Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson (9780763687892)
The author of Feed returns to dystopian science fiction in this short and thrillingly sharp novel. Adam can remember the time before the vuvv came to Earth. They brought technologies, medical breakthroughs, and new money for the economy. But as everything was replaced with alien technology, it moved behind a pay wall that made clean water, medical treatment and safe housing impossible for most humans to afford. The lucky wealthy humans live in floating cities high above the decaying world. Adam though is trapped on Earth, looking for a way to save his family. He and his girlfriend decide to make films of their lives for the vuvv, but it all has to be 1950’s style romance and nothing kills real love faster than having to produce it on a schedule. As Adam’s romance fizzles, he comes up with one last chance to save his family but his illness from drinking polluted water may take away his one shot.
Anderson’s writing is refreshingly frank. Adam narrates the book with a bleakness that is understandable and exactly the right tone. There is a sense of horror as the book continues; the ramifications of pay walls, levels of society, and the denial of simple necessities ring very true and very close to home. Even without an alien invasion, this could be the future of our society, one that is brutal, unconscionable and desperate. It is the frenzied need to attract the vuvv’s attention that makes this book so riveting. One can’t look away, particularly as the climax becomes so horrifying.
Anderson skillfully places fine art into the mix of the book, giving Adam the gift of art and the decision of what to capture with his old-fashioned paint and canvas. It is art that shows the desolation of Earth but also what might prove to be Adam’s salvation if he is willing to modify what he does for the vuvv.
Get this one into the hands of dystopian fans. It is also short enough at 160 pages that it could be shared in a classroom setting and would lead to fascinating discussions about society today and in the future. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
ARC received from Candlewick Press.
Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence (9781626722804, Amazon)
Avani’s father has signed her up for Flower Scouts so that she can make friends in her new town. But all of the other girls are interested only in talking about makeup and boys. Then Avani is accidentally teleported into space by an alien named Mabel, who is working on her own badges for her scout troop. Being a Star Scout like Mabel is a whole lot more interesting than being a Flower Scout, so Avani starts joining them instead of her earth-bound scouts. As Avani learns to build robots, teleport things, drive space ships, and race jetpacks, she finds a place where she fits in. Now she just needs to get her father to sign off on a permission slip for her to go to Camp Andromeda for a week!
This friendly science fiction graphic novel is filled with humor and lots of action. Avani is a main character of color with her Indian heritage that plays a role throughout the graphic novel in things like language and food. She is game for the entire adventure, allowing herself to try new things, push herself to learn and even form a real rivalry with another troop of scouts.
The art is playful and fun with the dialogue working well to move the book forward at a fast pace that will please young readers. There is lots of action, plenty of space exploration and even camp pranks and jokes. The pleasure is in seeing camping tropes used on an asteroid by alien creatures.
Funny and warm, this graphic novel has strong STEM overtones and even a few poop jokes. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Life on Mars by Jon Agee (9780399538520, Amazon)
A child astronaut heads to Mars because he just knows that there is life there. He travels all alone, exploring the barren landscape of rocks and mountains. He even brings a wrapped gift of cupcakes with him for the creature he encounters. He does find a yellow flower blooming, proof that he was right all along. But along the way, he completely misses the huge martian following him around. That is until he gets ready to return to Earth and discovers the cupcakes have been eaten.
Agee is a master of riotous yet understated humor. Readers are in on the joke throughout the entire book, easily seeing the huge orange creature on the page. They will wonder if the astronaut will ever spot him. The use of the flower as proof of life on Mars is cleverly done, offering proof of life without the astronaut ever seeing the larger find right near him. As always, the illustrations by Agee are simple and friendly. His use of thick lines works well with the alien landscape of Mars, creating a dramatic feel.
A winner of a book that combines the joy of a mystery, a secret, aliens, space and cupcakes. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis (InfoSoup)
Yelfred and Omek come from the planet Boborp where they have been best frints since they were little blobbies. They do everything together from eating yunch to playing eye ball. But sometimes even playing eye ball can lead to a long argument. For his birthday, Yelfred gets a space craft to ride around. He doesn’t want Omek to borrow it because he’s sure that Omek will crash it. When Omek takes it anyway and manages to shmackle it up, Yelfred uses his teef and not his words to express himself. Slowly, their friendship manages to repair itself just like they repair the space craft together.
