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Life According to Og the Frog

Betty G. Birney. Putnam, $16.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3994-2

This sparkling offshoot of Birney’s Humphrey the hamster series reveals the Room 26 goings-on from the perspective of amphibian Og, a second classroom pet. The narrative leaps back in time to offer Og’s take on his arrival (a story Humphrey relays in Friendship According to Humphrey), and fans will find the affable frog a chirpy and perceptive raconteur. Og’s daydreams transport him back to his former life in the swamp, and his interior monologue is laced with nature-themed wordplay (a cricket “tastes frogalicious, and I am very hoppy”) and analogies (sensing the teacher likes him makes Og “feel as cozy as a lizard snoozing in a sunbeam”). With candor and humor, the frog spills his (unwarranted) insecurity about being a good class pet to the students, his envy of popular Humphrey’s mastery of the job, and his angst as the kids debate whether Og should live at a wildlife sanctuary. Laced with environmental facts, this is a heartening tale of cross-species friendship, change, and belonging. Ages 8–12. Agent: Nancy Gallt, Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Remember Balloons

Jessie Oliveros, illus. by Dana Wulfekotte. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-4814-8915-7

Debut author Oliveros imagines that memories are small, brightly colored balloons tied to a person’s wrist (and, in a dog’s case, to its collar). The young narrator of this story has more balloons than his baby brother; his elderly grandfather has more than everyone in the family combined. But lately, Grandpa’s balloons have been slipping from his wrist—a few at first, and then more, “faster and faster” until finally, Grandpa no longer recognizes the boy. The boy is confused, scared, and angry: “Why did you let it go?” he cries when a silver balloon that represents an idyllic day spent fishing together floats away. “That was our balloon!” But his parents tell the boy that memories can be shared; his time with his grandfather, and the stories Grandpa told him about his own life, have become new balloons on the boy’s wrist. The metaphor might have worn out its welcome quickly, but the book’s visual strategy works: Wulfekotte (Rabbit & Possum) makes the balloons the only color elements and depicts the story’s action in softly textured black-and-white line drawings. This distinctive look, combined with the simple, plaintive prose, offers genuine poignancy. Ages 5–9. Author’s agent: Michael Hoogland, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. Illustrator’s agent: Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Rough Patch

Brian Lies. Greenwillow, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-267127-1

The polished, jaunty spreads that open this story by Lies (Gator Dad) give little hint of the deep emotion to come. Evan, a fox, cuts a handsome figure in his overalls and wire-rimmed spectacles, and he and his beloved black-and-white dog are always together. They drive in Evan’s red farm truck and play games, “But what they loved the most was working in Evan’s magnificent garden,” a lush, fertile enclosure studded with neat trellises. Then, two terrible things happen: Evan’s dog dies—readers see the fox slumped over the hound’s body—and in his grief, Evan destroys his garden, swinging a hoe that fells the plants and snaps the trellises in two. The story of how Evan finds his way through his grief rings true, and Lies’s atmospherically lit, exquisitely drafted paintings will absorb readers as they trace Evan’s journey through mourning. Some sensitive readers may draw back from tragedy this stark, but others will be fascinated by Evan’s mysterious world, in which pumpkins grow into prize-winning behemoths and rubber boots come specially made for fox feet. Ages 4–8. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Gift from Abuela

Cecilia Ruiz. Candlewick, $15.99 (38p) ISBN 978-0-7636-9267-4

This family story by Ruiz (The Book of Memory Gaps) unfolds in Mexico, where Abuela and Nina, grandmother and granddaughter, enjoy small pleasures like making papel picado (paper-cutout banners), and their very favorite activity: “Every Sunday, they would sit quietly in the park, eat pan dulce, and watch the people pass by.” Abuela begins to save peso notes, planning to buy something special for Nina—but Nina grows up, Abuela grows older, and a newly issued currency renders the savings valueless. A surprise visit by Nina one day finds a new use for the devalued pesos and an affirmation of the joy the characters share. To accompany her tale, Ruiz creates folk-naif woodcut-style illustrations in muted shades of blue, gray, rust, and mustard, evoking old posters and faded peso notes. The story traces how time shifts family situations, and—a point not commonly taken up in picture books—the way people’s economic circumstances can change in ways they can’t plan for or control. But Ruiz’s most important message is that love survives no matter what. Ages 4–8. Agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Attack of the 50-Foot Fluffy

Mike Boldt. S&S/McElderry, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4814-4887-1

Claire works hard to hold things together when life hands her disappointments. But everyone has a breaking point, and Claire reaches hers after a morning of frustration (it starts to rain just as she finally gets a turn on the swing). She channels her anger into her stuffed bunny, Fluffy, who grows into a towering giant capable of smashing anything that has thwarted its owner (“CRRRRRRRUNCH!” goes the swing set when Fluffy stomps on it). The destructiveness of her anger and its impact on others shocks Claire back into reality; her apology and willingness to put things right prompts reassurances that “We’ve all been there before” (her friends also recall their own larger-than-life outbursts, triggered by bath times and brussels sprouts, among other dislikes). Boldt (123 versus ABC) has created a bobblehead-style heroine whom readers should find instantly sympathetic in moods good and bad. And while 50-foot Fluffy is a furry force to be reckoned with—the character makes the most of Boldt’s dimensional drawing style—it’s also clear that the rabbit, like its owner, will be back to its old self in no time. Ages 4–8. Agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Dress and the Girl

