Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Shelf Awareness--What's Up, Maloo?

PB Review: What's Up, Maloo?

What's Up, Maloo? by Genevieve Godbout (Tundra Books, 40p., ages 3-7, 9780735266643)

On a good day, "no other kangaroo can hop like Maloo!" But in this endearing, approachable look at dealing with sadness, readers will understand that bad times happen, too. When all looks bleak, with the right kind of help, it's entirely possible to turn things around.

When the story begins, Maloo, a cheerful-looking kangaroo in bright yellow overalls, hops through a field of pink flowers: "One hop. Two hops. Three hops." But then the hopping stops: "Hop?" Maloo, no longer cheerful, takes "One step. Two steps. Three steps" to a gopher friend's house. When cake doesn't lift Maloo's spirits, the pair goes in search of another friend. But neither crocodile's water toys nor koala's many fans can chase away Maloo's gloom. "Let us help you, Maloo," gopher, crocodile and koala all say. The caring friends walk and talk and, most importantly, stick together, until they find a way to help (literally) bring back Maloo's hop.

The deceptively simple storyline in What's Up, Maloo? belies an important message about the healing power of friendship. Maloo's companions show their respect for the kangaroo's feelings and, when Maloo is ready, their caring attention pays off. Genevieve Godbout's (When Santa Was a Baby) earthy color palette and soft textures give the work a soothing air, and her expressive pastel and colored-pencil illustrations clearly describe the emotions of her characters; Maloo's posture sags and a dark fog hovers around the kangaroo's head until the final pages, when ("hop-hop-hurray!") the friends' gentle encouragement pays off and Maloo's spirits lift. A tribute to the benefits of showing up and simply being there, What's Up, Maloo? demonstrates how the very best of friends can make a sad day hoppier, one step at a time. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Hopping is the perfect metaphor to illustrate a state of mind as gloomy Maloo's friends repeatedly try to lift the kangaroo's spirits in Genevieve Godbout's picture book.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

January Recommendations


In THE LAST TRUE POETS OF THE SEA, by Julia Drake, many years ago, Violet Larkin’s great-great-great grandmother Fidelia survived a shipwreck and founded the town of Lyric, Maine. Now, after her brother Sam's attempted suicide and a difficult year of her own, Violet has sworn off partying and sex. She’s sent from NYC to live with her uncle in Lyric for the summer. At her job with the local aquarium, Violet meets budding oceanographer Orion, with his "truly gorgeous” eyebrows and “full chest that stretched the cotton of his teal aquarium T-shirt,” who introduces her to up-and-coming historian Liv Stone, who is not a “pixie princess,” but “certainly a babe.” So much for shaving her head and "turning off the romance channel.” In the course of her stay, Violet decides to make amends to Sam by locating the wreck of their great-great-great grandmother's sunken ship. Strong characters and great prose drive this rewarding novel. (YA)

In REVERIE, by Ryan La Sala, when Kane wakes in the hospital, he can't remember the accident—apparently, he rammed his dad's car into an old mill, exploding the car and scorching everything within fifty feet of it. The police think the act was deliberate, maybe even suicidal, so they have him undergo a psych evaluation, where the dazzling and dangerous Dr. Poesy warns Kane that they’re both part of "a much larger story.” Back at school, Kane learns that he has a small, close-knit group of friends who call themselves "The Others,” and somehow finds himself in a "crazy fantasy" involving "a subterranean civilization that worships a god called the Cymo.” Ryan La Sala's debut fantasy delves into the unlimited potential of getting lost in one's dreams. (YA)

THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE, by Sarah Jean Horowitz, is the story of Clementine Morcerous, devoted daughter—and heir—to the reigning Dark Lord of the Seven Sisters, Elithor Morcerous. Dark Lord Elithor rules his domain by "inflicting misery" on the local townsfolk, keeping the "pesky amateur hedgewitches" in check, and stands in readiness to perform "occasional maniacal cackling." But when Elithor falls under a spell cast by the dangerous Whittle Witch, and slowly turns into a wooden puppet, Clementine must prepare to take over as Dark Lord in his stead. As Clementine begins to interact with the people who she’s supposed to be ruling, she’s not sure she’s ready to inflict all that required misery. Especially since she’s actually making friends. This one’s cozy and fun. (MG)

Picture Books:

In MY PAPI HAS A MOTORCYCLE, written by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña, Daisy waits for her Papi to come home from work, so they can ride together through their city. As ”the sun, the bright orange sun” begins to set, they “become a spectacular celestial thing soaring on asphalt.” They zigzag through the streets, past churches and markets and murals that showcase the city’s history. Daisy knows that even if her beautiful city changes, the love within her family will not. The strong, colorful art reflects Peña's cartooning background.

FRY BREAD, written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, is so many things. It’s a poem; it’s a recipe; it’s a story of food and family, of culture and community; it’s a complicated history. The volume is enriched by a detailed author's endnote, and the inviting acrylic, colored pencil, and graphite pencil illustrations are completely charming. Fry bread may be food, but this book shows us it is also so much more.

TRUMAN, written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, stars a tortoise who is “small, the size of a donut—a small donut—and every bit as sweet.” Truman lives in the city with Sarah, who one day eats a big breakfast, straps on a big backpack, and gives Truman an even bigger snack than usual. Before she leaves, she tells Truman to be brave, then she boards a bus and goes roaring away. When Truman has waited as long as he can, he decides to go after “his Sarah," no matter how impossible this seems. By the time the pair is reunited, Truman does indeed feel brave. Truman is adorable. He is rendered in gouache, brush marker, charcoal, colored pencil, and finished digitally.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Shelf Awareness--Interview with Marie Lu

YA Tie-In: Interview with Marie Lu, author of The Kingdom of Back

Marie Lu is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Young Elites series, as well as the bestselling Legend series and the Warcross novels. She graduated from the University of Southern California and jumped into the video game industry as an artist. Now a full-time writer, she spends her spare time reading, drawing, playing games and getting stuck in traffic. She lives in Los Angeles with her illustrator/author husband, Primo Gallanosa, and their dogs.

What inspired you to write this story of a little-known sister to the great composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

Since I was little, I'd always been fascinated by the story of Mozart and his prodigious childhood--but it took until 10 years ago for me to learn that he had a sister at all, let alone one arguably as talented as him at composition and performance. I learned about Nannerl Mozart from a biography about her brother and remember thinking, How, out of all the things out there about Wolfgang, had no one ever bothered to mention this genius young girl? So I did a deep dive into her life and learned that the two of them, as children, had actually toured Europe together to play for kings and queens. During their long carriage rides, they created for themselves a fantasy kingdom they called Back, which they used to pass the hours together. This fact seemed so magical to me that I knew immediately I wanted to write a story about it--and about Nannerl.

Can you talk about some of your influences in developing the fantastical Kingdom of Back?

I've always loved the magical and the strange, places that feel like a fever dream. The Dark Crystal, old faerie tales (the unfiltered kind), stories by Guillermo del Toro, Alice in Wonderland and elements from Peter Pan all influenced my world for this novel. I wanted the Kingdom of Back to be both beautiful and dark, a place that felt (in contrast to rigid 18th-century Europe) colorfully surreal, somewhere you'd want to visit but perhaps not to stay.

Front and center is the way Nannerl’s options are severely limited by the expectations of her father and the times. How did you reconcile the treatment of women in the 1700s with concerns your present-day readers might have? Do you think women are still constrained by society’s expectations?

This was a heavy question for me. The real Nannerl, obviously, never gets to break out from those limitations placed on her and, even though the Kingdom of Back is a fantastical version of history, I didn't think I could change her fate. How, then, could I end the story with any note of triumph for Nannerl? I tried to write it in a way that both showed how things used to be for women and how things can be different today. Of course women are still constrained by society--we see it in so many ways, every single day. The difference now, though, is that many of the barriers society erected to enforce gender roles are coming down. There is more access to information now, more women holding up other women, and as that dam falters, more women who get to make the important decisions that empower future generations of women. As much as I hope Nannerl's story can inspire young girls to pursue their dreams, the book is written more for everyone else in a girl's life, people with the power to clear away the roadblocks that hold girls back. We can't just leave girls to pound at glass ceilings alone. It is everyone's responsibility to shatter those ceilings for them.

The desire to make something wonderful that will live on beyond its creator--to leave one's "voice in the world"--is so important to Nannerl. What do you think motivates Woferl?

I think Woferl was motivated by the same call, and I truly think he learned it from Nannerl, whom he adored and idolized. Leaving one's voice in the world is, I think, important to most creators. Woferl, of course, was given the chance to fulfill that desire.

The relationship between Nannerl and Woferl is wonderfully defined. I can believe she loves him dearly, even as she is increasingly jealous of his opportunities. How did find your inspiration for their dynamic?

I've always been interested in playing with sibling dynamics in my stories--probably because I'm an only child! I don't feel like I missed out on anything, but I do find the relationship fascinating, in all its different iterations, and especially so with two siblings experiencing such an unusual childhood. A lot of the inspiration for Woferl and Nannerl's relationship came from their real history together, where letters and documents seem to show that they genuinely loved and were inspired by one another. I also always like listening to all sorts of stories from friends with siblings, everything from blaming each other for using Sharpies on the wall to creating make-believe worlds together. Those snuck in occasionally to my chapters, too!

What's coming next from Marie Lu?

I have a science fiction series opener called Skyhunter coming out in fall 2020! I can't say much about it yet, except that it's my longest book so far and has been a huge challenge to write, but I'm pretty excited to introduce readers to my new crew.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

Only that I hope readers end the book not just interested in learning more about Nannerl, but all the other people that history left behind--women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people. So many stories! We all seriously existed and did extraordinary things.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Shelf Awareness--The Kingdom of Back

YA Review: The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu (Putnam Books for Young Readers, 336p., ages 12-up, 9781524739010, March 3, 2020)

In The Kingdom of Back, Marie Lu entwines well-researched fiction with fantasy, conjuring a captivating tale of young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and "the other Mozart." Historical details come alive in this fantasy-infused account of the extremely close relationship between the musical genius and his lesser-known sister, Maria Anna.

The story begins in 1759, when Maria Anna, called Nannerl by the family, is eight years old and Wolfgang only three. Their papa says Nannerl is a "miracle," and he brings Herr Schachtner, "the esteemed court trumpeter of Salzburg," home to hear her play the clavier. If she impresses, she will surely be invited to play for Herr Haydn of Austria, then on to the royal courts of Europe, thereby raising up the prospects of a family "forever on the edge of respectable." But when Wolferl innocently distracts the good Herr, Nannerl's opportunity is lost. That night, annoyed by her brother's interruption and desperate for the approval of her demanding father, Nannerl falls asleep yearning to be "worthy of praise, of being loved and remembered." For the first time, she dreams of the Kingdom of Back: a wild-looking boy walks in the surf of an ocean "lit by twin moons," and the air ripples with a "melody so perfect" Nannerl "aches to grasp it."

Time passes, and Nannerl overhears her parents speaking of a future for her defined by marriage and childbearing. She is haunted, knowing that soon, when she leaves her childhood behind, her father will stop teaching her. For now, though, Nannerl happily retreats to the haven of her clavier practice, and the menuetts she loves to play. Wolferl begs to learn the clavier, too, and Nannerl quickly understands that he has a "remarkable ear," perhaps even better than her own. After trying a few chords, her brother asks her to tell him a story, and the Kingdom of Back resurfaces. As Nannerl describes the landscape--a forest with trees that "stand upsidedown" and a shore with "sand as white as snow"--she transcribes a strange song that seems to spring note by note from this other world. Woferl plays the tune and does it so well that wonder and "a small twinge of something" (Envy? Fear?) begins to take root within Nannerl. Her old wish comes back to her: "Make them remember me."And she hears the "sweet and beautiful" voice of the wild boy: "I can help you, Nannerl, if you help me."

As Nannerl carries on with the fairy story, the siblings slowly fill in details of the fantastical kingdom. At times, it seems as if the magical place actually unfolds around them, replacing their neighborhood with the forest, and they even catch fleeting glimpses in the streets of Salzburg of the wild boy, a faery princeling named Hyacinth. Later that winter, when Woferl's musical gift becomes apparent and the family travels to Vienna for the children to play at the royal court, Hyacinth is also nearby. In return for promising to give Nannerl the recognition she craves, Hyacinth declares he needs her to help him reclaim his throne in Back. Though he warns her that "wishes have a habit of surprising their makers," Nannerl's ambition leads her to push away her unease. Fully aware that composing is "a man's realm," Nannerl cannot help writing down the "irresistibly coaxing song" Hyacinth conjures for her, thus agreeing to the bargain. Encouraged by Woferl, who promises to keep her secret, she continues to produce music originating in her visions and dreams of this other world. But her affection for Woferl is tried again and again as it becomes increasingly apparent that her younger brother will live the life she desires, even to the point of getting credit for work she herself has composed.

Nannerl Mozart was supremely talented in her own right, a young woman whose musical accomplishments were many and varied but whose dreams could only ever end in marriage. Readers are repeatedly teased by the possibilities of what might have been had Nannerl been born into another time, with far different expectations placed upon her. Lu's author's note at the conclusion points out how the fantastical Kingdom of Back was actually invented by the two siblings during their long carriage rides across Europe; their saga of music and magic is set "in a real land, full of real kings and castles and courts," but manifests also in "a dream of fog and stars, faery princelings and queens of the night." The author adds classic fairy tale elements and weaves the imaginary kingdom in and around the life of the Mozarts, increasing the tension of the story as the Kingdom of Back becomes more powerful and menacing. Torn between her deepest longing for immortality and her need to protect her beloved brother, Nannerl must decide for herself what her true legacy will be. --Lynn Becker.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Shelf Awareness--The Queen of Nothing

YA Review: The Queen of Nothing

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black (Little, Brown, 320p., ages 14-up, 9780316310420)

Holly Black is an undisputed master craftsperson of all things Faerie. In Queen of Nothing, the conclusion to her spectacular the Folk of the Air trilogy (Cruel Prince; The Wicked King), Prince Cardan faces the prophecy given to him at birth: he will cause "the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne."

