Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 19, 2016

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

From Little House to Birchbark House

It was almost 20 years ago that novelist Louise Erdrich (Love Medicine; LaRose; The Round House) of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe launched her children's historical fiction series with The Birchbark House, a 1999 National Book Award finalist. As a childhood devourer of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie books, I was thrilled to discover Erdrich's exquisite Birchbark House series, set in a similar time and place as the Little House books--the Midwest in 19th-century America--but from the point of view of an Ojibwe family. "I am happy that they are being read together," said Erdrich in a 2012 Horn Book interview, "as the Native experience of early western settlement is so often missing in middle-grade history classes."

When the series started, Omakayas was a seven-year-old Ojibwe girl, the sole survivor of an 1847 smallpox epidemic on an island in Lake Superior. By the fifth book, Makoons (published last week by HarperCollins), the year is 1866 and Omakayas is the mother of a boy named Makoons, which means "little bear," and his twin brother, Chickadee, "the other half of his soul." Their family has moved west from the deep woods of then-Minnesota to the Great Plains of Dakota Territory. This land belongs to "the buffalo, the hunters of the buffalo, to the wolves and the eagles," and the richly detailed hunting stories Erdrich tells are those of her own family.

Her intergenerational characters leap to life in clean, clear prose and soft pencil illustrations--from a tough-as-nails woman named Two Strikes whose usual gruffness is stolen by a cute baby lamb, to Makoons himself, a dreamer who is more at home on a horse than on his own two legs. The ever-growing Birchbark House series is full of warmth, sorrow and gentle humor, and not to be missed.

--Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Paula Whyman

photo: Curt Richter

Paula Whyman's debut linked story collection, You May See a Stranger, is published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. Her stories have appeared in journals including McSweeney's QuarterlyVirginia Quarterly ReviewPloughshares and the Hudson Review. Whyman is a member of the MacDowell Colony Fellows Executive Committee. A music theater piece, "Transfigured Night," based on a story in her debut collection, is in development with composer Scott Wheeler.

On your nightstand now:

I read many books at once. Right now I'm alternating among these:

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (rereading); Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; The State We're In by Ann Beattie; Half an Inch of Water by Percival Everett; and The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams

On the soon-to-be-read pile: Some Hope, the third book in the Patrick Melrose series by Edward St. Aubyn, and Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Miss Twiggley's Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox, about a painfully shy woman who lives in a tree with two bears and a dog. She's so shy, she sends the dog into town to do the grocery shopping. After a flood occurs, she must save the townspeople by inviting them to stay temporarily in her tree. She's forced to get past her discomfort. For a socially anxious child, this was an inspiring example. The illustrations are fabulously witty. I've never met anyone among my contemporaries who remembers reading this book. I daydream that somewhere there's a small, secret fan club that meets, appropriately, in a tree house, where you can play chess with bears. "They shed on the sofa, she said, but who cares?"

Your top five authors:

Impossible to choose only five, but I'll try: Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Gabriel García Márquez.

Book you've faked reading:

I wrote a paper on Moby-Dick in high school after reading only the first 80 pages. I got a C. I have since read the entire book. I swear. I appreciated it a lot more in graduate school, when I was surprised to discover that there are funny parts. As for a book I've pretended to have read as an adult? I used to nod my head as if I knew what happened halfway through Infinite Jest. I've read the first 50 pages. I readily admit my ignorance and await the flurry of appalled protests. I do, however, love David Foster Wallace's essays and short stories.

Book you're an evangelist for:

In nonfiction, Song of the Dodo by David Quammen, about island biogeography and its applicability to the discussion of extinctions everywhere. It turns out that you don't have to be on an island per se to be living on an island, if you happen to be a species whose habitat has been artificially restricted, say, by the activities of man. It was published in 1996. I don't believe its message is dated.

In fiction, I encourage everyone to read Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively. It won the Booker in 1987, but I know relatively few people who've read it. It is narrated by an elderly popular historian who is trying to explain her own colorful life history. The book's structure is more weblike than chronological, which appeals to me. As the narrator says, "Chronology irritates me. There is no chronology inside my head."

Book you've bought for the cover:

I hope someone buys my book for the cover. I can't recall ever doing that. On the other hand, it's possible I've decided not to pick up a book because of the cover. I don't like shiny things.

Book you hid from your parents:

The one I wrote. Jig is up now, though.

I never had to hide a book from my parents. They were always thrilled that I was reading and slightly oblivious as to the content. I'm pretty sure they thought Flowers in the Attic was about gardening.

Book that changed your life:

I think I read something that changes my life every few years, but perhaps the first one was the series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I wanted so much for it to be true that anytime I saw a wardrobe, I'd climb inside it and feel around the back, but I'd only get tangled up in coats. In fact, this happened just last week at a party; a little embarrassing. Books, I realized, could convince you of the existence of an alternate reality. How cool is that?

Favorite line from a book:

"Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw." --William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow

Five books you'll never part with:

My heavily annotated grad school copy of The Waves by Virginia Woolf.

A Saturday Night Live script book from 1977.

Signed, personalized copies of Grace Paley's Collected Stories and James Salter's Dusk and Other Stories.

And Miss Twiggley, obviously.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. It might have been the first novel of hers that I read. (I'd read some of her famous essays before I read her fiction.) It was a revelation to me--the structure, the voice, the language. And the interlude--"Time Passes," the telegraphing of the future. I didn't know you could mark time that way in a novel.

What you would do if you did not write fiction:

I would be a conservation biologist. In other words, another frustrating profession with a high rate of failure and a low rate of financial reward, in which one must take comfort in the small successes; however, even those small successes seem to have the potential for a greater impact than, say, giving people something to read while they fall asleep at night. But perhaps conservation biology, being a job that I imagine leads to sleepless nights, could benefit from the relief offered by fiction, too.

Book Candy

Playbook Twist: An NFL Team Book Club

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett "wants to try something new with his teammates: a book club," ESPN reported.


The Guardian presented "emojis worth a thousand words: classic novels retold in smileys."


Imagine Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," as illustrated by Nathan Gelgud. Signature did just that.


The Hogwarts Cafe, a Harry Potter-themed restaurant that just opened in Islamabad, Pakistan, "is going to make every dining experience you have magical," Buzzfeed promised.


"Misunderstood moms of literature" were highlighted by Bustle.


"Book-lovers will go mad for these enchanting bedroom libraries," PopSugar reported.

Book Review


The Little Communist Who Never Smiled

by Lola Lafon, trans. by Nick Caistor

Nadia Comăneci emerged as a Romanian gymnastics superstar in the late 1970s, and in The Little Communist Who Never Smiled, French writer Lola Lafon blends and bends genres and styles to craft an embellished biographical novel of the Eastern European phenomenon.

Some might initially balk at the veneration with which Lafon treats her subject, but the story quickly proves winsome, its prose as gymnastic and dogged as the young heroine driving it. Comăneci's reign coincided with major political upheaval in her home country, and the precarious balance between world superstardom and national puppetry proves fascinating. Lafon's embroideries--a brief travelogue during her stay in Romania, imagined conversations and psychological insights--never veer into exaggeration or outlandishness, and it's this acute sense of equilibrium between fact and fiction that makes The Little Communist so distinct.

In one of the italicized bits of true, contemporary dialogue between writer and gymnast, Comăneci notes, "Back home, there was nothing to desire. But in the West, you are called on to desire constantly." Like the barrage of branding and consumerism that greets the young gymnast during her travels to North America, this book juggles a panoply of literary devices and tricks as relentless as Romania's team of Olympic athletes. With balletic grace and daring, The Little Communist earns a ten. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer

Discover: The Little Communist Who Never Smiled chronicles the life of famed gymnast Nadia Comăneci, embroidering fact with literary speculation and genre-defying prose.

Seven Stories Press, $18.95, paperback, 320p., 9781609806910

Swear on This Life

by Renée Carlino

Emiline is a frustrated adjunct writing professor--her long-term relationship is stagnant, as are her attempts to write fiction of her own. So she's reluctant when her roommate begs her to read All the Roads Between, the hottest debut novel of the year. But as Emi begins to read, she is shocked to discover that the novel is about her. It details the dark and sordid secrets of her childhood and her star-crossed teenage romance, which means that author "J. Colby" must be none other than Emiline's lost love, Jason.

Feeling betrayed that Jase would write their story and dare to change the ending, Emiline sets out to find him. What she discovers along the way will not only have reverberations for Emi, but also for everyone who loves her.

Renée Carlino (Before We Were Strangers, Nowhere but Here) has crafted a completely bewitching--though predictable--love story in Swear on This Life. Almost everyone can reminisce about romances past, but Emi's appalling childhood, and the way that her relationship with Jase ended, make hers particularly poignant. As she reads All the Roads Between, Emi begins to find closure for many of the feelings she's bottled up for years.

Told in alternating chapters between the slightly fictionalized All the Roads Between and Emi's present day, Swear on This Life is mesmerizing. A story of love and redemption, Renée Carlino's novel is a perfect reason for staying up too late to read. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A woman's life undergoes huge changes when she discovers that her first love wrote a bestselling novel about their relationship.

Atria, $15, paperback, 320p., 9781501105791

Lord of the Darkwood: Book 3 in the Tale of Shikanoko

by Lian Hearn

Lian Hearn (Autumn Princess, Dragon Child) explores the aftermath of death, betrayal and destruction in the third of her four-volume medieval Japanese epic. Triumph has twisted into tragedy for Shikanoko, the warrior-turned-sorcerer. After the fiery destruction of Prince Abbott and the death of lovely Akihime at Ryusonji, Shikanoko has shunned those he swore to protect. Now with a magical mask fused permanently to his face, he hovers dangerously between the human world, on which he has a tenuous grasp, and spiritual death, toward which he is descending in grief. Shikanoko flees to the heart of the Darkwood, accompanied by three others who have been victimized by Prince Abbott and the traitorous Masachika.

Meanwhile Hina and Takeyoshi--the last remaining child of Shikanoko's mentor and Shikanoko's young son, respectively--have escaped from Masachika, and they are rescued and adopted by a performing troupe of acrobats. They train Takeyoshi in their skills while pressing Hina into prostitution aboard their pleasure vessels.

Without Shikanoko as moral guide, his adopted quintuplet sons descend into an almost primitive existence, with the two eldest locked in a spiritual battle between good and evil. Now, as everyone faces the consequences of Shikanoko's actions, they must find some way to redeem him or destroy him for control of the kingdom.

Lord of the Darkwood is a study in contrasts among its protagonists; it is also a celebration of the moral and spiritual, and the role that destiny plays in effecting change in a doomed world. Hearn does a great job setting readers up with hope and a sense of redemption in what is certain to be an emotional conclusion to this brilliantly conceived series. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The third book in the Tales of Shikanoko series explores consequences of death, betrayal and hidden identity in a world marred by political and spiritual turmoil.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $13, paperback, 240p., 9780374536336

Mystery & Thriller

The Paris Librarian

by Mark Pryor

Hugo Marston, security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Paris and avid book collector, can't help but be suspicious when his friend Paul Rogers dies at the American Library one day after offering to sell Hugo a signed copy of In Cold Blood. Although the police chalk it up to natural causes (after all, Paul did have a bad heart, and video surveillance proves no one entered the locked room where his body was found), Hugo just can't let it go.

It's August, when most of Paris is en vacances, so since his embassy duties are lax, Hugo starts to poke around in Paul's personal life and into the lives of the other library employees. When a second person dies unexpectedly, Hugo is sure that a murderer is on the loose. Can he convince the police to help him catch a killer?

With a charming Parisian background, filled with omelets and frites, and a wide cast of intriguing characters--including an elderly, world-famous actress, Hugo's ex-CIA roommate and a transgender cop--The Paris Librarian is a quick, entertaining mystery. As the sixth entry in the Hugo Marston series, the first chapter contains considerable expository dialogue, which drags a bit, but Mark Pryor (The Blood Promise) finds his stride as Rogers's body is found, and the rest of the novel is delightful. Sure to appeal to mystery lovers, book collectors and Francophiles alike, The Paris Librarian is an welcome addition to an enjoyable series. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: The Paris Librarian is a engaging locked-room mystery with a beautiful Parisian backdrop.

Seventh Street Books, $15.95, paperback, 270p., 9781633881778

Nothing Short of Dying

by Erik Storey

Erik Storey's first Colorado crime thriller kicks off with a phone call to a remote Utah wilderness with sketchy cell coverage. At one end of the call is a young Grand Junction woman with a drug history, and at the other is her brother, Clyde Barr, who's a mountain man, ex-mercenary, game poacher, escaped Juarez convict and all-around hard case--but with a soft heart. Jen has been kidnapped by a ruthless dealer, and she pleads for Clyde's help before the phone signal goes dead. True to character, Clyde breaks camp and sets off to save his sister. Nothing Short of Dying is a breakneck vengeance and rescue thriller set on the Rockies' Western Slope, where the small northwest town of Craig is considered a metropolitan center.

