after boy disappears, and more paranormal occurrences follow. Currie’s vivid descriptions of the spirit (“His dark eyes. His dripping clothes and bloodless face”) conjure a chilling atmosphere. Engrossing snippets of Chicago history ground the novel, with references to real-life locations, including Hull House and the sunken SS Eastland, “right at the intersection of LaSalle Street and Wacker Drive.” A spine-tingling blend of hauntings and history. Ages 10–up. Agent: Kathleen Rushall, Andrea Brown Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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