Monday, February 1, 2010

PW's Starred Reviews for 2/1/10

-- Publishers Weekly, 2/1/2010

Picture Books

I Can Be Anything! by Jerry Spinelli, illus. by Jimmy Liao. Little, Brown, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-316-16226-5

Newbery Medalist Spinelli (My Daddy and Me) again demonstrates his versatility as a writer in this buoyant riff on a familiar theme. “When I grow up, what shall I be?” asks the young narrator, answering this question with blithe, whimsical options, pictured with playful exaggeration in Liao's (The Sound of Colors) energetic watercolor and acrylic art. Accompanied by frolicking bunnies, the boy envisions himself as a “puddle stomper/ apple chomper/mixing-bowl licker/ tin-can kicker,” among numerous other “professions.” Though often clad in overalls, in some scenarios he wears more fanciful attire, hovering in a butterfly costume as a “honeysuckle smeller” or performing in a clown suit for a sad lion as a “silly-joke teller.” Liao's artwork runs with the simple, evocative phrases, striking a balance between the classic and the contemporary (on many pages, the boy resembles nothing so much as a modern-day Little Boy Blue, yet he's equally comfortable commanding the stage as a jester or magician). It's an uplifting, imaginative vision of life's possibilities that suggests that there are no limits—not even the sky. Ages 3–6. (Mar.)

Fiction

Stuck on Earth by David Klass. FSG/Foster, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-39951-1

When an alien snail named Ketchvar III takes over 14-year-old Tom Filber's body, he tends to agree with Galactic Confederation ethicists that “we owe it to weak and vulnerable Homo sapiens to euthanize the species” before humans destroy the environment and themselves. But even though he suffers high school at its worst, he is inspired by some people he meets—a lonely neighbor; his passionate environmental club adviser—and begins drawing another conclusion. Ketchvar's cerebral narration is the book's hallmark (“My new theory is that school serves the purpose of narrowing the horizons of young Homo sapiens and conditioning them to accept mediocrity”); it becomes increasingly moving as the question arises of whether Ketchvar is real or if this is a construct Tom uses to deal with his disintegrating home life and general unhappiness. The narrator's well-timed surveillance of a polluting paint factory is too convenient, but Klass's (the Caretaker Trilogy) thoughtful, often wrenching book offers plenty to think about, from what's really going on in Tom's head to questions about human responsibility to the planet and each other. It takes “alienation” to a whole new level. Ages 11–14. (Mar.)

Borderline by Allan Stratton. HarperTeen, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-145111-9

Printz Honor–winner Stratton (Chanda's Secrets) explores the genesis of and fallout from racial and religious discrimination in this thriller about a Muslim boy's life, which is turned on its head when his father is accused of collaborating with Islamic terrorists in a plot to contaminate the water supplies in New York City and Toronto. But 15-year-old Mohammed “Sami” Sabiri has more to worry about than the resulting media circus and his father's incarceration. How can he avoid being bullied at school? How will his mother support the family after being fired? And are the allegations about his father true or are they the result of a scared community and a government embracing prejudice at its worst? When Sami goes undercover to verify his father's innocence, the story reaches a fist-clenching pinnacle before a conclusion that should defy readers' expectations. Despite the sensitive subject matter and potential for sensationalistic writing, Stratton proceeds with a steady hand. It's a powerful story and excellent resource for teaching tolerance, with a message that extends well beyond the timely subject matter. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)

Children's Comics

Meanwhile: Pick a Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities by Jason Shiga. Abrams/Amulet, $15.95 paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-81098-423-3

A mathematician/cartoonist whose best works (Bookhunter; Fleep) play with form and logic, Shiga has created both an enchanting graphic novel and a delightful physical object. Building on the concept of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Shiga allows readers to select among thousands of story lines. The first question is simple: “Chocolate or vanilla?” From there, readers follow thin tubes and tabs in circuitous paths throughout the book, dictated by their choices. Sometimes the story takes a reader right to left through panels on the page, sometimes up or down, and readers' decisions may have them skip forward or backward throughout the text. Plots include time machines, doomsday devices, quantum physics, and a giant squid. The charming, cartoony illustrations, bursting with color and energy, lend a wry counterpoint to the often disastrous outcomes of the many possible plots. In the electronic media era, it's refreshing to encounter a work that makes such unique use of the physical nature of the book. Young readers will likely spend hours finding new ways to wend a path through the pages of this innovative book. Ages 8–up. (Mar.)

Happy Easter!

The Easter Egg by Jan Brett. Putnam, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-25238-9

Brett's finely detailed watercolor and gouache art is a showstopper, spotlighting lifelike—though nattily clad—rabbits decorating eggs in hopes of winning the role of the Easter Rabbit's helper. Hoppi is awed by bunnies' creations, which include an ornate chocolate egg and a “whirling, twirling mechanical egg.” But when an egg tumbles out of a robin's nest, he keeps it safe until the baby bird hatches. Borders of twigs, pussy willows, daffodils, and ferns add greatly to the warm, visually sumptuous setting of this gentle spring story. Ages 3–5. (Feb.)

Congratulations to these authors!

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