Clyde is not a thinking-man's hero, but he knows his weaknesses: "Hunting people was much more frustrating than hunting animals, because it involved talking, which I wasn't very good at." He's more 24's Jack Bauer than Justified's Raylan Givens, more Jack Reacher than Harry Bosch. If a fist in the face won't do it, he dispatches deserving thugs with bulls-eye marksmanship. If his adversaries are too many for one man (which he rarely admits), Barr calls in markers from a collection of former mercenaries and outlaws who owe him. Nobody messes with Barr when he's on a mission--and for this hair-trigger crusader, everything is a mission. Storey's off to a good start, and Clyde Barr will be back. There are plenty of bad guys in western Colorado to corral. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Mountain marksman Clyde Barr is the unrelenting hero of this high-speed debut Western Colorado crime series.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781501124143

Biography & Memoir

Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere but Here

by Angela Palm

Vermont editor Angela Palm grew up in a struggling rural Indiana community on the banks of the Kankakee. The river had been straightened to yield farmland, but it frequently flooded back to its original shape, turning each house into an island. Palm's greatest happiness lay in her love for the boy next door; she fell asleep each night watching him through their bedroom windows. She dreamt of escaping her troubled home life, even without a clear idea of what escape might mean. And then the boy next door was sentenced to life in prison for a horrible crime.

Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere but Here is Palm's exploration of her roots and her journey away from them. By a complicated and sometimes messy route, she escaped rural Indiana, but the separation remains incomplete. Even with a family and creative life of her own, far from her hometown, she is pulled back, perhaps most of all by that boy next door, Corey.

Palm's memoir is not only the story of her life and the divergent parallel life Corey has led, but also an examination of how place forms a person. Her writing is easy to read, compelling and draws the reader in with its momentum. Riverine is about self-determination, the origin of deviance, and places, particularly the liminal ones. "Fringe investigation was the science of my neighborhood and of my art." Palm's story is yet unfinished, but her memoir has an admirable structure and art of its own. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This memoir of a difficult upbringing in the heartland deals also with broader questions of place and free will.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 224p., 9781555977467

The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art 

by Sebastian Smee

Titans in the art world often have titanic egos to go along with their extraordinary talent. In The Art of Rivalry, Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee focuses on the outsized self-esteem, vulnerabilities and principal works of four pairs of contemporary artists who form the bedrock of modern art. With an enlightening blend of biography, anecdote, history and art criticism, Smee explores the relationships between Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning--sometimes fraught relationships based on what he calls "the restless, twitching battle to get closer to someone... balanced with the battle to remain unique."

Smee's selection of artists captures different eras in the rise of modern art, and he enriches his narrative with numerous references to the critics, gallerists, lovers, spouses and collectors of the time. Without Gertrude Stein's preference for his work over that of Matisse, for example, Picasso might not have achieved such success in the competitive Paris art market. Smee quotes Peggy Guggenheim's reaction to Pollock's early work ("This young man has serious problems... and painting is one of them"), noting that the critic Clement Greenberg's enthusiasm for Pollock overpowered Guggenheim's reservations, and a show at her gallery put the painter on the map. Whether rivals or friends, these artists were better for their relationships--no matter how much their egos got in the way. The Art of Rivalry is a captivating story of eight artists at the top of their game and how they got there by climbing each other's ladders. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The Art of Rivalry is the engaging story of four pairs of modern artists and their complicated but meaningful relationships with each other.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 416p., 9780812994803

Seoul Man: A Memoir of Cars, Culture, Crisis, and Unexpected Hilarity Inside a Korean Corporate Titan

by Frank Ahrens

After an 18-year career as a business reporter with the Washington Post, Frank Ahrens quit the paper, married his girlfriend--who had recently gotten a job with the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul--and took a position as director of global communications at South Korean giant Hyundai Motors. Although words were his vocation, he came armed with a mechanical engineering degree and was a bit of a stick-shifting gearhead. A fresh location, a new wife and a key job at the fifth-largest car manufacturer in the world--what's not to like?

Seoul Man is Ahrens's story of what happens when a West Virginia-raised, born-again Christian newspaper guy with no Korean language skills walks into a rapidly growing, hierarchical family auto company, smack dab in the middle of one of the world's most chaotic big cities. Like Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad, Ahrens gets good mileage out of his many gaffes as a naïve American bred to act quickly, blunder through problems and disregard authority. When he breaks protocol to ask the vice chairman directly to rehearse an important speech for the Detroit Auto Show, his colleagues are stunned: "It was like I'd asked Confucius himself to drop and give me twenty push-ups."

As he acclimates, Ahrens comes to understand that he is working in a "high-context culture--that how I said and did something was just as important as what I said and did." Not only a revealing personal odyssey, Seoul Man also looks into the history, culture, politics and business of the remarkable success story of modern South Korea. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: When journalist Frank Ahrens takes a high-level job at Hyundai Motor Company in Seoul, his life becomes baffling, amusing and rewarding.

Harper Business, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780062405241

Political Science

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon

by Rosa Brooks

When law professor and former policy counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense Rosa Brooks visited Kuwait in 2014, she asked one of the 12,000 U.S. soldiers based there, "What's your mission here?" to which he answered, "Got me, ma'am. That's above my pay grade." In How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, Brooks reflects on the state of United States military strategy, bringing broad perspective, hands-on reporting and healthy skepticism to this absorbing trip through the endless corridors and conference rooms of the Pentagon.

Brooks calls attention to the sheer size of U.S. military bureaucracy and shares details such as the economics of drone warfare and questions about its moral legitimacy ("our targets have no opportunity to surrender--they don't even know they're targets"). Methodically, she argues that modern warfare and terrorism have blurred the lines between combatants and civilians, tortured detainees and prisoners of war, and the presumptive executive orders and legislative authority of the President. When wars are no longer "declared" and weapons are drones, suicide bombs and "killer robots," the distinction between the law of war (lex specialis) and ordinary law (lex generalis) disappears. 

Perceptive, inquisitive, sensitive and persuasive, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything is troubling but rewarding. Combining memoir, journalism and history, it is an insightful analysis of where the United States and its military sit today, how they got there and where they might turn next for more balance and restraint. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Former Pentagon legal counselor Brooks brings personal experience, history and thorough research to an enlightening assessment of the U.S. military.

Simon & Schuster, $29.95, hardcover, 448p., 9781476777863


Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing

by Marianne Boruch

Reading the poems of Marianne Boruch (The Book of Hours) at first seems an intellectual exercise. Those in Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing are scattered with references to J.M.W. Turner, Arthur Conan Doyle, Eadweard Muybridge, several to Emily Dickinson--as well as to gardens, birds and even drone warfare. They are filled with startling imagery, truncated narrative and hyphenated portmanteau words tossed in as surprising adjectives and verbs. But give these poems time and readers will become lost in thought or chuckle at her cleverness.

When Boruch enters a museum in "The Painting," for example, she sees more than a museum-goer might by actually looking at the art: "Two brush-stroked boats, so-so weather, more detail/ forward than aft.... That old guy bumming cigarettes for real/ looked the part of another century, the ancient fisherman/ contentedly mending nets in a time/ with time to retie knots." In one of several dawn poems, "Aubade with Grass, Some Trees," tranquility is interrupted by background highway sounds--prompting her to observe that "No song is complete without/ some straying into a minor key." The gods play their roles in "Prehistory," set at Scotland's National Museum: "In return, the gods/ do what? Storms, good and bad. Life is short, or it's not./ There's luck and unluck. Reward, revenge... to let live or smite." These accomplished, often humorous poems very much live up to her directives in "The Art of Poetry": "And elegant/ is good. And story. And edgy/ half-uttered in fragments is good.... Don't be/ maudlin, says the garden, don't/ be pretty pretty pretty." Boruch dazzles. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Boruch's fine collection of poems demonstrates her colloquial wit, reflective perspective and delight in language and structure.

Copper Canyon Press, $15, paperback, 108p., 9781556594915

Children's & Young Adult

Mr. Moon Wakes Up

by Jemima Sharpe

Mr. Moon is a white cat that looks like a kangaroo and "Mr. Moon always sleeps." The cat's daytime snoozing is difficult for the child of the house, because it means he isn't that much fun to play with. Mr. Moon "naps during hide-and-seek, passes out on puzzles, dozes during adventure stories, and never makes polite conversation at tea parties."

