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In My Garden

Charlotte Zolotow, illus. by Philip Stead. Holiday House/Porter, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4320-8

Stead (Music for Mister Moon) takes this seasonal poem, first published in 1960 by the late writer and editor Zolotow, and divides its lines between two speakers. One, an older woman in a red raincoat and loose braid, treasures the seasons through her garden. “In the spring what I love best in my garden are the birds building nests.” She also likes “red tulips... violets and hyacinths and daffodils,” yet she returns, loyally, to the birds: “But in the spring what I love best... are the birds building nests.” The other, a child wearing a yellow slicker and red boots, marks the seasons with play: “In the spring what I love most to do is fly kites.” Other activities call, but kites are her favorite. Zolotow’s pleasing list of bests continues through summer, fall, and winter. In loose, pale washes and warm, organic lines, Stead renders a garden that isn’t particularly elegant or manicured—there’s a stone wall, a tree with a swing, an abandoned car and tire planters, a pond to skate on. Small creatures come and go. It’s an intergenerational look at companionable contentment derived from the simplest things, anchored in the natural world. Ages 3–6. Author’s estate: Edite Kroll, Edite Kroll Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Emily van Beek, Folio Jr./Folio Literary Mgmt. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Red Hood

Elana K. Arnold. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-274235-3

There isn’t always a wolf... but there is always the threat of one.” Arnold artfully spins a dark, magic-tinged “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling in which a young woman discovers the power that is her birthright. Bisou Martel, 16, has lived with her grandmother, Mémé, since her mother’s brutal murder when Bisou was only four. Attacked in the forest by a vicious wolf after the homecoming dance—the night she first gets her period—Bisou must slay her pursuer or succumb to its murderous intent. The next day, a boy who behaved forcefully with Bisou at the dance is found naked in the woods, dead from the same wounds as the wolf that Bisou killed. When a classmate, Keisha, is attacked by another wolf, and another faces bullying by a likely incel, Bisou’s family’s past and her grandmother’s closely guarded secrets come to the fore. Arnold (Damsel) effectively employs a second-person narrative (“You were ready—lipstick on, hairpins in”) that evokes a sense of immediacy, blurring the gap between reader and character. Though Arnold never shies from discomfort, depictions of positive male-female relationships and sexual interactions—which clearly illustrate healthy, joyful, consensual experiences— juxtapose the trauma and pain of nonconsensual acts. At once a sharp critique of male entitlement and a celebration of sisterhood and feminine power, this story will linger with readers long after the final page. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

Candace Fleming, illus. by Eric Rohmann. Holiday House/Porter, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4285-0

“Tongues lick./ Antennae touch.” The brief but complex life of a Apis Mellifera—a worker honeybee—is explored with depth in this richly detailed picture book. Fleming uses lyrical language to describe just how jam-packed Apis’s short life is—her jobs include cleaning the nursery, feeding “grub-like larvae,” tending the queen, building comb, food handling, and guarding the hive. “At last, on the twenty-fifth day of her life... she leaps from the nest and... FLIES!” Apis lives only 10 days more: “She has visited thirty-thousand flowers. She has collected enough nectar to make one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey.” Though “Apis stills,” Fleming renders her humble life a mesmerizing wonder. Rohmann’s realistic oil-on-paper illustrations artfully capture close-up details such as the glisten of transparent wings and the fine hairs covering a bee’s body. An ending schematic identifies bee body parts, while supplemental materials offer more facts and details about helping the insects. Ages 6–9. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Nesting

Henry Cole. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-288592-0

Like proverbial spring, this story begins with a song: “From the branch of an apple tree, a robin starts to sing.” Two robins meet and begin to build a nest. Eliding reproductive mechanics, Cole’s detailed story follows the birds as eggs are laid and hatch, and as the parents work to feed the chicks and keep them safe in a world of dangers, including dramatic scenes of a thunderstorm and a hungry snake (“The robins fight back! They dive and swoop!”). The chicks grow: they fill the nest, then drop, “one by one,” to the ground below. The book closes with the poignant image of the abandoned nest, filled with snow. Cole’s fine-line drawings—black-and-white, with occasional washes of robin’s-egg blue—use short, agitated lines and layered hatching to richly render the birds’ world. A brief author’s note offers additional information about robin nesting habits. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Packs: Strength in Numbers

Hannah Sayler. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-328-57788-7

From its incantatory opening—“Packs,/ herds,/ huddles,/ and pods./ Together,/ we are better”—Sayler’s artful exploration of creature behavior moves into examples of the way animals and insects find strength in numbers. Each pack-specific discussion ends with the refrain “Together, we”—bats communicate, flamingos dance. Refreshingly, Sayler looks beyond species stereotypes: “We lions live in a pride, and proud we are. Our strong bonds come from our keeping close... Together, we nurture!” Collective nouns are italicized (lions, pride; frogs, army). Sayler vividly illustrates joyful abundance, often juxtaposing a single blue-hued creature opposite vibrant spreads of groups in motion. The conclusion—“All together.../ ...we are better!”—is cannily paired with a bustling city park. The author’s note, opposite an illustrated key that names featured creatures, argues for preserving biodiversity. Ages 4–7. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Being Frog

April Pulley Sayre. Beach Lane, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-5344-2881-2

