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A Chip Off the Old Block

Jody Jensen Shaffer, illus. by Daniel Miyares. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-17388-2

Rocky the rock wants to do “big things,” an open-ended goal that gives Shaffer’s geological epic plenty of latitude. Rocky remembers his famous Uncle Gibraltar and his Aunt Etna before setting off on a quest that has him visiting some local relatives. He gets blown off the Wave in Arizona, washed off Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower, and knocked off sauropod tracks in Texas before finding his place in the world as a patch for Lincoln’s cracked nose at Mt. Rushmore. (The monument’s faces do crack from time to time, an author’s note explains.) Miyares (That Neighbor Kid) paints Rocky on heavily textured paper, adding depth and richness to his spreads; saturated reds and purples contribute drama. It’s tough to cast a rock as a main character, but Shaffer (Prudence the Part-Time Cow) comes up with lots of ways a rock can travel and uses every geological pun she can think of (“It was clear the two of them didn’t share the same sediment”). Rock hounds and teachers doing earth science units are a natural audience. Ages 5–8. Author’s agent: Kathleen Rushall, Andrea Brown Literary. Illustrator’s agency: Studio Goodwin Sturges. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Petra

Marianna Coppo. Tundra, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-7352-6267-6

The heroes of adventure stories often have some control over their own fates; Petra only thinks she does. She’s a smooth, egg-shaped rock who looks like a beluga coming up for air. She makes airy pronouncements about her nature as a rock: “Nothing can move me. Not the wind. Not time.” Then a dog appears chasing a stick, and the view pulls back to reveal that Petra is small enough for the dog to pick up in its mouth—which it does. The dog owner’s slingshot sends Petra into a bird’s nest, and Petra cheerfully retools her image of herself: “I am an egg of the world, in a world of possibility.” Italian author-illustrator Coppo keeps her spreads simple, smooth, and stylish, painting pared-down forms on clean white backdrops. Petra’s thoughts are represented with quiet wit (she imagines hatching into a penguin, or a platypus), and her unplanned flights are traced with dashed lines. Change may be the only constant in Petra’s peripatetic existence, but her bubbly optimism is as solid as Gibraltar. “I’m a rock,” she concludes, “and this is how I roll.” Ages 3–7. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card

Sara Saedi. Knopf, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5247-1779-7

Given the uncertain fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which attempts to help protect undocumented young people from deportation, Saedi’s memoir about being an all-American teenager, bicultural child of Iranian immigrants, and unwitting “illegal alien” could hardly be timelier. Saedi (Never Ever) doesn’t pull any punches about the extra-legal role the U.S. played in toppling one Iranian leader and supporting another, or about the governmental snafus that kept her, her sister, and their parents without legal standing for so long. She documents her generally happy California life, with typical teen issues (unrequited love, bad skin) sharing space with the fear of deportation. Saedi explains Persian culture and debunks some stereotypes in FAQ sections, but also overworks irreverent language (the Iran-Contra scandal is described as the “vanilla ice cream on the poop pie”). Although she provides a candid, firsthand perspective on people who are cultural insiders but legal outsiders, it can feel as though an essay’s worth of material has been extended to book length by diary entries and discussions of pop culture. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jess Regel, Foundry Literary + Media. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science

Joyce Sidman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-544-71713-8

Spreads splashed with vibrant, eye-catching paintings of insects and flowers help tell the story of 17th-century German trailblazer Maria Merian. Eschewing the mores of her time, she became a leading botanical artist, naturalist, and (possibly) the world’s first ecologist, as she depicted insects—in all their developmental stages—alongside their botanical food sources and helped establish the idea that butterflies and moths come from caterpillars. Sidman (Round) punctuates a well-researched, engaging narrative (“She had the curiosity of a true scientist, the patience it took to raise insects, and the superb artistic skill necessary to share her observations”) with excerpts from Merian’s journals to bring the courageous artist’s own voice into the mix. Eclectic sidebars contextualize the biography (one discusses witch hunts of the era), along with archival images, maps, and full-color photographs. Stages of butterfly metamorphosis (accompanied by a trademark Sidman nature poem) serve as fitting chapter headings and mirror the stages of Merian’s life; a chapter titled “Flight” focuses on her groundbreaking research trip to Surinam. An author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index conclude this beautifully designed and expansive portrait of a gifted boundary breaker. Ages 10–12. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Altered History of Willow Sparks

Tara O’Connor. Oni, $19.99 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-62010-450-7

Willow Sparks just wants to get through high school without students in popular cliques harassing her and teachers embarrassing her. After bullies show up at the library where she works and push her down a flight of stairs, she discovers a secret underground wing—and a book with her name on it. By writing in the book, she can reshape her future, and soon she’s ditching her best friends Georgia and Gary to hang out with the cool kids. The pale lavender-gray coloring of O’Connor’s two-tone cartooning fits the eerie, brooding atmosphere of this magic-inflected cautionary tale. But although O’Connor’s talents as an artist aren’t in question—the torments that Willow and her friends face in gym class, school bathrooms, and elsewhere feel painfully real—the overall story is rushed and too-tidily resolved. Even considering the influence of the magical book, the speed with which Willow drops her friends is jarring, and their own subplots get short shrift (Georgia is moving out of town, and Gary is nervously starting to come out to family and friends). It’s an intriguing story that doesn’t have enough space to reach its full potential. Ages 13–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Belles

Dhonielle Clayton. Freeform, $17.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4847-2849-9

