Book Beat

Great Summer Reads
for Tots through Teens

Keeping kids’ word skills up to snuff over the summer can be as easy as visiting a local or online bookstore. The books recommended here are new, published within the last 12 months. They were selected as top 2008 summer reads by The Horn Book, which has reviewed children’s and young adult literature for more than 80 years. We’ve added a few comments from MetroKids book reviewer Frank Lipsius. Happy reading!

Reprinted by permission of The Horn Book. To sign up for The Horn Book’s free monthly e-newsletter for parents, visit

Click a Kids' Book Category:
Picture Books (grades K-3)
Younger Fiction (grades 1-3)
Intermediate Fiction (grades 4-6)
Young Adult Fiction (grades 7 & up)
Nonfiction (grades K-8)
Folklore (grades K-6)
Poetry (grades K-9)

PICTURE BOOKS (grades K-3)

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
by Marla Frazee (Harcourt,$16, 32 pages)
James and Eamon stay with Eamon's grandparents while attending a nature day-camp. Though the boys tolerate camp, the real action happens during their unstructured time at home. Frazee's text plays straight man to her pictures; while the earnest narrative offers one version of events, the energetic illustrations and speech balloons provide a boys'-eye view of "the best week ever."

A Visitor for Bear
by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald (Candlewick, $16.99, 56 pages)
"No visitors allowed." The sign on Bear's door is clear, but one mouse is undeterred. He pops in, only to be thrown out. Denton's warm, inviting illustrations belie Bear's inhospitable behavior, and Becker's energetic narrative zips along. At story's end, Bear entreats the mouse to stay. By a friend's presence, Bear is transformed; text and art handle the shift with aplomb.

Cowboy & Octopus
by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (Viking, $16.99, 40 pages).
There’s a new twosome in town — a cowpoke and a cephalopod. Scieszka and Smith cast their unlikely duo in seven vignettes that reveal the ins and outs of friendship. All are simply told, surprisingly fresh, and genuinely funny, with Smith’s artfully weathered mixed-media orchestrations pushing the humor level up and up and up. (Octopus dressed as the tooth fairy for Halloween is flat-out hilarious.)

Dog and Bear: Two’s Company
by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Porter/Roaring Brook, $12.95 32 pages)
The three stories, told mostly in dialogue, lend themselves to independent reading and group sharing; readers may also enjoy acting them out. Seeger demonstrates the power of the small brush stroke as Bear’s eyebrows tell the whole story of what it means to be Dog’s friend. A stark white background highlights the action — the rest is dark ink outlines with deep colors within.

Heat Wave
by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
(Harcourt,$16, 32 pages)
Residents of Lumberville try to beat the heat in ways that are surprising and amusing. The story gathers momentum as the temperature rises, climaxing in a late-night community get-together. Lewin uses ink and watercolors dominated by blues, purples, and oranges to depict the blisteringly muggy setting. She outdoes herself in the final spread: what look like actual water droplets splatter her illustrations.

Ivan the Terrier
by Peter Catalanotto (Jackson/Atheneum, $16.99, 40 pages)
What appears to be a folktale retelling turns into a story hour gone amok after terrier Ivan bursts onto the scene. An unseen storyteller cries, "You naughty dog!" and starts over with a different story. Readers will enjoy pointing out signs of Ivan's imminent arrival. Finally, the storytelling focus turns to the terrier, but it's too late: Ivan's all pooped out.

Knock, Knock!
by various authors (Dial, $16.99, 32 pages)
Fourteen artists provide their own takes on the classic joke. Setup is on the recto, payoff on the verso, with each page-turn revealing the punch line. Some are traditional, others play with children's book texts; the freshest break the rules. The varying styles and interpretations defy thematic unity, but kids mired in the knock-knock phase of life will find this bagatelle pleasantly diverting.

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Monkey and Me
by Emily Gravett (Simon, $19.48, 32 pages)
PS Gravett creates a whole world here with just two characters--a little girl and her stuffed monkey. Monkey and girl are a moving riddle as readers try to figure out which animal they are imitating before a page turn reveals the answer. The open, all-white-space background sets off the high energy of the characters, depicted in soft browns, grays, and reds.

