Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (9781910620472)
Barney has just gotten a job as the janitor at the Dead End theme park in the haunted house. His best friend Norma works there too. But Dead End is not just a haunted house, it’s much more a portal to literal hell. There are visiting demons, some of them friendly like Courtney who serves as an ambassador and others terrifyingly evil and powerful like Temeluchus. Temeluchus is the demon that Barney and Norma defeat in the early part of the book, who ends up possessing Pugsley, Barney’s dog. Pugsley gains magical powers and the ability to speak. Soon the three of them discover the dangers of running a portal to hell but also manage to work on their love lives along the way.
Steele has created one of the zaniest, twistiest and most demonic graphic novels around. The novel is a collection of his web comics and sometimes starting a new chapter is rather like starting a new story. That’s not a complaint, because it suits the spirit of the book but those looking for a more linear tale will find themselves confused at times. Just go with it!
The diversity here is very strongly represented. Barney is a transgender character and the book deals with this in an upfront way and also allows readers to see glimpses of Barney’s past. Perhaps the best part is the love storyline for Barney and Logs, though I also appreciate his friendship with Norma who is equally enjoyable, strong and multidimensional, sometimes literally.
A graphic novel for teens that has enough demons, laughter and romance to entice anyone. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Rough Patch by Brian Lies (9780062671271)
Evan, a fox, and his dog did everything together from taking rides in the truck to sharing ice cream. What they loved to do most of all was work in Evan’s large garden together. Evan was known for growing large vegetables, competing for the largest pumpkin. But when his dog died, Evan saw his garden as a bitter place. One day, he went out and smashed it into emptiness. But things grow in empty spots, weeds and brambles rose up. They matched Evan’s mood, so he cared for them. Soon his garden was prickly and grim, just like him. When a pumpkin vine came into the garden, Evan cared for it too because it had prickles. Just as the pumpkin turned orange and huge, Evan realized it was time for the fair. Evan found himself enjoying the fair, meeting old friends and eating treats. And the grand prize was just right to set his life and his garden on a new course.
This book is so poignant. Lies captures grief and loss vividly on the page, the bitterness of loss, the emptiness it leaves, and prickliness of emotions left behind. Evan the fox though is a gardener through and through, so he cared for those prickly things, those weeds, and allowed them to flourish. It is a perfect allegory for the process of grief, moving from anger to despair to sadness and finally to acceptance and looking to the future. The arc is beautifully shown.
The illustrations are exceptional. Done with marvelous small details, even Evan’s grief garden is depicted with care from small signs warning of poison to the fences of the garden made of pitchforks. The use of light and dark is done so well, as Evan looks out from the darkness of his home into the light of the garden and gets violently angry.
One of the top picture books of the year, this is a dead dog picture book worth reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (9780316404488)
Little Star and her mother bake a big mooncake together. When her mother palces the cake in the sky to cool, she reminds Little Star not to touch it until she is told to. Little Star agrees. Little Star gets ready for bed and falls right to sleep, but she wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about the mooncake. She only takes a tiny nibble and then runs back to bed. Night after night, Little Star eats a little bit more of the mooncake until finally all that was left was a tiny pile of twinkling crumbs. There was only one thing to do… bake another one!
This is a beautiful tribute to the phases of the moon that tells the story in an original and modern way. There are tiny touches of a folklore format here, but nothing that formal. Instead the story embraces the reader, so one can almost taste the cake on your tongue. The text is simple and has a wonderful playfulness to it so that readers are in on Little Star’s midnight snacks along with her.
The illustrations are exceptional, mixing whimsy with realistic figures. Even with the first bite of the Big Mooncake, a trail of starlike crumbs are left behind. Little Star and her mother wear black pajamas covered in large yellow stars that blend into the dark backgrounds of the pages. Even the endpages are wonderful with tributes to the blue of the sky in the day, a clock that monitors the phases of the moon and milk that swirls into a galaxy when spilled.
A remarkable picture book from a gifted author and illustrator. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier (9780735264359)
Released September 25, 2018.