Sixteen-year-old sisters Camellia, Edelweiss, Ambrosia, Padma, Valeria, and Hana are the new generation of Belles, young women who are responsible for keeping the citizens of Orléans beautiful, magically transforming their appearances to align with the latest trends. Descendants of the Goddess of Beauty, the Belles are paid to perform their magic to prevent their people from reverting to pallid, red-eyed creatures, their natural state. Talented Camellia believes that she will be selected as the Queen’s favorite, a role the sisters covet deeply. But when another Belle is chosen, and Camellia is assigned to a teahouse to perform beauty rituals on the wealthy, she begins to wonder if what she has always believed about the Belles is true. Clayton (coauthor of Tiny Pretty Things) creates a vivid island world in this enticing series opener, saturating the narration with lush descriptions (“Carts hold tiers of pastries frosted in rose-petal pinks and pearly whites and apple reds, flutes overflow with jewel-tone liquids”) that reflect the culture’s obsession with elegance, appearance, and luxury. Readers will be left with much to consider about morality, individuality, and the malleability and artificiality of beauty. Ages 14–up. Agent: Victoria Marini, Irene Goodman Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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What the Night Sings

Vesper Stamper. Knopf, $19.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5247-0038-6

Stamper’s exceptionally moving debut goes beyond recounting the suffering inflicted on Jews during the Holocaust to explore a young woman’s conflict between love and artistic ambition. Fourteen-year-old Gerta Richter, a talented singer and daughter of a violist in the Würzburg Orchestra, learned that she is actually Gerta Rausch, a Jew, when she and her father were forcibly removed from Würzburg by the Nazis one night in June 1944. The novel opens with the British liberation of German concentration camps in 1945 and moves smoothly among Gerta’s prewar life, her stay in concentration camps and the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons camp, and her postwar flight to Palestine. Focusing on Gerta’s transitional time as a displaced person, Stamper delves into her fight to regain her musical gift, her deepening relationship with a fellow survivor, her growing identity as a Jew, and her struggle to make decisions about her future. Generously illustrated with Stamper’s haunting spot images and larger scenes, all in deep brown hues that evoke profound emotion, the book is a strong addition to the bookshelf of Holocaust fiction. Ages 12–up. Agent: Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Traitor’s Game

Jennifer A. Nielsen. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-338-04537-6

Kestra Dallisor is the defiant 16-year-old daughter of Sir Henry Dallisor, chief counsel to Antora’s evil and possibly immortal ruler, Lord Endrick. Kestra is returning home following a three-year exile when Corack rebels ambush her carriage. Her attackers kidnap and threaten to kill Kestra’s driver and handmaid unless she smuggles two insurgents, Simon and Trina, into Sir Henry’s estate and helps them find the Olden Blade. The Blade is purportedly the only weapon capable of killing Lord Endrick, and it’s rumored to be hidden in the Dallisor dungeons. Kestra only cooperates because she must, but the longer she spends in the Coracks’ company, the more she questions what she knows about her kingdom, her family, and herself. First in a trilogy, this entertaining but uneven fantasy novel from Nielsen (the Mark of the Thief trilogy) advocates tolerance while championing female self-empowerment. Kestra and Simon’s alternating narratives are engaging and distinctive, but although Nielsen’s characters harbor plenty of secrets, they are somewhat one-dimensional, reducing the emotional impact of an otherwise action-packed, romance-laden tale. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Just Friends

Dyan Sheldon. Candlewick, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7636-9354-1

Using a droll third-person narrative, Sheldon (The Truth About My Success) hilariously chronicles an endearingly dorky teenager’s first infatuation. Josh Shine is smitten with new girl Jena Capistrano the first time he sees her, but she ignores him until the day Josh is out walking his best friend Ramona’s highly energetic dog, which runs up the Capistranos’ tree. The two become friends, despite the fact that Jena has become part of the popular crowd at school, which vintage movie watcher and chess player Josh is in no danger of joining. Jena appreciates Josh’s reliability and frequently asks him to come to the rescue when she is frightened about being alone or brooding over one of her many less-than-perfect dates (“Jena’s dates may all have something wrong with them,” writes Sheldon, “but it is never that they have a face that is best seen from behind”). Meanwhile, Josh’s friend Ramona is secretly crushing on him, and Josh’s friend Sal has fallen for Ramona. It’s not hard to predict how things will shake out, but Sheldon’s romantically entangled plot offers plenty of entertainment. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Between the Lines

Nikki Grimes. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-399-24688-3

Grimes adroitly orchestrates a chorus of emotional teenage voices in this thought-provoking companion to the Coretta Scott King Award–winning Bronx Masquerade (2001). A summer has passed since the events of the previous book, and English teacher Mr. Ward has a new crop of culturally diverse students learning the art of poetry. Junior Darrian Lopez, who wants to be a newspaperman someday, is eager to uncover the backgrounds of his classmates. Grimes uses him as a kind of conductor, introducing readers to (and reflecting on the situations of) students whose stories unfold through snippets of conversation, inner monologues, and the poems they compose. Among them are foster child Jenesis, who faces an uncertain future once she turns 18; angry Marcel, whose father has been unjustly incarcerated; and overworked Freddie, caretaker for her alcoholic mother and six-year old niece. While underscoring the difficulties these teens face, Grimes’s economical writing provides glimmers of hope, showing how forming bonds of trust and finding the courage to speak one’s truth can help ease emotional pain and bring salvation. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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