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A couple of years ago, I had an idea for a blog post: a collection pictures I’d taken of my kids over time, having fallen asleep on books or with books next to them, asleep, in their beds. Gripping, right? Well, that post hasn’t come to pass…you’re welcome.

Elissa’s post about her kids reading rather than getting ready for school in the morning reminded me of those (adorable to me) pictures and brought to mind a not-really-a-problem we’ve been having at our house. It’s the opposite problem, you could say.

Every once in a while, one or the other child stays up way past his bedtime, completely engrossed in a book. On Monday night, when the grownups went upstairs to bed, we found not one but TWO kids wide awake reading in bed. At 10:30! Like Elissa, I heard myself telling them to stop reading: “Put your book down, turn off the light, and go to sleep. NOW.” Oh, the cognitive dissonance!

The current late nights are a result of our recent library visits. After fighting over Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, they read Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. We went back to the library for All’s Faire and hunted down Raina’s other books. Now my boys are obsessed with — very much to my surprise — her graphic-novel adaptations of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club books. They’re up to #4 and on wait lists for #5 and #6 (which, we know, aren’t illustrated by Raina, but that’s okay). This development is making me examine my own gender biases, but that’s a post for another day.

Have I mentioned that I spend a fair amount of my waking hours concerned/panicked/depressed about my kids’ screen-time and video-game obsessions? I need to remember that even if reading isn’t always their first choice, it is one of the choices.

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I Am Hermes!: Mischief-Making Messenger of the Gods
by Mordicai Gerstein; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Holiday    72 pp.    g
4/19    978-0-8234-3942-3    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-4203-4    $11.99

Following I Am Pan! (rev. 5/16), here comes Pan’s father, Hermes, the messenger god, eager to tell his own story. This Hermes is handsome, insouciant, impulsive, and bursting with self-esteem (his first word: “Gimme!”). His adventures and exploits are decorated with contemporary touches (for example, on the day he steals Apollo’s cows, he also invents country-and-western music). These are bright, noisy, fast-moving stories, and here (as elsewhere) Gerstein proves himself a genius of the comics form, especially of the speech balloon, as he creates layered conversations, rich with interior monologue, gossip, and prevarication. The gem of the collection is a little-known tale, mentioned in The Iliad, of “Otus and Ephialtes, the Nasty Twin Giants.” Gerstein’s version is witty, tricky, and deliciously satisfying in both words and pictures; creepy thugs hoist with their own petards. What does it all add up to? Myths leave lots of room for interpretation, and Gerstein here suggests that Hermes was the force behind the internet. There’s another cheekily implicit possibility: Gerstein’s Hermes is the god of deceit, thievery, and business. He invents “the art of the deal.” He’s very orange. Some readers, even young ones, may make a connection.

From the May/June 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Growing up, I always loved magic. It was exciting, because I was a curious kid who devoted a good deal of brainpower to figuring out the whys of the world. This love of magic eventually manifested in a love of science — and with it science fiction — which permeated the cartoons I watched and the comic books I read, as well as my own drawings. Spider-Man bitten by a radioactive spider! The X-Men representing a new stage in human evolution! Luke Skywalker wielding the Force and his lightsaber, and rocketing around the galaxy in spaceships!

My dream was to be like these heroes, to have superpowers and special skills, and it mattered little if my powers were genetic or if they came through gadgets. In a desire to fulfill my fantasies, I would dress all in blue, with my pants tucked into my socks and a towel tucked into the neckline of my shirt, then jump from couch to couch and sing my very own theme songs. I also wrote stories and invented superheroes — costumes, powers, etc. — composing detailed drawings and physical models of their fantastic gadgetry.

Even more important than powers or gadgetry, though, were origin stories. These backstories explained everything about a hero, what powers they had and why they did certain things. Building my own origin story, I realized that if I wanted to manifest powers, my next practical step would be to go to a school that specialized in the sciences. During my last year in elementary school, I applied to and was accepted at Isaac Newton Junior High School for Math and Science, which enrolled only about one hundred students at a time.

It was perfect for me. On top of regular school subjects, we were able to perform real science — dissecting frogs, using test tubes, and learning computer programming. (These classes and activities might be common now, but look at it through the lens of an inner-city New York public school student in the 1980s.) One of my most memorable scholastic moments was when, during a test, I drew a diagram showing the polarity of a magnet to supplement the requested written explanation. My teacher was so excited by what I did, she embarrassed me with praise in front of the entire class.

I did well at Isaac Newton, but when I moved on to high school, I quickly lost the nurturing atmosphere and excitement for learning that I had grown used to, and my grades suffered. After seeing me struggle through my first year at Brooklyn Technical High School, my dad sat me down and said, Javaka, you are an artist. In your free time, I see you creating art, but I do not see you creating science experiments. I think you should go into art and design.

This was hard to take. How was I going to become a superhero now? My whole educational track thus far had been based on becoming a scientist — not a visual artist or other creative — so that I could be transformed into someone with superpowers through an experimental breakthrough or a lab accident. My teachers had preached that Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech were my best options for public education. I asked my dad why they would say this to me if it weren’t the right path to follow. He explained that my teachers were scientists, that they did think these schools were the right path for me if I was, in fact, a scientist, too. But they don’t know art, Javaka, and you are an artist.

I thought about what he’d said, about how my experimenting had always included drawing and creating but not necessarily figuring out the science behind the experiment. And since my love of science fiction included Star Trek, by Vulcan standards I could not dispute my dad’s logic. The spring after our talk, I took the admissions test for the High School of Art and Design and got in. I think I made the right decision, because no matter what path I took, I feel I would have eventually gravitated toward art. Luckily, my father interceded before I became a very different artist (or a very frustrated scientist).

Today I still love science, I still have scientific curiosity, and I still enjoy sci-fi and comics. But I am doing something I love more than anything: creating children’s books. And love is what transforms everyday people into superheroes.

From the May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: CSK Book Awards at 50. Find more information about ordering copies of the special issue.

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Where the Heart Is
by Jo Knowles
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    294 pp.    g
4/19    978-1-5362-0003-4    $16.99

On Rachel’s thirteenth birthday, new neighbors move in, affluent dilettante “farmers” who engage her, at minimum wage, to look after their animals while they’re away during the week. She comes to love the menagerie, even Lucy, the surly pig destined for the butcher. In the meantime, her parents’ money troubles have them worried and quarrelsome, which worries her little sister in turn. And then there’s Micah, her forever best friend who struggles with his romantic feelings for her, even though she has told him she doesn’t think she likes boys; and Cybil, whose attention makes Rachel excited and confused. An inevitable climax has everything going wrong at once: the family loses their beloved house, Micah won’t return her texts, and Lucy the pig is slaughtered. The novel keeps a tight focus on time and place — all the action happens within the range of a bike ride, in the first few weeks of summer — magnifying the intensity of Rachel’s circumstances and her emotional response. Knowles handles Rachel’s evolving feelings about her sexual orientation with particular nuance: Rachel’s concerns center on her own comfort and sense of self rather than worries about how her identity might be perceived, offering readers an exemplar that is compelling and fresh. The world is foisting a great deal on Rachel in a singular moment, and her responses are believable and affecting. This is one of those rare novels that feels less like a constructed story and more like a momentary glimpse into a real young life — genuine, stirring, and raw.

From the May/June 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Why, hello there! We are running our fingers through a few months’ worth of cyber-dust here at the Calling Caldecott blog, given that our last post was in January.

Have you been reading picture books in 2019? You can trust that we have, and we thought it would be a good idea to check in a couple of times before we kick off the official Calling Caldecott season right after Labor Day. We’d love to share which picture books we’ve seen and loved this year, and we’d like to know what’s on your radar. Please do weigh in below in the comments section. We always like to hear from you.

Before I do that (Jules posting here), I want to take a moment to GUSH about the newest issue of the Horn Book. (Imagine me doing both jazz hands and spirit fingers, though I may not do the latter well, because I was never a cheerleader.) Because I am not on staff at the Horn Book, I can do so, right? Right! I had nothing to do with the creation of the issue, so I’m going to brag on them — and hope that, in the name of humility, they don’t edit me.

The issue I speak of is the May/June issue, which celebrates 50 years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. If you don’t subscribe to the magazine, then hurry to your nearest bookstore to get a copy. It is an exquisite and informative issue, and kudos to the Horn Book staff for this beauty. There are articles by Rudine Sims Bishop, Kwame Alexander, Kekla Magoon, and many more. And the picture book coverage is strong. We figure you’re here at this blog because you like picture books, yes? You don’t want to miss this issue. It’s a special one.

Will any of the 2019 picture books listed below win a Coretta Scott King Book Award? It’s possible.

Here are some of the outstanding picture books we’ve seen thus far this year, ones that could maybe possibly perhaps get some Caldecott love and ones we may end up writing about here at Calling Caldecott in the fall. Which have you seen and loved? Which books would you add? Do tell us in the comments.

James E. Ransome’s The Bell Rang received a starred review from the Horn Book. Reviewer Monique Harris wrote that Ransome’s illustrations “communicate what words cannot: the tender love of family, the cruelty of enslavement, the emptiness left after the loss of a loved one, and the ever-present dilemma of self-emancipation for those who lived in bondage” — all without “sugarcoating or minimizing the complexity of human emotion.” Could this one bring the prolific Ransome some Caldecott recognition?

My Heart, written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, features a group of diverse children whose innermost feelings are made manifest via a series of metaphors and softly rendered monotype illustrations. I’m particularly fond of the final spread, which communicates the empowering notion that children — whether their hearts are closed or open, broken or full — have autonomy over their own interior lives.

Sea Bear: A Journey for Survival is an excellent, visually striking piece of nonfiction. Lindsay Moore’s vivid art is rendered via pencils, watercolors, ink, crayons, and colored pencils and is told from the point of view of a polar bear who, long ago, learned to be patient from her polar bear mother. “I wanted to give polar bears a voice,” Moore writes in the book’s closing note, “to tell what life is like for a bear in a changing Arctic landscape.”

What Is Given from the Heart is the final book from the late Patricia McKissack. It is the picture book debut for South Carolina fine artist April Harrison. Her illustrations, rendered in acrylics, collage, pen, and found objects, call forth the dignity and grace of the African American community featured in this lyrical, emotionally compelling story. The muted, earth-toned colors give focus to Harrison’s textures and detailed patterns. She also captures body language splendidly. (And I hope we see her illustrate more children’s books.)

In 2016, Sergio Ruzzier studied the sketchbooks and character studies of James Marshall and Arnold Lobel at the University of Minnesota’s Kerlan Collection (and wrote about that experience a few years ago here at the Horn Book). The result of that research is Good Boy, a story about the bond between a boy and his dog. It is impressive how much Ruzzier does with such spare illustrations and copious white space. This is an affectionate (but never saccharine) story of friendship, written almost entirely in a string of simple, one-word imperative sentences, and it speaks specifically to the devotion children can have to animals.

I think it’s remarkable what Andrea Tsurumi pulls off in Crab Cake. It’s a story filled with understated humor (for one, a crab with a big tray of pastries); it’s entertaining; it’s informative; Tsurumi knows how to compose a spread well; and (after the tone shifts dramatically midway through the book) we encounter an environmental message that comes across loud and clear, yet is never too heavy-handed. At its heart, it’s a story about a community banding together to make a difference and make themselves heard. When it first came out, I remember reading a review that called it “wholly original.” Yeah. That.

Another is Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson’s authorial debut. Made for twisting and turning in young readers’ hands, it’s the story of a girl, falling asleep in her bedroom, who encounters a mysterious portal to another plane of existence. There are gravity-defying stairs, a rainbow-colored conveyor belt, and multi-dimensional doppelgängers. Robinson uses simple shapes to tell this multilayered adventure tale.

Who understands introverts better than Philip and Erin Stead? In Music for Mister Moon, we meet Harriet Henry (who might let you call her “Hank”), who has a cello in hand and long bangs hanging in her eyes. She loves playing her instrument, but she’d rather not play for crowds, thanks anyway. Her stuffed animals make just the right audience. How she ends up playing atop Mister Moon one night is the stuff of this story, elegantly rendered by Caldecott Medalist Erin E. Stead via monoprint illustrations done in oil inks, along with additional flourishes in colored pencil.

Hey, I wrote about Hey, Water! for the Horn Book, and that review is here. Antoinette Portis brings readers another playful and informative picture book with crisp, unfussy illustrations. This one is about about a young girl named Zoe, who considers the role of water inside and outside of her home.

There are a lot of things I like about Hayley Barrett’s Babymoon, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. My hope is that people don’t see it as only The Perfect Baby Shower Gift. (It very much would make a wonderful gift for such an occasion, though I also always buy new parents this, and no one at the Horn Book paid me to say that.) That is, I don’t think this is one of those adult books disguised as a children’s book; I think that young children (old enough to sit and listen to this story) will absolutely delight in considering the ways in which their parents cared for them during the years they were newborn and helpless. If you haven’t seen this one yet, find a copy, come back here, and tell us what you think. I love how Martinez-Neal doesn’t shy from the hardships of new parenthood (such as: the fatigue), and I love all the comforting curves in her sure and gentle lines. Oh, and I love all the circles, including the one the family of three forms on the cover as the parents shelter the baby. These circles communicate wholeness and love. Could this one garner even more Caldecott recognition for Martinez-Neal (who, last year, won an Honor)?

Richard Jackson spent many years as an editor, and now he’s writing picture books (which I have consistently enjoyed). This new one, illustrated by two-time Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka, is told from the point of view of a puddle. (I love surprises! Have we had children’s books about sentient puddles yet? I can’t think of any.) Raschka’s watercolor and gouache paintings are, as the Horn Book review notes, filled with humor and “help children grasp the idea of empathy and perspective.”

Will the committee fall for Caldecott Honoree Kadir Nelson’s dramatic, arresting portraits, rendered in oils, of African American luminaries (and more) in Kwame Alexander’s The Undefeated? I feel confident we’ll end up discussing it at Calling Caldecott this year.

In Kelly Starling Lyons’ big-hearted Going Down Home with Daddy, a celebration of Black family reunion culture, illustrator Daniel Minter’s acrylic wash illustrations are layered and exquisite, teeming with patterns, details, and textures. This is a joyful, tender portrait of an exceptionally close family. I hope you’ve seen this one.

