I've been a huge fan of Sundee T. Frazier ever since I read The Other Half of My Heart, which was shamefully neglected during its publication year for recognition and awards. Cleo Edison Oliver, Playground Millionaire is intended for a slightly younger audience, but Tucker's characters are just engaging and relatable as Frazier's other characters. Cleo (half African-American and Filipino) is a entrepreneur-in-training (her hero is an Oprah-like talk show host and successful businesswoman). When Cleo's latest scheme backfires (and gets her into trouble at school), Cleo must deal with the loss of customers (as well as some friendship issues). Cleo is funny, annoying at times, and has ups and downs with family, friends, and classmates; Tucker is intimately aware of upper elementary school issues, and creates realistic and appealing characters. A subplot involving Cleo's discomfort with a "family tree" assignment (she is adopted) is sensitively woven into the story. I hope we see more of Cleo very soon!
There are many variations of the "tortoise and hare/hare and tortoise" fable, but Alison Murray's Hare and Tortoise is one of my two favorite retellings of this Aesop tale (Helen Ward's version is perfect if you want a more sophisticated and traditional rendition). While Murray doesn't take many liberties with the actual story, this has an irreverant and silly feel (complete with maps!) that make this a top-notch read aloud for preschool and kindergarten students (Ward's ending is not as friendly and is a bit more cynical, which makes it ideal for older students).
If you need realistic and mature reads for older YA readers, you can't go wrong with Chris Lynch. Hothouse is my new favorite (although it was published in 2010); it is absolutely exceptional. D.J. and Russell have known each other for years, but their friendship has waxed and waned as they grew older. When their fathers, professional fire fighters, are killed in a fire, the community swarms around them in adulation of their hero dads...until disturbing circumstances about the fire come to life. The new revelations crush the families and turn many in the community against them, with the two boys reacting in very different ways. This a powerful look at the worship of fallen heroes: how it can suffocate bereaved families, and how quickly it can change when heroes are revealed to be human.
Although L.J. Alonge's companion novels, Justin and Janae, are both great quick reads, Janae is the superior title. The trials and tribulations of teen basketball players living in Oakland will appeal to sports fans, especially reluctant readers (Justin has more mature elements than Janae).
While there are many beautifully created and illustrated picture books of Jesus's life, far too often the language is so rich and sophisticated that it is out of reach for young listeners (especially if the text is taken directly from a Bible translation). On the other hand, there is no shortage of crassly and cheaply produced picture books of Bible stories. Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus is a much welcome relief from both ends of the spectrum. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers (Abrams's adult and juvenile divisions publish heavily illustrated books for all readers, including the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Origami Yoda series; their adult books are usually gigantic coffee table books about art, design, and entertainment), this is a gorgeously told and painted retelling of Jesus's life. It is breathtaking, deeply moving, and an ideal gift for an Easter basket. Betsy Bird thinks it could be a wild card for the Caldecott; I heartily agree!
I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much from One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote; the Cat in the Hat nonfiction titles are cute, but often leave a lot to be desired. However, with the election coming up, I knew that it would be a popular choice. Now that I've read it, it's now my top recommendation for books about the election process! Not only does the Cat in the Hat explain the basics of campaigns and rallies, but also does a little nonvoting shaming (!) and mentions political parties other than the Republicans and Democrats (Green Party and Libertarian party in particular). The rhyme scheme can get a little forced, but for an introduction to the voting process, this can't be beat for its instant appeal, fun nature, and surprisingly diverse overview.
I'm not a huge fan of alternate history; a historical fantasy about the Russian tsars made me a little uncomfortable, to be honest. But I'm working my way through YA books published in 2016, so I grabbed The Crown's Game from the new YA shelf. This fantasy (a series opener, of course!) about dueling magicians whose fate is intertwined with the Russian royal family is richly epic and tragically romantic.
The history of invention is rife with stories of inventions that came about through mishaps in the creation process; Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Invention is no exception. NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson was working on a new cooling system for rockets when he managed to create one of the most popular water toys for kids; not only is this a fun story about an accidental invention, but it's also a story about the importance of perseverance, creativity, and overcoming obstacles.
Just as adult worker bees in cubicles dream of chucking it all and moving to an organic farm in the country, Homer years to "get back to nature" and tap into his wild wolf ancestry. Luckily, he has some very understanding humans, who ship him off to wolf camp...where he discovers that wolves don't sleep on comfy beds in warm and dry houses (and bacon strips handed over by indulgent humans are nowhere to be found). Wolf Camp is a hilarious "grass is always greener" tale that readers/listeners up to third grade will love.
Next week, I'll blog about newly received or ordered books for Fall 2016; my to-be-read list is overflowing!
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian