Waiting for High Tide by Nikki McClure (InfoSoup)
On a summer day, a boy waits for high tide. He’d love to swim but he’d just get muddy or even stuck. The other animals on the seashore are waiting for high tide too, six long hours. But today is a special day, the boy and his family are going to build a raft. They found a big log and have cut it into three sections. The boy plays on the shore, finding treasures along the way including a pair of pink glasses with one eye covered in barnacles. They work hard on the raft as the water comes in closer and closer. When they stop for lunch, the boy sees birds eating too. The raft is finally ready but there is still time before high tide, so they eat cookies and wait. Finally the raft floats and there is time for jumping, swimming and enjoying the perfect summer day.
McClure proves here that she is as much a writer and poet as an artist. She writes with a depth that is lovely to see in a picture book, offering real insight into the natural world. She also writes with a childlike eye and attitude, drawing parallels between the human world and the natural one. There is an engaging mix of fonts in the text, some of the text large and capitalized in a way that conveys excitement and time passing. The passage of time is such a focus here as the tide slowly comes in. It is a book that celebrates slower times, lingering before enjoying the reward of your hard work.
As always McClure’s art is exceptional. Her cut paperwork is filled with details. The scene of the boy in the barnacle glasses as he explores the shoreline is filled with such tiny details that one can look for some time before you see the chipmunk peeking over the log or the five dollar bill. This is a book for spending some slow time of your own on.
Based on McClure’s own family, this picture book is a quiet look at nature and spending time outside. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.
The Last Execution by Jesper Wung-Sung (InfoSoup)
Originally published in Danish, this novel looks at the last 12 hours before a teen boy will be executed on Gallows Hill. The novel shows the approach the execution from the point of view of different members of the community and from the boy, Niels, himself. It opens the night before with Niels swinging out and trying to hit the devil but instead smashing his hand badly. He then has a fly he speaks with, who buzzes around him and Niels imagines himself having long conversations with it. There is the master carpenter in town who will measure Niels for his coffin. The master baker who looks to profit from the busyness that an execution brings to the market. A poet who pens his record of the events. A three-legged dog, who befriended the boy and now waits in the streets. A girl who has fed the boy before and even kissed him. And the executioner with the axe he has inherited.
Based on the last execution in Svendborg, Denmark in 1853, this novel takes a serious and haunting look at what could have brought a boy to the edge of execution and whether he deserves his fate. The entire book ticks closer and closer to the execution and the book offers little hope of reprieve at any point. As the hours pass, the full story of the boy and his father emerges. The desperate poverty they lived in together, working on farms for food and then walking to another farm looking for work. The dire illness of his father that led him to be unable to work some days and eventually die. The hope that starts to light Niels life just before a mistake takes it all away.
I appreciate so much that this is such a dark story. There are moments of hope that shine like sunbeams but they are for past hope, happening before Niels is in his cell. Once there, there is no hope. There is no reprieve for him and no promise of such is ever held out. It is a novel that moves on and on and on to the inevitable, something that could be stopped but now can only be witnessed and readers are forced to witness it along with those that thronged and judged.
Terrifying, moving and deeply poetic, this historical novel asks huge questions and leaves the answers to the reader. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGhee (InfoSoup)
Jules and Sylvie are sisters, just one year apart. They live with their father in a house that backs onto a woods with a river. There is one part, the Slip, where the girls are forbidden to go, since it’s so dangerous, where the river goes underground. When the girls awaken to late spring fresh snow, Sylvie just has to run down to the river to make a wish. Her wishes are always the same, to run faster. Jules is left behind at home after the two make their snowman family together. Jules waits and waits, but Sylvie does not return. That’s when Jules discovers that Sylvie has disappeared into the river. It’s also when a pregnant fox feels a spirit enter her female cub, a special spirit that has a connection to humans, specifically Jules. Two young females, a fox and a girl, both searching for what is missing and both unable to turn away from their shared bond.
