The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (9780062275097)
The author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs returns with a new marvelous read for middle graders. Lark and Iris are twins. It’s the thing that everyone notices about them. They are very different underneath their physical similarities. Iris is rational, protective and always willing to argue. Lark is dreamy, creative and sensitive. When the two girls are separated for the first time into different classrooms at school, Lark retreats into herself. She has several humiliating experiences that Iris can’t find a way to help with. Meanwhile, Iris finds herself being quieter without Lark to speak up for and has difficulty finding her own way. She is drawn to a strange new antiques shop and begins to spend time there reading old books that belonged to a mysterious “Alice.” The man in the shop is extremely odd, talking about magic and collections. Other odd things are happening as well with art disappearing around the city and crows gathering in the trees. When Iris finds herself in real danger, the mysteries begin to make horrible sense, but she isn’t sure that anyone will even care she is gone.
Ursu once again weaves an incredible tale of magic. This one is set in Minneapolis and Ursu beautifully shares elements of the northern Midwest and the Twin Cities in the story. The setting of anchors this tale in reality which works particularly well as the reveal of the magical part of the book is so gradual. The book is nearly impossible to summarize well or concisely because there are so many elements to the story. As you read though, it is a cohesive whole, a world that Ursu builds for the reader with real skill where the elements click together by the end of the book.
While the book is about both Lark and Iris, the focus is primarily on Iris, the more prickly and outspoken sister. Lark is seen through the lens of Iris’ concern for her and Lark’s opinion of her own role with her sister isn’t shared until towards the end of the book. That reveal is one of the most powerful elements of the book, demonstrating how Iris has not been seeing things clearly at all. The narrator voice is just as well done, creating a feeling of a tale within a tale, where magic is real all along.
A grand adventure of a book full of magic and girl power. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Walden Pond Press.
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin (9780553537895)
In this wordless graphic novel, a little girl brings her stuffed toy fox to school for show-and-tell and it is taken from the playground by a real fox! The girl and her friend chase after the fox, stopping to ask directions when they find a small door in a tree. The squirrel who lives there points them in the right direction. Meanwhile, a weasel tries to steal the toy from the little fox, but a bear steps in and sorts it out. The children arrive at a town where animals live together and they enlist the help of the entire area to search for the fox. Soon they discover the little fox and his stolen toy, but what will they do then?
Graegin tells a really wonderful story solely through images. Using white space to frame her images into a graphic novel format, the story is told with rich details. It clearly establishes the little girl’s long attachment to the stuffed fox and her desire to share it with her class. Then the story becomes a chase sequence and a mystery of where the fox has gone. It then enters a lovely fantasy where the entire animal town comes to life, shown in a wide panorama that makes one want to wander the streets.
One special device used through the book is that the children are shown in black, grays and whites. The color enters the book subtly at first with the little fox and a red bird who watches from above. The children maintain their more somber color palette even as the world around them is vibrant color. Yet these worlds can touch and cross, much to the joy of the reader.
This genre bending graphic-novel picture book is beautiful, rich and worthy of journeying through time and again. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz and Wade.
A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones (InfoSoup)
Ruben would love to have a bike like his friend Sergio has. Even though his birthday is coming, Ruben knows that he doesn’t get presents like bicycles. His family is large and there’s not enough money even for all of the groceries they need some weeks. One day when he is at the store for his mother, a lady in front of him drops a dollar bill. Ruben picks it up and puts it in his pocket, but when he looks at it later he discovers it’s actually a one-hundred dollar bill! That’s enough for him to get the bike he’s always wanted. Now Sergio has a dilemma, does he give the money to his family for groceries? Does he give it back to the woman? Or does he buy the bike of his dreams?
Boelts has created a story that is much more than a lesson in morals. This story is about ethical choices yes, but also about economic disparity and families living on the edge. It is a story told with real subtlety and offering an understanding of what would drive a child who is good at heart to steal what they thought was a dollar. It’s a book about the stories we tell ourselves to make our decisions “right” and the way that doing the right thing may not always be easy or clear.
The illustrations by Jones are modern and rather quirky. They fill the page with the vividness of the urban setting. The love and caring of Ruben’s family are also celebrated in the illustrations.
Subtle and smart, this book about decisions and doing the right thing asks all the right questions. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee (InfoSoup)
When a squirrel discovers that some of his nuts are missing one winter night, he heads straight to the police station where Detective Gordon, Chief of Police, can help him. But when he gets there, no one seems to be around until he finds the great detective fast asleep on his paperwork with cake crumbs all around. Once awoken though, Detective Gordon heads out to help solve the crime. But it’s a very cold night and Detective Gordon can’t climb to the hole in the tree to see the crime scene. When he stands watch, he manages to freeze solid. That’s when a little mouse steals one nut from the tree and ends up helping Gordon back to his warm police station. The little mouse is soon named Buffy and settles into the police station as an assistant to Gordon. She can scramble up trees and seems to have a knack for crime solving too. It doesn’t hurt that it’s all accompanied with lots of warmth, tea and cakes. But who is stealing the nuts? Will they strike again? And how can one very young mouse and one old toad figure it all out?
Translated from the original Swedish, this book is a toasty little joy. It has gorgeous elements to it, filled with small touches that bring it entirely to life. From the various cakes for each time of day and the delight at discovering each new flavor to the pleasure both Buffy and Gordon get from stamping each document when its completed, this book is perfect for quiet and cozy crime fighters and detectives. The mystery is just right for small children and the cozy nature of the story makes this an idea bedtime read. The descriptions are vivid, enhancing the strong feeling of a woodsy community as a whole.