Focused on frogs’ essential frog-ness rather than anthropomorphized interpretations of amphibian life, Sayre uses rich photographs and evocative language to explore how frogs might understand and experience their environments. Spare, poetic language with a loose sense of rhyme is paired with photographs documenting frogs at rest and in motion: “A frog must hunt./ It scans. It spies./ It crawls. It lunges./ It fails. Retries.” Sayre’s close-up photos have a crystalline lucidity, immersing readers in the animals’ lush, watery world. Simple questions (“Does frog time fly? Or trail, snail-slow?”) invite readers to consider how the world may look and feel to a frog. A robust author’s note thoughtfully explains how the book was made, as well as the differences between anecdotal evidence and scientific study. Sayre’s gentle argument—“for me a made-up frog cannot match the beauty of a real frog—a creature so alive in its pond world”—persuades. Ages 3–8. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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In the Woods

David Elliott, illus. by Rob Dunlavey. Candlewick, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-9783-9

With wispy washes of layered watercolor and mixed media twining expressionistic feeling and key details, Dunleavy conjures a forest world to frame Elliott’s engaging poems about woodland creatures. A bear peeks out of a dim cave: “The shadow stirs/ in its musky den.” A bright smear perches on a branch: “Look! There!/ A flash of red/ in the spring/ green of the trees/ ...the scarlet/ tanager has returned.” Elliott’s clear language works to capture essential details—the tanager’s color, a skunk’s smell, a porcupine’s prickles—veering in tone from wondering sincerity to subtle humor (moose get a two-word description: “Ungainly,/ mainly”). Fifteen creatures are featured, each on a full spread. Concise notes at the end offer facts that build on each poem; for example, of the tanager: “These spectacular creatures are famous for being hard to spot, as they love to be high up in the forest canopy.” Pleasant and gently funny. Ages 3–7. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orïsha #2)

Tomi Adeyemi. Holt, $19.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-250-17099-6

This sequel to Children of Blood and Bone picks up three weeks after the clash that dispatched Zélie's father and brought loss to Orïsha's royal family. Zélie hoped that restoring magic to Orïsha would end the subjugation of its white-haired maji clans; regrettably, however, Zélie's ritual also triggered the latent abilities of nobles with maji ancestry, including Princess Amari and the tyrannical Queen Nehanda. These "tîtáns" need no incantations to wield magic, rendering them unspeakably powerful—and dangerously volatile. With a civil war brewing, Amari makes a bid for the crown, promising peace and equality; Nehanda enthrones another, however, and contrives to use an army of tîtáns to eradicate the maji. Meanwhile, maji rebels dubbed the Iyika aim to assassinate Orïsha's nobles and install Zélie as queen. Adeyemi's thrilling second Legacy of Orïsha novel ups the stakes and expands the series' mythology while extolling unity and illustrating the futility of hatred and retribution. Shoehorned romance and manufactured friction between protagonists aside, Adeyemi delivers a vivid, visceral tale studded with action and capped with a literary gut-punch. Ages 14–up. Agent: Alexandra Machinist and Hillary Jacobson, ICM Partners. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Cézanne’s Parrot

Amy Guglielmo, illus. by Brett Helquist. Putnam, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-525-51508-1

Cézanne, the late 19th-century French painter, has lofty ambitions, and he wants his new parrot Bisou to acknowledge them: “Can you say, ‘Cézanne is a great painter’?” he instructs the bird. Cézanne rejects heroic subjects and traditional techniques. “While other artists painted flawless details with tiny brushes... Cézanne preferred thick paint and heavy marks.” He’s not a fast-working impressionist like his friend Monet, either. Cézanne paints agonizingly slowly, and sometimes he’s dissatisfied. At last, though, he gains recognition from the art world—and from his avian companion, too. Helquist (Guitar Genius) illustrates Cézanne’s story with boldly outlined and modeled figures in detailed period costume. His versions of Cézanne’s own paintings capture the painter’s lavish strokes and earthen tones. Spoken remarks—especially gossipy comments about Cézanne’s paintings (“Too dark!” “Too crude!”)—often appear in speech balloons. By examining the hard work and frustration that often lies behind what can look like inevitable celebrity, Guglielmo (How to Build a Hug) makes a solid case for understanding Cézanne as a painter who followed his own vision. An author’s note distinguishes between the historical record and fictional invention. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Stephen Barbara, InkWell Management. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Oil

Jonah Winter, illus. by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5344-3077-8

Marking the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, lyrical prose and textured illustrations in layered colors distinguish this picture book treatment of the environmental disaster. Using repetition in both narration and artwork (“From deep inside the earth it comes,/ hot and black, black and hot”), the creators follow the initial extraction of crude oil and its pipeline journey through a fauna-rich wilderness, to the Exxon Valdez’s grounding, spill, and deadly and far-reaching aftermath. Sleek and monochromatic, human-engineered items occur amid land- and seascapes populated with mottled, multihued wildlife—“across what had been/ unspoiled land, home to Native people.” Scenes of rescue workers juxtapose depictions of oil-coated otters (“thousands of them, dead and dying”), underlining the importance of taking action in a calamity. Ending on a cautionary note, the seemingly clean beach is revealed as a deception: “If you lift a rock.../ oil/ seeps/ up.” An author’s note offers more spill facts, touching on culpability and a need for alternative energy sources. With this latest, the mother-son team behind The Secret Project again demonstrates an aptitude for clear and concise storytelling, here around detrimental alterations to the natural landscape. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd. Illustrator’s agent: Susan Cohen, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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