One night, Mr. Moon leaps off the bed: "Hey! You're awake! Where are you going?" asks the child, following the cat to the staircase with the leafy wallpaper.  To his astonishment, the cat jumps right through the wallpaper: "Wait for me, I'm coming, too!"  On the other side of the wallpaper is a strange, enchanting world of topiary animals and mermaid fountains. In this tranquil dreamscape, Mr. Moon perks up, walks upright, makes friends, plays chess, enjoys hedge mazes and tea parties, and "loves books about adventures... and messing about in boats." They have so much fun together, it's the child who gets sleepy, and Mr. Moon has to carry the youngster through the wall and back to bed before zooming out for more nocturnal adventures.

British artist Jemima Sharpe's fabulous illustrations with their whimsically sketchy quality are awash in soothing gray-greens and blues, with spots of color like the orange of the child's pajamas, the fish in the pond, a fiddle and several inquisitive squirrels. The overall effect is as dreamy as the fantastical bedtime story. As children have long suspected, all the fun stuff happens after everybody goes to sleep. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this dreamy and charming picture book, a cat named Mr. Moon sleeps by day but has splendid adventures by night.

Child's Play, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-6, 9781846436949

Sticks & Stones

by Abby Cooper

Dork. Weird. Freak. Worthless.

Middle school can be a tough place for kids. Friendships shift, feelings are fragile and name-calling abounds. For 12-year-old Elyse Everett, though, the pain of being labeled is literally skin deep. Elyse was born with a rare medical condition that makes the words people say about her appear on her limbs. The positive ones--beautiful, sassy, cool--aren't so bad, but the mean ones itch. Sixth grade finds her struggling to fit in and hang on to her friendship with her BFF Jeg, who is increasingly drawn to the cool clique. As Elyse grows more insecure, the name-calling ramps up, which makes her even more self-conscious. So when a mysterious note shows up in her locker--"I know who you are, and I know what you're dealing with. I want to help."--Elyse is hopeful that something good is in store. For the rest of the year, the notes appear, offering support, suggestions and inspiration for Elyse to realize she's definitely more AWESOME than LOSER.

In Sticks & Stones, Abby Cooper's wonderfully original and poignant first novel, Elyse's dry, self-deprecating wit wins the day, both in the first-person narrative and in the monthly goal-packed letters she writes to her future self: "4. Stop being weird (and calling myself weird, because now WEIRD has popped up again and it is really not a good time)." Just about every sixth grader on the planet will relate to the awkward social jostling that Elyse and her peers experience, and will cheer her growing confidence and self-acceptance. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Name-calling is painful for any sixth grader, but in this engaging debut novel, the bullying words actually appear on 12-year-old Elyse's skin.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 10-13, 9780374302870

A Unicorn Named Sparkle

by Amy Young

The ad in the comic book said "Unicorn. 25 cents." Lucy wants one.

She mails in her money, waits, and dreams of the day she will be leading her pink-maned unicorn along a path lit with golden stars, riding him over a rainbow and taking him to show-and-tell. She will name him Sparkle. She will give him a cupcake.

On the big day, Sparkle arrives in a large box. A creature that very much resembles a goat--with a horn that looks more like a party hat--chomps the cupcake and runs off. "Sparkle, not the underpants!" cries Lucy as Sparkle approaches the clothesline. There would be no riding over rainbows on this smelly, flea-bitten creature. When even show-and-tell is a bust, Lucy loses it: "You are a bad unicorn," she scolds, just before calling "the unicorn man" to return her purchase. Sparkle tries to play ball with her and lick her, but Lucy isn't having any of it. Her heart thaws a bit, however, when a storm scares Sparkle and she has to soothe him with a bedtime story, warm milk and a pat on the head. ("His fur was very soft.") She had to admit, "sometimes he made her smile...."

So Lucy ends up feeling pretty bad as she watches the unicorn man drive away with Sparkle. "Lucy yelled, 'WAAAAIT!' Sparkle bleated, 'BAAAAH!!' " The truck stops and Lucy opens the box. "Welcome home!" she says to her smelly, flea-bitten, lovable Sparkle. Irresistible pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations of Lucy and her scruffy new friend add charm to this buoyant story of reality trumping fantasy. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In Amy Young's fetching debut picture book, Lucy's mail-order unicorn is nothing like she expected... and that ends up being just fine.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 2-6, 9780374301859

Powered by: Xtenit