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It’s Halloween, Chloe Zoe!

Jane Smith. Albert Whitman, $12.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8075-1210-4

In this sixth book in Smith’s holiday-themed Chloe Zoe series, the returning heroine, a yellow elephant, is excited about Halloween but uncertain about trick-or-treating at the “old, creepy house on the corner,” where she heard an “evil witch” lives. Smith’s collages are far more festive than frightening, and although Chloe Zoe runs away scared when her friends visit the house she’s afraid of, her fears are quickly allayed: its resident, Mrs. Elena, is a cheerful rabbit who is handing out giant candy bars—trick-or-treating gold, as any kid knows. Chloe Zoe’s candid and enthusiastic narration makes this a good choice for Halloween newbies (she walks readers through the basics of the holiday as the story opens). Though the emotional conflicts are laid out somewhat blatantly, the book could easily lead into conversations about fear in general, real dangers versus imagined ones, and unfounded rumors. Ages 4–8. Agent: Nicole Tugeau, T2 Children’s Illustrators. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Wompananny Witches Make One Mean Pizza

Jennie Palmer. Abrams, $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2642-2

In Palmer’s quirky children’s book debut, sisters Anita and Winnifred Wompananny are purple-skinned, green-haired witches, one tall and lanky, the other short and squat. They love preparing pizza in their Brooklyn home, which resembles a giant, wonky potbelly stove, wedged between brownstones. Terrified of the neighborhood children, the witches cower when they come to their door selling cookies—and inadvertently pound their “fearful, freaked-out feelings” into the pizza dough. The result: “one mean pizza,” which promptly takes off rolling down the block, cheese puddles in its wake, before entering the park and landing atop a carousel. Palmer’s kinetic cartoons revel in the messy, cheesy chaos, which leads the sisters to realize that pizza, children, and witches are actually a pretty tasty combination. It’s a cheerfully offbeat story of common ground—and uncommonly good pizza—bringing diverse neighbors together. Ages 3–7. Agent: Jessica Sinsheimer, Sarah Jane Freymann Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Duck & Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo!

Tad Hills. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5247-0175-8

As Halloween arrives, Goose’s nerves are getting the best of him, especially after Halloween-loving Thistle (first seen in Duck, Duck, Goose) tells Goose and Duck to “beware the swamp monster.” Even a superhero costume doesn’t help Goose summon much bravery, especially after the swamp monster shows up during trick-or-treating in the forest. Readers won’t share Goose’s fear—Hills leaves big visual clues about who’s under all that green swamp muck—and before the story is over Goose and Duck deliver a small scare of their own. As in the previous books in this series, Hills’s understated writing and serene paint-and-pencil artwork treat these friends’ emotions with respect. He has a little fun at their expense as they race, wide-eyed, away from the swamp monster, but readers will understand that being frightened is completely natural and that, sometimes, the sources of those fears aren’t “that scary after all.” Ages 3–7. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Bonaparte Falls Apart

Margery Cuyler, illus. by Will Terry. Crown, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-101-93768-6

The duo behind Skeleton for Dinner returns with the story of Bonaparte, a young skeleton who “was falling to pieces, and this really shook him up.” With Bonaparte’s limbs detaching at inopportune moments, his friends devise plans to help him keep it together. But Franky Stein’s glue-and-screws approach renders Bonaparte immobile, Blacky Widow’s efforts get Bonaparte tangled up in her web, and Mummicula’s snug wrap leaves Bonaparte unable to see. The eventual solution: a puglike puppy, whose bone-retrieving skills are just what the cadaver ordered. Cuyler’s readaloud-friendly narration is loaded with bone puns and makes good use of repetition and rhyme (“So Mummicula wrapped and strapped and strapped and wrapped”), and Terry creates an impish monster cast in moody scenes textured with intricate cross-hatching. With pratfalls aplenty, it’s an amusing reminder that small accommodations and the support of friends can help any kid succeed. Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat

Sue Lowell Gallion, illus. by Joyce Wan. Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4814-4977-9

The stars of Pug Meets Pig are back, and while they’ve acclimated to sharing a home, they aren’t on the same page where Halloween is concerned. If possible, the pals are even more adorable this time around, thanks to their matching skeleton costumes. Pig adores everything about the outfit: its “snug fit,” glow-in-the-dark bones, and mask. “Will anyone know who she is?” wonders Pig with glee, mugging for readers with an expression that approaches ecstasy. But Pug is miserable in his costume, and after he tears it to bits, Gallion subtly explores how the two stay true to themselves, respect what the other needs, and find common ground (namely by getting really muddy and scarfing down Halloween candy). Wan’s art is almost impossibly cute, and the message about compromise is one for any time of year. Ages 2–8. Author’s agent: Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Teresa Kietlinski, Prospect Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Herbert’s First Halloween

Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Steven Henry. Chronicle, $15.99 (36p) ISBN 978-1-4521-2533-6

