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Forest Dream

Ayano Imai. Minedition, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-988-8341-64-1

Somber, exquisitely worked paintings by Imai (Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat) tell the story of a child who follows a rabbit into a field, with the landscape’s silvery skies and soft shadows contributing to the book’s contemplation. As the boy watches, other rabbits join the first to plant acorns in the empty meadow. Birds and insects sow seeds, and a black bear plants nuts out of a little bag. Magically, a great forest springs up where the empty meadow was. Wordless spreads show the boy wandering underneath its huge trees as the animals come and go throughout the seasons—fish float through the forest, a scarf-wearing bird perches on a branch. Under the biggest tree of them all, the boy hears a voice: “This is how the forest could be in a hundred years.” Though it’s a dream, the boy sees the truth within it upon awakening and sets about to make it real. Books that argue for environmental stewardship sometimes depict visions of damage and destruction, or deliver their messages at high volume. Imai’s gentle message shows rather than tells, offering a quiet natural reverence. Ages 5–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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When I Grow Up

Julie Chen, illus. by Diane Goode. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4814-9719-0

As a mother helps her young son get ready for bed—tugging off his shoes and shirt, dragging a brush through his tousled hair—he wonders aloud what the future holds. “Will I be funny or smart?” he asks. “Do you think I’ll live near or far?” But most of his questions center on vocation: perhaps he’ll become a baker who makes “the world a sweeter place to live,” or maybe a mayor who “let[s] kids run the town.” As they snuggle together, Mom assures him that the future is wide open, and “No matter what, I will always be there for you.” Chen, a news anchor and TV host making her picture book debut, offers a well-trod litany of choices for her protagonist. But she is fortunate in her collaborator: nimble, airy watercolor drawings by Goode (Founding Mothers) give the increasingly sleepy child a passel of richly imagined fantasies, showcased against bright white backgrounds, and teams him up with an adoring dachshund sidekick that’s game for anything, whether the boy is imagining a future in space or atop a mountain. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor

Wade Bradford, illus. by Kevin Hawkes. Candlewick, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8665-9

Bulbous-nosed musician Mr. Snore stifles a yawn as he checks into the posh Sharemore Hotel in this droll story by Bradford (Around the World in a Bathtub). When the bellhop escorts him to a room, he swaps his tuxedo for pajamas—without removing his bow tie—and is vexed to find a mouse in his bed. Mr. Snore demands a new room (“Somebody is sleeping on my pillow”), and the bellhop shows him to one on the next floor, where he discovers he’s sharing a bed with a pig (who hogs the covers). The bellhop’s unflappability comically contrasts the hotel guest’s escalating exasperation as they climb the stairs to one room after another, encountering dangling spiders, giraffes, and a mazelike hamster colony. Finally, Mr. Snore is able to do just that, curled up in an enormous bed belonging to the title character (“Somebody is sleeping on my pillow!”). Acrylic and ink pictures by Hawkes (Imagine That!) amplify the tale’s humor with such playful flourishes as snakes wrapped around the art-deco hotel’s pillars, a rodent perched on a chandelier, and Mr. Snore and the dinosaur’s matching pince-nez and bunny slippers. Ages 4–8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Pearl

Molly Idle. Little, Brown, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-316-46567-0

Idle (Flora and the Flamingo) creates an undersea realm of mermaids whose graceful swoops and swirls offer visual delight. Pearl longs to be like the other mermaids, each of whom is assigned something to watch over—vast forests of kelp, giant creatures of the deep. When her mother gives her a single grain of sand, she’s heartbroken. “Her heart grew heavy, and the weight of it pulled her down... down... down...” tumbling through the sea of blue until she sinks to the sea floor. But soon she discovers something special about her grain of sand: it glows and grows, and the story soars toward a light-filled, celestial conclusion. The text reads smoothly and naturally, like a retelling of an old fairy tale, and balletic spreads revel in the contrast between the intense pink of the mermaids and the soft aqua of the undersea world. The reminder not to scorn that which appears insignificant is always worth repeating, but here, it’s the enthralling underwater acrobatics that will bring readers back. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Best Friends in the Universe

Stephanie Watson, illus. by LeUyen Pham. Orchard, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-65988-8

In this meta-comedy about friendship, buddies Hector and Louie are creating an entire book about their relationship (which shares the actual book’s title) and take readers along for the ride. It’s an exuberantly crayoned and markered collaboration on lined paper, filled with in-jokes (they both have fish named “Python” because their moms wouldn’t let them get snakes), a shared love of dance parties, and the sheer joy of knowing there’s somebody else on the same wavelength. But when Hector lets one of Louie’s secrets slip (it involves a milkshake and a pants-related incident), Louie retaliates with a secret of his own (Hector’s secret crush), and the partnership founders until the kids realize they’re happier together and agree to a “DO-OVER!” Pham (Stop That Yawn!) renders the protagonists as both “real-life” boys and cartoonish characters in their own story—on several spreads, both versions appear as the two draw themselves. Dialogue by Watson (Behold! A Baby) bubbles with a fun, noisy energy—this is not a book to read aloud with your inside voice. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Carrie Hannigan, HSG Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Linda Pratt, Wernick & Pratt Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Zola’s Elephant

Randall de Sève, illus. by Pamela Zagarenski. HMH, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-328-88629-3

