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Great New Books for Children and Young Adults

December 1, 2009

Great New Books for Children and Young Adults

By Elizabeth Willse, for the Star-Ledger.
Parental Guidance Section. 1450 Words
Printed 10/6/09
Because new book titles for young readers accumulate faster than we can keep up with them, our infrequent surveys of that genre inevitably capture a mere fraction of what’s out there.

That said, we offer here a handful of books in each of three age groups, along with the advice that you visit your local bookstore for a vastly more complete selection.

Read aloud (ages 3-8)
With retro-comic book illustrations by Adam Stower, “Mungo and the Spiders From Space” (Dial, $16.99, 32 pp.), Tim Knapman’s imaginative adventure takes young readers on an interstellar journey, battling aliens alongside Captain Galacticus.
“Incredible Inventions” (Greenwillow Books, $17.99, 32 pp.) is a collection of poems celebrating innovations from blue jeans to straws to kitty litter. While some of the inventions seem commonplace, the poems play with language and space, along with Julia Sarcone-Roach’s highly kinetic illustrations.

Pancakes with no syrup (try ketchup) and cookies with no milk are just two mishaps in Kristin Darbyshire’s wonderful “Put it On the List” (Dutton, $16.99, 32pp). A family of chickens forgets to buy what they need at the grocery store, creating increasingly odd food combinations.

A boy feeds his adorable cat a tasty slice of cake, but no matter what he tries, “Sugar Would Not Eat It” (Schwartz & Wade, $16.99, 40 pp.) in Emily Jenkins’ endearing tale for young pet owners, illustrated by Giselle Potter.

Award-winning author Neil Gaiman spins a gentle, wondrous poem that reads like a lullaby for a “Blueberry Girl” (HarperCollins, $17.99, 32 pp.), enhanced by Charles Vess’s pastel paintings, which loop and swirl with art noveau beauty.

Samantha Vamos’ lovely “Before You Were Here, Mi Amor” (Viking, $15.99, 32 pp.,)seamlessly weaves Spanish words into the anticipation of a new baby, illustrated with Santiago Cohen’s joyful paintings.

Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted To Be Noticed” (Viking, $16.99, 40 pp.,) loves bright colors, noise and tumbling — not ninja stealth. But, as young readers cheer along with J.C. Phillipps’ exuberant debut, Wink finds a way to be himself.

In Bob Staake’s riotous “Pets Go Pop” (LB Kids, $17.99, 12 pp.), pets ranging from lions to giraffes pop gleefully from the page. Clay Rice’s gorgeous silhouettes bring exquisite melancholy beauty to “The Lonely Shadow” (Joggling Board Press, $19.95, 60 pp.) searching for a friend.

Flanked by cartoonish hippos, James Proimos’ “Patricia von Pleasantsquirrel” (Dial, $15.99, 56 pp.) discovers that being princess, eating cake and staying up until midnight might not be as much fun as she’d hoped, in a story that’s a wry nod to Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.”

Sometimes, the wild things are close to home. Joanna Harrison transforms a grumpy, tired father into “Grizzly Dad” (David Fickling Books, $16.99, 32 pp.), startling, but ultimately entertaining his son. Having a bear for a father makes for a day of tree-climbing and fridge-raiding, as well as lots of bearhugs,and fanciful pastel illustrations.

Sleeping in his wig drawer and cavorting through his studio, the late Andy Warhol’s dozens of cats, all named Sam, are engagingly recalled by his nephew James Warhola in “Uncle Andy’s Cats” (G.P Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, 32 pp.), a lighthearted romp that invites young readers to find all the felines hiding in each intricate illustration.

Tween (ages 9-12)

 

Bridging the gap between picture books and independent readers, Katherine Hannigan’s “Emmaline and the Bunny” (Greenwillow Books, $14.99, 112 pp.) has such rich language, it’s nearly a poem about a girl who lives in a too-tidy town and dreams of hopping alongside her pet bunny.

Today’s “tween” authors also know they can engage the interest of that age group through adventure, mystery, fantasy and sports. In the mystery category, look for “Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel” by K.A. Holt (Random House Young Readers, $15.99, 272 pp.), a fun, suspenseful outer-space mystery. Michael Beil’s “The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour” (Knopf, $16.99, 304 pp.) amuses young mystery readers with a decoding challenge in his tale featuring sharp New York tweens.

And Tony Abbot’s “The Postcard” (Little Brown, $15, 368 pp.) about a boy who uncovers a mystery in his family’s past, reads like a nod to 1940s detective stories, complete with shadowy villains and intense chases.

For puzzles that are hands-on, and delightfully messier, Jennifer Williams’ “Oobleck, Slime and Dancing Spaghetti” (Bright Sky Press, $14.95, 176 pp.) is a guide for parents to help kids up to fourth grade with experiments inspired by the imagery of classic children’s books.

