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American as Paneer Pie

Supriya Kelkar. Aladdin, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5344-3938-2

In this resonant #OwnVoices novel, a first-generation Indian American girl who initially wishes to blend into her predominantly white community learns to honor her identity. Sixth grader Lekha Divekar is the only Desi kid in her Detroit suburb. In order to avoid bullying at school, she covers the bindi-shaped birthmark on her forehead (which earned her the nickname Dot) and avoids bringing her favorite Indian foods for lunch. At home, however, Lekha takes pride in her heritage and Hindu faith, practicing folk dances and celebrating Diwali with her family. When another Indian family moves in across the street, Lekha’s initial attitude toward 11-year-old Avantika is one of condescension: “My new neighbor had a thick Indian accent. My new neighbor was a fob.” But as classmates, Lekha admires Avantika’s confidence and eloquence, and the two become friends. After Lekha’s family is the target of racist vandalism, she determines to speak out against the xenophobia in her town, where a new political slogan, “Don’t like it? Leave,” has taken hold. Though Lekha’s transformation from silent onlooker to vocal activist feels sudden, taking place in the book’s final portion, Kelkar (Ahimsa) illuminates the need for voices raised against discrimination and paints a convincing portrait of a girl straddling two cultures. Ages 8–12. Agent: Kathleen Rushall, Andrea Brown Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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What About Worms!? (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!)

Ryan T. Higgins and Mo Willems. Hyperion, $9.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-368-04573-5

In this spry addition to Willems’s ongoing series, Elephant and Piggie read a book about deceptively fierce Tiger, who is not afraid of anything—except worms. After Tiger explains his aversion to the critters (they’re slimy, they “like to wiggle,” and “you cannot tell their tops from their bottoms!”), he is distracted by things he loves—flowers planted in soil, a shiny apple hanging from a tree—only to toss them aside when he remembers, with horror, that worms enjoy those very same things. Unearthed, a few worms articulate their dislike of tigers (they’re furry, they like to walk, and “you can tell their tops from their bottoms!”), until they realize that Tiger has left behind the shattered planter he dropped and the apple he spat out, precipitating a reversal of opinion that is, wryly, unreciprocated by the terrified, emotive tiger. Though Higgins (the Mother Bruce series) slips in worthwhile intimations about making snap judgments, his spare, Bill Watterson–tinged art and snappy dialogue create a cleverly meta early reader that solidly stands on its comical feet. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent (for Higgins): Paul Rodeen, Rodeen Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Together We Grow

Susan Vaught, illus. by Kelly Murphy. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5344-0586-8

Inviting dialogue about the need for inclusivity, Vaught (Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry) offers a lyrical narrative in concise rhyming couplets that are fleshed out in dramatic mixed-media illustrations by Murphy (The Slowest Book Ever). As dark clouds overtake the sky, farm animals dash toward a barn to take refuge from an impending storm: “Lightning gash!/ Windy lash!” Huddled together, the menagerie (which includes a few critters—frogs, raccoons, a snail—not usually associated with barn life) looks up apprehensively at a window where a fox appears (“Go away!/ We’re full today!”). After one intrepid duckling ventures out into the lashing rain—and, in a stirring full-bleed spread, is seen face-to-face with the fox—the animals emerge to help usher the vulpine family into their dry sanctuary, where all—“Brindle and gray,/ dapple or bay”—remain until blue skies return. Murphy makes effective use of shadow and light in pictures that convey the expressive animals’ apprehension and eventual change of heart—and underscore the importance of trust and acceptance. Ages 4–8. (May)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Jules vs. the Ocean

Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-5344-4168-2

When Jules’s big sister bounds into the ocean, boogie board in tow, Jules makes plans to impress her via “the BIGGEST... FANCIEST... MOST EXCELLENT castle that has ever been built.” Believing that “Maybe the Ocean will help!” she starts building right at the water’s edge. But the sea seems determined to thwart her; its waves take not only her castles, but her green-handled bucket, too. Her sister assures her that the pathetic fallacy is all in her imagination (“This happens to everyone”), and together they collaborate on a giant, shell-studded free-form castle that meets all of Jules’s criteria. After the ocean sends what seems to be the biggest wave of all crashing into it, the sisters share a moment of devil-may-care elation, dramatically recounting the events to their mother. Sima (Spencer’s New Pet) fills her pages with humor: the waves that initially take out Jules’s castles look comically sinister, and when the girl loses her bucket, her prone, face-down expression of defeat is worthy of Charlie Brown. The forces of nature and impermanence may be beyond our control, but Sima finds the funny in it. Ages 4–8. Agent: Thao Le, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Grandparents

Chema Heras, trans. from the Spanish by Elisa Amado, illus. by Rosa Osuna. Greystone Kids, $17.95 (36p) ISBN 978-1-77164-566-9

This book’s generic title does not hint at what it actually delivers—a warmhearted romance, with a dance party at the end. Scribbly multimedia spreads by graphic artist Osuna open on a view of portly Manuel—Grandfather—sitting in the dirt of his garden, an inquisitive bird perched on his head. A passing car broadcasts an invitation to a dance that night. His wife, Manuela—Grandmother—is not enthusiastic: “I’m not flitting from party to party like a girl anymore.” Rapid-fire dialogue by Heras charms in Amado’s natural-sounding translation. Grand-father coaxes Grandmother with a daisy. She resists—“I am as ugly as a chicken with no feathers”—but begins, grudgingly, to primp: “I’m going to hide my legs. They are as skinny as knitting needles.” Grandfather’s compliments pile up cumulatively, “Twelve Days of Christmas”–style, as quirky drawings offer more amusement, like one of Grandmother laid out on an ironing board, the better to address her wrinkles. Grandfather’s boyish charm (“But you are so pretty... as pretty as the sun!”), Grandmother’s sweet-tempered vanity, and their unabashed fondness for one another make it clear that grandparents are wholly alive, with their ability to flirt intact. Ages 3–8. (May)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Ray

