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Ghost Boys

Jewell Parker Rhodes. Little, Brown, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-316-26228-6

Set in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood, this somber story blends history with current events. Jerome Rogers, a black 12-year-old, is playing outside with a toy gun when he is shot and killed by a white policeman who views him as a threat. Now Jerome wanders the earth with other “ghost boys” whose deaths are all connected to bigotry. Ironically, the only human who can see Jerome is Sarah, the young daughter of the officer who took his life. Jerome meets the ghost of Emmett Till and learns the horrific details of his murder. Emmett, like the other ghost boys, cannot rest until the world is swept clean of discriminatory violence; maybe Jerome can help if he can make Sarah understand that her father’s act was a result of deeply ingrained racism. Rhodes writes in short, poetic chapters that offer graphic depictions of avoidable tragedies; her hope for a better world packs a powerful punch, delivering a call to action to speak out against prejudice and erase harmful misconceptions. Ages 10–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea

Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-249966-0

Newbery Medalist Perkins (Criss Cross) vividly captures the world through a child’s eyes in this quiet novel chronicling Alix Treffrey’s weeklong vacation on the beach with her parents and her “more mature” sister, Jools. In the first chapter, Perkins conveys the excitement and coziness of beginning a journey before dawn (“As the car began to move, she snuggled under the sleeping bag.... [Alix] pictured herself wearing her newer bathing suit, floating maturely on her boogie board in the turquoise water”). Each chapter that follows highlights a discovery or event that makes the trip memorable. Some incidents, such as temporarily getting separated from her parents at a crowded service plaza and having a giant june bug plant itself on her arm, aren’t very pleasant, but most experiences—making a new friend, holding an injured falcon in her arms, finding sea glass on the beach—are wondrous reminders of how small miracles make life worth living. Perkins draws on all five senses to evoke nature’s beauty and show the ebb and flow of Alix’s emotions as she eagerly explores new territory. As in her previous novels, Perkins’ sensitive spot art illuminates the characters’ inner and outer worlds. Ages 8–12. (May)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Par-Tay! Dance of the Veggies and Their Friends

Eloise Greenfield, illus. by Don Tate. Alazar, $17.95 ISBN 978-0-9977720-2-9

When the humans go out for the evening, the vegetables in the fridge—along with the sweet potatoes in the bin—go wild. “Par-tay!” shouts the cabbage—which becomes the book’s refrain—and with the eggplant, basil, tomato, and Swiss chard on instruments, everybody else takes a turn on the floor. The baby limas, who can “barely stand at all,” try their best to do the wobble dance; the corn and arugula waltz; and the sweet potatoes, dressed in pink tutus, do pirouettes. Greenfield writes vivid verses, with breezy references to different dance styles and flashes of real comedy (“Somebody save me!” says the ecstatic asparagus after “doing the pop”). And while the repetition of “Par-tay!” adds crowd-pleasing fun and predictability, a new chant of “Go, ’Choke! Go, ’Choke! Go, ’Choke!” inserts some irresistible surprise. Except for the refined waltzing couple, all the vegetables share a happy-go-lucky, jazzy vibe. Tate’s big shapes, bold colors, and infectious beats will hold up to many readalouds. Ages 5–7. Author’s agent: Marie Brown, Marie Brown Assoc. Illustrator’s agent: Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Who Will Bell the Cat?

Patricia C. McKissack, illus. by Christopher Cyr. Holiday House, $17.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8234-3700-9

Lush, cinematic illustrations add drama to the late McKissack’s retelling of Aesop’s classic fable. After a group of warmhearted barn mice nurse a cat back to health, the cat, named Marmalade, turns on them, terrifying them as they gather to figure out what to do. Her chilly metallic eyes, savage teeth, and curved claws are genuinely scary. Debut illustrator Cyr shows the conclave of mice lit by a stained-glass window as Smart Mouse speaks from a matchbook lectern. The mice secure a sleigh bell and attach it to a collar, but fastening the collar to Marmalade’s neck proves impossible. Even a menacing pack of rats can’t help. Then a new human family moves to their farm. While the mice recognize that depending on human help may backfire (“When you use a tiger to get rid of a lion, what will you do with the tiger?”), they decide that it’s the lesser of two evils. The African-American child who discovers both Marmalade and the collar proves that they made the right decision: “A collar with a bell on it. Just perfect for you.... Now, I’ll always know where you are.” Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The King of Bees

Lester L. Laminack, illus. by Jim LaMarche. Peachtree, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56145-953-7

Laminack (Three Hens and a Peacock) proffers a gentle tale full of Southern charm about a boy whose aunt is a beekeeper. Henry is fascinated by his Aunt Lilla’s hives and by the rapport she has with her bees. “Sister bees hum when they’re working,” she explains. “If they have news to tell, they do their talking-dance.” There’s a queen, she tells him, but no king. Henry’s awkward attempts to help his “sisters” and his aunt culminate in a chance to save her hive in an unexpected way—an occasion that calls for Henry to stay calm when he becomes covered with bees. Aunt Lilla is independent, knowledgeable about the creatures she keeps, and able to explain complicated concepts to Henry in a way he (and readers) can understand. LaMarche (Pond) dwells on the beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry. His ink-and-watercolor spreads are light and dreamy, with evocative sunrise shades and detailed looks at beekeeping equipment and the bees themselves. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Jerome by Heart

