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What If Soldiers Fought with Pillows? True Stories of Imagination and Courage

Heather Camlot, illus. by Serge Bloch. Owlkids, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-77147-362-0

This salute to people who exemplify peace and reconciliation begins each story with a question. The titular query describes the story of medic Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor; “What if words of war became a war of words?” describes the evolution of PEN International, the literary and advocacy organization that fights for persecuted writers. In her introduction, Camlot (Clutch) argues that selfless drive of these subjects is motivated by a powerful, relentless imagination—“daring us to picture the world as we’d like it to be”—and the determination to “turn it into action.” Her brisk reportorial style is refreshingly straightforward; the story of how U.S.-China relations defrosted thanks to an accidental encounter between ping-pong players Glenn Cowan and Zhuang Zedong, for example, is easy to access and helpfully contextualized. Bloch’s (I Voted) customary playfulness, balletic line, and splashes of color and texture deliver, with images that range from soldiers decorating a battlefield with paints to a family on a seesaw catapulting an authoritarian figure into the air. A final question encourages reader engagement: “What if you could change the world?” Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Love Your Body

Jessica Sanders, illus. by Carol Rossetti. Frances Lincoln, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7112-5242-4

Originally published in Australia with Kickstarter funding, this thoughtfully compiled guide to body positivity and self-love provides definitions, affirmations, and guidance for “girls and those who identify as a girl.” A note to the reader sets a distinct tone of openness and acceptance, explaining that the volume is meant to comfort, guide, and empower. Soft illustrations in warm hues by Rossetti give context and power to the resonant messages of self-acceptance and individuality, celebrating a multitude of experiences. On one spread, two women maneuver their wheelchairs while playing a sport; another depicts an inclusive group, including a young hijabi woman embracing a girl with stretch marks and armpit hair who is wearing a crop top. The definition of puberty and explanations of concepts such as “self-love” are coupled with accessible self-care tips and techniques, from stretching and crafting to helping others and reciting affirmations. A concluding “Now What?” section suggests body-positivity and self-care practices, followed by a list of mental health resources. Thoughtfully designed and executed, this book carries an important message for readers of all ages. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games

Lori Alexander, illus. by Allan Drummond. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-328-58079-5

Alexander (All in a Drop) brings her accessible storytelling to this well-researched account of the man behind today’s Paralympic Games. Jewish neurologist Ludwig Guttmann escaped Hitler’s Germany to Britain and later founded a spinal injuries treatment center for wounded soldiers. Fourteen short chapters seamlessly flesh out Guttmann’s life and detail how his radical-for-the-time treatment plans—which included occupational therapy and sports such as archery and wheelchair basketball—helped patients formerly known as “incurables” to live and thrive. Competitions he organized for patients who had paraplegia later evolved into the Paralympics. Illustrated vignettes by Drummond (Pedal Power), as well as numerous archival photos and simple medical diagrams, keep the narrative moving apace, though some, including a cartoon-style soldier struck by shrapnel, appear lighthearted for the subject matter; sidebars detail paraplegia, the nervous system, and the historical treatment of people with disabilities. Brief portraits of six Paralympic medalists conclude this inspirational biography, which highlights the power of sport to motivate and heal while demonstrating how the dedication of one pioneering doctor continues to mean a life-changing difference for many. A timeline, extensive bibliography, and index are included. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 7–10. Author’s agent: Kathleen Rushall, Andrea Brown Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Winter Duke

Claire Eliza Bartlett. Little, Brown, $17.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-316-41734-1

In this queer fairy tale reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty, Ekaterina Avenko, 16, would rather move south and study medicine than remain in her family’s ice palace and compete with her 12 murderous siblings for Kylma Above’s throne. After much begging, she persuades her father, the Grand Duke, to let her leave; his only stipulation is that she wait until after her oldest brother, heir-elect Lyosha, chooses a consort. Eligible royals assemble, but before Lyosha can select one, every Avenko excepting Ekata falls into an unawakenable sleep. To maintain stability and forestall unwanted advances from her power-hungry foster brother, Ekata ascends as Grand Duke and picks a bride—fierce, outspoken Inkar Erlyfsson—from those assembled. She hopes to help create a cure for her family’s illness, then discovers that they’ve been cursed using magic. Bartlett (We Rule the Night) delivers a feminist fantasy fraught with tension and political intrigue. Sketchy worldbuilding occasionally confuses, and not every plot twist rings true, but escalating stakes and an adrenaline-fueled pace keep the pages turning, while sharply drawn characters illustrate that there’s more than one way to lead. Ages 14–up. Agent: Kurestin Armada, P.S. Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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We Are the Wildcats

Siobhan Vivian. Simon & Schuster, $18.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5344-3990-0

Uncontested champions until suffering a humiliating loss at state finals, the West Essex High School girls’ field hockey team faces a new season, and the anger of its once-revered coach, who seems determined to punish them for their failure. In the 24 hours leading up to the team’s first scrimmage, the desperate coach tries to control the trajectory of events as six Wildcats share their love of field hockey, their hopes for their team and themselves, and their fears that they don’t belong on the lauded team. As their first team-bonding sleepover unfolds, the girls grow increasingly desperate to prove their dedication while hiding secrets that could ruin more than just their season. Using alternating third-person perspectives and meticulously unfolding the night’s events hour by hour, Siobhan (Stay Sweet) conveys both the evening’s significance to the team’s culture and the importance of protecting their secrets while staying loyal to team and coach. While the girls’ stories culminate in a satisfactory climax, indistinct voices result in lengthy chapters that blend together, slowing what should be a gripping story of how this team’s integrity, loyalty, and honor challenge a toxic coach’s controlling tactics. Ages 14–up. Agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Jr./Folio Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Mermaid Moon