Nan Sparrow is one of the only girls working in London as a chimney sweep and she’s one of the best that ever climbed a chimney. She works for a brute of a master who pits her against the other top sweep, dangling an apprenticeship in front of them both. The work they do is dangerous with possible falls, and tight spaces where children can get trapped. Even skilled Nan can get stuck and one day that happens to her and the chimney is set ablaze. As she burns alive, Nan is rescued by a mysterious creature, a tiny char she has been carrying in her pocket that was left behind for her by the Sweep, a magical man who cared for her as a baby and child until he disappeared. Nan and her creature live together away from everyone since they all think she died in the fire. They build a family with one another until the time comes for Nan to stand up for chimney sweeps throughout London.
My goodness, this book is remarkable. I loved the London that Auxier has created for us with all of its Victorian charms. He peels away the charming veneer though and shows us the brutality of child labor, the dangers and the cruelty of chimney sweeping in particular. He blends his fantastic golem into this world, adding a fantasy element to a world that desperately needs some magic to brighten it. Without Charlie, the golem, this book would have been too hard and cold to bear. The same goes for the Sweep, who filled Nan’s early years with care and love.
Nan is a remarkable heroine who is witty, intelligent and caring. She has a wonderfully tough exterior that allows only a few people inside her real life. And yet, she gathers an amazing group of people who care for her and she for them. Throughout the book, Auxier warns readers that Charlie will be leaving eventually and readers will see him start to change through the story. Still, even with that warning, expect the heartbreak of the end of Charlotte’s Web as you read the final chapters. Have tissues at hand.
A new children’s classic that reveals the dark underworld of London and the incredible magic of making your own family, monsters and all. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Puffin Books.
Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul (9781454928584)
When Allie’s crayon breaks, she is suddenly furious and turns into a bright red anger monster. She stomps, smashes things and throws a tantrum. When her brother gives her a pillow to punch, the worst of the anger leaves. She climbs out of the red monster suit, now an orange monster. Her brother tells her to squeeze her favorite toy really tight. That helped more and soon she was a green monster. Her brother tries more techniques and Allie becomes blue and rather sad. Still, she is herself after that and looking for a hug.
This picture book brilliantly explores anger and healthy practices to release it and let it go. The use of different colored monsters gives children a visual meter of Allie’s anger and how she is steadily de-escalating it with her brother’s help. Told from her brother’s point of view, he is calm and steady throughout the book, knowing just what to do. The illustrations are a huge part of this book with the angry monsters showing a steady decline in anger until sadness is revealed.
Well designed, this picture book will offer a way to talk about emotions and anger. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Here are my top tweets of the week:
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Random Acts of Kindness at the Library – NYPL – https://t.co/g1Kv71ghGZ
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The Dinosaur Expert by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780553511437)
In this new book in the Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series, the class visits the natural history museum. Kimmy loves fossils and has been to the museum many times before. She can’t wait to share everything she knows about dinosaurs with the others. But when she starts to tell the others about dinosaurs, Jake tells her that girls can’t be scientists. As the children walk through the exhibits, Kimmy sees only men’s names on the displays. Kimmy stops talking about what she knows, even when Mr. Tiffin tries to get her to share. When they enter a new special exhibit, Mr. Tiffin points out that a female paleontologist was the one who discovered it. Inspired, Kimmy starts to talk about what she knows.
A book about the power of modeling to inspire young people, particularly girls to get involved with science, this picture book forgoes subtlety and takes the issue straight on. The strength of other children’s opinions is shown very clearly but so is the ability to suddenly shrug that off and be who you are without hesitation when you are inspired by another female scientist. Don’t miss Kimmy’s list of her favorite female paleontologists and their discoveries. Karas’s illustrations are done in his signature style. He shows Kimmy’s emotions very clearly as she moves from questioning herself into owning her knowledge.
A great book to share and inspire science exploration. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Random House.
The longlist for the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature has been announced. The list will be reduced to five top finalists on October 10 and the winner will be announced on November 14. Here are the books on the list:
The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss
What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper