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Lift

Minh Lê, illus. by Dan Santat. Little, Brown, $17.99 (56p) ISBN 978-136803692-4

Collaborators Lê and Santat (Drawn Together) mix a tale about sibling rivalry with a classic fantasy quest. Spare text by Lê along with Santat’s panel artwork tell the story of Iris, whose small, special pleasure is pushing the button in her building’s elevator. One awful day, her task is appropriated, without warning, by her baby brother. Her parents and sibling beam with pride; Iris scowls. After an elevator repairman’s visit tackles the out-of-service elevator next door, Iris retrieves the discarded button panel. “I wish I could be anywhere but here,” she fumes. She tapes it to the wall next to her closet, and presses: “Ding!” Light breaks across her face as the closet door opens; her amazement presages wonders that readers can’t yet see. Iris’s first foray into a new world ends quickly, but she soon gets another chance, and a dazzling adventure unfolds—until an unexpected but very familiar voice brings her back. Santat’s comedic versatility and theatrical use of light give the story cinematic momentum, while Lê’s insight into Iris’s conflicting emotions adds depth and warmth to the tale. Journeys to other worlds, Iris discovers, mean little without the warmth of her own. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management. Illustrator’s agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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When the Storm Comes

Linda Ashman, illus. by Taeeun Yoo. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-54609-9

“What do you do when the clouds roll in,/ When the wind chimes clang and the weather vanes spin?” In verse that rolls like a sea shanty, Ashman (Take Your Pet to School Day) watches as animals and people ride out a storm. Bad weather looms even on the copyright page: trees blow sideways, and gray clouds threaten a peaceful blue sky. As the story begins, a girl looks out her window with a worried expression. A family of foxes watches expectantly, too: “We watch./ We sniff./ We perk our ears,/ And listen as the rumbling nears.” A child runs home as a parent beckons. While humans take shelter (“We close. We cover,/ Latch and tie”), gulls seek coves and whales dive deep. Pencil and digital spreads by Yoo (Kitten and the Night Watchman) have a hand-worked feel, with loosely drawn lines and sponge print textures that suggest the advancing pressure and glad release of a storm passing. Final spreads show the ocean-adjacent community cleaning up, then gathering for refreshments. The emphasis is clear; in the face of natural forces, human and animal communities are alike in their vulnerability. Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Jennifer Mattson, Andrea Brown Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Natsumi’s Song of Summer

Robert Paul Weston, illus. by Misa Saburi. Tundra, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7352-6541-7

Weston writes his tale in elegant tanka, a form defined in his author’s note—it’s a haiku-like poem with two additional lines of seven syllables each. Natsumi’s summer pleasures include “sun, the heat, the cool bursts/ of plum rain, heavy and sweet.” This summer, her cousin Jill, whom she has never met, comes to Japan to share in those enjoyments. They become fast friends, but Natsumi hesitates before showing Jill the cicadas whose calls fill the air: “Insects frightened some people./ What if Jill was frightened, too?” In Saburi’s digital art, the two cousins are wide-eyed, doll-like figures; Jill, with dark brown skin and black hair, peers into the tree branches as pink-skinned Natsumi worries. Fortunately, Jill loves the cicadas, and when she learns that the insects wait for years before emerging “to meet their friends,” she spots the parallel: “Just like us,” she tells Natsumi. Saburi’s thick black lines recall traditional Japanese woodblock prints, and she portrays the creatures and summer flowers that Natsumi treasures in rich detail. In the collaborators’ (Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms) handling, Natsumi’s cross-cultural friendship with Jill centers on a shared love of natural life and models openness to new experiences. Ages 3–7. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Three Squeezes

Jason Pratt, illus. by Chris Sheban. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-250-31345-4

“When you could neither talk nor stand,/ life’s hourglass still filled with sand” begins this lyrical picture book. The titular “three squeezes” refers to the many different kinds of embraces between a loving father and his son throughout their lives together, starting with “three soft squeezes” when the boy is an infant and ending with those that the now-adult child gives his parent “when I can neither talk nor stand.” Each textual set of squeezes is rendered in calligraphic typography with a slightly different modifier: after a nightmare, the father gives the son “three long squeezes”; the two make up after an argument with “three strong squeezes.” Love You Forever fans will appreciate debut author Pratt’s literary versifying. Illustrations by Sheban (What a Cold Needs), which combine bighearted cartooned renderings with warm washes of color and luminosity, strike just the right notes of comedy (when the boy screams at night, the family cat arches its back) and poignancy (the family dog, initially a puppy, ages along with its young owner). Thanks to his artistry, time flies sweetly. Ages 3–6. Author’s agent: Erica Rand Silverman, Stimola Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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This Is Gus

Chris Chatterton. Penguin Workshop, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-09736-6

Gus the beagle has a permanent scowl, refuses to fetch, and doesn’t want to make friends. Chatterton crafts a running joke of the dog’s implacable dourness with a refrainlike text: “He doesn’t like cake. He doesn’t like balloons. He doesn’t like presents.” Gus seems even less charmed when a cute beagle puppy—who is also revealed to be the narrator—emerges from a wrapped gift. The puppy is convinced it has won Gus over, even though that’s clearly not the case. Will anything make Gus less grumpy? The story’s straightforward revelation that Gus loves sausages and is even capable of sharing one with the puppy is a bit of a letdown after he is established with such an indelible outlook. But the pictures are still great fun: Chatterton distills the images down to a few details, sets his gloomy Gus against bright saturated backgrounds, and assigns him a relatively unchanging expression and profile, regardless of what is going on around him—he doesn’t even budge when a birthday balloon is tied to his tail. Ages 3–5. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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What Sound Is Morning?

