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Pippa Park Raises Her Game

Erin Yun. Fabled Films, $15.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1944020-26-2

An empowering celebration of identity, friendship, and embracing one’s roots, Yun’s loose reimagining of Great Expectations follows a first-generation Korean-American girl learning to navigate her new life at an elite private school. When Pippa Park’s older sister, her caretaker, forces her to quit her Massachusetts public school’s basketball team to concentrate on her grades, her basketball dreams seem all but dead. Yet an unexpected lifeline appears when the elite Lakeview School suddenly offers her a basketball scholarship—with the condition that she maintain a 3.0 GPA. Spinning a web of half-truths about her background to fit in with wealthy new friends, Pippa loses sight of her grades, working-class family roots, and true friendships. #OwnVoices author Yun writes of Korean-American family life with heartwarming, authentic detail. The predictability of certain plot points, such as Pippa’s mysterious acceptance into Lakeview and the eventual exposure of her lies, is balanced by her cheerful charm. Tall, athletic, and brash, she is an unforced subversion of female Asian-American stereotypes even as she confronts challenges unique to Asian-American teens. A subplot involving her aloof math tutor and his musical older brother adds another layer to the story, revealing Pippa’s capacity for empathy and the value of family in her world. Ages 10–12. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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True to Your Selfie

Megan McCafferty. Scholastic Press, $13.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-338-29699-0

In this middle grade story of a mean girl and her social media syndicate, when wealthy, popular Morgan selects Ella to be her BFF and brand partner, 12-year-old Ella dumps her bestie, Sophie, and her favorite fantasy series. Morgan is fully in charge of #Morgan&Ella (“What’s good for you is good for me is good for Morgan & Ella”). And though Ella finds it stressful to embody Goofball Goddess (her assigned role in the duo)—as well as play ukulele and sing backup on the covers she and Morgan perform—she’s intent on keeping her friend happy. But Ella’s actions (inadvertently losing her smartphone, for example) frequently annoy Morgan, who begins bullying Sophie, and Ella’s single mother becomes bothered by her daughter’s attitude and social media obsession. Ella discovers a love of fencing—which is quickly prohibited by her counterpart—and must decide what her priorities really are. Though it is unclear why Ella tolerates Morgan’s cruelty for so long when she doesn’t seem to enjoy the popularity it affords her, McCafferty (the Jessica Darling series) effectively captures tween speak and the allure of social media while exposing its inauthenticity. 8–12. Agent: Heather Schroder, Compass Talent. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Everyone’s Awake

Colin Meloy, illus. by Shawn Harris. Chronicle, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4521-7805-9

Harris (What Can a Citizen Do?) opens this comic romp with a nighttime view of a dark, brooding structure—half haunted mansion, half lighthouse. A page turn sets the lights ablaze as the child narrator discovers that, rather than sleeping, “everyone’s awake.” Things start quietly (“Grandma’s at her needlework./ Dad is baking bread”) but soon escalate: “The dog’s into the eggnog:/ Mom’s tap dancing to Prince/ while Dad is on the laptop/ buying ten-yard bolts of chintz.” Bold, silk-screen-esque forms coalesce into tapestries of gleeful chaos for the multiethnic family. Mom clutches the eggnog punch bowl with one arm and a vinyl record with the other; pajama-clad Dad lies belly-down with his laptop. The siblings aren’t shy, either: “My brother’s now reciting/ every line from Condorman/ while my sister is trapezing/ from the kitchen ceiling fan.” Gothic mystery creeps in, too, as a ghostly shipwreck outside produces “long-dead/ Grandpa Paul” for a game of whist. Manic though it may be, the family’s live-and-let-live attitude toward its members’ rule-breaking peculiarities makes this rip-roaring romp by Meloy (The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid) defiantly wholesome. Ages 5–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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That’s Life!

