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The Goody

Lauren Child. Orchard, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-338-78954-6

Chirton Krauss has a strong sense of responsibility and self-discipline: he always eats his broccoli (“every single stalk”), always uses soap when washing his hands, and always goes to bed right on time. His sister Myrtle, meanwhile, is known to be so incapable of behaving that she isn’t invited to birthday parties anymore. Their brown-skinned parents praise Chirton as “The Goody” (even giving him a badge with that title), decide that Myrtle “isn’t a Goody,” and accept the status quo. But Chirton begins to realize that maybe Myrtle is on to something: she skips her turn cleaning out the pet rabbit’s cage because she knows he’ll do it, and she gets to stay up late because the babysitter can’t deal with disciplining her. “Now... does that sound fair to you?” Child (the Charlie and Lola series) asks, in one of the many times she breaks the fourth wall. The resolution isn’t neat and tidy, and neither are Child’s images, which take her elaborately patterned collaging to a new level in a book that raises provocative and profound questions about expectations, fairness, morality, and pigeonholing. Ages 4–8. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Princess Unlimited

Jacob Sager Weinstein, illus. by Raissa Figueroa. Clarion, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-328-90474-4

When copper-haired Princess Susan’s parents fill their daughter’s room with “sparkles and pretty dresses” (“A princess needs frills,” says the pink-skinned king. “They help her look fancy,” agrees the brown-skinned queen), their decision leaves no funds to fight a flying, fiery dragon that is laying waste to the kingdom. Indeed, the townspeople’s weaponry consists of “hedgehogs and drinking straws.” So Princess Susan joins forces with a straight-talking white scullery maid named Eleanor, and using sparkles to temporarily blind the dragon, they bring it down. When the beast turns out to be both friendly (its puppy eyes are irresistible) and as entrepreneurial as the girls, the trio launches the Dragon Fire Network, a utility company powered by dragon breath. After selling “three thousand two hundred and ninety-four Dragon Fire Network subscriptions, plus ten one-week trials,” as Princess Susan tells her parents, the kingdom’s coffers refill, and the king and queen gain a new respect for their daughter’s talents. In a tale that mixes business with heroics, Weinstein’s (Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian) text is full of determination, and Figueroa’s (We Wait for the Sun) art has the compositional verve and plucky characterizations of classic Disney animation. Ages 4–7. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Cookie Maker of Mavin Road

Sue Lawson, illus. by Liz Anelli. Candlewick, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5362-1997-5

Who is making and delivering the wonderful cookies to neighbors on Mavin Road? When Benedict Stanley, an older, cued-white man, finds his neighbors too busy to talk, he and cat Audrey Mae “watch the comings and goings” of the individuals, who have an array of skin tones. A red-haired child, Rory, who takes a shine to Audrey Mae, says they’re due for a visit from the tooth fairy. The next day, Benedict leaves a plate of cookies with gap-toothed smiles on Rory’s doorstep—and the cookie-making venture continues from there. When a kitten is rescued, “cat cookies with currant eyes” appear, writes Lawson. After a tournament, the cookies are decorated like soccer balls. Then the treats suddenly stop, and the mystery deepens: “Where’s the cookie maker?” a neighbor pushing a stroller asks. “Maybe she’s on vacation,” another speculates. But readers are already in on the secret, rooting for the residents to reciprocate after Bernard Stanley falls ill. Loopy, curlicue mixed-media illustrations by Anelli reveal a neighborhood with a glorious variety of architectural styles, blooming flowers, and leafy trees in this winning celebration of community building and quiet generosity. Ages 3–7. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Impossible Mountain

David Soman. Little, Brown, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-316-42774-6