As High King of Elfhame, Cardan has married his mortal seneschal--and nemesis--Jude Duarte as part of an elaborate scheme to exile her to the mortal world. Now, Jude restlessly frets over how to get back to Faerieland to reclaim her rightful place as High Queen (without being caught and executed, that is). An opportunity arises when her deceitful twin sister, Taryn, faces an inquest over her husband's death. Taryn begs Jude to impersonate her and convince the High King she is not guilty of the murder she did, in fact, commit. But Cardan, "even more horrifically beautiful" than Jude remembers, knows her immediately. Before they can unravel the current state of their contentious relationship, Jude is kidnapped by former Grand General Madoc, her estranged stepfather. Madoc seeks to dethrone the High King--and therefore Jude as High Queen--which means Jude must decipher Madoc's plans before he figures out who she really is. When a powerful curse is unleashed on the land, Jude must decide just how far she's willing to go in her never-ending pursuit of power.

Black's delectable descriptions of characters and her nonstop pacing will ensure that readers devour The Queen of Nothing as quickly as possible. Masterfully combining court intrigue, romantic drama and the magic of a most dangerous Faerieland, this series-closer is a stand-out ending to a riveting series. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Sneaking back into Faerieland, Jude finds herself in the center of a plot to overthrow the High King in the finale to Holly Black's YA series Folk of the Air.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

January's Book of the Month--Small in the City

Happy New Year! January’s Book of the Month is SMALL IN THE CITY, by Sidney Smith. It’s his first time writing, after a string of accomplished books illustrated for other authors, including Town is By the Sea, The White Cat and the Monk, and wordless Sidewalk Flowers, all of which are definitely worth checking out.

SMALL IN THE CITY opens with a young child, bundled up against a chilly winter's day. After riding a bus, the child trudges through a landscape where “people don’t see you and loud sounds can scare you, and knowing what to do is hard sometimes.” Advice follows, and what initially sounds like an internal pep talk is eventually revealed to be something quite different. A blizzard covers the city in snow, and the situation seems increasingly dire, but a welcome final page leaves readers feeling optimistic.

This tender and sad-yet-hopeful picture book is a gem. Each illustration—"ink, watercolor, and a bit of gouache”--whether spot art or spread, feels like an artistic treasure. But Smith makes sure to bring plenty of heart to his work, as well. The writing is spare and poetic, without wasted words. The book as a whole achieves quite a nice rhythm--wordless spreads alternate with those that have text, and single images alternate with multiple pieces of art arranged in storyboard/comics-style grids. I would love to see SMALL IN THE CITY walk away with a Caldecott.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Shelf Awareness--Call Down the Hawk

YA Review: Call Down the Hawk

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press, 480p., ages 12-up, 9781338188325)

Call Down the Hawk occupies the same fantasy-infused world as Maggie Stiefvater's stellar the Raven Cycle quartet. Fans of the previous series will enjoy delving deeper into the magical heritage of the Lynch brothers; new readers should enjoy this riveting follow-up trilogy opener.

Of his three brothers, Ronan Lynch has "the most dangerous of the secrets." He's a dreamer who can "fall asleep, dream of feathers, and wake with a raven in [his] hands." His father dreamt his mother into being, and Ronan, in turn, dreamt into being his "cherubic" younger brother, Matthew. Now that their parents are dead, Ronan's older brother, Declan, holds what's left of the family together.

Hennessy, too, is a dreamer. Each time she sleeps for more than 20 minutes, she brings back "a copy of herself." Hennessy and her art-forging clones sneak into the Fairy Market--a place to buy illicit magical items--desperate to find a painting that may allow Hennessy to change her dream before she is literally killed by her own nightmares. Carmen Farooq-Lane goes to the Fairy Market after it's described in a premonition. She is part of a group dedicated to killing all dreamers in order to stave off an apocalypse that one of them will cause "with starving, unquenchable fire. Dreamed fire." Ronan, too, attends the Fairy Market--a stranger is whispering to him in dreams, and he thinks the Market may offer answers.

Stiefvater's (All the Crooked Saints) melodious prose is as gorgeous as ever, but here the tone is grittier, as players both new and familiar operate in a dangerous, surreal underbelly in and around the nation's capital. Alliances form, victories are hard to gauge and reality seems less and less certain. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In this first book in a YA companion trilogy to Stiefvater's the Raven Cycle, dreamers are pitted against a group of hunters determined to prevent a fiery apocalypse.