Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall by Anne Sibley O’Brien

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Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall by Anne Sibley O’Brien, illustrated by Susan Gal (InfoSoup)

The second seasonal book by this author and illustrator duo welcomes autumn. A series of hinged pages open to reveal the magic of this season. Right before each gatefold is opened, there is a magical word that punctuates the book, “Open Sesame” and “Shazam!” As each page opens a moment in fall is revealed from the cloud-filled milkweed to changing leaf colors to pumpkins becoming jack-o-lanterns. It is all a dazzling magical show of seasonal change and joy.

O’Brien captures classic autumn moments in this book that all children will relate to. There are apples, pumpkins, and animals preparing for the approaching winter. School buses arrive, cranberries are harvested, and leaves blanket the ground. It is all captured with a smile and a nod, no fear or worry at the changing seasons here, just a pleasure in the wonder of nature around us.

Gal’s illustrations share that same delight in the transformation of fall. She shows parts of autumn that are not mentioned in the text, making it all the more fun to explore the illustrations. Children will enjoy the many small details in the images as well as opening the pages to reveal the magic inside. This is very intelligently designed.

A delightfully warm and magical look at autumn and the pleasures of the season. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young

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A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young (InfoSoup)

When Lucy sends away for her 25 cent unicorn, she has big dreams of what it’s going to look like. It is sure to be blue with a pink tail and pink mane. She will ride on him and name him Sparkle. But when the box finally arrives, Sparkle is not what she expected at all. He does love cupcakes, but that’s not all he loves to eat. He also eats underwear, his flower necklace and the tutu Lucy puts on him. She can’t ride him at all and he doesn’t behave at show-and-tell. Lucy decides to return Sparkle, but the man can’t come and get him until the next day. In the meantime, Sparkle turns out to be scared of storms, butterflies love him, and he makes Lucy laugh. Perhaps it’s not important to be the perfect unicorn after all.

I must admit that I expected this book to be overly sweet, rather too sparkly and filled with too much princess and unicorn fluff. However, it’s not that kind of a picture book at all and I can’t resist a book that surprises me this much. Even better, it’s a unicorn book with a “unicorn” that farts, smells and has fleas. In fact, it’s a unicorn book about a goat and a girl who learns to love him. And in the end, I think readers are going to fall for Sparkle too and realize that the idealized unicorn may be very dull compared to one very active goat.

Young’s illustrations are very appealing. She does a mix of large format pages and then more detailed ones that show all of the trouble that Sparkle manages to get into. Lucy imagines herself as a princess, but throughout is clearly a colorful little girl who loves to pretend and imagine. Readers will immediately know that Sparkle is not a unicorn, but will love the fact that he’s a goat with a heart-shaped mark on his side.

A sparkling and clever story about new friends that defy expectations. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

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The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (InfoSoup)

Alex has never been the same since her older sister was murdered three years earlier. She finally started to feel something when her sister’s killer went free. Alex’s response to that was vengeance and murder and now Alex knows that she can’t ever leave the small town she has grown up in since it would not be safe for those around her. She just wants to go through the rest of her life with her head down and not be noticed. Inadvertently though, she starts to make a friend. Peekay, short for Preacher’s Kid, volunteers at the animal shelter with Alex and slowly they become friends. Peekay enjoys drinking and fooling around and brings Alex into a social group where she had never belonged before. Meanwhile, Jack is finding it impossible to keep Alex out of his head despite the attentions of another girl who uses him on the side of her own relationship. Still, Alex may have been better off isolated as her violence starts to emerge again.

Wowza. This book blew me away from the aspects of both content and writing. McGinnis writes with a beauty that is surprising and enticing. Her words capture emotions with an intensity that has the reader feeling them at a visceral level. Here is Alex in Chapter 11 describing losing her sister:

It swings from twine embedded so deeply that my aorta has grown around it. Blood pulses past rope in the chambers of my heart, dragging away tiny fibers until my whole body is suffused and pain is all I am and ever can be.

McGinnis keeps her writing filled with tension, desire, understanding and amazement. She recognizes the incredible need for connection that we have even as we destroy as well. This is humanity on the page in all of its complexity.

It is also feminism, a feminism that burns and blazes, one that looks beyond makeup and clothing to the women and girls underneath. It is a feminism that speaks to the anger inside that wants to fight and battle the darkness in society, the brutality against women and the dangers that surround girls. And because it speaks clearly to that anger, it is breathtaking in its audaciousness, in the actions that Alex takes, and the bravery and violence she embodies.

Violent and beautiful, this novel is about the complexities of being female and alive. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from HarperCollins and Edelweiss.

 

2016 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Coordinated by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies and Tulane University and administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, this award celebrates authors who “authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.”

Two authors won the award this year:

Echo Out of Darkness

Pam Munoz Ryan for Echo

Ashley Hope-Perez for Out of Darkness

Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands

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Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (InfoSoup)

This is the second book in the Blackthorn Key Adventure series. Christopher Rowe survived his first adventure but now London has been hit by the Black Death, with thousands dying every week. As a young apothecary apprentice with no master, he is barely making ends meet since he is not allowed to sell any cures. Christopher discovers that his master left him some treasure, but first he must follow the clues to it and unravel the codes that it is in. Meanwhile, Christopher’s workshop is broken into yet nothing is taken. As the plague worsens, news of a prophet who can predict who will die from the plague arrives as well as an apothecary who claims to have a cure that truly works. As Christopher tries to puzzle through his master’s clues, he is also drawn into a dangerous situation of plague, death and lies.

I enjoyed the first book in this series with its 17th century London setting, the details of the apothecary trade and the focus on codes and secrecy. This second book in the series continues what I enjoyed so much about the first as well as continuing the broad humor that Sands use to offset the darkness of the subject matter. Still, this second book does have a one sophomore issue where the plot drags in the middle as the codes are working on being solved and the true nature of some of the characters are about to be revealed.

Some of the best characters from the first book reappear while new characters emerge as well. One of the most enjoyable new characters is Sally, an orphan who has escaped the orphanage due to the plague. Once again, people in poverty and orphans are shown as those with strong characters. Sally herself proves herself to be brave and strong immediately when we meet her, then she also shows how very useful she can be. It is her resilience that is remarkable, mirroring what readers will have seen in both Christopher and his best friend Tom.

A worthy second title in this winning series, take a journey into plague-ridden London for an adventure filled with humor and heroism. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Aladdin Books.

 

Eat, Sleep, Poop by Alexandra Penfold

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Eat, Sleep, Poop by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Jane Massey (InfoSoup)

This funny picture book about the life of a baby is just right for toddlers and slightly older siblings of new babies. The life of a baby is not easy at all. There’s a lot to fit into the day: eating, sleeping and pooping. If a day gets too hectic though, baby can always cut back on sleep to compensate, much to the chagrin of his parents. Then the routine can go back to normal, filled with eating, sleeping, pooping and plenty of love.

Penfold uses plenty of puns and word play in this picture book that will invite laughter and nods from families dealing with a new baby. The text here is very simple, just enough to keep the humor of the situation at the forefront and allow new siblings to understand that this is what all babies do, all day long. There is a strong focus too on love and support and by the end of the book, the tiny baby has grown into a toddler themselves though their routine hasn’t changed much yet.

Massey’s illustrations underscore the importance of a loving family as the backdrop to the infant’s story. She also includes a dog in the family, one who is displaced by the baby and has to learn to cope with the new focus on the baby. The illustrations are bright and friendly with a doting extended family who all participate in baby care.

A warm and funny look at new infants, this book will be welcomed by families who have their own eating, sleeping, pooping machine. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.