Appelt and McGhee have written a blazingly beautiful novel that pairs adept writing with a powerful connection to nature. The book begins on a spring day filled with snow, a magical time. But even at the beginning there is foreshadowing that something is going to happen, there is the danger of the Slip, the speed of running, a certain desperation, a dead mother. It all adds up gracefully and powerfully to danger and then death. It’s the glorious writing that allows that to be both shocking and also entirely expected too.
The part of the story with the fox brings a richness to the story, another piece that falls into place of animals that have connections and even responsibilities. It too is written with a beauty and a combination of real understanding of foxes and wild animals and then also a haunting connection to death. The entire book also relies on its setting that is shown from human point of view and then again with different terms in the fox viewpoint as well. That element helps to sew the two halves of the book tightly together into a whole. A whole that sings about death, about loss, about grief, and about the power of nature to heal.
Incredibly moving and richly detailed, this novel is a powerful read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
Spot, the Cat by Henry Cole (InfoSoup)
In this wordless picture book, a cat named Spot heads out of an open window and into adventures in the city. The book is done in black and white illustrations with lots of fine details, perfect settings for a small spotted cat to get lost. It is up to the reader to find Spot on each page, something that can be challenging on some pages, even for adults. Spot visits areas throughout the city from a farmer’s market to a park filled with kites in the air. While he is adventuring though, his owner is looking for him, putting up lost cat posters around the neighborhood and missing him each time.
It is the art here that makes the book so enchanting. The details are so well done that as a reader I kept getting lost in what others on the page were doing. The world the cat and the boy explore on the page makes sense. It is all cohesive, filled with people going about their days in ways that read as natural and real. In other words, it’s a joy to read and explore the pages whether you are able to spot Spot or not.
A great seek-and-find book but also a great wordless picture book with a story too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon and Schuster.
Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long (InfoSoup)
Everyone in the Super Happy Magic Forest loves picnics, fun and dancing. But that all changes when the Mystical Crystals of Life were stolen. Old Oak blames the goblins for stealing the crystals and sends a team of heroes to adventure to Goblin Tower to bring the crystals back. Five heroes set out and travel through one region to the next. They encounter frightening creatures like penguins. They must brave the dark dangers of the Super Creepy Haunted Forest. They survive dungeons and even bees. But is their quest doomed even though they are brave? It’s up to these five heroes to unravel who really stole the crystals.
This picture book is surprising and completely awesome. Opening it, I did not expect to find the rather sarcastic tone that makes this book work so very well. The main text of the book sets the larger scenes for the book but the real action takes place in the speech bubbles and the illustrations. The scenes are drawn large almost as maps and the various characters are scattered throughout, each having their own encounters along the way. It’s almost like a video game map, each scene a new level to explore.
Throughout the book, humor plays a large role. The book has more of a feel of a graphic novel or comic though it only has a few panels at times, usually it is one large image. Frightening tree stumps refer to guidebooks for their evil phrases. Walruses argue about sending out more penguins to the fray. Readers have to scan the page for the elusive dungeon key. It’s all busy, frenzied perfection.
Sure to appeal to video-game-playing children, this picture book will work best with slightly older children who will also enjoy the humor the most. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban (InfoSoup)
This clever update to the beloved folk song has a focus on large machinery. The book follows the structure of the original song, filled with E-I-E-I-O’s and then inserts a different type of truck or machine in each verse. The Excavator arrives first with a “DIG DIG here and a DIG DIG there.” The front loader scoops, the bulldozer pushes, the motor grader scrapes, the dump truck does a satisfying “dump thump.” Throughout the book, it is clear that they are building something with all of these machines and all is revealed when Old MacDonald and his wife appear in their truck at the end.
This book is very engagingly designed with page turns right before the reveal of the next machine in the book: “And on that farm he had a…” There is a certain delight not only in the surprise of the equipment being shown but also in the noise that that machinery is going to make in the song.