Grant Snider. Chronicle, $15.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4521-7993-3

In this standalone follow-on to What Color Is Night?, a narrator invokes early morning sounds as the world begins to stir. Economical sentences draw attention to noises that are easy to overlook: “Lights click on,/ a cat softly creeps” reads one spread as dawn reddens the sky above houses shrouded in darkness. Snider’s spreads, splashed with brilliant, milky hues on matte paper, have the feel of silkscreen images. As “the silent sun rises,” loose lines pick out trees and soft human silhouettes, taillights on cars and trucks, a cityscape. One page zooms in on a single household (“A shower trickles,/ a mirror squeaks”); another lends appreciation to a garbage truck on a silent block. Throughout, scenes portray beauty in even the most banal examples of a built environment, such as anonymous, office-like buildings whose windows reflect the sky and whose lawn blooms with flowerlike jets: “Sprinklers hiss on summer lawns.” Concluding with an invitation to “throw open the window// and fill the world with your song,” Snider’s creation uncovers everyday wonders by re-creating a single sense with language, form, and color. Ages 2–4. Agent: Judy Hansen, Hansen Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Hurry Up! A Book About Slowing Down

Kate Dopirak, illus. by Christopher Silas Neal. Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5344-2497-5

Kids aren’t exempt from fast-paced living, especially not the brown-skinned child who stars in this prescription for downtime by the late Dopirak (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Car). Neal (From Tree to Sea) visualizes its opening words with images of the child dashing down the stairs and out to the bus: “Hurry up!/ Hurry down./ Hurry round and round... and round.” At school, the classroom teems with activity (“Hurry here!/ Hurry there!/ Hurry, scurry everywhere!”), and the sprint continues back home, snarled by the family pup tugging at a shoelace. Out for a walk, child and dog continue at the breakneck pace until “STOP!” appears in large letters across the sky, a message from the universe. A page turn reveals a world transformed and on pause. Everything is green as child and pup watch a snail (“Slow things down”), and a tossed stick tumbles lazily end over end before reaching the leaping dog (“Take a break”). A long, luxurious afternoon ends at dusk as the pair head home. Neal’s visual pacing takes readers from frenetic activity to solitary moonlit slumber in one smooth arc, embodying the shift to calm that all creatures crave—and need. Ages up to 8. Author’s agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Jia and the Nian Monster

Mike Richardson, illus. by Megan Huang. Dark Horse, $12.99 paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-5067-1496-7

In this graphic novel based on Chinese legend, headstrong 10-year-old Jia lives with her grandmother. Every year, the monster that took Jia’s parents rampages through their mountain village. Jia and her friend Deshi are intent on discovering how to best the beast when a mysterious stranger offers his help. As explanation for the Nian Monster’s misanthropy, Richardson takes inspiration from “The Tale of King Mu, Son of Heaven,” portraying the beast as devastated when, after Mu of Zhou seeks Xiwangmu’s affections to steal a Peach of Immortality, the goddess fades away. While this fleshes out the monster’s backstory, it also makes him sympathetic, rendering Jia and Deshi’s pursuit less triumphant than might be expected. Still, Huang’s dynamic digital illustrations, in pinks, reds, and orange, effectively convey expressions, making this an engaging entry into Chinese folklore. Ages 10–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/20/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Gamayun Tales I: An Anthology of Modern Russian Folk Tales (Gamayun Tales #1)

Alexander Utkin. Nobrow, $19.95 paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-910620-67-0

Epic battles, unknowing bargains, and capricious spirits feature in Utkin’s modern take on Russian folklore. Narrated in three sections by Gamayun, “a magical human-faced bird from Slavic mythology,” the telescoping story revolves around the King of the Birds, an unwitting merchant, and a water spirit. After the merchant saves the King of the Birds, he runs afoul of the spirit, a precipitating action that cascades consequences onto his own child and the spirit’s shape-shifting daughter. Straightforward dialogue fits the stories’ retellings (“for 30 years, they lived in harmony and shared every crumb”), but the real star is Utkin’s breathtaking visuals, in which chalky textures and vibrant tones of mustard, ruby, and cerulean create striking moments: avian and terrestrial beasts do battle, a furry house spirit tends to his work, an enchanted son wanders mindlessly. Useful front matter identifies included characters. Ages 10–14. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/20/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Nixie of the Mill-Pond and Other European Stories (Cautionary Fables and Fairytales #3)

Edited by Kel McDonald and Kate Ashwin. Iron Circus, $15 paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-945-82054-0

Ten indie comics creators reimagine nine folktales, most well-known, in this robust introduction to classic European and Russian stories. Some, such as Mary Cagle’s caricatured “Jack and the Beanstalk,” are relatively faithful to their original renditions; others’ creators add their own flair, as in Kory Bing’s “The Nixie of the Mill-Pond,” in which the Nixie is portrayed as a grotesque creature rather than a pre-Raphaelite beauty. The breadth of art styles, all rendered in black-and-white, complements the stories’ variety. In “The Singing Bone,” K.C. Green’s antic-filled expressions lend cruel hilarity to the tale of fratricide; Kate and Shaggy Shanahan’s “Tatterhood” telling uses an energetic line to portray two sisters with opposite personalities; and Jose Pimienta’s “Hamelin’s Piper” weaves a silent story in sweeping visuals. This collection succeeds as an introduction to both the sometimes brutal stories and the wide variety of comics styles. A table of contents notes each tale’s provenance. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 10–12. (May)

Reviewed on 03/20/2020 | Details & Permalink

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