Otis and Rae and the Grumbling Splunk
by Laura Espinosa, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
(Houghton, $12.95, 32 pages)
Otis and Rae, out for their first camping trip, work through fears with good humor, spunk, and PB&B (for banana) sandwiches. The Espinosas bring graphic innovation to the familiar best-friend story. With elements of comic strips, a retro color scheme, and a winning sense of humor, they tell a story that will draw in new readers and listeners alike.

by Marc Rosenthal (Cotler/HarperCollins, $16.99, 40 pages)
Rosenthal brings us an amusing, nearly wordless book about a boy who thinks "nothing ever happens around here!" The grumpy little hero makes his way through the city, complaining about his boring town while a dog chases a cat, spooking an elephant, who bolts from the zoo, etc. Youngsters will be entranced by the hilarious scenes in this engrossing extravaganza.

by Adam Rex (Harcourt, $16, 40 pages)
At the zoo, a girl is summoned by a gorilla: "PSSST!" And so her visit goes, with requests from each animal. The jokes start on the front endpapers and continue throughout. Painted in full color, the girl and animals stand out from the busy but cleanly sketched backgrounds. Perfect for readers with a been-there-done-that attitude toward the zoo.

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas
by Viviane Schwarz (Levine/Scholastic, $16.99, 40 pages)
Timothy's mother's sturdy mending transforms his favorite pajamas into super pajamas. Heroic rescues ensue until the pajamas rip, losing their power. It's a beguiling premise, affectionately developed in boldly limned illustrations where comic book–style dialogue balloons are supplemented with narrative; meanwhile, frames and vignettes open into imaginative vistas, bright with saturated colors. Lively, funny, and true to the spirit of play.

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything
by Elise Broach, illustrated by David Small
(Atheneum, $16.99, 40 pages)
From the moment the triceratops bursts out of the bakery’s back room ("buy a dozen, get a dinosaur"), this very tall tale grabs readers’ attention. Small's energetic watercolor and ink illustrations are a perfect choice for such an absurdist dream-come-true for dinosaur fans. Kids will go wild for this story of dinosaurs as suburban pets.

Back to [Top of article][Top of Picture Books]

YOUNGER FICTION (grades 1-3)

Abracadabra! Magic with Mouse and Mole
by Wong Herbert Yee (Houghton, $15, 48 pages)

After Mole (Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole) is disappointed to learn that magic tricks are more trick than magic, Mouse tries to show him the “real” magic that takes place all around them in nature. Plentiful charcoal-pencil and gouache illustrations help readers follow the story with ease and imbue the moonlit nighttime scenes with mystery and wonder.

Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors
by Phyllis Root, illustrated by David Parkins
(Candlewick, $16.99, 64 pages)
This beguiling collection features two previously published (as picture books) Aunt Nancy tales and two new trickster stories, in a smaller trim size illustrated mainly with silhouettes. Root’s folksy style shines in every sentence, her storyteller’s voice carrying the reader through each account with ease. Parkins’s wit shows itself in the droll silhouettes that milk body language for all it’s worth

Babymouse: Skater Girl and Babymouse: Puppy Love,
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random, ($5.99, 96 pages each)

Babymouse: Skater Girl — Babymouse daydreams about being a medal-winning figure skater. When a professional coach tells her she has talent, Babymouse develops a lust for glory...which is tested by the realities of before- and after-school practices, a ban on cupcakes, and no time for friends. In her seventh book, Babymouse leaps back into readers' hearts with her signature pink-tinted fantasies.

Babymouse: Puppy Love — Mom vetoes a puppy, so Babymouse settles for a hamster, who quickly escapes. Hammy is followed by a turtle, ferret, salamander, etc.--all of whom vamoose. A stray dog gives our unlucky-with-pets heroine the chance to redeem herself. Babymouse's daydreams and (mis)adventures, shown in the loose-handed, pink-tinged illustrations, are as silly and sassy as ever in this eighth book about her.

Ballet Sisters: The Duckling and the Swan
by Jan Ormerod (Cartwheel/Scholastic, $5.99, 32 pages)
Both beginning readers and preschoolers (who will easily understand the simple text) will have someone to identify with: preschooler Sylvie or her older sister, the unnamed narrator. The straightforward text includes lots of repetition, but not too much. Ormerod's clean line drawings, humorous and expressive, also help readers keep pace with this dancing duo.

Jamie and Angus Together
by Anne Fine, illustrated by Penny Dale (Candlewick, $15.99, 102 pages)
In the first story, preschooler Jamie tries to prepare his stuffed Highland bull Angus (The Jamie and Angus Stories) for the visit of a little girl who plays too roughly. Jamie comes up with a childlike but successful solution. Throughout the six stories Fine always maintains Jamie's complete believability, conveying his perceptiveness and empathy side by side with his limited perspective.

Maybelle in the Soup
by Katie Speck, illustrated by Paul Ratz de Tagyos
(Holt, $16.95, 58 pages)
This book introduces an unlikely pair of protagonists--Maybelle, a stylish cockroach, and Henry, a wise flea. Henry lays low, but Maybelle craves adventure. Illustrations from a variety of perspectives reinforce the humor, and spot art breaks up large chunks of text. The capitalization of certain words and phrases helps children recognize nuances of tone.

One Saturday Evening
by Barbara Baker, illustrated by Kate Duke (Dutton, $13.99, 48 pages)
A family of bears (Mama, Papa, three girls, and toddler Jack) prepares for bed. As in the earlier books, each chapter focuses on one family member at a time. Duke manages a remarkable range of expressions on the bears' faces while using a calm palette and lots of cozy details to evoke the quiet evening.

Sallie Gal and the Wall-a-Kee Man
by Shelia P. Moses, illustrated by Niki Daly (Scholastic, $15.99, 152 pages)
It's summertime and the hardest thing for Sallie Gal is the fancy ribbons her cousin always wears. There's no money for luxuries, with Sallie Gal's father serving in Vietnam. When kind Mr. Wallace gives Sallie Gal ribbons, she struggles with the values her proud mother has instilled. Daly's energetic black-and-white drawings help make the story accessible to new readers.

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Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians
by Brandon Sanderson (Scholastic, $14.95, 308 pages)
On his thirteenth birthday, orphan Alcatraz Smedry receives a bag of sand. In short order he's visited by his long-lost grandfather and some evil librarians. Sanderson gleefully deconstructs his fictional world, including Alcatraz's self-conscious narration. For all its self-aware preciosity, this still stands as a happily action-packed romp, with just the right amount of repartee and a cliffhanger ending.

All the Lovely Bad Ones
by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion, $16, 182 pages)
For mischief-makers Travis and Corey, a stay at their grandmother's reputedly haunted inn holds promise. Soon, though, the game isn't funny: "...the ghosts are awake now. Putting them back to sleep will not be easy." Hahn expertly combines the comedy of spectral hijinks and bumbling
ghost-busters with a dark backstory of abused children and the malevolent guardian who torments them.

Becca at Sea
by Deirdre Baker (Groundwood, $16.96, 165 pages)
In 12 linked episodes set on her Gran’s small island off the coast of British Columbia, Becca averts many mishaps and disasters, saving the day with ingenuity, tact, and enough grace to beguile her family and readers alike. Baker’s dialogue is true-to-life, witty, and intelligent, and the setting is lovingly depicted. This funny, endearing book should find a wide audience.

Being Bee
by Catherine Bateson (Holiday, $16.96, 126 pages)
Resentful of her dad's new live-in girlfriend, Jazzi, Bee vents her frustration in letters to her guinea pigs. She takes solace in their sympathetic replies, which are really written by kind-hearted Jazzi. Though narrated in Bee's voice, the book also manages to convey Jazzi's point of view. By novel's end, Bee sees that Jazzi is a worthy addition to the family

Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale, illustrated by James Noel Smith
(Bloomsbury, $17.95, 306 pages)
Dashti is lady's maid to Lady Saren, whose father has them locked up for Lady Saren's refusal to marry. Dashti's diary entries are lively with details of their survival. What happens after the two emerge forms the book's second half. Hale brings her invented kingdom to life with vivid descriptions, snippets of which Smith depicts in Dashti's occasional pen-and-ink sketches.

by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
(Brodie/Roaring Brook, $14.95, 352 pages
Pre-teen Floss adores her down-on-his-luck dad and decides to stay with him when Mum, stepfather, and baby brother move to Australia for six months. Some hair-raising adventures, happy coincidences, and a wish-fulfillment ending ensue. Wilson mixes familiar situations and concerns with a brisk pace. Comic-strip panels introduce each chapter, setting tone, illustrating Floss's feelings, and extending the action

Forever Rose
by Hilary McKay (McElderry, $16.99, 291 pages)
11-year-old Rose, the most off-center member of the Casson family, is the emotional heart of this fifth and final book about them. The beautifully orchestrated plot includes spillover issues from previous books, new messy relationships, triumphs, and pleasures, and two startling surprises. McKay delights us once again with her hilarious disaster scenes, metafictional cheek, and unsentimental celebration of the virtue of kindness.

Go Big or Go Home
by Will Hobbs (HarperCollins,$16.99, 185 pages)
A meteorite crashes into Brady's bedroom, endowing him with extreme strength and endurance. Almost steroidal in its nonstop action and numerous subplots, the book takes the sentiments of its title seriously. Hobbs keeps everything on track by focusing strongly on Brady's friendship with his best friend / cousin and their mutual enjoyment of the well-evoked Black Hills setting.