Kaban’s jaunty and modern illustrations are great to see in a farm picture book. The animals on the farm are just as involved as the humans in doing the work, changing into hard hats and racing uniforms as appropriate for each scene. There is near mayhem on most pages, adding a zing of energy to each verse.
Smart, funny and engaging, this is just right for youngsters who enjoy big machines along with a little song. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The American Booksellers Association has announced the finalists for their 2016 Indies Choice and the E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards. Booksellers at ABA member stores vote to select the winners through April 6th.
Here are the youth categories:
YOUNG ADULT FINALISTS
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson
E.B. WHITE READ-ALOUD – MIDDLE READER FINALISTS
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
George by Alex Gino
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones
E.B. WHITE READ-ALOUD – PICTURE BOOK FINALISTS
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Waiting by Kevin Henkes
The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters
Hanalee has always stood out in her hometown in Oregon in the 1920s. She is half African-American and so has very few rights under the law. Her father died a year ago, hit by a drunk driver. A neighbor has told Hanalee that her father is now a “haint,” a ghost traveling the road where he died. Hanalee also discovers that Joe, the boy found guilty for her father’s death is out of jail and back in town, hiding from everyone. The community is also ruled by the KKK, which is certainly not safe for someone like Hanalee. As Hanalee starts to piece together how her father may have died in a different way than a car accident, she also takes a tonic to see her father’s ghost. Joe also tells Hanalee his own secret, why his family has refused him shelter and why the KKK is after him as well.
Winters writes a gripping novel in this reworking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Set in a time period that is often forgotten, this is a novel of Prohibition, the Klan and the lack of civil rights for people of color. Winters also ties in the loss of rights for LGBT people and how they also lived in the shadows and in desperate fear of being discovered. There is an additional layer of fear as eugenics was being done at the time, a danger for both people of color and LGBT people. With that level of societal pressure and fear, this novel soars and unlikely truces are made in a search for the truth.
Winters’ writing is piercing and honest. She allows Hanalee to figure out the various dangers in her life and somehow at the same time Hanalee is brave enough to not go into hiding or run away but to continue in her search for the truth. Hanalee is an amazing character, filled with love for her best friend, caring for Joe and an adoration of her dead father. Meanwhile she has to handle the dangers around her, and even face them head on with her simple presence in the community.
Brilliantly written, this is a stunning historical novel filled with ghosts and also a firm truth about the risks of the time. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Abrams.
Summerlost by Ally Condie (InfoSoup)
Cedar’s family is much smaller than it once was. Her father and brother were killed in a car accident and now Cedar, her mother and her other brother are returning to the small town of Iron Creek for the summer where they have purchased a new house. Cedar soon notices a boy riding his bike past their house dressed in costume. Cedar follows him to Summerlost, a local and renowned theater festival. There, Cedar meets the boy on the bike, Leo and finds herself a summer job too. Leo and Cedar have soon created a tour together about a famous local actress who performed at Summerlost and died in Iron Creek. Cedar’s summer is filled with small mysteries like who is putting items on her windowsill that her dead brother would have loved that help distract her from the loss she has so recently experienced, until she can’t ignore it any longer.
Condie, author of the Matched series, has created a beautiful middle grade novel here that rings with honesty. She manages to keep both the reader and Cedar aware of the loss that was experienced but also moving forward and towards other things. The book is haunted with those deaths, appearing out of nowhere in the middle of beautiful summer days, but also hiding at times and almost disappearing with the busyness of work. It’s an intelligent balance written very cleverly.
Condie’s writing is superb throughout the novel. In Summerlost, she creates an entire world of theater that is intoxicating and memorable. Early in the novel, Condie through Cedar’s voice explains what it is like to have a family shrunk by tragedy:
Sometimes I thought of the three of us as pencils with the erasers scrubbed down to the end, and the next swipe across the paper would tear through the page and make a scree sound across the desk.
This approachable and yet deep writing runs throughout the novel, exposing grief in unexpected and tangible ways.
A strong and outstanding novel for middle grades, this book takes a courageous look at grief and the resilience it takes to continue to live. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.