Spee’s illustrations add to the snug feeling of the story. She creates fires that glow with a halo of warmth, cakes that line up with plenty for everyone, and beds that are stacked with eiderdown. It is all very domestic and wonderful and also has a little humor mixed in, just like the story itself. The full-color illustrations make this a perfect book to move young readers and listeners to longer books.
A pleasure of a book, this cozy mystery for children is clearly European in origin which adds to the fun. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.
Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith
The Toad brothers have taken over Drywater Gulch and are causing no end of trouble. But then a new sheriff arrives in town, a kid in a white suit riding a tortoise. He doesn’t have many skills with guns and has an early bedtime, but he does know all about dinosaurs. He is hired on the spot. And that’s right when the Toad brothers blow up the bank, rob the stagecoach, and jump someone’s gold claim. The sheriff is quick to point out how each of the escapades involved dinosaurs, T-Rex and velociraptors. It seems that the crimes will never be solved by this young sheriff, but soon his paleontological plans turn out to be just what was needed to capture some human bandits.
Shea clearly has great fun creating these characters, this town and this world of dinosaurs mixed with the Wild West. He plays with language throughout, creating wonderful moments where the new sheriff rides – very slowly – into town on his tortoise. Just the way the Toad brothers are introduced early in the book will show how fun this book is to read aloud: “Why, those Toad brothers would steal your gold, kiss your cattle, and insult your chili. Hootin’, hollarin’, and cussin’ all the while.” You can’t read that without a drawl and huge grin.
Smith’s illustrations are equally fun. Using a palette of browns, blacks and tans, he creates the world of Drywater Gulch on the page. There is a great sandiness and grit to the illustrations, and he also plays with perspective and fascinating rock formations of the desert. The wild characters are placed in this world, popping on the page against the gritty backgrounds.
A great read aloud, this picture book is silliness through and through with a western twang. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf
Originally published in Germany, this is a gorgeous coming-of-age story that is dark and immensely funny. It is the story of Mike who just doesn’t fit in. He’s considered one of the most boring people in his school, ignored entirely by girls and laughed at when he reads his writing out loud. He’s not even invited to the best party of the year though everyone else is. Everyone but Andre, better known as Tschick, who comes to school drunk, looks like he’s been fighting, and wears outdated clothes. Tschick and Mike have absolutely nothing in common, but when Tschick shows up unexpectedly in a stolen car when Mike has been left home alone for an extended time, they head on a road trip that no one will ever forget.
Winner of several awards in Germany, this book is much more than a standard teen road trip book. What could have been cardboard stereotype characters instead blossom in the hands of Herrndorf to become much more complex and intriguing. They get more and more interesting as the book progresses, steadily revealing themselves to one another and to the reader. It turns out that Mike is far from boring in any way and Tschick is far from any sort of stereotype.
Readers know from the beginning how the road trip ends, but the joy is in getting to that point. I guarantee it is not a straight line! The setting of modern Germany is one that many teens may not have explored, especially through the eyes of native Germans. The translation is done very well, leaving it particularly European, but also making it flow for English speakers.
I am usually not a fan of road trip stories, but this is definitely one trip worth taking. Funny with a lightness but also depth, this is a wonderful teen read. Appropriate for ages 14-16.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Arthur A. Levine Books and NetGalley.
This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
I never expected to see a sequel to I Want My Hat Back but I am so thrilled that Klassen saw things differently. This second book has a similar theme to it with a stolen hat, but it has entirely different characters. This time the story is set underwater with fish playing the major roles. One little fish has stolen a hat from a big sleeping fish. He knows it was wrong, but justifies it by the fact the hat looks so much better on him and fits better too. As he flees to the thick reeds to hide, he thinks to himself about how clever he has been, that the fish would never notice it missing, that he wouldn’t know where to look for the thief, on and on. And with each sentence, the readers will see that he’s wrong, very wrong.
This sequel has the same understated style of the first and the same wonderful sense of humor that is exquisitely funny. Klassen maximizes the humor with his flawless ability to tell one story in the words and an entirely different one with the action of what really happens.
For all the fans of the first book, this is one that works best if you have read the first, but also stands on its own completely. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Take What You Can Carry by Kevin C. Pyle
This graphic novel explores connections between generations and across races, in an innovative way. It is the story of two teenage boys. One is a Japanese American who is sent to the internment camps during World War II. His part of the story shows the displacement of his family, the loss of their rights, and the realities of the camps. In alternating chapters, we also get the modern story of a teenage boy who moves to a new community and gets in with the wrong group of boys. Soon he is robbing stores and eventually ends up in real trouble. The man whose store he robs was the Japanese teen, who also resorted to stealing in the camps.
At first, readers are not sure how the two stories will ever come together into one, or if they ever will. They seem so remote and separate from one another. Then when they do, there is a great satisfaction is realizing why the modern boy is given a chance to remedy what he has done. It is a story that deals with two very personal stories, but that also has a more universal message about displacement, theft and redemption. Both of the teen boys find ways to make things right in their lives, to accept their conditions, to rise above.
Pyle’s two stories are shown in different color palettes as you can see from the cover. The sepia tones work well for the historical story, also emphasizing the wasteland of the internment camps. The blues of the modern story give it a cool feeling that suits a story where a boy is not making the right choices and where his world is devoid of warmth.
This intriguing graphic novel is a compelling read that will show young readers not only about history but also about themselves and their own choices. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.