Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 29, 2018

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

Pioneer Literature

Just as the revisionist Western followed more traditional fare, so has Laura Ingalls Wilder's nostalgic vision of pioneer life in her Little House on the Prairie series been complicated by recent fiction and nonfiction. Even Willa Cather's monumental O Pioneers! might seem quaint to modern readers familiar with the violent, messy stories that have been told about westward expansion in recent years. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan, $35) is a biography that examines how a pioneer girl mythologized her childhood and an entire way of life. Caroline Fraser shows that the seemingly hardscrabble life depicted in the Little House books is a romanticized version of Wilder's more desperate circumstances. She also considers the enormous shadow cast by the Indian Wars, as well as the ecological damage inflicted by inexperienced farmers.
Michael Wallis's The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny (Liveright, $16.95) operates in a similar myth-busting mode. In Wallis's telling, the Donner Party is not only a grotesque tragedy but also the inevitable consequence of the greed, hubris and poor decision-making that so often accompanied the westward drive. Robert Olmstead reflects upon similar themes in his novel Savage Country (Algonquin, $26.95), which portrays a buffalo hunt as a terrible act of greed and violence, comparing land often associated with freedom and opportunity with an abattoir. Philipp Meyer's novel The Son (Ecco, $16.95) is yet another unvarnished reckoning, linking the acquisition of land--and consequently the kind of wealth that lasts for generations--to acts of violence and theft.
While there's no shortage of writing that sets out to puncture the American mythos, it is interesting to see some of the country's foundational stories reinterpreted by a new era of skeptical authors. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Book Candy

Curious Origins of Common Phrases

"Called on the carpet," for example. Mental Floss shared "the curious origins of 16 common phrases."


Author Laura Bates recommended "five books on how to achieve gender equality" for the Guardian.


Pop quiz: "How good of a rhymer are you?" Buzzfeed challenged.


"This choose-your-path fairy tale justifies the existence of Twitter," Electric Lit promised.


Mental Floss shared "14 freaky facts about R.L. Stine's Fear Street books."


In England, the "red letters in the literary pavement" leading to the Liverpool Central Library "form a mysterious code."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Donald Hall

Poet Donald Hall died on June 23 at Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot, N.H. He was 89. Hall was appointed U.S. poet laureate in 2006 and awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 2010. He wrote almost to the end of a career that spanned more than 60 years, beginning with the publication at age 26 of Exiles and Marriages and continuing through Essays After Eighty (2014). His most recent poetry collection, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, was released in 2015.

In 1972, Hall married Jane Kenyon, his former student at the University of Michigan. They eventually moved to the New Hampshire farm his family had owned for a century, which revolutionized his poetry, beginning with Kicking the Leaves, in 1978. Hall turned his poem "The Ox-Cart Man" into a bestselling children's book, and his book-length poem, The One Day, won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. After Kenyon died of leukemia in 1995 at age 47, the rest of Hall's life was marked by grief, and he produced works like Without (1999), The Painted Bed (2003) and the memoir The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon (2006). Hall's final book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, will be published on July 10 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, 9781328826343).

Proud All Year Round

June may be ending, but your Pride celebration certainly doesn't need to. Here are some winning books for children, teens and tweens featuring GLBTQIA+ characters to keep you Proud all summer long.

Picture Books
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, illus. by Steven Salerno (Random House, $17.99, 48p., ages 5-8, 9780399555312)
The life of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay people to hold political office in the United States, ended tragically. Older kids may be ready for the whole story, but Sanders offers little ones an age-appropriate introduction through one of his overlooked contributions to the gay rights movement: the rainbow flag.

In Pride, Milk is first shown mulling over his "extraordinary dream": that "everyone--even gay people--would have equality." Then it's on to the campaign trail in 1977: Milk has determined that "the best way to change laws was to help make laws." While organizing a march in opposition to laws that discriminate against gay people, Milk seizes on the idea of "a symbol that shows who we are and how we feel. Something to carry during the march." Milk asks artist Gilbert Baker to come up with the symbol, and Baker creates the majestic rainbow flag that makes its debut on June 25, 1978, at San Francisco's gay pride march.

