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Dance with Your Heart

Bronwyn Mulrooney. Bronwyn Mulrooney, $8.99 paper (204p) ISBN 978-0-620-71245-3

In this paranormal-based middle grade debut, 13-year-old dancer Gemma James attends the South African Ballet Academy in Johannesburg with her friends Dineo and Marley. Sneaking out after curfew one night, the girls meet Emily, the ghost that haunts the school. The daughter of the academy’s founder, Emily was a ballerina who died by suicide at age 16 after she learned that the boy she planned to wed had married someone else. With the help of their friend Mitchell and new student Ethan, the girls pledge to help Emily move on. Meanwhile, the Grade 7s are putting on a performance of Giselle, and Gemma hopes that landing a solo will prove she truly belongs at SABA. While the two plotlines never fully cohere, each is enjoyable as the group researches the history of the academy and Gemma deals with a bully and a crush in her quest for a solo. Despite the inclusion of a trio of stereotypical mean girls, Gemma and her friends all have authentic voices, and Gemma’s struggles resonate. Ages 8–12. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Crier’s War

Nina Varela. HarperTeen, $17.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-282394-6

Fifty years ago, the Automae—created with alchemical magick, automaton components, and flesh and bone—won the War of Kinds, subsequently enslaving their human creators. Crier, the Designed daughter of Sovereign Hesod, an Automata, prepares for a politically advantageous marriage to Kinok, a philosophizing war hero. After Kinok uses blueprints to reveal that Crier is Flawed, she is thrown into an existential crisis, even as she questions Kinok’s ultimate objectives. Meanwhile, 16-year-old human revolutionary Ayla schemes to kill Crier in order to avenge the murders of her family by Hesod’s soldiers. But after Ayla saves Crier’s life and is rewarded with a coveted position as her handmaiden, the two young women must confront their shifting emotions about human and Automae coexistence, even as the tension between their Kinds builds toward war. Tropes, including an enemies-to-lovers plotline, prevail in Varela’s dystopian debut, which employs increasingly captivating political machinations among the intricately linked characters to create a suspenseful read with particular appeal to fans of queer romance. Ages 14–up. Agent: Patrice Caldwell, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Wrinkles

JR and Julie Pugeat. Phaidon, $17.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-83866-016-1

This jubilant celebration of aging builds an artful bridge between young and old. JR, the pseudonymous French artist and activist, has pared down his global “Wrinkles of the City” project to appeal to children, syncing his photographs with age-appropriate prose from project collaborator Pugeat. The creators deftly embrace wide-eyed curiosity and imagination: JR’s striking close-up, black-and-white portraits against vivid orange backgrounds reveal sprightly, relaxed elders exuding youthful vigor. Pugeat explains old age simply and sincerely: Wrinkles are “like soft stripes/ in our skin;” they tell “of laughter,/ And togetherness;/ Of play,/ And calm;/ Of secrets,/ And wisdom.” Back matter gives further information about the artist and project, and provides a brief introduction to each of the individuals featured, all residents of the six cities in JR’s initial project: Berlin, Cartagena, Havana, Istanbul, Los Angeles, and Shanghai. An ending question narrows the global scope back home to the reader: “Whose wrinkles do you see?/ What can they tell you?” This resonant recognition of aging is sure to start important conversations. Ages 2–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Summer Green to Autumn Gold: Uncovering Leaves’ Hidden Colors

Mia Posada. Millbrook, $19.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5415-2899-4

In engaging, accessible language, Posada presents the science behind the changing colors of deciduous trees. Beginning with green—“emerald to jade and every shade in between”—she explains how chlorophyll pigmentation uses sunlight to produce energy and obscures other pigments within the leaves. At the end of the summer growing season, “the chlorophyll slowly disappears, and the leaves’ green color fades away. Now the hidden yellows and oranges are finally revealed!” Posada (Who Was Here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks) follows the leaves from summer to spring, explaining why they fall and how they enrich the soil. Bright collage illustrations capture the papery texture of colorful leaves and the layered textures of vibrant autumnal forests. Supplemental materials include a glossary, links to experiments, and concise explanations of leaf types, pigments, and the role of weather and location on leaf coloration. Ages 5–10. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Oak Leaf

John Sandford. Cameron Kids, $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-944903-73-2

“Spinning, spiraling, tumbling... Circling, fluttering, falling.” Using simple descriptive language and swirling scenery, Sandford depicts the windblown journey of a leaf from the branches of an oak tree to a resting place between the pages of a book. Perspectives tilt in a series of richly hued illustrations, reflecting the leaf’s movement through a series of adventures—dodging the mouth of a fox, catching a gust of air from a passing train, drifting past a cattle farm, and passing maple trees, chilly lakes, lofty clouds, and soaring geese, until finally, the leaf pauses, then drops “down through clouds... Down to a colorful city below.” The fantastical narrative serves as a framing device for Sandford’s scenic illustrations. His impressionistic style and use of saturated, creamy tones effectively captures landscapes and animals, but style stumbles in the final spreads; the child who catches the fluid, interesting leaf feels awkwardly rendered in comparison, breaking the book’s fragile spell. Ages 5–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Look, It’s Raining

Mathieu Pierloot, illus. by Maria Dek. Princeton Architectural, $17.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-61689-828-1

In Pierloot’s U.S. debut, this wonder-filled rainy-day reverie follows a bored girl, Camille, who escapes her house to cavort in a downpour. She drinks a little rain (it “tastes like dust, like clouds”) and chats with creatures on their way to a mysterious “show,” which Dek (A Walk in the Forest) reveals in a beautiful spread. The story’s “zigzags and spins” create an uneven rhythm, but they echo the girl’s own meandering and leave opportunities to pause and ponder. There are a few mismatches between words and pictures: text describing Camille running “her hand through the tall, wet grass,” are paired with images that show her playing on the garden wall and splashing in a puddle. Still, her delight at her freedom is palpable in the flat-planed, saturated watercolors, which evoke a sense of petrichor and childlike whimsy. Playful details (an ant jauntily holding an umbrella, a fly assisting its fellow in escaping a spiderweb) lend a sheen of fantasy to match the child’s imaginative curiosity. This inviting title will likely suit young nature-revelers and encourage rainy day wandering and wondering. Ages 3–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Hey Grandude!

Paul McCartney, illus. by Kathryn Durst. Random House, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-525-64867-3

Inspired by McCartney’s own nickname and featuring a titular wink toward the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” this picture book debut from the musical icon hits all the right notes in the tale of a cool grandfather, his magical compass, and his grandchildren: Lucy, Tom, Em, and Bob. The “Chillers,” as Grandude dubs the foursome, are visiting for the weekend, but gloomy weather is thwarting their fun—“everybody was grumpy and too bored to be bothered.” Enter Grandude with zingy green backpack, a handful of postcards and, like Mary Poppins before him, a mystical compass. The family rides flying fish, horses, and airborne cows in various locales, narrowly evading danger each time before being whisked to the next destination. An energetic refrain (“See the compass needle spin,/ let the magic fun begin!”) and an onomatopoeic arpeggio (“Zing, bang, sizzle... everything changed!”) set the pace for each brisk adventure—until Grandude sees the children home and tucked in for bed. Durst’s colorful illustrations enliven the narrative with cartoon details and scrawled textures. An entertaining, if familiar, debut. Ages 4–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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What Cats Think

John Spray, illus. by Mies van Hout. Pajama, $19.95 (44p) ISBN 978-1-77278-087-1

Are cats capable of poetry? They are in this volume, which imagines their interior lives through 20 short poems, some more predictable than others. In “Dream,” a serene gray puss blends into its lavender-gray backdrop, musing “I close my eyes and dream.../ Of saucers filled with steamy milk./ Rivers of creamy moo-cow juice.” A page later, “Angry” somewhat features an aggressively scribbled black cat arching its back upon discovering “You threw away my scratching post!” Color pours off each page in van Hout’s vibrant, bold illustrations—a mix of acrylic ink, oil pastels, and gouache. His felines expressively embody Spray’s emphatic free verse, which authentically gives voice to cats’ changeable emotions. Ages 6–10. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Cat and the Little Girl

Wang Yuwei. Clavis, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-60537-488-8

Yuwei flips human and feline timelines through the melancholic and contemplative story of a painter named Mr. Cat and the small sprite of a girl he finds beneath a leaf and takes home as autumn gives way to winter. A solitary gray feline, Mr. Cat isn’t used to having a houseguest (“Get off my TAIL!”), but before long the girl—whose touch magically causes plants to grow—becomes a source of artistic inspiration, and the muted winter scenes gradually fill with color as friendship blossoms. Though the pair’s time together is brief (“Lifetime... one winter,” the encyclopedia reads), she leaves Mr. Cat with joyful memories of their ephemeral friendship. This quiet story about loss and the fleeting, seasonal nature of life may be too opaque for younger readers, but the careful, softly shaded illustrations are gently luminous. Ages 5–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Blue Cat

Charlie Eve Ryan. Starberry, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-63592-134-2

A darling, curious kitty stars in this rhythmic story. With rough-hewn textures and classic colors, Ryan’s collage-like illustrations feature Blue Cat doing what cats do best: lounging, stretching, swatting at toys, purring in human arms, and very nearly knocking something over. A slight element of mystery is introduced when “Blue Cat listens,” mouth in a little round o, to something off-page and then “peeks,” “sneaks,” and “creeps” toward it before pouncing. What does the fearsome feline stalk? The presence of a large red food bowl tucked beside Blue Cat’s own smaller bowl offers a hint. A quiet book about lively household exploration. Ages 5–6. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/11/2019 | Details & Permalink

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