Caldecott Honoree Vera Brosgol is back with The Little Guys, which features clean, crisp lines; expressive humor; and an earth-toned palette. It is a story that goes down a road that may surprise you, and I love this about the book.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market  is often likened to Richard Scarry’s Busytown — but with a Mexican American twist. It’s from Pura Belpré Medal-winning illustrator Raúl the Third and has received multiple starred reviews, including from the Horn Book, who praised the book’s detailed comics-style illustrations.

I reviewed Deborah Freedman’s Carl and the Meaning of Life for the Horn Book, and that review is here. I like how much Freedman leaves to child readers to deduce for themselves, including the “meaning of life” in the book’s title.

The starred Horn Book review for Miranda Paul’s Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Jason Chin, is here. It is a wonder to see Chin’s illustrations grow in scale, as the baby in the womb grows with each page turn.

Susan L. Roth gives us a bird’s-eye view (excuse the bad pun) of the artistic process in Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me, which opens memorably with: “The differences between a bowerbird and me are fewer than you might expect.” To see the ways in she visually unites her work as an artist with a bowerbird’s efforts to build a nest, find a mate, etc. is fascinating. It is all brought to life via her remarkably distinctive collage illustrations, which consist of assorted papers, fabrics, wires, beads, ribbons, and much more.

Maria Russo at the New York Times wrote that the “desert-sunset tones of [Zeke] Peña’s comics-inflected art feel like a revelation.” She’s talking about Isabel Quintero’s My Papi Has a Motorcycle, an exuberant, affectionate story. Be sure to find a copy if you haven’t seen this one yet.

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You Are New
by Lucy Knisley; illus. by the author
Preschool    Chronicle    48 pp.
3/19    978-1-4521-6156-3    $17.99

Knisley chronicled her wedding in her 2016 adult graphic-novel memoir Something New; her latest, Kid Gloves (2019), is about pregnancy; and concurrently she has authored her first picture book — about a newborn baby. In lilting, lighthearted rhyme, the direct-address text describes the things a new baby can do: “You can doze and nap and snooze. / It makes you sleepy, being new…You can open wide and yell. / Sometimes you make funny smells.” The block-letter font, with occasional words in different colors for emphasis or humor, is easy on the eyes — a plus for tired parents. Spare and colorful digital collage illustrations, with well-placed shadows for dimension, show cute blob-shaped babies with a variety of skin tones against clean white backgrounds, their actions and emotions easy to read as they grow and learn throughout toddlerhood, big-sibling-dom, new-school-age, and more. Their accomplishments may be small-seeming, but they’re monumental for young ones (and their grownups) and reassuringly portrayed for all: “You might not know just what to do… / That’s okay when you are new.”

From the May/June 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, “a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States.” Here are some links, resources, and articles by and about Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to help acknowledge, celebrate, and amplify the voices of children’s book creators of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. Also look to the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) for more information and winners of the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature and to our friends at Bharat Babies and KitaabWorld.

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This week on hbook.com

Summer Reading 2019 featuring 5Q for Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña

From May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: The CSK Book Awards at 50:

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: Horn Book Summer Reading

Out of the Box:

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Find us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to keep up-to-date!

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Welp, I dunno about you, but I was Not Happy with the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. And given that it was the penultimate episode — ever — I’m getting pretty nervous about the finale on Sunday.

Whether you’re sticking out the season and looking for something to help fill the void afterwards, bailing now and looking for a new obsession, or seeking recommended books for middle and high schoolers who are interested in GoT but not ready for it, we’ve got plenty of book recommendations for you. (And so does SLJ!) All titles were recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide at the time of their publication; reviews are reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online.  Though a few titles are stand-alone novels, most are either new series–openers or the first entries in long-running series, so be sure to search the HBGO for sequels!

Adeyemi, Tomi Children of Blood and Bone
533 pp.     Holt     2018
Trade ISBN 978-1-250-17097-2 

Amari, daughter of maji-persecuting King Saran, has stolen a magical scroll, which awakens divîner Zélie’s latent maji power to command the dead. Joined by Zélie’s brother Tzain and pursued by Amari’s brother Inan, the young women set out to restore magic to the kingdom of Orïsha. References to Nigerian culture and geography give this fantasy a distinct flavor; impassioned prose evokes intense emotion.

Armstrong, Kelley  Sea of Shadows
406 pp.     HarperCollins/Harper     2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-207124-8
Ebook ISBN 978-0-06-207126-2

Every year, the Seeker, currently teen Ashyn, enters the Forest of the Dead to quiet damned spirits. The Keeper, Ashyn’s twin Moria, remains in the village as a protector. But things go terribly awry, and the sisters are forced to travel across the Wastes to save their kingdom from the undead. Armstrong’s elaborate world is populated with complex characters in this series-opener.