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Candlewick Press, $16.99, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780763690458)
Riding the subway with his grandmother, young Julián notices three glamorous passengers he's convinced are mermaids. "Julián LOVES mermaids." On the stroll home, he asks, "Abuela, did you see the mermaids?" She replies, "I saw them, mijo." "Abuela," Julián says, "I am also a mermaid."

At home, Julián gets down to the business of self-expression. Stripping his outer layers, he crowns himself with ferns and flowers, drapes himself to create a curtain-tail and strikes a pose. But when his Abuela sees him, her unexpected look of disapproval makes his fronds droop.
Julián self-consciously reexamines himself in the nearest mirror, until Abuela surprises him with the crowning accessory: pink pearls. "For me, Abuela?" the delighted child asks. "For you, Julián." Abuela takes his hand and leads him outside to a beachside Carnival-like celebration, where wide-eyed Julián whispers with incredulous joy: "Mermaids." While he shyly peeks around a corner, Abuela confirms, "Like you, mijo.... Let's join them."
Middle Grade
Hurricane Child
by Kheryn Callender (Scholastic Press, $17.99, 224p., ages 9-13, 9781338129304)
Caroline Murphy has always heard that her birth during a hurricane cursed her with bad luck, and the story seems true. At the Catholic school she attends in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Caroline has no friends and teacher Missus Wilhelmina loathes Caroline because her skin is "darker than even the paintings of African queens hanging in the tourist shops." At home on Water Island, Caroline lives with her father, her mother's absence and the spirits. Then she meets Kalinda Francis, a new classmate from Barbados. Caroline is shocked to realize Kalinda can see spirits, too, but even more shocked when the popular girl becomes her close friend. However, Caroline will never feel whole unless she finds her mother, and her growing romantic feelings for Kalinda threaten their bond.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (First Second, $16.99, paperback, 288p., ages 10-up, 9781626723634)
Prince Sebastian has a secret. Sixteen and heir to the throne, Sebastian knows he must marry soon and take on the responsibilities of the monarchy. He also knows that "[i]f anybody found out the prince wore dresses, it would ruin the whole family," but he feels the most comfortable when he's wearing "women's" clothing. At a ball in his honor, he sees an extraordinary gown and immediately hires the creator--a young seamstress named Frances--to be his secret personal designer.

And so, Frances begins covertly designing for Prince Sebastian. The more she works, the more she develops her own style, while Prince Sebastian grows more confident and begins to step out in Frances's gowns under the pseudonym Lady Crystallia. Sebastian/Crystallia becomes a trendsetter with her avant-garde couture but Sebastian insists that Frances's connection to him be kept secret at all costs.

Young Adult
Meet Cute by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, 320p., 9781328759870)
The world is filled with unexpected connections of the heart, and in Meet Cute, 14 YA authors shine their light on how extraordinary and unexpected those moments can be. This anthology, encompassing contemporary realism, fantasy and science fiction tales, features a diverse set of characters, situations and storytellers. The stories range in both genre and style, including themes of love and loss, racial prejudices, sweet first looks, unexpected attraction and missed connections, and each author has created a distinctive character pairing and chance romantic meeting.

Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro (Tor Teen, $17.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 12-up, 9781250167026)
Moss's father was shot by the Oakland police six years ago. The shooting sparked rallies and protests, giving Moss a kind of "weird celebrity status." Now a teenager, Moss suffers from the long-term effects of trauma. He doesn't want to be famous or to be an activist--he simply wants to be able to exist safely as a black teen. It's the beginning of Moss's junior year and he and his diverse group of friends realize that the school's lack of funds is hindering their studies, while implicit racism and classicism are influencing their lives. Students face random locker searches and, eventually, metal detectors at the school's entrance. When a freak accident with one of those metal detectors injures one of Moss's friends, he moves beyond thinking--"caring is all I can do"--and steps into activism. A bright spot in "all of it" is Javier, a Latinx teen who boldly asks Moss out. Both are inexperienced when it comes to dating, and they happily stumble into first love together.