Classically drafted, light-filled spreads follow a pair of child heroes through this mountainfaring adventure by Soman (the Ladybug Girl series). It opens in a European-style walled village with a huddle of red-tiled roofs, where Anna and little brother Finn, both white, spy a mountain beyond the village walls. It’s so big that it dwarfs them, the village, and the surrounding countryside. Knowing that she has to climb it, Anna persuades small Finn to come with her, resisting the warnings of neighbors. “Climbing the Mountain is impossible!” says the blacksmith. “You’ll never get past the River!” “I can,” says Anna. And she does. She and Finn ford the river, find a path across a sheer rock face, and spend the night in a cave with an unexpected companion, at every turn finding resources and resolve. It’s a story about setting a goal and pursuing it in a saga refreshingly free of evildoers. And there’s nothing juvenile or cute about Soman’s colored pencil, gouache, and watercolor portraits of thundering cataracts and monumental cliffs, which confer dignity and importance on Anna and Finn’s journey. Ages 3–6. Agent: Douglas Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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What Is Love?

Mac Barnett, illus. by Carson Ellis. Chronicle, $17.99 (44p) ISBN 978-1-4521-7640-6

“What is love?” a tan-skinned boy in a blue shirt asks his grandmother as she cuts flowers in front of their cottage. “I can’t answer that,” she says; “If you go out into the world, you might find an answer.” As he subsequently inquires, he finds that each person defines love as something that reflects them: to the fisherman, love is a fish; to the carpenter, it’s a house; to a dog, it’s chasing a cat. Gouache paintings by Ellis (In the Half Room) give the story a fairy tale atmosphere, and a sense of theater, too, as rakishly costumed characters pose like actors on a stage. Barnett (A Polar Bear in the Snow) injects humor by making the book’s hero honest to a fault. “But I don’t like fish,” he says to a fisherman. “They’re slimy and taste bad. And they have creepy eyes.” To these and all his other objections, the characters repeat, “You do not understand.” The humor isn’t often reflected in Ellis’s spreads, which retain her distinctive look throughout—an aesthetic perfectly suited to the tender moment when the boy returns home to the person who answers his question. Ages 3–5. Agent (for Barnett and Ellis): Steven Malk, Writers House. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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One Million Oysters on Top of the Mountain

Alex Nogués, trans. from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel, illus. by Miren Asiain Lora. Eerdmans, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5569-5

How did an outcrop of fossilized shellfish wind up on top of a mountain? With this question, Spanish geologist Nogués (Stories in a Seashell), who specializes in paleontology, invites readers on a journey to learn more about Earth and the ancient life forms that once inhabited it. Static landscapes in cool greens and browns shift to fine-grained vignettes that illuminate an engaging, conversational back-and-forth: “Did they climb up here? Did they fall like rain, carried by a hurricane?” The cake-like layers of earth Lora (Hello, Earth!) paints, rendered in gouache on paper, present part of the story: “The strata, like a music score, can be read—they have an order, and they can sing us a song.” The narrative goes on to cover an impressive amount of ground, from the appearance of early life to the development of radio-carbon dating and the different ways that the surface of the earth moves and buckles. Schimel’s clear, natural translation offers an engaging, step-by-step introduction to the way paleontologists think through problems—and proof that the top of the mountain, and those oysters, were once under the sea. Back matter features a glossary and brief creators’ notes. Ages 6–10. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small

Jess Wade, illus. by Melissa Castrillón. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5362-1766-7

“Everything is made out of something,” British physicist Wade’s picture book debut notes on the first page, instigating an exploration of the world’s building blocks. A conversational narrative moves swiftly from macroscopic materials including wood and glass to microscopic atoms and nanomaterials, while finely hatched illustrations by Castrillón (The Balcony) sweep readers into this nanoscience primer. A child in a skirt and yellow boots playfully interacts with each spread, sometimes shrunken and perched on a single atom or microscope stage, observing, other times presenting a simple graphic. More fanciful touches, such as the child’s blue hair or an elephant walking a tightrope of graphene (“the strongest material known to human beings”), cultivate a playful tone. Organic, and often lush botanic, motifs rendered in pencil, in a muted primary color palette rendered digitally, link the spreads, turning adding a layer of enticement to this accessible read. After discussing a few hopeful applications for nanomaterials—for example, a nano chip that could help restore eyesight—and giving a nod to ongoing global collaboration, this homage to the “very (very) small” concludes with more details about the who, how, and why of nanomaterials and a brief index. Ages 6–9. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Marshmallow & Jordan