Arnett, Mindee  Onyx & Ivory
500 pp.     HarperCollins/B+B     2018
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-265266-9
Ebook ISBN 978-0-06-265268-3

Kate Brighton bears her late father’s “traitor” legacy and shares a magical bond with the horses she now rides to relay mail while avoiding the terrifying nightdrakes. When an unexpected daylight drake attack causes her to cross paths with her former love, Prince Corwin, it portends romantic and political difficulties ahead. Arnett builds an engaging world for this high fantasy full of action and realistic character development.

Arnold, Elana K.  Damsel
312 pp.     HarperCollins/B+B     2018
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-274232-2
Ebook ISBN 978-0-06-274234-6 

Prince Emory saves a damsel from a dragon and whisks her away to his kingdom to await their wedding day. Initially obliging, amnesiac protagonist Ama soon begins to despair of her captivity and exploitation. Hints along the way suggest Ama’s true origin and the nature of her “rescue,” but the conclusion is nevertheless both surprising and satisfying. Arnold’s original fairy tale is lyrical, brutal, and unapologetically feminist.

Aveyard, Victoria  Red Queen
388 pp.     HarperTeen     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-231063-7

In a society in which people are divided by their blood color, supernatural-powered Silvers rule over those with red blood. When Mare, a Red, discovers a power of her own, she is drawn into the deadly world of the elite Silvers. Mare’s realistic confusion and grief at her situation ground the action and political machinations. A promising debut for fans of dystopian fiction.

Banghart, Tracy  Grace and Fury
314 pp.     Little     2018
Trade ISBN 978-0-316-47141-1
Ebook ISBN 978-0-316-47139-8

Women have no rights in Viridia. Nonetheless, Serina dreams of serving as a “Grace” (concubine) in the Superior’s court. Her sister Nomi is unexpectedly chosen instead, and Serina is banished to an island, surrounded by violence, danger, and death. Chapters alternate between the sisters’ perspectives as they dream of reuniting. Some underdeveloped characters and predictable plot twists blunt the novel’s power.

Bardugo, Leigh  Shadow and Bone
358 pp.     Holt     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-8050-9459-6

Grisha Trilogy series. When Alina and fellow orphan (and best friend) Mal are attacked by monsters, Alina discovers a hidden gift: she is able to manipulate light and thus save Mal. The king’s mage sweeps her off to develop her abilities–but what about her bond with Mal? A rich fantasy landscape, an inspired magical structure, and a gratifying emotional hook keep the pages whirring by.

Barton, Bree  Heart of Thorns
444 pp.     HarperCollins/Tegen     2018
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-244768-5

Mia resents her political marriage to Prince Quinn, but when an assassination attempt occurs at the altar, she helps him escape. Their journey unsettles everything she has ever learned about herself, her family, and the laws that govern her country–especially the tradition of killing women who work magic. Barton explores oppression, power, and corruption through a fast-paced fantasy with plenty of plot twists.

Beaty, Erin  The Traitor’s Kiss
347 pp.     Imprint     2017
Trade ISBN 978-1-250-11794-6
Ebook ISBN 978-1-250-11793-9

Sixteen-year-old Sage isn’t very ladylike–not marriage material–but her powers of observation are outstanding. Working as a matchmaker’s apprentice, Sage finds herself in romantic entanglements as well as political ones when she’s recruited as a military spy. In Beaty’s political fantasy, a complex snarl of alliances set the tale’s stage, and well-wrought espionage tradecraft powers the clever plot twists.

Berry, Julie  The Passion of Dolssa
482 pp.     Viking     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-451-46992-2  

A (fictional) Catholic mystic, Dolssa de Stigata, escapes being burned as a heretic in 1241 France; mostly, this is the story of Botille, an enterprising young matchmaker from a tiny fishing village who rescues Dolssa. Botille’s spirited character, the heart-rending suspense of events, and the terrifying context of the Inquisition in medieval Europe all render the novel irresistibly compelling. Historical note appended. Bib., glos.  

Black, Holly  The Cruel Prince
373 pp.     Little     2018
Trade ISBN 978-0-316-31027-7
Ebook ISBN 978-0-316-31028-4 

Madoc, Jude’s parents’ murderer, raises Jude and her siblings in the realm of Faerie, where he is general of the High King. Mortal Jude is drawn into the web of lies, deceit, and political intrigue that swirls around the Faerie Court. With complicated characters, a suspenseful plot, and the Faerie setting of The Darkest Part of the Forest, this novel is sure to enchant fans.

Blackburne, Livia  Midnight Thief
378 pp.     Hyperion     2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-4231-7638-1

Cat-burglar Kyra joins the Assassins Guild to protect her street “family”; Sir Tristram seeks to avenge his friend’s death at the hands of the Demon Riders–humans working with monstrous cats. When Kyra discovers she is one of the shape-shifting Demon Riders, her partnership with Tristram becomes tangled. Double-crosses and shifting alliances keep the action moving, while Kyra’s preternatural abilities keep readers intrigued.