Ame Dyckman, illus. by Cori Doerrfeld. Little, Brown, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-48548-7

In this idiomatic adventure, Life is an impish, furry, and highly mutable critter that, when it emerges from a mysterious crate (one that pops up “when you least expect it”), not only charges toward the young protagonist fast, but also adds a big, slurpy kiss. Life arrives with no instructions, of course, and promptly launches the protagonist on a whirlwind series of vignettes set against a white background—“You never know where Life’s gonna take you,” Dyckman (Dandy) writes as the two bounce from Lady Liberty to Pisa’s leaning tower. As the meaning-of-life clichés deliberately pile up—who knew there were so many?—it’s up to Doerrfeld (Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!) to give them a visual boost; she accomplishes this through crayonlike digital drawings that are by turns semifigurative interpretations (in “Life is what you make it!” Life turns into a raft that takes the child for an exhilarating waterfall ride) and naughtily literal (for “Your whole Life can flash before your eyes,” Life moons the child). The mood is always upbeat—or, at the very least, maintains a “dust yourself off and keep going” attitude—with plenty of reminders that whatever life is, it is for sure one wild ride. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Scott Treimel, Scott Treimel NY. Illustrator’s agent: Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Rita & Ralph’s Rotten Day

Carmen Agra Deedy, illus. by Pete Oswald. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-338-21638-7

The classic hand game “Mr. Wiggle and Mr. Waggle” is recast here with two best friends who live “in two little houses, on two little hills.” To reach their favorite playing spot, an apple tree at the midpoint between their houses, each must travel “down the hill, and up the hill, and down the hill, and up the hill”—a rolling geography underscored by the book’s horizontal format and undulating typography. One day, Ralph bops Rita on the head with a rock and runs away; he belatedly tromps to her house to make amends but can only muster a grumpy, shouted apology. A fuming Rita then tromps to Ralph’s house and retaliates with a demand (“I WANT MY PINECONE BACK!”). In each instance, the hilly terrain gives the kids plenty of opportunity to build up a full steam of guilty anger and resentment. But a new day dawns, sincere regrets are expressed (“I’m sorry!” “I’m sorrier!”), and the fun—via zombie tag and daisy chains—resumes. Oswald’s (The Sad Little Fact) jaunty style and digital gouache watercolor textures give the pictures a lighthearted feel, while bouncy text by Deedy (The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!) has just enough repetition to be compelling. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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My Best Friend

Julie Fogliano, illus. by Jillian Tamaki. Atheneum, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5344-2722-8

“I have a new friend/ and her hair is black/ and it shines/ and it shines/ and she always laughs at everything.” Fogliano (Just in Case You Want to Fly) captures the feeling of giddy infatuation when a child first meets another and feels an instant bond—it’s an early form of falling in love. The speaker is a wide-eyed girl with a red ponytail; the new friend wears round glasses and a delighted look. “She is so smart,” the speaker confides—she can strip a leaf down to make a “skeleton hand,” and weaves together the stems of trodden-on flowers so they don’t look so smashed (“she helps me fix them/ sort of”). Swinging, dancing in dizzy spirals, and games of chase lead to a string of new discoveries (“she is my best friend/ i think/ i’ve never had a best friend,” the girl confides, “so i’m not sure”). Rust and olive vignettes by Tamaki (They Say Blue) burst with energy that seems boundless, and closer inspection reveals elegantly controlled draftsmanship portraying muffled laughter and scribbled chalk lines. Young children have big feelings, and discovering someone their own age who adores them back is an event worth celebrating. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Bike & Trike

Elizabeth Verdick, illus. by Brian Biggs. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-5344-1517-1

