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I Like My Bike

AG Ferrari. Holiday House, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-4097-9

There’s good reason for the girl in the driver’s seat of this breezy I Like to Read offering by Ferrari (No Honking Allowed!) to be enamored of her bike. With her helmet-wearing dog happily stashed in her basket aside a gift box, she zooms through the background of most spreads while foregrounded vehicles reveal their colorful cargo: a shark fills the back of a limo, a lion rides shotgun in a VW bus, a tiger reads a book in a mobile zoo cage, and a tiny mouse drives an enormous cheese truck. The bare-bones text consists of each driver appreciating their specific vehicle (“I like my truck” says a cactus driving a flowery transport), while loosely rendered mixed-media art fills in the story line. As a grandmotherly woman hitches several rides and a helicopter hovers overhead, the freewheeling cyclist eschews the highway for flower-filled country roads. Ferrari wryly drives home his tale’s message in a visually telling finale revealing the vexed car, truck, and bus drivers snarled in traffic while the girl, in satisfyingly timely fashion, pedals to her festive destination foreshadowed by visual clues readers glean along the way. Ages 4–8. (Jan.) 

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Crab Cake: Turning the Tide Together

Andrea Tsurumi. HMH, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-544-95900-2

Life under the teal Tsurumi sea is abundant, busy, and seems pretty much by the textbook: “Spiny Lobster looks for a new home. Parrotfish crunches coral and poops sand... Lionfish does whatever she pleases.” But one serious outlier, Crab, bakes cakes, cupcakes, and more—frosted peach and green confections studded with shells and seaweed. Crab’s fellow inhabitants both indulge in the treats and find the baking behavior a little perplexing. In one drawing, Tsurumi shows the classic ocean food chain, with Crab proffering a cupcake to the last and smallest fish. Then, one night, a literal boatload of junk crashes into the ocean; the once-limpid water turns dark, and everyone is at a loss (“Dolphin freezes. Manta Ray freezes. Even Lionfish freezes”)—except Crab, who determinedly bakes a cake. This act of defiance and resilience coaxes the shocked schools out of hiding to nosh, comfort one another, and find a solution. Fans of Accident! will be happy that Tsurumi’s mastery of detail, humor, and clear-eyed empathy continues in this wholly original and moving affirmation of one crab’s power to bring a community together. Ages 4–7. Agent: Stephen Barr, Writers House. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Isle of You

David LaRochelle, illus. by Jaime Kim. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-9116-5

LaRochelle (Moo!) and Kim (La La La) have created the picture book equivalent of a guided visualization. Their protagonist, a child of indeterminate gender, broods in bed, gripping a pillow for comfort. “Are you feeling sad?/ Lonely?/ Maybe even a little angry?” the unseen narrator says, striking a soothing, even tone that persists throughout. “I know the perfect place to go.” And indeed, the Isle of You, a fantasyland bathed in light that gradually shifts from soft yellows and pinks to deep blues and purples, has nigh everything a kid could want: a castle and monorail, a bird who’s happy to act as a private airplane, and a tight-knit group of welcoming human and animal friends. The child is free to chill or cavort in hammock, waterfall pool, or air balloon until the world feels benevolent again. Readers who prefer to feel through their funks may find this tactic minimizing, but those with a stubborn case of weltschmerz should welcome the calming sojourn. Illustrator’s agent: Claire Easton, Painted Words. Ages 3–7. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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How Do You Do?

Larissa Theule, illus. by Gianna Marino. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-61963-807-5

As the sun bakes the Earth—yellow-washed opening pages by Marino render the heat-induced languor palpable—Water Buffalo and Crane are consumed by their own despair. Then Goat bounds onto the scene with a “How do you do?” and a friendly lick that makes Crane beam. Goat begins to dance “as sudden as summer rain” and the curmudgeonly Water Buffalo snorts but can’t resist dancing, too, “on through the bushes,/ on through the trees,/ on to the next field over.” Framing by Marino (Night Animals) turns equally playful as the characters cavort around a newly green and flowering planet. When Goat runs off in pursuit of a butterfly, Water Buffalo and Crane don’t lapse back into Godot-like misery; instead, they notice the beauty of their surroundings and extend salutations to the animals they now see around them as the lens pulls back, bringing more and more of the planet into view. Theule’s story is not without bumpy spots; it’s not clear whether the rain Goat brings is a metaphor, and readers may wonder why the funny, charismatic animal vanishes without even a goodbye, but the point is well taken: new acquaintances can help “the world feel not so—hot... Nor so small.” Ages 3–6. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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My Mommy Medicine

Edwidge Danticat, illus. by Shannon Wright. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-250-14091-3

The narrator, a brown-skinned girl, defines “Mommy Medicine” as a special brand of TLC—a combination of pampering and playfulness that her mother offers “whenever I am sick or just feel kind of gloomy or sad.” Mommy’s indomitable energy and toolkit of healing techniques are something to behold: she can plant “a kiss so loud it reminds me of a French horn at Mardi Gras,” deliver a rousing medley, give her all in a session of pretend play, or just sit quietly with her daughter “watching my ceiling’s glow-in-the-dark stars flicker, making our own sky.” Heartfelt prose by adult author Danticat can seem more like an adult’s recollection than a child’s impression (“Sometimes it’s a whispered prayer, just before nodding off at nap time”), but the vignettes are full of glad familial love. Wright, an illustrator and cartoonist making her picture book debut, supplies largely realistic scenes in a poignant home-video style. Together, they leave no doubt about how good it feels to be the total center of attention—even when there’s “actual” yucky medicine involved. Ages 3–6. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Smoke and Mirrors

