Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier (9781481499064)
This is a story of a boy and his dog. It starts simply enough with the boy issuing commands and the dog obeying. He sits, rolls over, jumps, fetches and… juggles! Then the dog makes them a meal and cleans the house. The two of them head outside where the commands become more like requests to have fun together and the pair head off on an adventure. It leads them to build a boat, find an island, build a rocket and then leave earth. They come to a lovely planet where they make new friends but soon miss home. Returning back, the two get ready for bed together and finally fall asleep side-by-side.
Ruzzier cleverly turns the relationship of owner and pet on its head in the book. He begins the book with the more traditional roles and then steadily makes their relationship one of equals and friends. By the end, the tone is entirely different from the beginning, something that is very impressive given that there are only one or two words on each page of the book. It is a beautifully structured book and very intelligently designed.
Ruzzier’s illustrations have his unique feel with surreal landscapes filled with sherbet-colored hills and a green ocean. The illustrations have a friendly cartoon style but also a sophistication that one expects from a book by Ruzzier.
A smart look at a boy and his dog and their adventures together. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (9781250170972)
Zélie has spent most of her life training to fight with a staff, hoping that if her village is attacked again she will be able to defend herself. When she was a little girl, she watched her mother be dragged off and murdered. It was the night the world lost magic and she lost her mother. Now thanks to an accidental meeting with the realm’s princess who is on the run, Zélie has a chance to restore magic to the land. But first she must reunite three magic items together and evade capture by the crown prince who is hunting them down. Zélie must also figure out her own emerging magic just as the crown prince is discovering his own even as he works to destroy magic forever. Traveling through the land, Zélie finds unlikely allies, new enemies and tests the strength of an entire monarchy bent on stopping her.
What an amazing read this is! It is a world that no one has seen before, a world anchored by Black Lives Matter that will echo for fans of Black Panther. It is a book that is incredibly well written, incorporating elements of African culture directly into the fantasy world that is so beautifully rendered here. The world is one that is explored fully, from climbing mountains with surprise fields of flowers to surviving the dangers of the desert to the lush jungles that hide dangers. Throughout this world, there are flares of magic that illuminate the wonder and the possibility of a people refusing to be cowed any longer.
Zélie herself is an amazing protagonist. She is ferocious, loyal and strong. She takes on everything thrown at her, shouldering far more than her own share of every burden. She is inspiring, chosen by the gods and yet still learning to harness her powers. Adeyemi does not hold back in testing her young hero, creating scenes that are excruciating to read. Yet no one will be able to put this novel down until the end and then will crave the next book in the series immediately.
Powerful and strong, this magical read will soon be made into a movie. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (9780399167898)
With a gentle tone and a comprehensive eye, Jeffers welcomes someone newly born to our planet. He does a quick tour, whisking past the land, the sea and the sky. He mentions being careful of your body, since the part don’t just grow back. Jeffers celebrates life on earth in all of its diversity, both human and animal. There is night and day, slow and fast. The book ends with a message to share the earth with others, since there is enough for everyone. It is the tone of this picture book that is particularly effective. Jeffers embraces the contradictions of our world, the beauty of life, and the spectacular nature around us. His illustrations show the vastness of the universe and the wonder of our planet. Meant for older children who will enjoy the tone and the joy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (9780374335083)
Cloudy days are the best days to look for elephants. You will need to head into the wild, so make sure to pack some food and supplies like a flute, blanket and binoculars. You will need to enter the jungle and search. Look for footprints, but don’t expect to hear footsteps. Ask at any houses you find, drink at waterholes and take shelter from rain under large leaves. Have lunch, swing with a chimpanzee and fly with an eagle. You will probably find an elephant when you least expect it, so keep your eyes open! This picture book is written with lovely details that invite young readers and listeners deep into the story. There is a sense of adventure throughout, particularly due to the illustrations that cleverly hide elephants on each page. Sharp-eyed children will suddenly glimpse them and you may need to go back and find any that they may have missed. Beautifully illustrated, this book makes a great read-aloud but make sure that everyone can see the images up close. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.)
Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon (9781626723498)
George Laurent is not like other birds. He doesn’t go anywhere, not flying south or north, just staying at home. He always had something delicious cooking in his oven and the other birds would come and visit. They would invite him on their next adventure, but George would always decline and have some kind of excuse. When winter arrived, George met Pascal, a bear, out in the cold. George tries a series of excuses to explain why he is still there and then finally admits that he doesn’t know how to fly. Pascal decides to try to help George learn but they keep failing. Then they discover the hot air balloon that just went up in France. Can a goose who loves staying home love to travel too? This picture book balances a strong story line with simple text that is very inviting for young children. The book is fast paced and yet tells a deeper story of being ashamed of not knowing how to do something and how friendship can create new opportunities to learn and grow. The illustrations are a warm mix of watercolor, pencil, crayon and collage. The collage offers vintage papers that add an additional level of interest and flair. A great book to offer alongside others about learning to fly. This one just takes a very different route! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Will found his first adventure when he headed out into the wilderness on a train to see his father after the transcontinental railroad was completed. Will not only got to witness the final golden spike being driven but got to finish driving it in himself! After the ceremony though, disaster struck with an avalanche that took Will and his father along with it. They survived despite the large amount of snow and being attacked by sasquatches. Now a few years later, Will and his father are aboard the Boundless, the most amazing train ever created. Will’s father is no longer a laborer, instead working as an engineer aboard the train where Will will be riding first class. The train carries with it a circus as well as thousands of people riding in different classes. But there is also danger aboard the train and it’s headed right for Will.
Oppel, the author of Airborn, has created a great adventure aboard a marvelous train. The train itself is incredible from its sheer size to the number of people aboard. The descriptions of each class of the train are done with an attention to detail and to the feeling of each area, each one significantly different from the others. This setting is richly drawn and used as a clever device to keep the plot moving and also to isolate Will and the others from help.
Will is a fine protagonist. He is brave, somewhat bored, artistically gifted and living a surprising life. Through it all he shows a spunk and willingness to throw himself into life, exactly the thing that his father despairs of him ever having. The other characters are also well drawn: the villains are horrifically awful, Will’s companions are complicated and have their own motivations that are revealed as the book progresses.
This is top-notch adventure writing set on a moving train traveling across a world filled with monsters, many of which are human. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove
Released June 12, 2014.
The first book in a new fantasy trilogy by a debut author, this novel features incredible world-building and an amazing young heroine. The world changed when the Great Disruption happened in 1799. When the Disruption occurred different points of time were merged together into a single world. Now almost 100 years after the Disruption, Sophia lives in Boston which is part of New Occident. She lives with her uncle after her parents disappeared while exploring other eras when she was a child. Her uncle is one of the best map makers and map readers in the world, a skill that become necessary when the world changed. But then her uncle is kidnapped and their home ransacked. Sophia finds herself journeying to Nochtland with a boy she just met following a clue her uncle left her before he was taken. Her journey will lead her to different times and different places in the company of many different characters. Little does she know, but it’s a journey to save the world.
Grove’s novel brims with details about this new world she has envisioned. The world is a unique one, unlike anything I have ever read before. It’s a mix of historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction and adventure. The addition of the different eras in time makes for a book that is surprising and great fun to read. It also offers all sorts of new and varied adventures for the subsequent books in the trilogy.
I must admit to not being a huge fan of books with lots of traveling and quests, but Grove maintains the brisk pace of the novel throughout and the travel is an important part of the story itself. Grove brings her world fully to life, making sure to fill it with characters that readers will embrace and enjoy spending time with. Sophia is a girl with lots of brains and plenty of bravery, but one who has been sheltered much of her life. My favorite character though is the villain of the story, Blanca, who steals memories from people using sand. She is incredibly creepy and frightening, yet has her own motivation and goals beyond just stealing memories.
Get this into the hands of fans of complex fantasy like The Golden Compass, they will find a whole new world to love here. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Battling Boy by Paul Pope
This is the first book in a new graphic novel series. Monsters are attacking Acropolis but they are protected by the hero Haggard West, until he is killed. Now their fate is in the hands of a young twelve-year-old sent from outer space. He has powers of different animals that he accesses by wearing different t-shirts. He can fight, but the monsters are cunning and strong. Teens from his planet go rambling, but few return. Battling Boy must not just save Acropolis, he has to prove his worth, make a cunning plan, fight epic battles, and survive.
The reader is quickly thrown into the story in this graphic novel which lays very little background at all. That approach is perfect for this fast-paced storyline where everything is explained on the fly and the reader has to pick up on clues to put it all together. Even as the reader is wondering about some things, the action has picked them up and moved them onward. The result is a brawling book that is a surprisingly engaging read.