Into the Woods
by Lyn Gardner, illustrated by Mini Grey
(Fickling/Random, $16.99,438 pages)
Middle child Storm welcomes a baby sister the same day she loses her mother and inherits a mysterious pipe coveted by a sinister exterminator. This fully realized fairy tale is just fractured enough, without sacrificing atmosphere and menace, to keep readers guessing. The vivid language, rich with imagery, is ably matched by Grey's spot art, which infuses conventional images with modern wit. 

Back to [Top of article] [Top of Intermediate Fiction]

Lawn Boy
by Gary Paulsen (Lamb/Random, $12.99, 88 pages)
When the 12-year-old narrator’s grandmother gives him a lawnmower, the youngster decides he might as well earn a few bucks. He meets Arnold, an investor with a cash-flow problem, who promises to buy stocks for him as payment for a freshly trimmed yard. With all the energy of a bull market, this brief farce has summer escapism written all over it.

Frank’s comment: Lawn Boy uses his sit-down lawn mower to parlay green grass into enough green cash to get himself involved with shady characters. But stockbroker Arnold shows him and the reader how to make some real money, without taking it all too seriously. –F.L

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little
by Peggy Gifford, illustrated by Valorie Fisher
(Schwartz & Wade, $5.50, 92 pages)
Tomorrow is the first day of school. Nine-year-old Moxy still hasn't started her summer assignment--to read Stuart Little--and she's running out of excuses. This original story features a chatty omniscient narrator, faux-amateur black-and-white photos (ostensibly taken by Moxy's twin brother), and a spunky, creative protagonist whose name is well matched to her spirited personality.

Piper Reed: Navy Brat
by Kimberly Willis Holt, illustrated by Christine Davenier
(Holt, $14.95,146 pages)
Being a Navy brat is full of activity and challenges--just the way irrepressible nine-year-old Piper Reed likes it. When Chief Reed announces they'll be moving to Pensacola, Florida, Piper's optimistic spirit gets her through. Holt writes with a light touch as she captures the details of military life through Piper's personable voice. Davenier's pen and wash sketches are aptly exuberant.

Seer of Shadows
by Avi (HarperCollins, $16.99, 202 pages)
Fourteen-year-old Horace, apprentice to photographer Enoch Middleditch, becomes engaged in spiritual fleecing. Short chapters with tantalizing cliffhangers heighten the story's suspense, which comes to a head when Horace's photographs unleash a vengeful ghost. Set in post–Civil War New York, this dandy mystery re-creates and stays within its historical period while also introducing characters confronting timeless questions of personal honor.

Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel and Curious Hats
by Philip Reeve, illustrated by David Wyatt
(Bloomsbury, $16.95, 370 pages)
Art and Myrtle (Larklight) discover that Britain is being invaded by futuristic shapeshifters. The siblings reunite with pirate-turned-British-agent Jack Havock and are off to save the galaxy. Art and Myrtle are delightfully bombastic and vehemently British. The depths of dramatic tension work as counterpoint to the outlandish comedy, heightening humor and peril. Wyatt's meticulously detailed illustrations fill in any gaps.

The Last of the High Kings
by Kate Thompson (Greenwillow, $16.99, 322 pages)
J.J. Liddy (The New Policeman), now grown up, is the guardian of a changeling named Jenny. Jenny, J.J.'s son, and an aged neighbor work to protect the world from a púka (mythical goat). Thompson's rich portrayal of family benefits from folkloric play on trickster motifs and otherworld creatures. Resonantly Irish, Thompson's storytelling still easily leaps geographical and cultural boundaries.

The London Eye Mystery
by Siobhan Dowd (Fickling/Random, $16.99, 323 pages)
When 12-year-old narrator Ted’s cousin disappears, he and his sister join forces to solve the conundrum. Ted has Asperger syndrome and his hard-wired honesty and never-ending struggle to make sense of the world make him an especially sympathetic character. The mystery itself includes well-embedded clues readers can follow; Ted’s literal, logical brain lets him step back to see the solution.

The Professor’s Daughter
by Joann Sfar, illustrated by Emmanuel Guibert, translated from the French by Alexis Siegel (First Second/Roaring Brook, $16.95, 80 pages).
This graphic novel is part farce, part Victorian melodrama, with a generous splash of noir. It starts with Lillian Bowell on the arm of her nattily dressed mummified beau, Pharaoh Imhotep IV. The unlikely couple embarks on some offbeat adventures, brought to life with Guibert's skillful brushwork and shadowy muted palette. This French import will wow graphic novel aficionados and newcomers.

The True Meaning of Smekday
by Adam Rex (Hyperion, $16.99, 426 pages)
When invading aliens kidnap her mother, eleven-year-old Tip Tucci heads off to find her. Holding interest with a Daniel Pinkwaterish sense of humor, Rex's sci-fi/road-trip amalgam is loosely structured as a personal essay written by Tip two years after the invasion. Black-and-white illustrations--a combination of Tip's P
olaroid snapshots, comic-book panels, and additional drawings--capture the escapades.

Back to [Top of article] [Top of Intermediate Fiction]

Young Adult Fiction (grades 7 & up)

by Eoin Colfer (Hyperion, $17.99, 412 pages)
Conor, framed for a king's murder, is sent to a diamond-mine prison. Sustained by his passion for flight, Conor designs flying machines on the walls of his cell. The story's tension draws power from the many cards stacked against its protagonist. Lightening this grim concoction is the heady aura of scientific possibility and plenty of period grit and flavor.

Diamonds in the Shadow
by Caroline B. Cooney (Delacorte, $15.99, 320 pages)
This satisfying thriller introduces with compassion the complex issues of African civil war and violence. A suburban Connecticut household takes in a family of battle-scarred African refugees not knowing that a cold-blooded killer is hot on their trail. The character roles are largely predetermined (self-centered American teen, bubbly little sister, polite African boy) but well suited to the plot-driven novel.

by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, $16.99, 417 pages)
Aya is an "extra" with a face-recognition rank stuck in the mid-400,000s. If she can win fame as a "kicker," reporting on a story that captures the city's imagination, her rank will soar. Things get complicated when Aya and her friends are kidnapped; that's when Tally Youngblood (Uglies; Pretties; Specials) steps in. High-speed chases and cutting-edge wizardry keep the action popping.

by Perry Moore (Hyperion, $16.99, 428 pages
More than he dreads coming out to his father, Thom fears revealing his superhuman healing powers. As Thom trains for hero duty he uncovers family secrets. Readers will appreciate the satire that provides moments of relief in an often dark narrative. Filled with inexorable villains and disillusioned heroes, the book spans isolation and romance for a larger-than-life coming of age.

How the Hangman Lost His Heart
by K. M. Grant (Walker, $16.96, 244 pages)
In 1746, Alice’s uncle, a Stuart sympathizer, is executed, his head displayed as a warning to traitors. Alice effects a rescue of the head and becomes a fugitive, accompanied by sympathetic hangman Dan Skinslicer. Their madcap escapades (disembodied head in tow) boast nary a pause. A smart, breezy caper, liberally flavored with gallows humor, grandly theatrical in gesture and tone.

by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves (Eos/HarperCollins, $6.99, 239 pages)
When Joey Harker takes a wrong turn and steps outside his reality, he learns his world exists within the Altiverse, a near-infinity of Earths existing in parallel dimensions. Thus begins an adventure filled with innovative world-building and breathless action. The authors' efficient, understated characterizations create a distinct array of personalities. Humor occasionally surfaces; Joey's immutable homesickness is another defining undercurrent.

Mistik Lake
by Martha Brooks (Kroupa/Farrar, $16, 207 pages)
In this Manitoba-set story, secrets stalk three generations of women: teenage Odella, her mother Sally, and Odella's great-aunt, Gloria. Brooks separates her novel into three parts: bleak "Winter," thawing "Spring" and smoldering "Summer." The book expands its exceedingly well-told tale of teenage romance with equally absorbing stories of adults who've played the tricky game of love.

Once upon a Time in the North
by Philip Pullman, illustrated by John Lawrence (Knopf, $12.99, 100 pages)
Before the events of His Dark Materials, twenty-four-year-old Lee Scoresby crash-lands on the island of Novy Odense. There, he's sucked into a political struggle and meets the fearsome, inscrutable Iorek Byrnison. This adventure exudes the breezy charm of an old-fashioned Western thanks to its fast-talking, straight-shooting hero. Engraved spot illustrations add to the tapestry of Pullman's fully realized alternate world.

Princess Ben
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Houghton, 344 pages)
15-year-old Ben — plump, petulant, indulged — happens upon a mysterious tower, where she learns conjuring and enchantment. Political intrigue, romance, and self-actualization are interwoven with skill and verve in this frothy yet substantial fairy tale. Murdock’s prose blends a formal syntax with an intimate tone that bonds readers with Ben as she transforms from a selfish child into a competent, compassionate woman.

Back to [Top of article] [Top of Young Adult Fiction}

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
by Peter Cameron (Foster/Farrar, $16, 229 pages)

18-year-old gay teen James wants to use his college money to buy a house in the Midwest. The heart of the matter is a desire to stay safe; 9/11 happened outside his classroom window. Cameron, a respected author of adult fiction, has written a spare, spacious, quietly dazzling book. It’s Catcher in the Rye in a different voice — witty, reflective, terse.

Frank’s comment: James was already dealing with major family issues when 9/11 happened. The emotional issues play out in his relations with adults and effort to go to college in the Midwest, a heavy subject kids will relate to because of the age of the troubled hero. –F.L.

Streams of Babel
by Carol Plum-Ucci (Harcourt, $17, 424 pages)
This harrowing thriller tells of a biological attack on a New Jersey suburb, focusing on the four young adults, complicated and distinct, who are primarily affected. Plum-Ucci deftly layers global intrigue atop more intimate mysteries, using perspective shifts to manipulate tension and propel the plot. Rich with unanswerable questions and timely urgency, the book captures the frailty of post-9/11 American life.

by Sara Zarr (Little, $16.99, 217 pages)
Outcast Jennifer remakes herself into stylish "Jenna." When her childhood pal Cameron reappears, Jenna's past and present become inextricable. The friends relate with a natural, bittersweet intimacy that tugs at the heartstrings as Jenna comes to terms with her secrets and insecurities. It's a process many teens will relate to, amplified here with wistful prose and skillfully layered characters.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney (Little, $16.99, 232 pages)
Junior makes the iffy commute from his Spokane Indian reservation to an off-rez high school where he’s the only Indian. Though short, nearsighted, and disabled, he joins the basketball team, which leads to a showdown with his home team. Junior’s inimitable and hilarious narration is intensely alive with short paragraphs, one-liners, and take-no-prisoners cartoons (expertly depicted by Forney).

The Arrival
illustrated by Shaun Tan (Levine/Scholastic, $19.99, 128 pages)
Seeking a better life for his family, a man travels to a strange, unfamiliar country. It's the triumph of this lavish, somber, wordless book that readers are kept in sympathetic step with the immigrant hero. Meticulously composed panels propel the action while larger pictures display majestic cityscapes. Subtle shifts from gray to brown to gold underline the story's themes.

The Compound
by S. A. Bodeen (Feiwel. $16.95,245 pages)
When Eli was nine, his billionaire father led his family into an underground bunker built to protect them against nuclear war. Now fifteen, Eli begins questioning: is the outside world really gone? Bodeen's action-packed writing conveys the Compound environment and its subtly debilitative effects. This tense portrait of a family in crisis probes the psychological and moral costs of survival.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart (Hyperion, $16.99, 342 pages)
Frankie's boyfriend, Matthew, is the co-leader of an all-male secret society. By impersonating Matthew's co-leader over e-mail, Frankie takes control of the society, secretly engineering campus-wide pranks. A clinical-sounding narrator addresses readers directly, giving the book a case-study vibe and presenting Frankie's exploits in a dispassionate way. Readers are left to make up their own minds about this unique, multifaceted individual.

The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom (The Mark of Solomon series)
by Elizabeth E. Wein (Viking, $16.99 & 208 pages each,)

The Lion Hunter — A lion attack costs Telemakos his arm. During his convalescence, he becomes devoted to his newborn sister Athena. Still haunted by his torture (The Sunbird), Telemakos is placed in mortal jeopardy. The vividly evoked setting provides a lush backdrop. That the book ends with Telemakos at the height of peril will only whet readers' appetites for the story's conclusion.

The Empty Kingdom — This sequel to The Lion Hunter plunges readers back into the intricately conceived world of post-Arthurian Africa. Imprisoned, Telemakos sends coded messages to his family while Abreha — who is a masterfully written foil — attempts to win his loyalty. Throughout, Wein deftly balances the political and the personal, moving toward a pitch-perfect resolution to Telemakos's unique, epic journey into adulthood.

The Missing Girl
by Norma Fox Mazer (HarperTeen, $16.99, 248 pages)
In this chilling novel, five sisters go about their lives, unaware of a man's obsession until one sister becomes his prisoner. Alternating chapters tell the story from three of the sisters' perspectives and the man's point of view, told in measured, creepy prose. Mazer has crafted a skillful psychological examination of a disturbed, dangerous predator and a family that experiences trauma.

Back to [Top of article] [Top of Young Adult Fiction}


A Horse in the House: And Other Strange but True Animal Stories
by Gail Ablow, illustrated by Kathy Osborn (Candlewick,$17.99,  grades 1-5, 40 pages)
As the author's note confirms with multiple sources, each of these 16 stories about unusual animals (a contact lens–wearing greyhound; a horse house pet) is true. Ablow uses a matter-of-fact tone, while Osborn goes for a more tongue-in-cheek, sometimes surreal treatment in her gouache paintings. The stories and pictures together provide lots of laughs and some good anecdotes to retell.

