The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley

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The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley (InfoSoup)

Released January 31, 2017.

Three children in Harlem set out to solve a mystery. Jin, who has grown up in her adopted grandparents bodega, longs for some adventure to spice up her days. Alex is a girl who won’t talk about her family or her circumstances. She spends her days doing good deeds and working to feed those less fortunate. Elvin isn’t from Harlem, but has been sent there to stay with his grandfather. Unfortunately, his grandfather was attacked and is now hospitalized. The three start to investigate what happened to him and along the way discover a mystery of the art scene in Harlem and the dangers of developers to the small businesses that make Harlem so special. Along the way, the three discover real friendship, learn about their community and make a personal difference themselves.

Tarpley’s writing offers just enough background to inform and keeps it brief enough that the pace never slows. She handles the pacing deftly throughout the novel, allowing just enough time to catch your breath before the speed picks up again. The setting of Harlem is brought fully to life, both today’s Harlem and the Harlem of the 1960s. The setting is vital to the story and readers get to fully explore the sights, sounds and vibrancy of this neighborhood.

Tarpley has cast her book with many diverse characters and I’m very pleased to see them shown on the cover. The three main characters are all individual and unique, bringing their own skills and knowledge to the quest to solve the mystery. I appreciated that they didn’t always get along and that their viewpoints were different enough to create issues that were addressed in the story. The villains of the story are also wonderfully evil, adding a great deal of satisfaction as their roles are made clear.

An incredible debut novel that offers a winning diverse cast and a rich look at Harlem. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

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Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

A little girl heads home from school as snow starts to fall. She is warmly dressed for the weather in a bright-red coat and a scarf over her face. She has a dog at home waiting eagerly for her return. There is also a pack of wolves nearby with one small wolf cub. The snow falls faster and both girl and cub become lost, finding one another in a small grove of trees. They can hear the howls of the wolves, so the girl picks up the cub and heads that direction. Along the way, they have to cross a river and face other animals. When they reach the wolves, the little girl returns the cub to the pack and heads home herself. She can hear her dog barking and see the lights of home, but becomes too cold and weak to continue. Luckily, she has made friends of the wolves.

This is a beautiful story told in an almost wordless way with the only words in the form of howls of the wolves and barks of the dog. It is a book about selflessness and courage in the face of adversity. It is also about kindness and taking the time to save someone else even if it puts you into danger. The book is paced beautifully, taking time to create moments that underline the new connections and friendships being made as the girl displays her humanity.

The images have to carry this wordless book and do so with an appealing use of panels that create a sense of brisk pace and adventure throughout. The illustrations are filled with just enough drama to make it clear that there is real danger in being out on a winter night. Still, the danger never seems to be the wolves themselves but the cold and the snow.

A beautiful look at nature and wolves and the way that kindness can build bridges without words. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.