Blackburne, Livia  Rosemarked
393 pp.     Hyperion     2017
Trade ISBN 978-1-4847-8855-4
Ebook ISBN 978-1-368-01202-7

Her incomplete recovery from the rose plague leaves healer Zivah contagious and outcast. But Zivah’s memory-erasing potions help rebel soldier Dineas recover from the Amparan Empire’s torture enough for him to go undercover as a spy. Zivah’s growing romance with memory-erased Dineas complicates an already fraught mission. Gripping action and heart-wrenching emotional conflicts make this exploration of identity and loyalty a real page-turner.

Blake, Kendare  Three Dark Crowns
403 pp.     HarperTeen     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-238543-7

Three Dark Crowns series. Every generation, royal female triplets are born, each to a different magical tradition. At sixteen, they fight to the death to rule Fennbirn Island. Blake builds a nuanced portrait of each girl, her powers, and her friends as the focus shifts among the heroines. The labyrinthine plot and its surprising twist set up a sequel; readers shouldn’t expect resolution here.

Burtenshaw, Jenna  Shadowcry
312 pp.     Greenwillow     2011
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-202642-2

Secrets of Wintercraft series. Kate, fifteen, discovers she’s a Skilled, able to see and manipulate the “veil” between life and death. Moreover, she learns her ancestors wrote the coveted tome Wintercraft, which explains the veil’s secrets. Elegant, complex prose sweeps readers along to a dark world teeming with creepy underground passageways, abandoned buildings, and graveyards. Kate is a bright spot, facing each obstacle with defiance and determination.

Capetta, Amy Rose  The Brilliant Death
334 pp.     Viking     2018
Trade ISBN 978-0-451-47844-3

In a magical, Italy-inspired setting, the Capo takes over Vinalia and poisons Teodora di Sangro’s powerful father. Teo hatches a plan: with the help of a genderfluid strega named Cielo, Teo will shape-shift into a boy, impersonate her brother, travel to the Capo’s Palazza, and find the antidote. Told in rich metaphorical language, this high fantasy offers a compelling interrogation of gender, power, and familial duty.

Carey, Janet Lee  In the Time of Dragon Moon
473 pp.     Penguin/Dawson     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-8037-3810-2

Because she’s female, half-English, half-Euit Uma isn’t accepted as a healer among her people. When she and her father are kidnapped, Uma must use her skills to save herself and her clan. Fans of high fantasy will enjoy this tale of swooping dragons, magical Fey people, and love that grows in the most dangerous circumstances.

Carson, Rae  The Girl of Fire and Thorns
424 pp.     Greenwillow     2011
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-202648-4

Soon after Princess Lucero-Elisa marries King Alejandro of Joya d’Arena, she is kidnapped by desert nomads. She then discovers that the blue Godstone in her navel does not just indicate a great destiny, but it may also help her two kingdoms win an impending war. Fantasy fans will enjoy the Spanish-influenced world and Elisa’s journey from self-conscious teen to powerful queen.

Cashore, Kristin  Graceling
472 pp.     Harcourt     2008
Trade ISBN 978-0-15-206396-2

Lady Katsa was born with a hyper-developed talent for killing. She rebels against her thuggish uncle, the king, by forming the Council, a sort of social justice league, and is drawn into a mystery involving secrets, greed, and kidnapping. With creepy villains, romance, and a butt-kicking but emotionally vulnerable heroine, the story will appeal to fans of girl-power fantasy.

Castner, K. D.  Daughters of Ruin
314 pp.     McElderry    2016
Trade ISBN 978-1-4814-3665-6
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-3667-0

King Declan raises his rival’s daughters, Cadis, Iren, and Suki, as “sister queens” to his daughter Rhea following a horrific war between their kingdoms. The three war orphans see Rhea as their enemy, and their relationships become more fractured when war breaks out again. More Pretty Little Liars than Game of Thrones, readers with a taste for mean-girl drama (and schadenfreude) will enjoy this intense fantasy.

Chee, Traci  The Reader
439 pp.     Putnam     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-399-17677-7

The Reader series. Sefia, in possession of a strange object called a “book,” learns that writing and reading are the keys to powerful magic. Interspersed and eventually converging with Sefia’s story are episodic tales of Captain Reed and his pirate crew. This complex series-opener introduces a richly built fantasy world and a courageous female protagonist. A coded message to readers and visual effects amplify the metafictional elements.

Chima, Cinda Williams  The Demon King
508 pp.     Hyperion     2009
Trade ISBN 978-1-4231-1823-7

Seven Realms series. Former street lord Han Alister finds a magical amulet. When gang members are..

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We are sad to hear of the passing of kitty superstar Tardar Sauce, better known as Grumpy Cat. Her perpetually “grumpy” expression (the result of her unique genetics) has brought smiles to so many and apparently belied a sweet personality. We’ll miss you, Grumpy Cat.

