Publisher's Weekly Starred Reviews for 9/21
Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser. EDC/Kane Miller, $15.99 (56p) ISBN 978-1-935279-04-4
Like furry slapstick comedians, a squirrel, hedgehog and bear make one sweet goof after another as they look for the first snowflake of winter. Told that it will be “white and wet and cold and soft,” they put off hibernating and begin to search. Hedgehog holds up his discovery in triumph: it's a toothbrush (“Winter will be wonderful,” Hedgehog thinks, as the next page shows the animal delighting in a shower of white toothbrushes against an inky sky). Squirrel is convinced that a tin can is the first snowflake, and Bear appears with an old white sock. Meschenmosher (Learning to Fly) sketches freely on white pages in dark gray and sepia, drawing with casual grace and unerring comic instinct. Squirrel's reddish hair springs forth frenetically, Hedgehog's prickles look untidy and sleepy, and Bear's luxurious fur hangs over his eyebrows, making him look even grumpier. Giggles and guffaws will abound (three whole spreads are devoted to Squirrel and Hedgehog belting out sea shanties to keep themselves awake). The moment when the snow really does begin to fall is worth waiting for, too. A quiet, atmospheric and offbeat treasure. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)
The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O'Connor. FSG/Foster, $16.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-374-37055-8
With humor and authenticity, this beguiling tale of summer friendship mines the small, jewellike adventures of a rural childhood. Popeye (so named after a fateful BB gun accident) is utterly bored in rainy Fayette, S.C. But when a passing motor home gets stuck in the mud, he befriends one of its unruly inhabitants, a devil-may-care boy named Elvis. In the creek, the boys discover boats made from Yoo-hoo cartons that carry cryptic messages––a mystery that launches the “small adventure” of tracking down the boats' creator as well as Popeye's struggle between obeying his overprotective grandmother, Velma, and venturing out with his new friend. O'Connor's (How to Steal a Dog) easygoing, Southern storytelling crafts an endearing protagonist and irresistibly quirky cast. Velma recites the names of English monarchy to avoid “cracking up” and teaches Popeye new vocabulary words, which surface comically in his observations (“Velma's appearance at the edge of the cemetery, arms crossed, face red, was definitely not serendipity. It was much closer to vicissitude”). Undercurrents of poverty and dysfunction are handled with gentle humor as Popeye discovers the magic of a little adventure. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor, illus. by Jim Di Bartolo. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-545-05585-7
Taylor offers a powerful trio of tales, each founded upon the consequences of a kiss. She explores the potentially awkward conceit in three dramatically different fantasies, each featuring a young female protagonist out of place in the world she inhabits: contemporary Kizzy, who so yearns to be a normal, popular teenager that she forgets the rules of her Old Country upbringing and is seduced by a goblin in disguise; Anamique, living in British colonial India, silenced forever due to a spell cast upon her at birth; and Esmé, who at 14 discovers she is host to another—nonhuman—being. The stories build in complexity and intensity, culminating in the breathtaking “Hatchling,” which opens with a spectacularly gripping prologue (“Esmé swayed on her feet. These weren't her memories. This wasn't her eye”). Each is, in vividly distinctive fashion, a mesmerizing love story that comes to a satisfying but never predictable conclusion. Di Bartolo's illustrations provide tantalizing visual preludes to each tale, which are revealed as the stories unfold. Even nonfantasy lovers will find themselves absorbed by Taylor's masterful, elegant work. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
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