--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Review


The Shepherd's Hut

by Tim Winton

Set among rugged Western Australia's salt lakes, Tim Winton's The Shepherd's Hut is a parable-like story featuring 15-year-old narrator Jaxie Clackton and defrocked Irish Catholic priest Fintan MacGillis. Jaxie is on the run after the accidental death of his abusive father in his auto workshop. No one will miss the violent man Jaxie calls "Captain Wankbag, master butcher, roadkill specialist, drunker than any man alive," but he fears the law will stick it on him. With a rifle and water jug, he takes off into the bush, finally stumbling dehydrated and starving into the rudimentary camp of Fintan ("...old fella. Mostly bald.... Singlet. Baggy-arse shorts. Thick specs"). During their first days together, they verbally parry and punch like boxers in the first round. In the canny vernacular of the skateboarder teen: "I was burred up and narky as a feral cat.... If he doesn't bury me out here he'll dob me in to the cops." In time, however, Fintan's patience, philosophical skepticism and simple if harsh world provide Jaxie with his first meaningful home and father.
Having four times won the country's acclaimed Miles Franklin Literary Award and twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (The Riders, Dirt Music), Winton is the unofficial Australian novelist-laureate. The Shepherd's Hut lives up to the accolades. Crude, observant and smart mouthed, Jaxie is an outback version of Huck Finn crossbred with Holden Caulfield. Selfless, attentive, savvy and patient, Fintan is that priest everyone might wish for. Together they cover each other's weaknesses and uncover hidden strengths. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Tim Winton's 12th novel features two flawed exiles healing each other in the remote Western Australia outback.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 288p., 9780374262327

Queen for a Day

by Maxine Rosaler

The mothers in Queen for a Day face parenting challenges beyond the ordinary--difficulties ranging from simply going to a playground to suing for space in a public school and protecting their marriages from the stress. In Maxine Rosaler's linked stories, Mimi Slavitt and other mothers who struggle with raising special-needs children are by turns in denial, courageous, wily, angry, kind and cruel.
In the first story, Mimi's relationship with her husband, Jake, is contentious. Parenting Danny adds to the strain, so it's easier to deny he's different. Rosaler's portrayal of Danny suggests he's autistic, but the boy's counselor determines he "didn't have anything you could pin a label on." In these distressing tales, the counselor is the first of many who mislead the parents; the most egregious offender is "The District"--New York City schools. The stories vary from first person to third, and are non-linear, but the angst of these mothers is constant.
The title, taken from the 1950s reality TV show that pitted downtrodden housewives against one another for prizes, hints at Rosaler's ironic humor. Mimi and her friends (she has time only for mothers who share her desperate quest for a better life for their kids) subtly compare successes. At times Mimi and Jake "forget to hate each other" in their shared love for Danny. These stories are not happy, but are a testament to resilience and perseverance, and a glance into lives that many are spared. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: This story collection follows parents with special-needs children who struggle to improve the lives of their kids.

Delphinium, $24.95, hardcover, 256p., 9781883285753

The High Season

by Judy Blundell

The High Season, Judy Blundell's first book for adults (her YA novel What I Saw and How I Lied won the 2008 National Book Award for Young People's Literature), blends the class-conscious populations of a Long Island summer in a comedic but insightful novel.
It's June on the North Fork, two ferry rides away from the billionaires in the Hamptons, and Ruthie, mom to Jem, not-quite-ex-wife of Mike and director of Orient's Belfry Museum, is preparing the family home for a renter. Vacating the house with a water view each summer provides the means to keep it. But this season turns out to be as tumultuous as the real hurricane on the horizon.
Glamorous Adeline, widowed heiress to her acclaimed artist husband's estate, appropriates the house, and, in short order, Mike as well. Adeline's arrival also titillates Ruthie's museum board, who hope to wheedle their way into her graces (and her funds). Ruthie's devotion to the Belfry, and her wholesome efforts that thoughtfully reflect small-town traditions, are no match for the elitist board. One of its members, Mindy, with her factotum Gloria (whose hair is "a spun sugar cage of platinum privilege"), intends the Belfry "to be part of the Hamptons aesthetic," and fires Ruthie. Jem admires Adeline, exacerbating the fraught mother-teen daughter dynamic, so when Ruthie occasionally erupts in frustration readers will sympathize. (Chopping down a lilac tainted with memories is a scene of pathos and comedy.)
Colorful characters abound, including a museum staffer who sells surreptitiously snapped photos of the rich and famous, and a secretive renowned artist. While The High Season is perfectly set on Long Island, the human drama is universal. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: The High Season captures the conflict of class between full-time residents and "summer people" in a thoughtful yet comedic novel.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 416p., 9780525508717