Marianna Coppo, trans. from the Italian by Debbie Bibo. Tundra, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7352-6577-6

Ray is a globe light bulb in a family’s storage closet that “goes from here to there. That’s it.” His only company is a child who occasionally uses the closet as a “secret hideout,” a spider named Tom, and 41 items that Ray has counted many, many times. Mostly, Ray is left quite literally in the dark, which, Coppo (Petra) writes, “is boring if you don’t know how to fill it.” But when Ray is put into a lantern and travels with the family on a camping trip, the world opens up for him as naïf digitized tempera and pastel drawings reveal a verdant, wooded landscape filled with flora, fauna, and natural phenomena, including “the biggest light bulb in the world”—the sun. Readers attached to fair outcomes may feel indignant when the “glowing” Ray is resequestered in the closet following the family’s return home. But to Coppo, life really is what one makes of it, and Ray has received an incredible gift—all the memories and fodder for imagination that he needs to create a whole world out of a dim situation. Ages 3–7. (May)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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I Really Want the Cake

Simon Philip, illus. by Lucia Gaggiotti. Orchard, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-338-58941-2

“It’s on the table sitting there./ I cannot help but stop and stare,” says Philip’s (Be More Bernard) protagonist as she gazes at an impressively decorated chocolate cake. She imagines herself and her canine comrade-in-arms as Wild West outlaws in a stand-off, eating utensils in double holsters. But the child’s mother has posted a sign that leaves no wiggle room (“YOU MUST NOT EAT THE CAKE”), and so the duo endeavors to practice self-control. Graphic designer Gaggiotti’s boisterous, crayonlike drawings show the girl and dog grumpily going through the motions, playing badminton and reading poetry. But it’s no use—once they sneak a few licks, the whole cake disappears in rapid order. Maybe Mom will forgive her if she makes a replacement—how hard could it be? This diva of cake snatching commands every page, with her proclamations of entitlement (rendered in sprawling handwritten type), her extensive repertoire of operatic expressions, and a hairstyle that seems to have a life of its own—especially after she’s laid waste to the kitchen. In more ways than one, she really does take the cake. Ages 3–5. (May)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Bird in Me Flies

Sara Lundberg, trans. from the Swedish by B.J. Epstein. Groundwood, $18.95 (120p) ISBN 978-1-77306-260-0

Gracefully translated by Epstein, this illustrated biography of Swedish painter Berta Hansson (1910–1994) traces a rural childhood that twines tragedy with the burning desire to create art. Berta loves to draw, but she lives on a farm, where art is a luxury not to be thought of—especially since her mother is bedridden with tuberculosis. The family doctor recognizes Berta’s talent, but her father dismisses it. She considers her future with only scraps of inspiration—a Sistine Chapel picture from her uncle, paintings glimpsed through a window. In verse and dozens of poignant, intimate gouaches, Lundberg shows Berta’s family at their tasks, the countryside around their farm, and images of Berta drawing and molding clay, forming small bird shapes that symbolize her readiness to take flight. Lundberg’s handsome biography of self-discovery remembers an artist who came to know without a doubt who she was meant to be. Ages 9–12. (May)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children

Alexis O’Neill, illus. by Gary Kelley. Calkins Creek, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-62979-866-0

The compelling activism of Jacob Riis animates this beautifully illustrated picture book biography. O’Neill pulls Riis’s life as a U.S. immigrant from Denmark into sharp focus, using vignettes to demonstrate how his experiences amplified his activism: “Often penniless, Jacob slept in abandoned barns, fields and cemeteries, and in homeless shelters that were so filthy and disease-ridden, he vowed to put an end to them someday.” Eventually a successful reporter, Riis was outraged by the state of New York City’s tenements and slums but was unable to effect change until he hit upon the idea of using flash photography to capture images of the decrepit buildings and their occupants. Kelley’s expressive illustrations, created using etching ink and pastel, mix human touch and snapshot sensibility, and give a nod to Riis’s photos. A few of Riis’s stunning images are included in the supplemental materials, alongside a list of his achievements for the social good. Ages 7–10. (May)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring

Matthew Burgess, illus. by Josh Cochran. Enchanted Lion, $18.95 (64p) ISBN 978-1-59270-267-1

In this picture book biography about artist and muralist Haring, Burgess and Cochran relate their subject’s path to focusing his inexorable drive. Via straightforward language, Burgess describes Haring discovering Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit in college (“He felt as if the book was speaking directly to him”), encountering the large paintings of Pierre Alechinsky (he was “blown away”), and recognizing a common impulse in dancers at the West Village’s Paradise Garage (“For Keith, drawing and painting were like dancing. He called it ‘mind-to-hand flow’”). Cochran uses a thick black line to suggest Haring’s creations, and renders figures in a Haring-esque style without seeming gimmicky. Of interest to young readers are Haring’s frequent efforts to involve children in mural-making projects. The story, including a respectful acknowledgement of Haring’s death from AIDS, makes the subject seem immediate and real—and presents a compelling vision of answering the call to create. Ages 6–14. (May)

Reviewed on 04/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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