The wordplay in this picture book is great fun. Portis takes English words and makes them just related enough and placed nicely into context so that the Boborp language can be understood. It makes the picture book a great pick for reading aloud. She also uses a lot of humor throughout the book, comparing the lovely behavior of Earthlings to the rather naughty behavior of those on planet Boborp, when actually the behavior is definitely seen here on Earth too. Children will love the language play and the laughter.
The illustrations are modern and bright with a vintage flair. The two aliens are delightfully friendly on the page, though their teef are quite sharp. The illustrations are critical in helping decode the language and in repairing the space craft and the friendship.
A laugh-out-loud picture book full of playfulness and fun. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick
DJ isn’t good at anything in particular. His siblings are good at sports or ballet or school, but DJ doesn’t have anything on the family calendar because he doesn’t do anything much. The one thing that DJ had been good at was being best friends with Gina, but then she moved away. Just as DJ thinks things can’t get any more dull, something crashes down from the sky. It’s a boy in silver underwear. He can’t remember anything at first, but then he puts more and more together. His name is Hilo and DJ gets him clothes and feeds him. The two head to school together and that’s when DJ realizes that Gina has come back. She’s different though, interested in new things, and DJ assumes that she is being friendly just because of Hilo. Soon the three friends though will be facing a huge enemy that is falling to earth one piece at a time.
Winick has created a graphic novel that is a winning mix of child-friendly art and dramatic adventures filled with battles and explosions. Hilo is a great protagonist, a child who has super powers that he discovers over the course of the book. He delights in the small things, like burping over and over again, eating dinner with the family, and attending school. Everything is an adventure for him and a chance to learn more about the planet earth. DJ too is a strong hero, a boy without Hilo’s powers but also a boy who is far from ordinary thanks to his bravery and his decided ability to be a great friend.
The art is approachable and funny. From the way that Hilo falls asleep to the way that he burps gleefully, this book is filled with humorous moments. Happily this is a book with a three-person team where one character is Asian, one African-American and the other a white alien. The female character is the one into science and sports too, which is also very refreshing.
This is the first story in Hilo’s journey to earth and it ends with a cliffhanger that will lead right into the next. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner
The masterful Wiesner returns with another near-wordless picture book. Mr. Wuffles is a cat who disdains most of the toys his master gets him. Then one object gets his attention, a little metallic spaceship. But this is not a toy! It is filled with tiny aliens who are battered by being flung around by Mr. Wuffles. Their equipment is damaged and they have to leave their ship and head out looking for help. But Mr. Wuffles is close behind them and who can the aliens turn to for aid?
This is a magnificent picture book that turns from a normal cat picture book into something much more interesting. Wiesner has created a book that bridges genres effortlessly. He also has created a wordless picture book that never seems to be missing them. His story flows organically and is never forced. It has touches of humor throughout especially where Mr. Wuffles himself is concerned. I particularly enjoy the rows of untouched toys with price tags still attached that he walks past.
Wiesner’s art is as strong as ever. He pays attention to details both in the human home and later when the aliens arrive. The juxtaposition of the aliens with the insects of the home is particularly well done. The addition of cave paintings as communication is a delight.
Beautiful and funny this is a wordless masterpiece. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Cousin Irv from Mars by Bruce Eric Kaplan
Family can be difficult to get along with, especially distant cousins who come to stay for a long time. But what if that cousin is from Mars? Teddy is not excited about his Cousin Irv coming to visit. When he arrives, he is so different. He eats everything in the kitchen, takes Teddy’s pillow, wears Teddy’s clothes, and plays with his toys. When Irv takes Teddy to school one day, Teddy is scared of what everyone would think. But everyone loves Irv, partly thanks to the way he can vaporize things. Teddy starts to really enjoy being with Cousin Irv, and right about that time, Irv decides to return to Mars, after all they have better coffee there.