Thomas Scotto, trans. from the French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick and Karin Snelson, illus. by Olivier Tallec. Enchanted Lion (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59270-250-3

Raphael, the young narrator of this groundbreaking picture book, loves his friend Jerome. “It doesn’t bother me at all,” the boy explains. “Raphael loves Jerome. I can say it. It’s easy.” Jerome is caring, generous, funny, and always ready for adventure. Most important, he reciprocates Raphael’s affection (“He always holds my hand. It’s true. Really tight”), even though there are intimations that Jerome is more socially adept: “Jerome always sees me, even when he’s with friends.... He defends me when kids make fun of me. Incredible, right?” Although Raphael’s parents never put a label on it, their son’s intense affection for his friend and his unfiltered expression of it clearly bother them; Dad seethes, his voice “like sharp fish bones in my hot chocolate.” But the bond between the boys is unbreakable, and as the book closes, they blithely walk across the street together, holding hands. The story invites conversation among readers of all ages, and the sensitivity of the minimalist text (despite a few overwrought moments) and poignancy of Tallec’s radiant, gentle art are undeniable. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Goldfish on Vacation

Sally Lloyd-Jones, illus. by Leo Espinosa. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-385-38611-1

Lloyd-Jones (His Royal Highness, King Baby) takes inspiration from the charming true story of a New York City fountain that became a summer “retreat” for goldfish for more than a decade. After three children find a sign on a derelict fountain—“Coming in Two Weeks! Calling All Goldfish Looking for a Summer Home”—they run home to share the news with their grandfather and three fish. When the day finally arrives, the once-forlorn fountain has been transformed into a locus for neighborhood children who while away the summer playing and listening to Grandpa’s yarns of times past. Anxious readers may wonder how the kids will reclaim their own fish, and at summer’s end the children remark how different their pets look. “Of course!” says Grandpa. “That’s what a vacation will do for you!” Nostalgia infuses Lloyd-Jones’s tale of childhood summer innocence and Espinosa’s retro digital illustrations. His New York City, with its diverse community of residents set against a graphic cityscape, recalls the work of M. Sasek. A closing note details the fountain’s real-life history. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Friends Stick Together

Hannah E. Harrison. Dial, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-18665-3

Rupert is a solitary rhinoceros with cerebral tastes: “I like reading dictionaries, listening to classical overtures, and eating cucumber sandwiches with no crust.” Then Levi, a rambunctious tickbird, takes up residence on Rupert’s nose—a textbook symbiotic relationship. Levi is loud, loves to burp, and makes gross jokes about how Rupert’s ticks taste like chicken. Rupert finally shakes Levi loose, but soon realizes how much he misses his companionship and tick-eating abilities (without him, Rupert is pretty itchy). Harrison (My Friend Maggie) uses her signature visual elegance to provide an effective counterpart to her smartly observed stories of kid life. Rupert’s embarrassment and misery are visceral, and his preferred vest-and-tie combos speak volumes about his buttoned-up personality, just as Levi’s tank tops and shorts do. If this story is less satisfying than its predecessors, it’s because Rupert seems more willing to adapt to Levi than the other way around; the common ground the friends find is essentially on Levi’s terms. If this is symbiosis, it’s a lopsided version. Ages 4–8. Agent: Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Wallpaper

Thao Lam. Owlkids (PGW, dist.), $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-77147-283-8

A girl with brown skin moves into a new neighborhood. Out her window, she sees three children in a tree house, and they wave. But shyness overtakes her, and she hides out in her new room, whose many layers of wallpaper are peeling. In a tour de force of mostly wordless cut-paper art, Lam (Skunk on a String) makes each layer come alive in an extended fantasy sequence. A flock of lemony birds gives way to a tropical forest, where the girl encounters a blobby monster with a toothy, underslung jaw. It pursues her until she realizes that running is futile. “Hello,” she greets it bravely; its dejected face lights up. The fantasy ends, and the girl’s newfound courage helps her greet her young neighbors with confidence. The subtle three-dimensionality of Lam’s paper collages makes the girl appear ready to jump off the page, and lines drawn on the paper provide facial expressions and other embellishments, further clarifying the action. Lam’s rich visual storytelling illuminates the way that children’s internal lives help them move through loss and anxiety. Ages 4–7. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Town of Turtle

Michelle Cuevas, illus. by Cátia Chien. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-544-74982-5

Turtle lives on his own planet in the middle of a lonely galaxy. With only his shadow to talk to, he decides “to make some renovations to his shell.” Chien’s dreamlike mixed-media images move from grays to bright colors as Turtle imagines a village of houses that she draws with wobbly splashes of lime, lavender, and fuchsia. Back in the waking world, Turtle orders paint, builds a deck, and installs a fireplace, garden, and pond atop his shell, and soon there’s a library and ice rink, too. They’re all rendered in expressionist spreads, drawn not for laughs but with a sense of wonder. Turtle’s tower of creations teeters precariously above his planet, and soon everybody wants to visit. A giraffe, a whale in a mobile aquarium, a painter, a sailor, and others move in, and an exuberant vertical gatefold celebrates the new community, where all seems possible and every living thing is welcome. Ages 4–7. Author’s agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Literary Management. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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