All the Ever Afters: the Untold Story of Cinderella's Stepmother

by Danielle Teller

Danielle Teller delves into the world of fairy tales for her delightful fiction debut, All the Ever Afters. Looking through the eyes of the wicked stepmother, Agnes, she retells the story of Cinderella with charm and ingenuity.
Agnes's father sends his 10-year-old daughter off to work as a laundress's apprentice at Aviceford Manor following the death of his wife. Here she learns painful lessons early, but her hard-knocks education fortifies her determination to escape the laundry room and improve her station. Despite this shrewdness, Agnes is naïve and is an easy target for the seductive--and older--messenger, Fernan. When Agnes becomes pregnant and is sent away with Fernan, her life transforms through the love she experiences for her child.
But a poor, low-class woman is vulnerable to many kinds of disasters. For Agnes, death--this time Fernan's--sends her into to servitude once again. She negotiates the acceptance of her two young daughters to the abbey's school, then returns to Aviceford to care for the lord's new baby, Ella.
Intriguing and enchanting, All the Ever Afters reminds the audience of the importance of perspective: the traditionally despised wicked stepmother becomes an ambitious, smart, compassionate woman. Teller artfully slants the well-known fairy tale. Her beguiling characters laugh at the ideas of magic and self-mutilation; her themes emphasize the life rumors can take on when left unchecked. This wonderful mixture leaves the reader with an exquisite story of the complexity of family bonds. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: In the vein of Gregory Maguire's Wicked, Agnes--Cinderella's evil stepmother--narrates her version of the classic fairy tale.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062798206

Mystery & Thriller

The Cabin at the End of the World

by Paul Tremblay

Paul Tremblay continues his unbroken string of fascinating horror novels. He is adept at breathing new life into ancient horror tropes, as he did with demonic possession in A Head Full of Ghosts. In the nightmarish The Cabin at the End of the World, Tremblay has fashioned an unholy marriage between the home invasion genre and apocalyptic thrillers.
The novel opens with Wen, a seven-year-old girl, on a vacation with her two adoptive fathers at a remote cabin. She is interrupted while collecting grasshoppers by a man who tells her, "None of what's going to happen is your fault. You haven't done anything wrong, but the three of you will have to make some tough decisions." That turns out to be a dramatic understatement: soon there's a violent siege of the cabin, and Wen and her fathers, Eric and Andrew, struggle desperately to keep their family safe.
What at first seems like an unusual riff on the home invasion thriller evolves into a story that can't easily be pigeonholed. Without ruining any of Tremblay's nasty surprises, it is safe to say that the four strangers turn out to have very earnest motivations that they believe to involve the fate of the human race.
The novel unfolds cinematically, taking place over hours rather than weeks. As harrowing as it may be, however, there is a lot of warmth in its depiction of Eric, Andrew and Wen's small family. There is also a surprising amount of dark humor. The Cabin at the End of the World deftly moves between private insecurities and existential terror, poking holes in the flimsy sense of security families rely upon. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: The Cabin at the End of the World combines a home invasion thriller with apocalyptic fears, following one family's terrible ordeal at the hands of a bizarre group of strangers.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062679109