Susann Cokal. Candlewick, $22.99 (496p) ISBN 978-1-5362-0959-4

This immersive retelling of “The Little Mermaid” follows Sanna, a half-landish mermaid who leaves her flok to seek her human mother. Advised by the ancient, riddle-tongued sea witch Sjældent, Sanna is bound for the castle ruled by ageless and unkind Baroness Thyrla, a witch who steals youth and power from others, even her infant children. When an accidental display of magic convinces the local priest and townsfolk that Sanna is a miracle worker, she finds herself betrothed to Thyrla’s attractive but useless son, but she’s no closer to finding her mother or securing the undefined treasure that Sjældent requires as payment. Juxtaposed against the patriarchal culture wherein Thyrla has amassed and maintained power (one in which rape and infanticide are common), Cokal (The Kingdom of Little Wounds) creates a well-developed matriarchal mermaid mythology in which women couple, bonded by love and respect, and men are largely unnecessary. Through several voices and richly detailed prose, these markedly different worlds overlap and diverge to impart a nuanced exploration of power, family, faith, and love. Ages 14–up. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The June Boys

Court Stevens. Thomas Nelson, $18.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7852-2190-6

In June 2010, in Wildwood, Tenn., 17-year-old Thea Delacroix, the heroine of this engrossing mystery from Stevens (Dress Codes for Small Towns), and her friends are still searching for her Kentucky cousin, Aulus McClaghen, a teen who went missing a year earlier. She fears Aulus is a victim of the Gemini Thief, who, since 2001, has been kidnapping three children at a time, holding them for 13 months, then releasing them without harm. This pattern changes with the discovery of the body of one of the kidnapped boys with Aulus’s key chain stuffed in his mouth, one made by Thea’s father, who soon becomes the FBI’s primary suspect. The letters written by Aulus while captive, addressed to real-life kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart, allow the reader to experience the boy’s fears and courage. A surprising culprit is revealed at the heartbreaking, though hopeful, ending. Stevens takes a good swing at resolving lost faith and trust while trying to rebuild the strengths and bonds of family and friends. Ages 13–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Light in Hidden Places

Sharon Cameron. Scholastic Press, $18.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-338-35593-2

Cameron’s saga of life in wartime Poland under German occupation stretches from 1936, when 11-year-old Fusia first falls in love with city life on a visit to Przemys´l, through July 1944. Based on the experiences of then-teenager Stefania “Fusia” Podgórska, who, along with her younger sister Helena, was, in 1979, honored by the World Holocaust Remembrance Center for their heroism in saving Jews during the war, the book traces, in exhaustive detail, what that heroism looked like daily. Catholic Fusia doggedly persists in doing what she believes is right; when the Jewish family she has been living with and working for is sent to the Jewish ghetto, she sneaks food and supplies to them. Eventually she hides her friend, Max, and six (and later 13) other Jews in her and Helena’s apartment. Living in fear and under constant suspicion, Fusia holds down a full-time factory job, fends off a Polish officer’s advances, and undergoes several extremely close calls with the police, all while fiercely protecting Helena (an especially appealing character, sharp and savvy under her shy demeanor). This story of extraordinary survival is bolstered by an author’s note, accompanied by photos, that relates the happy future that followed for Fusia, Helena, and Max. Ages 12–up. Agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Harley in the Sky

Akemi Dawn Bowman. Simon Pulse, $19.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5344-3712-8

Harley Yoshi Milano, 18, has never felt like she belongs. The Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Irish mixed-race teen questions her cultural identity and role as daughter of parents who run Teatro della Notte, a Las Vegas circus. When her parents tell her she must attend college instead of training as a trapeze artist, Harley lands an internship with a well-known aerialist at a competing circus, but only in exchange for betraying those she loves. While most of the performers refuse to help the new addition, hard work and determination secure her admirers, friends, and a love interest as her dreams start to become reality. Dark clouds loom as Harley struggles to maintain healthy relationships and keep her depression at bay, and she struggles with suicidal ideation. Bowman (Starfish) creates an emotionally driven novel brimming with exuberant details of circus life and aerial routines. Quick chapters culminate with riveting cliffhangers that keep readers hooked to the story. Elongated interior monologues occur throughout, but touching scenes between Harley and her parents are sensitively written alongside a thoughtful, unresolved exploration of mental health. Ages 12–up. Agent: Penny Moore, FinePrint Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Kingdom of Back

Marie Lu. Putnam, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3901-0

Lu (Rebel) deftly layers fantastical elements and historical fiction to craft an expansive tale of rivalry based on two Mozart siblings, both talented pianists and composers. In 1759 Salzburg, eight-year-old Marianne “Nannerl” Mozart is poised to play in front of royalty, but the audience she must first impress is distracted when her younger brother, the nearly four-year-old Wolfgang “Woferl,” enters the room, leading to a small error in her playing. Blaming Woferl for the mistake and fearful of his burgeoning talent, Nannerl makes a wish that is heard by a magical entity, Hyacinth; he promises to help Nannerl achieve immortality through her music if she helps him regain his crown in the Kingdom of Back. Initially the siblings are intrigued, enjoying adventures in the fantastical kingdom, where they explore magical grottos and outsmart a witch, but when things take a darker turn, Nannerl begins to understand that she has entered a Faustian pact. Carefully constructing a magical kingdom while crafting the historical cities of Europe where the Mozarts played as children, Lu shows her knack for creating detailed worlds while seamlessly building a complicated sibling relationship with a balance of rivalry and love. Ages 12–up. Agent: Kristin Nelson, Kristin Nelson Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/24/2020 | Details & Permalink

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