Camille Andros, illus. by Julie Morstad. Abrams, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-3161-7

Graceful artwork by Morstad (When Green Becomes Tomatoes) creates an elegiac atmosphere for a story that unfolds in a small Greek village, where blue shutters and red tiles enliven the whitewashed walls. Andros (Charlotte the Scientist Is Squished) writes about a dress (“much like many others, made for a girl by her mother”) and a girl; together, they spend their days “picking daffodils, feeling the wind, and staring at the stars” and longing for the extraordinary. When the girl’s family emigrates to turn-of-the-century America, the trunk that contains her dress goes missing. One narrative thread personifies the dress, imagining it “searching” the world over for the girl before the dress and the girl, now grown, reunite and remember their shared “singular, stunning, or sensational” history. While the conceit of the dress as an active character feels a bit clunky, the lyrical text and evocative art will make readers linger. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Lori Kilkelly of Rodeen Literary Management. Illustrator’s agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Monster Boogie

Laurie Berkner, illus. by Ben Clanton. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6465-9

Like a cheery preschool version of the Halloween classic “Monster Mash,” children’s music star Berkner’s snappy tune-turned-picture-book features not-so-scary monsters cutting a rug. When “the biggest monster that you’ve ever seen!” shows up in two sleeping kids’ bedroom, one sibling is all smiles, while the other keeps a wide-eyed distance as their purple-eyed visitor clicks on the boom box and confesses he likes to “do the monster boogie... round the room!... So can you!” By the time the monster breaks into a second round—“monster wiggle” moves—both kids are joyfully bebopping with their unexpected guest and a few of his monstrous friends. Clanton (the Narwhal and Jelly series) opens the action in an inky dark bedroom, then creates a true party atmosphere with a popping fresh palette. Thick black outlines delineate his figures, who are further distinguished by their big, bright eyes—with some characters sporting more than two. This romp offers sunny before-bed silliness and may also just help allay nighttime monster fears. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. Illustrator’s agent: Marietta Zacker, Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Lucy and the String

Vanessa Roeder. Dial, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7352-3049-1

By the time Lucy realizes what’s at the end of the piece of red yarn she’s been tugging, she’s unraveled the pants right off a large bear named Hank, who’s covered in red knit. Lucy hams it up by way of apology, shaping the yarn into funny hairstyles before realizing that Hank is not amused—he just wants his pants back. When Lucy finally comes up with a satisfactory solution (she cuts the yarn that’s joined them for so long), the two discover that they’ve become essential to each other. Newcomer Roeder works in a gray-black-white palette lit up by the yarn’s brilliant scarlet, and she paces the story’s panels and vignettes with care while exploring the full range of the yarn’s possibilities—dance partner, calligraphic script, building material, and more. The transformation is Hank’s as he lets go of his loss and becomes interested in Lucy’s humor and energy. Pants are expendable, he discovers, as he accepts Lucy’s striped skirt as a substitute, but friendship is forever. Ages 3–5. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Crocodile and the Dentist

Taro Gomi. Chronicle, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4521-7028-2

The phrase “two sides of the same coin” aptly describes this clever, skitlike story from Gomi (I Really Want to See You, Grandma). On the left side of every spread is a crocodile with a painful cavity who doesn’t want to see the dentist—but knows he has to. On the right side is a dentist who doesn’t want to treat the crocodile—but knows he has to. As the appointment proceeds, the dialogue and art offer a mirror image: “I’m scared,” says the queasy-looking crocodile sitting down in the chair; “I’m scared,” says the dentist, clutching his stomach in anticipation of working on this patient. But both sides bravely persist, and after a mutual “ouch!” and “whew” they part with a genial bow, waiting until they’re out of each other’s earshot to add, “I don’t want to see him again.” Gomi’s protagonists are remarkably expressive: the crocodile’s snaggletoothed fearfulness is especially endearing. Some grown-ups may be tempted to use this book to teach the concept of empathy, but only one moral seems to interest the whimsically pragmatic author: “So you must remember to brush your teeth!” Ages 3–5. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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100 Bugs! A Counting Book

Kate Narita, illus. by Suzanne Kaufman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-30631-1

In this cheerful outing, two sibling “explorers” wake up with the sun to count bugs over the course of a day on their busy farm. As the brother and sister traipse through a meadow and barnyard with a magnifying glass and a butterfly net, Narita introduces insect varieties in upbeat rhymes: “Walkingsticks, walkingsticks,/ hiding all about./ 1 by the old hose,/ 9 by the gold rose./ How many bugs hiding about?/ 10!” The formula is repetitive, but the buzzy commotion of Kaufman’s collage-art spreads will keep readers invested. The end of the book tots up the sets of bugs encountered—“10 from before, plus 10 more. 20 bugs hanging out”—opposite illustrations of all 100 of the bugs appearing in countable rows. A final section offers details about the insect and plant species featured throughout. Ages 5–7. (June)

Reviewed on 05/25/2018 | Details & Permalink

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