Told in a wonderful modern tongue-in-cheek and filled with asides that speak to our culture today, this book will appeal to children and adults alike. The humor is well developed and sophisticated, yet manages to still be child-friendly. The text is meant to be read aloud, offering just the right comedic timing. Kaplan’s art is simple and even minimalist. Using lots of white space, the fine-lined art is awash in bright watercolors. But it is the language and humor here that are really the stars of the book.
Modern and very funny, this book will appeal to parents and children alike. It has a great quirky oddness to it that makes it all the more fun to read. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Toys in Space by Mini Grey
A group of toys are left outside overnight for the first time. There is Wonderdoll, a robot, a cowboy and horse, a dinosaur, a sheep, and a rabbit. All of them left in the dark, gazing up into the starry sky. They are all scared, but then Wonderdoll starts to tell a story. It is a story of seven toys left out at night under the stars, but then one star gets bigger and bigger until they can see that it is actually a spaceship! The seven toys are beamed aboard the spacecraft and meet a glove-shaped alien who is missing his own favorite toy. He has gathered toys from all around the world and kept them, but has not found his toy yet. The seven toys help the alien figure out that he has to return the toys to earth and even throw him a party to cheer him up. But will the alien ever find his own Cuddles again?
This picture book has the winning touch of Mini Grey. She is always fearless in her storytelling and deeply understands the connection between child and toy as shown in her Traction Man books as well. It also has the great combination of toys and aliens! The story is wonderfully playful and children will wonder if it really happened right up to the very end.
Grey’s art adds to the playful feel. Each toy has its own personality visually but the seven together make quite the team. She nicely incorporates speech bubbles into the story, giving it a comic feel that works well with the light-hearted art.
Sure to be a hit with its combo of aliens and toys, this book will work well at a story time, or for cuddling after all the favorite toys are tucked in too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
The author of the Monstrumologist series returns with this riveting story of alien invasion. The planet knew that the aliens had arrived, but the silence for days left them feeling hopeful. Then the 1st wave took away electricity and cars. The 2nd wave took out the coasts. The 3rd wave brought the Red Death. The 4th wave took away trust. Cassie is one of the survivors of all four waves and just may be the only remaining human on earth. She has seen her family die, her mother from the Red Death and her father killed right in front of her, but her little brother may still be alive, since he was taken to safety on a school bus. But Cassie also knows that it is death to trust anyone at all, so she is not sure whether where Sammy was taken is safe or not. Now she is alone, just her and her M16, trying to reach him. Then Evan Walker enters her life, saving her from a gunshot wound. Cassie knows to trust no one. So how does she deal with a situation where she was to trust to heal and maybe even to save her brother.
This is one incredible novel. The pacing is what I have to talk about first. There are moments where I could not turn the pages fast enough, then others where I had to walk away for a bit to deal with the latest heart-shattering reveal. This book is a dance of hope and terror, trust and knowing better. Yancey proves quickly that he is not afraid to shock, to kill, to maim. This book is filled with death, filled with despair, yet it is also about strength, hope and humanity. Yancey writes this perfectly, keeping readers on a razorblade of tension throughout.
A large piece of the success of this book are the characters and the book tells their individual stories. Cassie is one strong heroine, who is willing to go through hell to get her little brother back. She is not fearless but is always courageous and willing to do what has to be done. Readers find out before Cassie herself does what happened to her little brother. This adds to that tension, especially since one doesn’t trust Yancey not to do horrific things even to the littlest of children. There is Zombie, a boy that Cassie went to school with, who has been trained to be a child soldier since the aliens came. And finally, there is Evan, the farmboy heartthrob who is dangerous but delicious too.
Expect this to be one of the big books this summer. It would be a pleasure to booktalk, since the alien invasion in waves basically sells this. Perhaps most telling of all is that this is now the only way that I see an alien invasion happening. It is clever, chilling and deadly. Appropriate for ages 15-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.