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware (The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game) has written another gripping thriller in The Death of Mrs. Westaway. Twenty-one-year-old Harriet "Hal" Westaway has been barely surviving since the death of her mother, Margarida, three years earlier. Hal took over Margarida's tarot booth on the Brighton pier and reads cards for a living, but fortune-telling isn't bringing in enough to cover rent. So when a letter arrives telling her that she's received an inheritance after the death of her grandmother Harriet Westaway, she can't resist the temptation, even though she knows Margarida's parents died before Hal was born.
She heads to Cornwall for the funeral, posing as a surprised and bereaved granddaughter, and meets the strange Westaway family: there are three brothers--Abel, Harding and Ezra--with families of their own, and a malevolent housekeeper. As her charade gets more complex, Hal finds herself drawn into the disturbed lives of the Westaways.
Creepy and atmospheric, The Death of Mrs. Westaway will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Ware spins a convincing web of intrigue and tension, as Hal tries frantically to unlock the mysteries of the past. She comes to realize that Abel and Ezra have secrets they're trying to conceal, and while Harding seems straightforward, he is bitter about how Harriet Westaway disposed of her estate. Unsure whom to trust, Hal will have to rely on the people-reading skills she's honed in her tarot booth if she's going to survive. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In Ruth Ware's highly anticipated fourth novel, a young tarot reader may be the heiress to a large fortune, if she survives long enough to claim it.

Gallery/Scout Press, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781501156212


Energy: A Human History

by Richard Rhodes

Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, turns his attention to the interplay of the development of modern technology and fuel sources in Energy: A Human History, which outlines not only how people discovered and perfected various sources of power, from the dawn of the industrial revolution to the present, but also why certain forms of fuel have become more common than others.
Spanning continents and centuries, Energy takes the reader from a time where wood was the chief source of fuel for Europe and the Americas to today, when oil, natural gas, nuclear power and renewable energy fight for supremacy. Rhodes uses each chapter of the book to focus on a different form of fuel or technology, showing that the need for one created the circumstances for invention in the other. For example, long before locomotive-driven trains became, for a time, the typical way humans traveled, steam engines were designed to help remove water from coal mines. The technology helped extract the fuel, which in turn was the source of the technology's power and led to applications in many other areas.
While Energy does delve a little into the physics and chemistry of various fuel sources and machines, it is less interested in science lessons than how each new technology and fuel interacted with the historical and cultural circumstances around it. There's a reason the subtitle of the book is "A Human History," especially in the final chapter where Rhodes contemplates climate change: fuel is fuel because it sparks industry and changes the way people live. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Rhodes traces the modern history of energy and technology.

Simon & Schuster, $30, hardcover, 480p., 9781501105357

Current Events & Issues

Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries, and the Fate of the Great Mexican-American Migration

by Alfredo Corchado

Journalist and author Alfredo Corchado (Midnight in Mexico) first came to the U.S. with his family when he was five years old. Initially, it was not a step up. In Mexico, they left behind loved ones in a beautiful small town for California farm work and an ugly, overcrowded trailer home. After dropping out of high school and struggling to belong, Corchado became a successful journalist with a foot on each side of the border. Homelands is a memoir, but also a larger story of Mexican American lives between two overlapping nations.
In the late 1980s, Corchado was recruited from his home in El Paso, Tex., to write for the Wall Street Journal in Philadelphia. He was cold and miserable there, but he also formed three of the most important friendships of his life: with a labor and human rights activist, a lawyer and a food and drink entrepreneur. The first night they all came together, "we began a conversation that has lasted more than thirty years, turning on a fundamental and deeply personal question: How could we prove ourselves American yet hold on to our Mexican roots?" Corchado tells their stories intertwined with the history of Mexican migration to the U.S. and his reports from the border and from growing Mexican American communities all over the nation. Economic needs, shared history, culture and intimate ties all seem likely to outlast the most recent wave of anti-immigrant hostility. "Can we live without one another, Mexico and the United States? Can we even imagine that?" Why, this book asks, would we even want to? --Sara Catterall

Discover: A journalist with close ties to Mexico and the U.S. tells of the Mexican American migration experience over 30 years in this affectionate memoir/history.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9781632865540

