Bikes for Sale by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Zachariah OHora (9781452159324)
Maurice has a bright yellow bicycle attached to his lemonade stand. He never lacks for customers even as he drives through town, into the park with best lemon trees, and then onward. Everyone wants to buy his lemonade. Lotta rides her red bicycle to gather sticks every day. She gave them away for free. The two of them never met, but one day Maurice’s bike crashed because of a stick and Lotta’s bike smashed because of some lemon peels. The two of them tried to move on past their ruined bicycles, but it wasn’t the same. Then one day, they both headed to the bike shop where they found a two-seated bike made from their two ruined ones. But can they share?
Higgins has written several books for children. This one is a dynamic story of two very similar and yet very different characters who both love riding bicycles for very different reasons. Still, one hopes through the story that they become friends. Their sadness at their lost bicycles mirrors one another and there is a chance for a lot of blame to ruin any chances they might have to be friends. But the love of bicycles shines through as the two of them come together to delight people in the parks once more.
OHora’s illustrations make this book a stand out. He uses an incredibly rich and saturated color palette filled with deep reds, gorgeous greens, lemon yellow and bright blues. The bicycles in the illustrations are wonderfully out sized for the characters, making them all the more important in the images.
A book built for two, or more. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
The Line Tender by Kate Allen (9780735231603)
Released April 16, 2019.
An incredible debut novel, this is the story of Lucy, a thirteen-year-old girl who lives in Rockport, Massachusetts. Her mother, a shark biologist, died when she was seven of a brain aneurysm while out in a boat studying sharks. Lucy lives with her father, a diver who puts in lots of extra hours as he works to rescue or recover people. Lucy also lives next door to her best friend, Fred. Fred is a scientist while Lucy prefers art. Together during the summer, they are working on a field guide about wildlife in Rockport. So when Sookie’s nets bring in a great white shark, Lucy and Fred immediately head to the pier to see it. Fred begins to study Lucy’s mother’s proposals to study sharks in a new way. When tragedy strikes, Lucy must figure out how to navigate a new loss even as white sharks begin to appear along the coast, seeming to be a sign to follow a specific path to learn more about her mother.
The writing here is simply incredible. Allen invites you into Lucy’s world, showing how a community came together to help raise her when her mother died. The setting in Rockport is drawn with attention and love. From the wildlife and beaches the two friends explore to the community with its open doors, lifelong connections to one another, and always room for Lucy. The sheltering nature of the community make the deep loss all the more shocking and affecting.
It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel given its attention to detail, meticulous building of a story, and the immediate trust one has in the author. Lucy is an incredible character. She has overcome one loss already, so the next one could maybe break her. Instead, she copes in inventive ways, asks for help and pulls her friends and family closer to her side. The information and connection to sharks is an effective way to allow the story to move forward even as everyone is trapped in their grief.
A brilliant debut that is rich, layered and shows that connection to nature can allow one to weather new storms. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton.
Otto and Pio by Marianne Dubuc (9781616897604)
Otto the squirrel happily lives alone in the biggest tree a very old forest. One morning, he discovers a strange green ball outside his door. He steps over it and ignores it, but later the ball cracks open and a very furry creature emerges. The creature calls Otto “Mommy” and Otto decides to continue to leave the creature outside as night falls. But then later, he reconsiders and invites the small creature in. The creature says “Pio!” so that becomes his name. Pio begins to grow, doubling in size every night while he sleeps. Otto tries in vain to find Pio’s mother, but none of his neighbors know anything. Pio continues to grow as Otto tries different ways to find his mother: posters and visiting other trees. Pio takes care of the house while he is gone, making soup, sweeping and decorating. When Pio is too big to stay in Otto’s house anymore, Otto knows something must be done. So once again he heads out to try to find a solution. He is so distracted, he puts himself in danger. Perhaps one huge furry monster could be a help?
First published in Canada in French, this picture book is another charmer from Dubuc. She has a way of capturing changing deep emotions and emerging friendships that is gentle and filled with empathy. Here, Otto is often frustrated with being burdened with Pio, though Pio works hard to make life good for both of them. As Otto tries to get rid of Pio, his anger grows but then is refreshingly resolved when he understands what a loss Pio would be. The book builds to that new understanding, steadily increasing the pressure on the small squirrel.
Dubuc’s illustrations are very effective. She creates a grand tree for the pair to live in, huge and leafy. The prickly green ball that Pio emerges from is completely alien, and Pio himself looks rather like a very small abominable snowman with his white fur and rosy cheeks. Otto himself is busy and rushing, often avoiding really thinking about how he feels.
Another great read from Dubuc, this one is all about unlikely friendships and family members. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Princeton Architectural Press.
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.
Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri (9781626725355)
After dinner, Tiger takes an extra plate of food to share with her monster. Monster had been under Tiger’s bed, but they soon became friends. Now they spend time together playing games until bedtime when Monster scares Tiger’s nightmares away. All of Tiger’s family thinks she has an imaginary friend, but Monster is real. Monster fights all sorts of nightmares away until she encounters one that is too big and scary to chase off. As Tiger starts to have nightmares, she realizes that the two of them will need to work together to get rid of this huge nightmare.
Tetri, a cartoonist, has written a captivating graphic novel that is just right for the picture-book set. The pacing is brisk with a concept that shines. There is plenty of humor on the pages that sets off the more dramatic parts of the story. The art is done in watercolors, adding a wonderful traditional feel to the book. One of the more delightful parts is when Monster battles one nightmare after another. The pace slows beautifully in this part and mimics epic battle montages in comic books.
A tale of friendship and teamwork, this is a great early graphic novel. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by First Second.
Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr (9781536200171)
Astrid loves living in her tiny village in the mountains. The only problem is that no other children live nearby. She does have a best friend, Gunnvald, a neighbor in his seventies who loves to play the fiddle and can be rather grumpy. Astrid spends her time playing outside, building prototype sleds with Gunnvald, and bothering the owner of the wellness retreat nearby. When some children do come to the retreat (where children are forbidden) Astrid becomes friends with them despite having a fight first. Astrid’s world is idyllic, but something is about to change. When Gunnvald has an accident and has to have surgery, the secret he has been keeping from Astrid is revealed. Could it be that nothing will ever go back to normal again?
This Norwegian book has been translated into languages and sold around the world. It’s wonderful to see it on American shelves. Parr writes with a delightful sense of merriment throughout her book. She speaks to the importance of children having freedom and an ability to make choices in their life (even if one of those choices can’t be missing school all the time). She also demonstrates what a life lived outdoors looks like and the importance of loving a place and identifying with it.
The book uses the story of Heidi as a central plot point, which is very interesting since I had been thinking of how much this tale was like Heidi from the start. It is partly the setting itself of a mountaintop with an older man who is grumpy yet warm. But another large component is the character at the heart of both stories. Astrid, like Heidi, is fiercely independent and loves with all her being.
Richly told, this book is a delightful wintry read that feels like a long-lost classic. Get it into the hands of fans of Heidi and Pippi Longstocking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.
Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (9781368008440)
Living on Wilnick, an outdated and aging space station at the end of the galaxy could be dull, but not for best friends Sanity and Tallulah. Sanity, who has always wanted a pet despite rules against having one, decides to create one herself. It turns out to be a very cute three-headed kitten with a taste for meat. The kitten manages to escape soon after Tallulah’s mother finds out that she exists. The girls set out to find out whether the problems that are happening across the space station are the fault of one cute kitten or maybe it’s something else. Meanwhile, there seems to be a very large monster on the loose and the coolant tank appears to have been drunk dry. As disaster looms aboard the space station, it’s up to Sanity to save the day thanks to the technology she explored when creating her illegal pet.
Brooks sets exactly the right tone in this graphic novel. The girls best friends who tend to talk one another into getting into even more trouble while trying to fix what they have already done. Add in a three-headed kitten and mayhem follows. The two girls could not be more different, which makes for an odd-couple chemistry between them. The story is fast paced and a delightful mix of STEM and girl power.
The art in the book is done in a limited color palette with pinks and deep blues. The art brings to life the space station and its size, conveying the hazards of keeping it functional while giving the girls a lot of space to run into trouble. The cast of characters is wonderfully diverse and that extends to all of the people who live aboard the space station.
A strong graphic novel with plenty of appeal. Appropriate for ages 9-12
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
All Summer Long by Hope Larson (9780374304850)
Bina’s summer has just started, but it’s already going wrong. Her best friend, Austin, is heading to a month-long soccer camp. He’s also acting strangely and has decided that they are too old for some of their regular summer activities. Once he’s left for camp, Bina finds herself watching too much TV and just hanging out alone. Then she bumps into Austin’s older sister who turns out to be into music just like Bina is. The two of them start hanging out but when Austin returns things stay just as strange. Bina has to navigate her way through new friendships and old ones as she also grapples with her love of music and what that means for her friendships too.
Larson is the author of several graphic novels for children and teens. Here she tackles middle-school summers with a focus on music and individuality. Bina’s summer will feel familiar to readers, a stretch of time that is meant to be the best but ends up being time that needs filling with more than binge-watching TV. The incorporation of a friendship between a boy and a girl that does not involve romance or attraction is great to see. Readers will fret that Austin’s strange attitude means he “likes” Bita, but the truth makes sense and fits the story well.
The art is friendly and approachable. Done in a limited orange and black palette, it speaks of summer heat and sun. Bita herself is lanky and tall, her angles oozing with middle-school gawkiness in an appealing way. Her parents are just involved enough but also absent in a way that shows trust too.
A graphic novel perfect for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.