K.D. Halbrook. S&S/Wiseman, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5344-0504-2

In Halbrook’s first middle-grade novel (following the YA novel Every Last Promise, as Kristin Halbrook), two siblings confront a magician’s ancient curse and try to rescue their parents. Fifth grader Sasha’s performing family lives in the colorful Cirque Magnifique, a circuslike show community full of pomp and plumage. When Sasha and her younger brother, Toddy, attend school for the first time, they’re thrust into the drab, conformist world on the other side of their island. After some particularly chilling bullying from fellow students, Sasha’s outburst about it at home unwittingly invites in a mysterious smoke that transforms her parents into birds. As Sasha and Toddy struggle to survive on their own, the narrative drags a bit, but it gains speed after they embark on a quest to the Edge of the World to find their parents and “destroy the Smoke for good.” The powerful sibling bond anchors the narrative on the island and during the journey, and propels this inventive fantasy. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment

ames Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illus. by Beverly Johnson. Little, Brown/Patterson, $14.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-52396-7

Johnson’s wry sketch of the iconic photo of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue, accompanied by his observation that “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” opens a lively and astute series launch by frequent collaborators Patterson and Grabenstein. Max Einstein, a homeless 12-year-old genius, knows nothing about her parents, her past, or the origins of her treasured suitcase filled with Albert Einstein memorabilia. The feisty girl’s infatuation with the scientist guides her critical problem-solving (“What would Einstein do?”) after she is kidnapped by thugs working for a greed-driven corporation and subsequently recruited by the rival Change Makers Institute, dedicated to eradicating global warming, poverty, war, and pandemic disease. Eight other whiz kids competing to become the group’s “instrument of change,” a cunning double agent, and the good guys’ surprising benefactor add to the story’s intrigue, which illuminates present-day applications of Einstein’s scientific theories as well as the wisdom of his humanitarian tenets (“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”). Sprinting from Manhattan to Israel to the Congo, the story is an entertaining and thoughtful exploration of perseverance, friendship, creativity, and identity. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Mascot

Antony John. HarperCollins, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-283562-8

One year ago, a car crash killed Noah’s dad and left Noah, who was starting catcher for his Little League team, paraplegic. Noah goes through the motions of physical therapy and building a new life with just his mom, locking his feelings of anger and sadness behind his sarcasm. After new kid Dee-Dub (short for “Double Wide,” a nickname inflicted due to his stature) arrives in Noah’s seventh grade class, the two start hanging out. Then bully Logan mocks Noah in gym, and Alyssa, the one friend Noah permitted to visit him regularly after the accident, challenges Logan to a pitch-off, roping in Dee-Dub to be hitter and Noah to catch. Meanwhile, Noah’s mom has started spending time with single neighbor Mr. Dillon, something Noah plans to stop. Through the chain reaction ignited by these events, Noah learns that while part of his life is over, another chapter—one that may be better than he’d imagined—has just begun. John (Five Flavors of Dumb) blends humor and heartache in this powerful, satisfying coming-of-age story that handles Noah’s experience of paraplegia with honesty and sensitivity. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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I’m Ok

Patti Kim. Atheneum, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5344-1929-2

In the wake of his father’s unexpected death, sixth-grade Korean immigrant Ok Lee (“No one at school says my name right... Say “pork.” Drop the p sound. Now drop the r sound”) is determined to earn money to help his mom, who works three jobs, and “keep alive [his] father’s plan for success in the USA.” Unfortunately, Ok’s money-making schemes—braiding his classmates’ hair, tutoring the most popular kid in class, and learning how to roller skate to win the school talent contest prize—prove less profitable than he had hoped, and in addition, he is often bullied over his name, his appearance, and his traditional Korean food. As Ok and his mother are forced to move into a smaller apartment, Ok feels like he’s failing, and his desperation leads him to lie, steal, blackmail, and betray newfound friends. Debut author Kim, also a Korean immigrant, tells a moving story of family, culture, and growing up, through the eyes of a boy who struggles to fulfill his father’s American dream and maintain his own sense of pride. Ok’s anger and frustration about his father’s death and his mother’s burgeoning relationship with a deacon from their church ring particularly true, as do his ethical and emotional growth. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Damsel

Elana K. Arnold. Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-274232-2

This subversion of fairy tale tropes begins with familiar elements: a prince rescues a damsel from a dragon to make her his bride and prove his worth to become king, as happens with every generation in the kingdom of Harding (“I saved you,” he repeats). But the damsel, whom he names Ama, has no memory of her past, her family, or her time with the dragon. And the more time she spends around her husband-to-be, learning the ways of his culture and her intended role, the more uncomfortable she becomes. King Emory is cold, strict, sometimes violent, swift to exert his authority, and eager to have sex with Ama—whether she is interested or not. As Ama struggles to unlock her memories and find her own destiny, she discovers the dark side of the kingdom’s traditions. With haunting prose and lush descriptions, Arnold (What Girls Are Made Of) weaves a terrifying tale that explores contemporary conversations about rape culture, misogyny, male entitlement, female agency, and the need for consent. The message is as timely as it is vital, but frank discussions of self-harm, physical and emotional abuse, and descriptions of sexual violence may not be appropriate for readers at the younger end of the stated range. Ages 14–up. Agency: East West Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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