Body, Mind & Spirit

Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude

by Stephanie Rosenbloom

Solo travel is on the rise. From backpackers in their 20s to retirees on world tours, more people are planning and taking solitary journeys than ever before. On a five-day solo assignment in Paris, journalist Stephanie Rosenbloom discovered not only new boulangeries and gardens, but a slightly different version of herself: "curious, improvisational, open to serendipity." Hoping to capture more of that "savoring" spirit, Rosenbloom booked solo trips to four vibrant cities: Paris, Istanbul, Florence and her hometown, New York City. Alone Time, her first book, charts her ramblings and provides practical tips and inspiration for readers who love--or think they might love--traveling alone.
Rosenbloom dives into her journeys with joy and curiosity: well-known tourist haunts and obscure side streets are equally fair game. She eavesdrops on fellow shoppers at Parisian markets, visits a scalding Turkish hamam (bath) in Istanbul, explores a secret corridor connected to the Uffizi and gets happily lost in the tangled streets of the West Village. She also shares insights gleaned from literature, social science and cultural critics on the benefits of solitude. Occasionally she takes a wrong turn, literal or otherwise, and finds her way back: this, too, is part of the journey. Back home in Manhattan, Rosenbloom puts her newfound savoring strategies into practice: taking long walks, trying new things, relishing ordinary moments in her own neighborhood. Alone Time is both a paean to its title and an invitation to anyone who has ever longed to explore a new city á seul. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Stephanie Rosenbloom's first book recounts her adventures traveling solo and provides practical tips for readers who want to do the same.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9780399562303


Of Marriage

by Nicole Cooley

In Nicole Cooley's lively and engaging collection Of Marriage, marriage becomes many things in the crucible of poetry, but never boring.
Cooley (Milk Dress) is an established poet who brings a rawly inventive kinetic energy to her work. Ostensibly about her own spouse, Of Marriage taps the universal ups and downs of long-term relationships through a variety of poetic forms and metaphors. "Triolets, Erasing Marriage" combines the traditional triolet with an erasure technique. The language is borrowed from a 19th-century text on the duties of marriage and then selectively erased to leave a new impression.
Later in the book, Cooley experiments with analogy in a series of short poems that start with the title "Marriage as...." It's in this series that Cooley reaches her wildest and most unrestrained. Marriage is likened to a koi pond, a rock quarry, a plate of spinach and many other things. In "Marriage as a Skateboard Flung Off a Bridge," the poet finds herself stuck in gravelly mud, pining for the "clean lines" and the "lovely concave shape" of the skate park. As much as she explores the pain, frustration and disruptive forces in marriage, she explores the sexy, sensuous and unifying aspects too, the bedroom windows "rain-flushed and dark," or rather "our meeting here, now, naked on the kitchen's cold linoleum."
By virtue of its formal variety, Of Marriage is hard to classify. But beneath the experimentation, it has a loving, beating heart that is clear and resonant. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: This raw and sensuous poetry collection vividly plumbs the vicissitudes of marriage.

Alice James Books, $15.95, paperback, 100p., 9781938584770

Children's & Young Adult

Best Frints at Skrool

by Antoinette Portis

Look out, Earthlings. Yelfred and Omek of Borborp return in another candy-colored extraterrestrial adventure from author-illustrator Antoinette Portis (Now; Best Frints in the Whole Universe).
The narrative follows besties Yelfred and Omek, two round-bodied aliens with triangle-fanged smiles good for greeting or eating a stranger. Under the guise of educating Earth children about alien skrool, the reader follows the stroodents through an eventful day. When Yelfred befriends the aptly named Q-B, Omek is left alone to mope, but a well-timed food fight proves three best frints are better than two.
Portis's subversive humor remains on point: the narrator gamely insists the childrinx listen to their skreecher, but illustrations show the students, who vary in size, shape and number of eyes and limbs, squalling and squabbling. Hilariously, the narrator naïvely characterizes the food fight as students kindly sharing their meals ("Everyone is sharing! How thoughtful."). Young readers will find the pencil, charcoal and digital drawings evocative of TV animation; a spread focusing tightly on an infuriated lunch lady's eye, lid splattered with flung food, heightens the cartoonish drama. Endpapers include a visual "Boborpian Glossary" of skrool mainstays like the Eyebrary, a guide on counting to 10 (gazango) in Boborpian and the rules of playing eye ball in the peedle pit.
All teeth and no treacle, Portis handily revamps the three-is-a-crowd storyline. An adult may need to point out the moral--"what makes things the most fun... is a best frint and a best best frint"--as the alien antics will have readers ages 4-8 far too giggly to care about spotting a lesson. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at main branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: Yelfred and Omek of Borborp make a new frint at skrool in this sharp and silly sequel to Best Frints in the Whole Universe.