Kelly Easton’s “The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes” (Wendy Lamb, $15.99, 224 pp.), illustrated by Greg Swearingen, details the heroine’s daring escape from cowed drudgery to a world full of whimsical characters (like the pigeon who thinks he’s a bluejay).

Grace Lin’s gorgeously illustrated “Where The Mountain Meets The Moon” (Little, Brown,  $16.99, 288 pp.) weaves Chinese folktales through the story of a brave young girl’s quest for knowledge from The Old Man In The Moon. Dreamy with the stories her Ba tells, Minli’s adventures would be equally appealing as a read-aloud bedtime story.

Co-written with sports psychologist Bob Rotella, Sam T. Chambers’ “Head Case: Lacrosse Goalie” (Bright Sky Press, $9.95, 104 pp.) is more lesson plan for motivation than story, although young lacrosse players will appreciate hero Max’s focus on his skills. They’ll also enjoy Don Collins’ illustrations.

From a poem about Tempe Wick to Jersey Shore riddles, Trinka Hakes Nobel’s “The New Jersey Reader” (Sleeping Bear Press, $12.95,  98 pp.) is enlivened by K.L. Darnell’s illustrations as it surveys the state’s history.

Both Allie, the Depression-era heroine of Mary Anne Hoberman’s “Strawberry Hill” (Little Brown,  $15.99, 240 pp.), and Olive, a modern Australian girl in Kim Kane’s “Pip: A Story of Olive” (David Fickling Books,  $15.99, 256 pp.) suffer petty meanness from so-called best friends. Against the concrete sense of culture and place each author creates, both girls eventually find true friendship.

Lina, author Diana Lopes’ sock collecting “Confetti Girl” (Little, Brown Young Readers, $16.99, 208 pp.) is almost as confused by her boy-crazy best friend as by failing English class or getting by with just her father after her mother’s death. Despite heavier themes, “Confetti Girl” portrays rich Hispanic culture with warm humor.

Young adult (over 12)

Often, books for this group are more gender specific, as pre-teen girls are more interested in romance and less so in the categories that appealed to both sexes in the “tween” group. The crossover category would seem to be sci-fi, which, in this age group, seems to have as many female fans as male.

The gorgeous, visual prose of Aprilynne Pike’s debut “Wings” (Harper Teen, $16.99, 304 pp.) weaves legend into romance, for Laurel, caught between the faerie world and ours.
Want something scarier? Try Joanne Dahme’s ghostly, Gothic “Tombstone Tea” (Running Press Kids, $16.99,  204 pp.).

Of course, if all things spooky and sci-fi appeal, Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci’s anthology “Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd”(Little Brown,  $16.99, 416 pp.) is a knowing, funny must-read (for band geeks and theater geeks, too.)

Adventure, sinister magic and plausible historical touches keep the plot pelting along in Victoria Laurie’s epic debut “The Oracles of Delphi” (Delacorte,  $16.99, 560 pp.). From the white cliffs of Dover to Morocco, on the eve of WWII, the magical adventure will enchant readers of all ages.

With a fierce woman pirate captain, shapeshifting panthers (and, of course, treasure), Philip Caveney’s “Sebastian Darke: Prince of Pirates” (Delacorte,  $16.99, 421 pp.) combines whimsy with great swashbuckling.

Siblings is a real-life theme that finds its way into several new YA books. One is “Peace, Love and Baby Ducks,” the latest by Lauren Myracle (Dutton,  $16.99, 304 pp.) lets Carly be herself — bossy, candid and not dealing well with the attention her younger sister’s figure is getting in high school.

An intergenerational storyline is the basis for Tanita S. Davis’s “Mare’s War (Knopf,  $16.99, 352 pp.). Two sisters’ cross-country trip with their sportscar-driving grandmother Mare alternates with Mare’s engrossing flashbacks to her service in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II. The WWII chapters are so compelling, the modern setup feels like an interruption.

While some college-bound teens might find comfort in Claire Zulkey’s “An Off Year” (Dutton Juvenile,  $16.99, 304 pp.)  and the story of Cecily Powell abruptly taking a year off before starting her freshman year of college, the aimless narrative gets frustrating and the reader may wish she had done something more significant with the time.

Brent Runyon’s “Surface Tension” (Knopf,  $16.99, 198 pp.) follows Luke through four summer vacations at his family’s lake house. It’s a meticulous running commentary on the drive up, canoeing, being bored, wondering about girls, ranging from a 13-year-old’s optimism through his transformation to a more caustic teenager, simultaneously frustrated and relieved that nothing about the summer community changes from year to year.

Terry L. Baker’s “The Longest Walk” (American Book Publishing,  $22, 248 pp.) would make a terrific companion to a history class covering William Penn and the founding of Pennsylvania. Even with a partnership of historical characters like the Native American Combush, and Baker’s imagined teenage boy Matt, it’s a lot to take in without a lesson plan.

Elizabeth Willse is a freelance reviewer from Manhattan

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