In this tale by de Sève (A Fire Truck Named Red), a girl named Zola moves in next door to the narrator, a girl about Zola’s age. From the sounds and smells that make their way to her, the narrator imagines a charmed existence for Zola. A huge moving box, she decides, must hold Zola’s pet elephant. The smell of toast must mean that Zola is giving her elephant a snack (“Elephants get very hungry”), and the ruckus she hears is Zola and her elephant playing hide-and-seek (“There’s always thumping and yelling/ when you play hide-and-seek/ with your elephant”). Jewel-box artwork by Caldecott Honor artist Zagarenski recalls the exquisite detail of Persian miniatures. Lush, gold-splashed paintings show the improbable hijinks of girl and elephant, while moody blue spreads show what Zola is really doing: she’s eating toast all by herself, it turns out, and holding her ears against the racket made by a man with a hammer. The real elephant in the room is the fear of making new friends—a fear the narrator finally conquers. Readers may find themselves wishing not for a friend, but for an elephant. Ages 4–7. Author’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Hip-Hop Lollipop

Susan McElroy Montanari, illus. by Brian Pinkney. Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-101-93482-1

It’s bedtime, but a girl named Lollipop can’t stop “dancing hip-hop.” Carrying a little yellow boom box and accompanied by an equally enthusiastic cat and dog, she bops through the house, “Dancing down the long hall,/ Bouncing off the tall wall.” She stops by her big sister’s room, where Tasha, a fan of techno, is dancing, too (“She glides heel-to-toe in slo-mo”). Together, in a scene that exudes sisterly solidarity and silliness, the two brush their teeth to the beat: “Head rotation./ Jubilation!” Eventually even Lollie runs out of steam, and some good-natured parenting sends her slipping into bright yellow pajamas and snuggling between the covers, dreaming of dances to come. The text by Montanari (My Dog’s a Chicken) isn’t rap, but it doesn’t need to be—its catchy musicality and rhythm pay fitting tribute to a girl with boundless energy. Watercolor and ink drawings by Pinkney (On the Ball) are ecstatically impressionistic: lines curve and arc, characters defy gravity, and with swirling pastel streaks embellishing every scene, the whole house feels like it’s in perpetual motion. Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Erzsi Deak, Hen&Ink. Illustrator’s agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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I’m an Immigrant Too!: An Australian Story

Mem Fox, illus. by Ronojoy Ghosh. Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5344-3602-2

This celebration of immigration, titled I’m an Australian in its country of origin, offers American readers a fresh perspective on both Australia, the home country of Fox (Time for Bed), and on issues of citizenship and diversity that are dominating the news. “I’m Australian! How about you?” asks a child in the first spread. The answers start with Australian-born parents (“My mum was born in Sydney,/ my dad in Ballarat”) but soon introduce readers to kids whose parents left countries around the world to find refuge, hope, and a sense of belonging in their adopted home. Crisp, full-bleed spreads by Ghosh (Ollie and the Wind) seem to focus on the present, pointedly juxtaposing the characters’ dramatic backstories. As father and son wait at the bus stop, the narration explains, “Syria was where I lived,/ but then we had to flee./ Our family’s now in Brisbane,/ and we’re as safe as safe can be.” Referring to war and refugees’ desperate flights in sing-song, rhyming lines may feel jarring. Still, there is also something deeply heartening about a book that asserts, “We open doors to strangers,” and ends with such a hopeful, unifying image: “Together now, we live in peace,/ beneath the Southern star.” Ages up to 8. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Geeky Fab 5: It’s Not Rocket Science

Lucy Lareau and Liz Lareau, illus. by Ryan Jampole. Papercutz, $12.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-54580-122-2

In this graphic novel debut from 12-year-old Lucy Lareau and her mother, protagonist Lucy and her confident older sister, Marina, have just moved to Normal, Ill. Lucy has some new-school jitters, but she immediately makes friends at Earhart Elementary with fellow fourth graders Sofia, a glitter-obsessed computer coder; A.J., who loves to build things; and Zara, a singer and math enthusiast. Comics artist Jampole illustrates the story with upbeat graphics that emphasize each character’s distinctive traits, while the Lareaus cheerfully detail how the capable friends bond over their “geek” pride while raising funds to design and build a new school playground. Themes of female empowerment resonate throughout the episodic chapters, though the dialogue can be didactic: Marina offhandedly informs her mother, “Yeah, girls are coding now. They design games, and solve all kinds of problems.... Just a heads-up, NASA is training women astronauts right now for Mars!” The Geeky Fab 5 might take a cue from the more authentically portrayed Lumberjanes, but fans will look forward to seeing what the protagonists get up to next. Ages 7–11. (July)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Willa of the Wood

Robert Beatty. Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-368-00584-5

In this charming middle grade adventure set in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains in 1900, Willa, a young Faeran, or night-spirit, is caught between her own slowly dying clan and the human “day-folk,” whom she’s always been taught to fear and avoid. As a jaetter or hunter-thief, Willa is responsible for stealing from the day-folk to benefit her clan and its charismatic leader, the padaran. But a botched scavenging attempt reveals that not all humans are murderous monsters. Her additional discovery that her own people hold dangerous secrets prompts her to defy the enigmatic padaran and seek a way to correct a grievous wrong. Faced with the potential destruction of everything she’s known, Willa takes control of her own destiny. In this series starter set in the same world as his Serafina books, Beatty conjures up a resourceful, compassionate heroine. Full of atmospheric details and richly described magic (“As the branches reached out over the water to hold her, they rustled in the wind, talking”), this well-paced tale asks insightful questions about the relationship between nature and humans. Ages 8–12. Agent: Bill Contardi, Brandt & Hochman. (July)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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