Roaring Brook Press, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781626728714

The Legend of Greg

by Chris Rylander

"Some kids are born rich, some are born poor; some are born with eight toes, some are born with blond hair; and others just happen to have been born with a Thursday curse." Thirteen-year-old Greg Belmont is one such kid. "Since pretty much the beginning of time," bad things have happened to Greg's family on Thursdays. And thus no one, including Greg himself, is surprised when, on a school trip to the zoo, a polar bear breaks free from its enclosure and chases Greg. People are surprised, however, when all-around good guy and Greg's best friend, Edwin, steps in front of the rampaging bear and stares it into submission. Thursdays, amirite?
Amazingly, the Friday that follows is even worse. When Greg's Dad gets abducted by a troll, Greg is forcefully introduced to the world of his secret lineage--turns out, Greg is a Dwarf. And not just any dwarf. He's Greggdroule Stormbelly, and he comes "from one of the most courageous Dwarven families ever known to exist." Unfortunately, "Dwarves lose," usually to their sworn enemies, the Elves. It's simply what they do. "As a race, [they're] prone to unspeakable bouts of... bad luck." Hence the Thursday curse. To top the surprises off, Greg learns that Edwin is not just an Elf but the son of the Elf Lord. With the other Dwarves convinced that the Elves are behind Greg's Dad's abduction, Greg is forced to live up to the Stormbelly name and muster all of his courage to find his dad and keep his friend.
The first installment in a new series from Chris Rylander (The Fourth Stall), The Legend of Greg is an entertaining and comical middle grade fantasy, sure to keep readers laughing as they cheer Greg along. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this middle grade series opener, Greg Belmont learns that he's not unlucky because he's a Belmont--he's unlucky because he's a Dwarf.

Putnam, $16.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 8-12, 9781524739720

Brick: Who Found Herself in Architecture

by Joshua David Stein, illus. by Julia Rothman

"Great things begin with small bricks." This is what Brick's mother tells her when Brick is just a baby, awed by the huge buildings in her city. Prompted to look closer, Brick finds the homes on her street, the fire station, the schoolhouse and the post office are all "made out of bricks just like her." She wonders if there are bricks in all the streets, in all the towns and even "across the ocean, in lands far away?" Most especially, Brick wonders where she, herself, will fit in. "What great thing might she become?"
When Brick sets sail on a wondrous journey, she sees castles scarred by "years of fighting," "fantastic churches," "splendid synagogues" and a "towering Buddhist temple." None feel like home, so she continues on. She visits the Great Wall, apartment buildings and brick homes in towns and country. But nothing is right for Brick. She feels lost until she returns to her mother's earlier advice: great things begin with small bricks.
For anyone who's ever wondered where life will take them, and especially for little ones who can only dream of what the wide world holds, Brick's story will advise and inspire. Each structure she visits is identified as a real place, which grounds the story while also expanding its scope. Illustrations are rendered appropriately in oranges and reds and make excellent use of white space. A delicate black line describes the architecture with dexterity, allowing readers a glimpse of wonders that may await on their own journeys as they root for Brick to succeed on hers. Ultimately, Brick learns she must let go of her worries before reaching a place where she can be part of a "wide and lovely" whole, arriving at what is perhaps, for her, "the perfect place to be." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Young Brick travels to famous brick buildings all over the world in a quest to find out where she belongs.

Phaidon Press, $16.95, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9780714876313

Powered by: Xtenit