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The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

Ben Philippe. Balzer + Bray, $18.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-282411-0

In Philippe’s funny debut, 16-year-old black French-Canadian Norris Kaplan must navigate life and love in Austin, Tex., after he and his mother move there for her new teaching job. At Anderson High, he plans to keep his head down and draw as little attention as possible. To amuse himself, he uses the journal that the admissions officer gives him to create a snarky “Field Guide” to his fellow students. Norris usually has something sarcastic to say, so he doesn’t go unnoticed for long, attracting the attention of a jock, Patrick; a cheerleader, Madison; and loner Liam, who are each more than they seem. He’s instantly smitten when he meets Aarti, and when Madison offers her help in setting the two up, she and Norris strike up a reluctant friendship. Things are good, with Norris even heading up a fledgling hockey team, but a debacle at a prom after-party—involving Aarti, her ex, and Norris’s big mouth—threatens his new friendships. Philippe has a gift for dialogue and touches on a few instances of racism with sensitivity and humor in this crowd-pleaser. Ages 13–up. Agent: Leslie York, Fredrica S. Friedman & Co. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Confessions of a Teenage Leper

Ashley Little. Penguin Teen Canada, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7352-6261-4

Seventeen-year-old Abby Furlowe feels her life is just about to begin. She’s the beauty queen of her small Texas town and plans to land a cheerleading scholarship to the college of her choice to pursue modeling, acting, and fame. But Abby’s not very nice. Then, what begins with a rash turns into numb feet, followed by a cheerleading accident that puts her in a coma for 16 days. She is finally diagnosed with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, and it’s the end of the world as she knows it. Abby’s harsh voice is riddled with dark humor, making for an effective first-person narrative that conveys palpable anger, shame, resentment, and sadness as she’s faced with her disintegrating health and friends who desert her because they’re as shallow as she has been. Little (Niagara Motel) pulls no punches in describing the agony of living with a chronic disease, and weaves in a subplot about Abby’s brother’s homosexuality and struggle with destructive behavior. When Abby is sent off to a facility in Baton Rouge, La., for treatment, she meets new friends who accept her as she reforms her identity into something more substantial, reflective, and kind. This unusual and inspiring story reminds readers that difficult circumstances can strengthen one’s character. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Piñata That the Farm Maiden Hung

Samantha R. Vamos, illus. by Sebastià Serra. Charlesbridge, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58089-796-9

Like Vamos’s The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, this companion borrows the cumulative style and cadence of “The House That Jack Built” to introduce a Mexican tradition and Spanish vocabulary. Readers are swept into the anticipatory fervor as humans and animals eagerly pitch in to make a piñata. The latter have the most amusing roles: a goose contentedly mixes flour and water to make a paste, which holds together paper that is feverishly shredded by a cat perched on a rooftop and then bound by rope that a sheep placidly braids. The plot’s accelerating momentum comes to a jarring halt when the characters nap before the piñata is decorated and filled, but the pace picks up again when they awaken to finish the job. The lilting narrative and vivid, mixed-media art by Serra (Inky’s Great Escape) together facilitate the translation as words introduced in English appear in Spanish on the following page, with buoyant, folksy pictures providing the context. The energetic verse and whimsical art create an entertaining offering and show a loving celebration. Ages 4–8. (Jan.) Correction: A previous version of this review conflated the farm maiden with another character.

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Hats Off to Mr. Pockles!

Sally Lloyd-Jones, illus. by David Litchfield. Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-55815-3

Lloyd-Jones (Goldfish on Vacation) opens by describing hat fancier Mr. Pockles’s collection, including one under glass that he’s never worn (“It was Too Special and he was saving it for Best”). Mr. Pockles, a shy, impeccably groomed hound with long ears and blue eyes, dreams of appearing at Hat Day at the PandaPolitan Club. Only pandas are allowed in, however, so he mopes at the Treat House in his “Jaunty Hat with a Friendly Feather.” When prominent panda Lady Coco Fitz-Tulip sashays into the café and loses her fruit hat to some hungry baby bunnies, Mr. Pockles saves the day—“HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS, EVERYONE!”—giving Lady Coco his Best hat and distributing the rest to the crowd. Naturally, Lady Coco brings them all to the PandaPolitan Club. The tale has more than a whiff of royalism, with its exclusive club and its fascination with Lady Coco’s family pedigree (she’s “even had streets named after her”). But Litchfield (When Paul Met Artie) creates crisp mixed-media spreads that revel in jewel-box colors and patterns; his hats are adorned with hearts, feathers, and even a miniature roller coaster. The hats are the star attraction here. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Goose Egg

Liz Wong. Knopf, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-553-51157-4

Henrietta is a quiet-loving elephant who “savored the stillness of the morning as she sipped her Darjeeling” from a porcelain teacup grasped in her trunk. She enjoys swimming underwater in the lake, where she gets “lost... in her thoughts.” One day, though, she gets “a little too lost” and drifts head-first into a piling, knocking a goose egg from its nest. She’s unaware that the egg has landed between her ears, so when she feels a metaphorical “goose egg,” she dutifully bandages her sore head and waits “for the bump to heal.” After the fuzzy gosling hatches from the egg and identifies Henrietta as “Mama!”, and her actual mother is nowhere to be found, the pachyderm takes the imprinting to heart, painting her face and trunk to resemble a goose’s body and neck as a teaching aid before she shows the gosling how to look for food, swim, and flap her wings. Though Henrietta urges Goose to fly, the elephant doesn’t love the quiet so much after her charge is gone. Wong (Quackers) solves that conundrum in a cacophonous finale to her quirky family tale. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Cow Said Neigh! A Farm Story

Rory Feek, illus. by Bruno Robert. Tommy Nelson, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4003-1171-2

Feek has written two bestselling adult memoirs about life on his Tennessee farm, and he’s half of country music duo Joey+Rory, which he formed with his late wife. It’s no surprise, then, that in his first book for children, the setting is a barnyard. From a barn window, a cow looks out longingly at a horse cantering in a nearby field: “If I were a horse, I could run free all day,” the cow muses. Then it tries out its horse persona, letting out “a big... NEIGH!” Each spread follows a similar pattern: an animal thinks another has a better deal and, as a first step toward enjoying that creature’s appealing life, lets out its signature call, from quacks to oinks. The story could have wrapped up with reminders to find gratitude for one’s own gifts and avoid the perils of a grass-is-greener outlook, but Feek keeps both the mood and message light with a conclusion that celebrates silliness. Together with Robert’s expressive, cartoon-bright illustrations, the playful text, filled with sound effects and refrains, will likely encourage rowdy, participatory read-alouds. Ages 3–6. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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