How Big Is It?: A Big Book All about Bigness
by Ben Hillman (Scholastic Reference, $14.99, grades K-3, 48 pages)
Just how big is a 33-foot-long python? Conversational text describes interesting attributes of twenty-two animals, objects, and places. The python's actual size becomes evident when, in a cleverly composed manipulated photo, the snake is slithering down some stairs--its tail end looped around and riding up the escalator alongside the stairs. Learning about size perception has never been this much fun.

Keep Your Eye on the Kid: The Early Years of Buster Keaton
by Catherine Brighton (Flash Point/Roaring Brook,$16.95, grades K-3, 32 pages)
In this picture book biography, deadpan text and masterfully varied comic-book frames outline Buster's life from birth through his early days in Hollywood. On some pages, narrow horizontal frames show a perspective differing from the main illustration, while on others two vertical frames propel the action. An author's note invites further exploration of the man and his movies.

Living Color
by Steve Jenkins (Houghton,$17, grades K-3, 32 pages)
Jenkins focuses on why animals are the colors they are. Large, bold lettering introduces each hue and a bevy of different animals. Short paragraphs of text are concise and not too technical. The book's real highlight, though, is Jenkins's cut-paper collages: his animals are dazzling--vibrantly colored and detailed. End matter answers questions and gives further information. Reading list.

May I Pet Your Dog?:
The How-to Guide for Kids Meeting Dogs (and Dogs Meeting Kids)
by Stephanie Calmenson, illustrated by Jan Ormerod
(Clarion, $9.95, 32 pages, grades K-3)
Dachshund Harry leads young readers through kid-meets-dog etiquette. The line-and-watercolor illustrations are as simple and patient as the text, placing the viewer in a straight-on and consistent position for Harry's how-tos, reinforcing the way the "lessons" build on each other. What is perhaps most engaging is the direct address from dog to child; grownups are relegated to holding the leash.

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City
by Janet Schulman, illustrated by Meilo So
(Knopf, $16.99, 40 pages, grades 1-5)

Narrating in an easygoing, lucid style, Schulman tells Pale Male’s story in great detail, integrating it into the context of city life. Meilo So captures the city’s rich variety with impressionistic virtuosity. Her point of view varies from curbside to hawk’s-eye, her watercolor and colored pencil palette keyed to the russets and creams of Pale Male’s plumage, enlivened with splashes of intense color.

Paleo Sharks: Survival of the Strangest
by Timothy J. Bradley (Chronicle,$15.95, grades 4-6, 48 pages)
Bradley's chronologic tour of extinct shark species employs a smart design and sharp graphics to tie together the encyclopedia-like entries. Each two-page layout includes one or two profiles of sharks, a related text box, and a to-scale comparison. In the accompanying illustrations, sharks sport colorful stripes, spots, and other markings (though Bradley is careful to explain that these are his interpretations).

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by Alexandra Siy, photomicrographs by Dennis Kunkel
(Charlesbridge, $6.95, grades K-3, 48 pages)
Siy and Kunkel illustrate the many reasons for sneezing. The book's first half presents things that make us sneeze; the second half describes the microscopic human body parts responsible for the automatic sneeze reflex. The book is illustrated with black-and-white photographs of children and with photomicrographs. The latter are the stars here, reproduced in vibrant colors on black backgrounds.

The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming
by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon
(Orchard/Scholastic, $15.99, grades 4-8, 112 pages)

David and Gordon speak plainly and clearly to their young audience using kid-friendly metaphors. The layout makes use of color, various fonts, photographs, line drawings, charts, and maps not only to convey information but also to emphasize important points. Recommended actions are feasible: write your mayor, turn off surge protectors, get parents to buy post-consumer paper goods. Solid documentation is appended.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
by Kadir Nelson (Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, $18.99, 88 pages, grades 4-8)

Imagine listening to Willie Mays and Ernie Banks swapping tales. That easygoing, conversational storytelling is what Nelson achieves in this pitch-perfect history of Negro League baseball. His extensive research yields loads of attention-grabbing details. The grand slam, though, is the art: Nelson’s oil paintings have a steely dignity, and his from-the-ground perspectives make the players look larger than life.

Whale Port
written by Mark Foster, illustrated by Gerald Foster
(Lorraine/Houghton, $18, 64 pages, grades 4-6)

Readers follow development of the imagined whaling town of Tuckanucket. We see industries grow: shipsmithing, candleworks, milling — and, later, tourism. Each precisely detailed ink and crayon double-page spread is drawn from the same bird’s-eye perspective, allowing readers to spot landmarks and changes; additional interspersed pages offer elaboration. The Fosters have elegantly synthesized a tremendous amount of information into a beguiling format.