Growing pains abound in this vehicular tale about change and new beginnings. Outgrown by child Lulu, red Trike languishes in the garage (“a rusty little fellow,/ a trusty little fellow”) until teal Bike arrives, a gift for Lulu’s birthday. Lonely and insecure, Trike worries that the child will forget all they braved together: “summer bees,/ skinned knees” and the terrible day Lulu finally outgrew her tricycle (“No go,” says her younger sibling, Tru). Challenged to a race by overconfident, wheelie-popping Bike (“a happy young fellow, a snappy young fellow”), careful Trike sees an opportunity to secure safety for Lulu, but calamity strikes when the two hit the road. Together, Bike’s uncontrolled enthusiasm and Trike’s cautious concern represent two very real and often competing emotions commonly felt during times of significant change. Rhythmic, personality-laden text by Verdick (Small Walt) couples with dynamic anthropomorphic energy and emotion dexterously conveyed by Biggs (The Space Walk) to create an amusing friendship story that’s just right for reading aloud. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Mary Cummings, Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Bear Must Go On

Dev Petty, illus. by Brandon Todd. Philomel, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-984-83747-9

When Rabbit suggests they “put on a show,” two of his woodland pals—Squirrel and Other Squirrel—erupt with enthusiasm, but Bear, pencil in paw, announces that he’s too shy to perform on stage, and instead will be “the note taker.” The thespian hopefuls shout out items they need, ordering Bear to write down the humorously detailed list: hats with straps for the birds (“Without straps their hats will fall off and the show will be ruined”) and shiny tickets (“Write SHINY in big letters, Bear!... No one will come if the tickets are dull”). Bear diligently records and whimsically illustrates their requests as he “sang a sweet song, which made him smile,” but the rodents forget a major component while bossing Bear about. Making his picture book debut, Todd captures the feverish preparations and the props’ funny flourishes in animated digital art, while type of various sizes and colors amplifies the energy. Petty (I Don’t Want to Be a Frog) elevates Bear to hero status in the rewarding finale to her story, which applauds facing one’s fears, being a good friend, and keeping an eye on the big picture. Ages 4–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Almond

Allen Say. Scholastic Press, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-338-30037-6

A new child at Almond’s school has dazzling talent: “The New Girl could play ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ so fast that Almond couldn’t see the bee.” Caldecott Medalist Say draws the New Girl’s bow dashing across the strings in a speedy blur. It’s hard for Almond not to compare herself to the New Girl (“All they say about me is that I have beautiful hair,” she says). Cast as Rapunzel in the school play, Almond fears a lack of talent almost as much as she appreciates New Girl’s. In a story that plumbs the depths of self-doubt and self-discovery, Say’s remarkable charcoal and pastel portraits, sometimes shown atop photographs, capture all the stages of Almond’s journey, from despondence (“I am not an actress,” she decides, stalking the school halls after the play) to a gentle revelation offered by the New Girl. An introspective reverie the next day shows Almond that she can enter another being’s existence in a way that’s more than just “pretending.” She is an actress, she declares to her mother, who rejoices with her. Say shows children a path toward deciding their own worth for themselves, apart from adult expectations. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Malo and the Merry-Go-Round

Maria Dek. Princeton Architectural, $17.95 (34p) ISBN 978-1-61689-875-5

Selfishness and rudeness lead only to loneliness in this joyously offbeat fable. On a beautiful day, Malo refuses to help his friend Poto put up pickles, as promised, choosing instead to sneak off to the “new merry-go-round at the pond in the forest” that Poto mentions. The two are diminutive, weasel-like creatures with thin, whiskered snouts—Malo wears yellow shorts; Poto, a red vest. In bold watercolors, Dek (Look, It’s Raining) conjures a delightfully weird sylvan world replete with mushrooms towering and forest turtles sporting bright red shells. As Malo makes his way to the merry-go-round, ignoring a boar asking for help (“I’m in a terrible rush,” he says) and snapping at a courteous cuckoo (“Coo-coo could you hurry up?” he huffs) before getting his comeuppance by slipping on a ball of dung. When the merry-go-round proves no fun without a friend, Malo slinks home to make amends with Poto and the animals he upset along the way. Though the message is unsubtle, Dek’s eccentric visual humor and playfulness (“I fell in poop!” says the regretful Malo) make for an amusing parable. Ages 3–7. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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