Pope’s art has a wonderful vintage comic feel. The storyline also has its vintage moments but also bursts of surprises. The melding of steampunk, deities, outer space and monsters makes for a fresh read.
Young fans of graphic novels will find a lot to love here: big battles, a young hero and a mashup of genres. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Perry’s Killer Playlist by Joe Schreiber
This second book in the Perry & Gobi series continues Perry’s story. After surviving a wild night with Gobi, an assassin who disguised herself as a foreign exchange student, Perry’s band is doing very well and is now touring Europe. He is dating a new girl, an older girl, who is sophisticated and completely out of his league. But when the band travels to Venice, Perry can’t help but visit Harry’s Bar, the place the Gobi said she would meet him someday. Gobi does show up, but once again she brings trouble with her. Perry is once again drawn into her world of narrow escapes, bullets, guns, murder, trust and betrayal.
Schreiber excels at creating books that are superbly readable. This sequel is only a couple of hundred pages long and reads so quickly, the pages blur. The pace is breakneck and wild, it’s a book that sweeps you up and you just have to know what happens next to these two characters. The setting of Europe lends a new vitality to the book as well. It’s a pleasure to romp through Europe with these two.
The focus is on the action in this book and less on the characters, but I was pleased to see that we got to know Perry and particularly Gobi better in this book. While she continues to be a mysterious figure, we are also shown tantalizing glimpses of what her life must have been like. Perry serves as her perfect foil, reacting humanly to all of their escapades while Gobi remains cool and calm. It probably helps that she is the one with the gun most of the time.
For fans of the first book, they will not be disappointed with the continued mayhem and action of this sequel. This is a great series to hand to reluctant readers who will appreciate the fast pace and short length. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
Broxo by Zack Giallongo
Princess Zora has traveled from her clan of the Granitewings to find the Peryton Clan and convince them to join the trading alliance that is being formed between the different clans. When she reaches Peryton Peak though, she does not find the bustling clan that she expected. Instead, it is a bleak and empty place. Broxo is one of the few who still live there, a young warrior who survives alongside his huge furry pet. There are others on the Peak too: a witch with a sordid history, the monster Gloth who hunts for flesh, and the hordes of undead who haunt the lake and the area around it. This graphic novel takes classic fantasy tropes and adds zombies, making for a thrilling read.
Giallongo is a newcomer to graphic novels, but has created one that will have you looking for all of his previous work. His pacing is a nice mix of quieter character-rich moments and wild dashes of action that leave readers breathless. The slow realization of what has happened on the Peak also makes for intense reading, leading the reader to want to figure the puzzle out.
The combination of a strong female lead and a strong male lead without any romantic entanglement is also refreshing. The theme here is about pride, family and redemption rather than heartbreak or just hearts.
A great graphic novel pick for middle school readers who will relish the zombies, the battles and the depth of the storyline. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
A companion novel to A Tale Dark & Grimm, this book continues to celebrate the darkness and horror that is part of real fairy tales. This time the focus expands beyond The Brothers Grimm to also include Hans Christian Andersen and Christina Rossetti among others as inspiration. This is the story of Jack and Jill and their adventures. Yes, there is a broken crown and also a beanstalk to climb. There is also a talking frog to be kissed, a goblin market to explore, and monsters to either battle or befriend. There is plenty of blood, anger, misery, hunger and torment too. Sound like the sort of book you’d enjoy? I thought so!
Gidwitz has continued with his narrator who warns readers about what is about to happen, most of the time. There is a wonderful playfulness in this approach that lightens the sometimes very grim storylines. The interwoven tales, some of them original and all of them slightly twisted, make for a great read. The writing is strong and vibrant and a joy to read.
The characters of Jack and Jill are both wrestling with different issues, but both come down to the same thing. The two of them need to focus more on what they themselves think and not about what others think of them. Jill struggles with her mother’s focus on beauty, resulting in her walking the street naked in a spin on The Emperor’s Clothes. Jack wishes he was a leader rather than a follower, and is tormented by the other boys. He’s even mocked with a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The two children start out very likeable and relatable but turn out to be true heroes in the end.
This engaging story and pair of books is one that will get reluctant readers reading with its promises of gore and disgusting content, but is will be most enjoyed by children familiar with the original tales. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Children’s Books.