In her honor, here are some picture books and chapter books starring other (not-so-)grumpy cats and famous felines. All were recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide at the time of their publication; reviews are reprinted from Horn Book Guide Online.

Picture Books

Barrett, Ron  Cats Got Talent
32 pp.     Simon/Wiseman     2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-4424-9451-0
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4424-9452-7

Three recently homeless cats who love to croon at night find their vocal talents earn them some of the amenities they miss from their old lives: well-aimed rotten table scraps, shoes, and anything within arms’ reach of the slumbering neighbors’ bedsides. Retro watercolor and ink cartoons are as silly as the story’s moral: one person’s trash is another cat’s treasure. Look for sequel Cats Get Famous.

Bruel, Nick  Bad Kitty
40 pp.     Roaring Brook/Porter     2005
Trade ISBN 1-59643-069-9

A good kitty goes bad when offered an alphabetic assortment of vegetables (asparagus to zucchini). How bad? “She…Ate my homework / Bit Grandma…” and finally “Zeroed the zinnias.” But when she’s fed properly (anchovies through zebra ziti), “she…Apologized to Grandma / Bought me new toys….” Bruel’s energetic illustrations, which delight in this kitty’s A-to-Z mood swings, ratchet up the humor. This is the first entry in the long-running series.

Crimi, Carolyn  I Am the Boss of This Chair
32 pp.     Sterling     2018
Trade ISBN 978-1-4549-2322-0

Illustrated by Marisa Morea. After kitten Pom-Pom arrives, adult cat Oswald quickly learns that being “the boss” of chairs, toys, etc., is “much easier when you’re the only cat in the house.” Ultimately Oswald realizes that these things (and troublemaking) are more fun when shared. Oswald’s barely-in-check outraged narration and the energetic mixed-media illustrations make for a funny and relatable new-“sibling” story.

Gall, Chris  Dog vs. Cat
40 pp.     Little     2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-316-23801-4

Dog and Cat try to get along, but they’re just too different. They build a wall of stuff to separate themselves, but then they start to miss each other…just in time to join forces to escape another new roommate. Text and pictures are layered with humor, and the bold colored-pencil and digitally created art heightens the odd-couple drama.

Harrison, Hannah E.  Bernice Gets Carried Away
32 pp.     Dial     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-8037-3916-1

Big-eyed cat Bernice — grumpy at getting the short end of the stick for every party activity — grabs all the helium balloons in frustration and floats away. Her problems seem smaller when viewed from a raincloud, and Bernice dispenses balloons and cheer on her float back to earth. Illustrations veer toward twee, but the contrast between candy-colored balloons and drab cloud makes for a couple of striking scenes. Didactic but winningly earnest.

Manley, Curtis  The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read
32 pp.     Simon/Wiseman    2016
Trade ISBN 978-1-4814-3569-7
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-3570-3

Illustrated by Kate Berube. It’s difficult at first, but Nick persists until he manages to teach his cat Verne to read. However, his other cat, Stevenson, who looks grumpy in the expressive illustrations, continues to resist — until Stevenson’s pirate drawings are discovered and turned into a story. There’s humor for adults and children alike in this enjoyable book about reading and the imaginative play it can inspire.

McAnulty, Stacy  Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite
40 pp.     Amazon/Two Lions     2017
Trade ISBN 978-1503948389

Illustrated by Edward Hemingway. Cat Mr. Fuzzbuster is obviously owner Lily’s favorite. His fellow pets disagree, so the smug kitty writes a note asking Lily to decide. Her response is not what Mr. Fuzzbuster expected (though listeners might have), inspiring him to shift his perspective. The well-paced text — which includes silly pet names and a final twist — is complemented by humorous mixed-media illustrations conveying Mr. Fuzzbuster’s emotional roller coaster.

Nethery, Mary  The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star
32 pp.     Clarion     2010
Trade ISBN 978-0-618-97769-7

Illustrated by John Manders. Having helped composer Giuseppe Verdi overcome writer’s block, Nini, an ordinary white cat living in a Venetian café, attracts attention from Italian royalty, a Russian czar, and the emperor of Ethiopia. The highly inventive and entertaining story, accompanied by vibrant gouache and colored-pencil illustrations, is based on historical events; an author’s note tells more about the players.

Olson, Jennifer Gray  Me and Mr. Fluffernutter
32 pp.     Knopf     2017
Trade ISBN 978-0-385-75496-5
Library binding ISBN 978-0-385-75497-2
Ebook ISBN 978-0-385-75498-9

According to a small girl, she and her cat Mr. Fluffernutter are best friends. The illustrations tell a different story as the cat, a solid square of stubbornness, becomes increasingly fed up. The highly decorative setting and page design (large black font, an extravagance of uppercase and exclamation points) carry the emotion. A lesson about allowing friends their autonomy perches lightly on this amusing story.