Alina Chau. First Second, $22.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-30061-4

Transportive watercolor panels, middle school sports drama, and a touch of legend combine in Chau’s fantastical narrative, following a wheelchair-using paraplegic athlete in Indonesia. Basketball team captain Jordan Winarta—named after Michael Jordan—loves coaching and practicing with her teammates, ever since an undisclosed accident two years ago has left her unable to play in official matches. Early in fall term at Kahawaii Multicultural School, Jordan hears crying on the playground, discovering an injured white baby elephant. Dubbed Marshmallow, the uncanny blue-eyed pachyderm becomes Jordan’s sidekick and team mascot. After Marshmallow digs Jordan a swimming pool, Jordan joins the water polo team on her basketball coach’s recommendation, though she struggles to sustain old friendships and impress newfound cynics (“Does she know this is a leg sport?” one asks) as she develops her skills. Predictably, Jordan excels; in a less foreseeable twist, Marshmallow’s identity reveals a link to water and solutions to drought in the Lesser Sunda agricultural region. Indonesian terms and customs abound amid the cast of varying cultures, religions, and skin tones, and a tropical palette balances energetic action sequences and quiet wordless imagery in this feel-good graphic novel with sequel potential. Back matter features an author’s note, visual development paintings, a glossary, and Indonesian food recommendations and facts. Ages 8–12. Agent: Marietta B. Zacker, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Horse Trouble

Kristin Varner. First Second, $21.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-22588-7

Dark-haired, light-skinned, and freckled horse lover Kate Williams, 12, has always been “pudgy.” But the bi-weekly riding lessons she’s taken “at Millcreek Farm for just over four years” have served as her haven. Alongside teasing and bullies, crushes and new friendships this year at Cottonwood Junior High, Kate hits puberty milestones, all while grappling with self-consciousness about her body. As suggested by the title, there is lots of “horse trouble”—most of which results in Kate falling and picking herself back up as she prepares for “the most competitive show in the state.” Punctuating each of the 10 chapters with a different fall, Varner (Pink Magic Cupcake) doesn’t skirt Kate’s embarrassment, nor does she dwell on it; evenly paced scenes give equal emphasis to Kate’s misadventures and successes. Kate’s first-person narration imbues a matter-of-fact tone, matched by panels—sketched in blue pencil and digitally inked—that carefully detail expressive Kate’s ups, downs, and in-betweens. Equine terminology is defined throughout as horseback-riding helps Kate build confidence in this earnest graphic novel debut. Back matter features an author’s note describing her personal inspiration, photographs, cover sketches, and the artistic process. Ages 8–12. Agent: Teresa Kietlinski, Bookmark Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Creepy Cat (Creepy Cat #1)

Cotton Valent, trans. from the Japanese by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley. Seven Seas, $14.99 paper (132p) ISBN 978-1-64827-787-0

In Valent’s episodic, humorously grim graphic novel, presented in the yonkoma style, Flora, a thin, pale-skinned figure with long black hair and large bloodshot eyes, inhabits a horror film–esque mansion inherited “from a distant relative.” But ever since moving in a month ago, Flora has felt watched—revealed to be a strange creature she soon names Creepy Cat, a large white marshmallow-like feline with overblown black pupils and red irises. With supernatural powers including infinite multiplication of selves, floating, and size transformation, Creepy Cat doesn’t hesitate to get its way as well as play pranks on gullible, mostly lenient Flora. Despite the hijinks, Creepy Cat protects Flora against the mansion’s more malicious beings—such as a vampire, whom the cat cuddles with until it disintegrates in the sunlight—while also helping to deter pale, lovesick local police officer Oliver’s advances toward Flora. Gothic-inflected full-color illustrations rendered mainly in a palette of red, white, and black and influenced by Kunio Katou’s The Diary of Tortov Roddle, per a back matter note, follow earnest, deftly sketched characters and a fast-paced, lightly connected plot in this sprightly slice-of-life series opener. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/24/2021 | Details & Permalink

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