When Is a Planet Not a Planet?: The Story of Pluto
by Elaine Scott (Clarion, $17, grades 4-6, 48 pages)
The first two chapters offer information about planetary discovery. Scott then turns her attention to how scientists think, making clear the differences between hypotheses, theories, and laws. The fourth chapter outlines Pluto's planetary peculiarities. Throughout, the author reiterates that future discussions will change, because scientific knowledge is not static. Illustrations include photographs, artists' renderings, and diagrams of various planetary features.

What’s Eating You?: Parasites—The Inside Story
by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton
(Candlewick, $12.99, 64 pages, grades 4-6)

Davies states, “there are more than 430 different kinds of parasites that can live on a human body...or in one,” then presents examples. What makes the often-gory details easier to stomach are Davies’s accessible, pun-filled explanations of the science and Layton’s cartoon illustrations, which use anthropomorphism to great effect. Even readers who are a mite squeamish may be sucked in.

Frank’s comment: The author is right when she observes, halfway through the book, “By now you may be feeling rather uncomfortable, even a bit sick, at the thought of parasites using your body as their property.” Very true, even when she turns to how to get rid of them and finds some that are actually useful. The book is a good guide to the unseen world in which we live and which lives in us. –F.L.

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Genies, Meanies, and Magic Rings:
Three Tales from The Arabian Nights

retold by Stephen Mitchell, illustrated by Tom Pohrt
(Walker,$16.95,  grades 4-6, 181 pages)
In addition to "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" and "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp," Mitchell includes the lesser-known "Abu Keer and Abu Seer." Mitchell delights in exaggeration and embroiders these already outrageous tales with extended descriptions of jewels and riches, clothing and food, sneaking in references to chocolate chip cookies to entice modern readers. Black-and-white line illustrations round out these retellings.

One Voice, Please: Favorite Read-Aloud Stories
by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Russell Ayto
(Candlewick, $12.79, grades 4-6, 167 pages)

These 56 short fables, cautionary tales, and anecdotes tickle mind and funny bone with unexpected twists of logic. Ayto's angular drawings punctuate the pages with their own lighthearted take on the stories' wise men, fools, and tricksters. Coming from such sources as the Bible and Aesop, many of the stories will be familiar to adults, though there are no source notes.

Tuko and the Birds: A Tale from the Philippines
by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Francisco X. Mora
(Holt,$16.95, grades K-3, 40 pages)
From a house above Manila Bay, the birds' good-night songs end the day--until the raucous, ungovernable gecko shatters the evening idyll. How to get rid of him? This is the eagle's doing, and it takes some doing--with the suspense and humor of traditional nuisance-routing tales. Climo's telling is fluent and vivid, and Mora's calm, sweeping watercolors let the words register.

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Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems
by John Grandits (Clarion,$5.95,  ages 7 & up, 48 pages)
Grandits playfully channels a teenage girl's dreams, anxieties, and pet peeves in these concrete poems. Across the thirty or so poems, Jessie reveals she's a vegetarian, plays volleyball and cello, and can't stand cheerleaders. In turn feisty and insecure, Jesse leaps off the page. By book's end, she's removed some bricks from "The Wall" that divides her likes and dislikes.

by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow, $16.99, grades 6-9, 164 pages)
These 82 poems and prose paragraphs cover prejudice, kindness, war, and peace. Nye's introduction discusses America's "busy bee" climate and the importance of "dipping and diving down into the nectar of scenes" and sweet moments. In some pieces, bee-related words and facts buzz in and out, and readers will sense the connections (and disconnections) between humans and honeybees.

illustrated by Christopher Myers (Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, $15.99, 32 pages, grades K-3)
Myers relocates Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem to a city basketball court. Superbly composed paintings full of sinuous arms, sharp angles, and low-to-the-ground perspectives capture the ominous mood. Bold design lets the text become a visual element, employing agitated block letters, some placed on patches of color to provide emphasis. Myers's approach is fresh, and the art and design are in synch.

Tap Dancing on the Roof
by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Istvan Banyai (Clarion, $16, grades 4-6, 40 pages)

Park presents 27 sijo (traditional humorous and/or ironic three-line Korean poetry) about seasons, home, and school. Her poems go beyond culture and personal sensibility and strike at common human experience. Banyai's illustrations enhance the collection with an extra element of wit and imaginative freedom; he staves off sentiment with retro-style cartoons, carefree lines, and playful interpretations of the verbal text.

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