A piglet learns what trick-or-treating is all about in this gentle father-son story. “Herbert was not sure about Halloween,” begins Rylant. Herbert’s father attempts to share his love of the holiday, starting with an old photo of himself in a cowboy costume. Herbert remains skeptical, but asks, “Can I be a tiger?” Father and son get to work on the costume and decorations, and Herbert practices his roar for the big night. Henry’s warm domestic scenes bring to mind the pig family at the heart of Jean Van Leeuwen’s Tales of Oliver Pig as Rylant highlights the comfortable bond between parent and child. Wearing a cowboy outfit, Herbert’s father accompanies him for a night of trick-or-treating. With his first Halloween a success, Herbert is already planning next year’s costume. Perhaps he’ll be back for other holiday firsts, too. Ages 2–4. Author’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. Illustrator’s agent: Robin Rue, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Backstagers Vol. 1

James Tynion IV, illus. by Rian Sygh. Boom Box, $14.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-60886-993-0

In a comic that’s essentially Lumberjanes for queer theater-tech types, with some of the cosmic weirdness of Steven Universe mixed in, Tynion (The Woods) and Sygh (Munchkin) take readers to St. Genesius, a private high school for boys with a highly unusual theater department. New student Jory reluctantly gives drama club a shot, but he quickly realizes that he’s more at home with the stage crew: cherubic Sasha, no-nonsense Aziz, crotchety light board operator Beckett, and burly builder Hunter, who blushes every time Jory is nearby. (The atmosphere at St. Genesius is so rife with sexual tension that characters nervously blush on virtually every page.) Romantic possibilities aside, there’s something seriously strange going on in the vast, ever-changing labyrinth of rooms and tunnels beneath the school, full of bizarre creatures, rope bridges leading to parts unknown, and (possibly) long-lost techies who vanished decades ago. Sygh captures the story’s interpersonal and supernatural dramas in lush, manga-inflected scenes. Brimming with feeling and featuring a diverse cast (including a trans character, Beckett), it’s an effervescently entertaining story of finding community (and maybe love) in unlikely, even impossible places. Ages 12–up. (July)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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What to Say Next

Julie Buxbaum. Delacorte, $18.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-553-53568-6

One month after the death of her father in a car accident, high school junior Kit Lowell is beginning to realize that “grief not only morphs time, but space too.” Distancing herself from her two best friends, who are back to talking about things like prom, Kit begins spending lunch with her socially isolated classmate David Drucker, appreciating his awkwardness and blunt honesty. David has always considered Kit to be the most beautiful girl at school, but his Asperger’s syndrome has left him largely alienated and their interactions brief. As they grow closer, revelations about the car accident and the contents of David’s notebook (filled with commentary about his peers) threaten their tenuous relationship. Buxbaum (Tell Me Three Things) uses split first-person narration to give readers striking insight into both teens. Unlike his peers and the school administration, readers will easily see David as a complex, brilliant individual. Discussion of Kit’s family and heritage (her mother is Indian) bring additional complexity and depth to this portrait of grief and recovery. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM. (July)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Waste of Space

Gina Damico. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-544-63316-2

In this tongue-in-cheek sendup of reality TV, 10 teens are given the chance to go into space. What they don’t know is that none of it is real: the launch, the spaceplane they are living in, and the problems they face are fabricated by the show’s sleazy production company. The cast members of Waste of Space range from deadly earnest (Jamarkus) and irredeemably geeky (Louise) to naïve (Snout) and normal (Nico), not to mention “the four Golden Tokens: gay, foreigner, disabled, and orphan.” All that, and a pig. As the show progresses and people are voted off the ship, things get out of hand, with tempers fraying, equipment malfunctioning, and inexplicable phenomena suggesting actual extraterrestrial interference. The story unfolds through transcripts, cast confessionals, hidden camera footage, and post-show editing, creating an over-the-top and unpredictable adventure that walks the line between plausibility and absurdity. Damico (Wax) revels in reality show archetypes but throws in a few twists, too. The increasing ambiguity, though, makes it hard to decide how seriously readers should take the conflict and its resolution. Ages 12–up. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (July)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Flight Risk

Jennifer Fenn. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-62672-760-1

Debut author Fenn tells a multilayered story of identity, ambition, and societal expectations as she chronicles the misadventures of Robert Jackson Kelley, who becomes known as the Lollipop Kid after he steals and crashes three private airplanes. Through newspaper articles, interviews, discipline records, and flashbacks, Fenn fleshes out Robert’s history as a juvenile delinquent from a broken home, detailing his obsession with flight simulators and yearning to escape the small Washington State island he calls home. Sent to a youth home after a drug bust, Robert eventually escapes and steals the first of several planes, an act that turns him into a local legend, makes him the subject of a widespread manhunt, and inadvertently gives rise to a minor pop culture movement. Inspired by the true story of the so-called Barefoot Bandit, this story moves slowly but steadily through the years, building a larger-than-life aura around Robert. However, for all the focus on him, he remains something of an enigma in his own narrative. Ages 12–up. Agent: Amy Tipton, Signature Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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