Philip, Simon  I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat
32 pp.     Houghton      2017
Trade ISBN 978-0-544-97143-1

Illustrated by Ella Bailey. A girl struggles to pick the perfect name for her new cat: Jane? Rambo? Mr. Maestro? Fed up, he runs away; his return improbably involves a trip to the zoo, a (gorilla) replacement, an art heist, and a feline sleuth. The girl’s oblivious first-person narration plays it straight, allowing pastel-toned illustrations full of clever cat details to reveal the humorously outrageous story.

Pizzoli, Greg  Templeton Gets His Wish
40 pp.     Disney/Hyperion     2015
Trade ISBN 978-1-4847-1274-0

Yearning for peace and quiet, cat Templeton steals from his brother’s piggy bank and mail-orders a wish-granting diamond. He gleefully wishes his pesky family away and sets out to enjoy the solitude. But loneliness eventually consumes Templeton, and he wishes for his family’s return. A minimal palette and skillful changes in facial expressions convey his emotional highs and lows.

Rostoker-Gruber, Karen  Bandit’s Surprise
32 pp.     Cavendish     2010
Trade ISBN 978-0-7614-5623-0

Illustrated by Vincent Nguyen. Outraged when his owner brings home a kitten, Bandit the cat runs away. He changes his mind — only to find himself locked out by mistake. After the kitten helps him get back inside, Bandit warms to her enough to provide a satisfying (if predictable) resolution. The illustrations’ comic-strip look and Bandit’s grumpy reaction are entertaining, though his nicknames for the kitten grow tiresome.

Singleton, Linda Joy  A Cat Is Better
32 pp.     Little Bee     2017
Trade ISBN 978-1-4998-0278-8

Illustrated by Jorge Martin. Cats make better pets than dogs — just ask this book’s feline narrator. Despite the tabby’s protests, a child adopts a pup at the same time. Bright, childlike paintings reveal that the smug-seeming narrator is not as secure in the new owner’s affections (nor as well behaved) as claimed. Eventually the cat rethinks its stance, resulting in a heartwarming conclusion: “sometimes a dog can be…purrfect.”

Vischer, Frans  Fuddles and Puddles
32 pp.     Simon/Aladdin     2016
Trade ISBN 978-1-4814-3839-1
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-3840-7

Pampered cat Fuddles’s (Fuddles) life is turned upside down when the cat’s family adopts a rambunctious, non-housebroken puppy named Puddles. At first, the cat can’t stand his new housemate, but when Puddles rescues him from the dog next door, Fuddles decides they can be friends after all. While the plot is clichéd, Vischer’s vibrant, expressive digital illustrations breathe cartoon energy and unexpected sweetness into the proceedings. Look for sequel A Very Fuddles Christmas.

Wardlaw, Lee  Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku
40 pp.     Holt     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-8050-9987-4

Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. Kitty Won Ton (Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku) is not happy about the new puppy. Yelchin’s graphite and gouache illustrations depict with sensitivity and humor the sleek gray cat’s initial fear and horror alongside the roly-poly brown puppy. Each haiku is complete in itself; together the poems create a whole tale of displacement and eventual mutual understanding.

Weeks, Sarah  Glamourpuss
32 pp.     Scholastic     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-545-60954-8

Illustrated by David Small. Classy cat Glamourpuss, who lives with the “gazillionaire” Highhorsens, is royally upstaged when a guest arrives with her show-off dog, Bluebelle. But when Glamourpuss discovers that Bluebelle hates doing her show-pony act, the cat helps her find her true (Glamourpuss-like) identity. Like its art (don’t miss Bluebelle in her Carmen Miranda getup), the story is funny.


Jennings, Patrick  Hissy Fitz
104 pp.     Egmont     2015
Trade ISBN 978-1-60684-596-7
Ebook ISBN 978-1-60684-597-4

Illustrated by Michael Allen Austin. Hissy Fitz the cat really wants to nap, but too many things are keeping him from his sweet slumber: his home is too loud; the kids won’t leave him alone; and he can’t deny his instincts to eat, prowl, and play nighttime soccer with feline friends. Readers will enjoy accompanying the humorously grumpy cat on his adventures; Austin’s black-and-white illustrations capture Hissy’s ‘tude.

Meister, Cari  Tiny Saves the Day
32 pp.     Penguin     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-448-48294-1
Paperback ISBN 978-0-448-48293-4

Illustrated by Rich Davis. Penguin Young Readers series. Oversize dog Tiny has many friends — but cat Kiki won’t give him the time of day, despite Tiny’s best efforts one snowy afternoon. When Kiki gets stuck in a tree, though, Tiny comes to the rescue. Narrated by Tiny’s little-boy owner (Eliot, from previous Tiny books), the text, aimed at the newest readers, is simple yet satisfying. Davis’s illustrations convey the many personalities.

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