Monday, February 15, 2010

PW's Starred Reviews

-- Publishers Weekly, 2/15/2010

Picture Books

Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton, illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. Little, Brown, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-00762-7

This is a genius concept—the kids' equivalent of a classic guy bull session, centering on two playmates' favorite toys. So, who's better—Shark or Train? That all depends. When trick-or-treating, Shark is the clear winner, thanks to his intimidating smile (“The clown is very hungry,” he says, as a bowl of candy is poured into his bag). But in a marshmallow-roasting contest, Train triumphs by virtue of his built-in, coal-stoked rotisserie. Just when readers will think the scenarios can't get more absurd (bowling, a burping contest), the book moves into even funnier territory: hypotheticals in which neither comes out on top (their imposing presences make them ripe targets for getting shushed in a library, and their lack of opposable thumbs means neither is very good at video games). Lichtenheld's (Duck! Rabbit!) watercolor cartoons have a fluidity and goofy intensity that recalls Mad magazine, while Barton (The Day-Glo Brothers) gives the characters snappy dialogue throughout. “That counts as a strike, right?” says Shark, having eaten an entire lane of bowling pins. “This is why you guys have a bad reputation,” retorts Train. Ages 3–6. (Apr.)

Farm by Elisha Cooper. Scholastic/Orchard, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-545-07075-1

Cooper (Beach) creates a joyful tribute to family farms in this luminous and lyrical picture book. The text is stately, quiet, and poetic (“Morning chores would be better if they didn't happen every morning”), and the book slowly takes readers through a year of planting, good and bad weather, and ordinary details about farm life. At the same time, Cooper includes enough specific portraits and names to make the book seem like a felicitous cross between fiction and nonfiction. Like a puzzlemaker, Cooper begins with a sequence of cumulative phrases and sketchbook-style paintings: “Take a farmer, another farmer, a boy, a girl. Add a house, two barns, four silos.... Then cattle, chickens, countless cats, a dog. Put them all together and you get...” A page turn reveals “...a farm,” broad and serene, stretched across the palest of skies. Delicately shaded watercolors, outlined in black, are a mix of spot art, clustered images, and spectacular spreads that portray the farm and its inhabitants from diverse points of view. The graceful text and serenely stunning illustrations create a portrait both reverent and realistic. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-25452-9

When a small girl loses her father, her only parent (Jeffers represents the loss with the father's empty chair in a moonlit room), she decides “the best thing” is to put her heart in a bottle and hang it around her neck. All the bubbly curiosity that had made her sparkle disappears, “but at least her heart was safe.” Not until the girl, now considerably older, meets “someone smaller and still curious about the world” is her heart restored to her. Jeffers's (The Great Paper Caper) artwork is the sweetness in this bittersweet story. Conversations between the girl and her father appear as balloons with images in them instead of words; his answers to her enthusiastic “questions” about the world are expressed in scientific prints and diagrams. In the final spread, as she sits reading in her father's chair, a thought balloon exploding with childlike and cerebral images alike makes it clear that she is once again at peace. While the subject of loss always has the potential to unsettle young readers, most should find this quietly powerful treatment of grief moving. Ages 4–up. (Mar.)

Fiction

The Celestial Globe by Marie Rutkoski. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-31027-1

This stellar sequel to The Cabinet of Wonders surpasses its predecessor by navigating the intelligent fantasy adventure outside 16th-century Bohemia and deepening the scope of its magic. After an attack, feisty 13-year-old Petra's mind connection to British spy John Dee enables him to rescue her to London through a “Loophole” that allows instant time-space travel. Another Loophole casts two supporting players into central roles when her childhood friend and magician Tomik passes to Portugal only to be captured by Roma pirates, including Petra's friend Neel. These pirates possess one of two magical globes and are searching for the second; combined, they offer “the power to guide anyone through hundreds of Loopholes.” Their quest leads back to Petra and pits them against Bohemia's evil Prince Rodolfo and a complex web of British traitors. Using a winning combination of history and magic, Rutkoski builds on what worked in the first novel and heightens the stakes, as Petra matures under Dee's enigmatic tutelage. Strong characters and fast-paced plotting let this compelling installment stand independently, but the ending will leave readers eager for the next. Ages 10–up. (Apr.)

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner. Greenwillow, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-187093-4

The fourth installment in Turner's saga is another absorbing political drama, this time focusing on Sophos, reluctant heir to the Sounis throne. Readers will remember him as Useless the Younger in The Thief, when he was more interested in poetry than power. As the king's only heir, however, he had no choice but to prepare for the monarchy until, in the opening pages of this volume, he is kidnapped and sold into slavery. He narrates the story of his abduction to an undisclosed “you,” whose identity close readers of the series may guess. Given the complexity of Turner's plot, readers should reread the first three books before beginning this one, which derives its power from the intricate construction of Turner's imagined world, a realm in which her founding mythology is as impressive as her descriptions of the land itself. Sophos's choice—live anonymously in servitude or accept a role he doesn't want—drives the story as his allies approach a showdown with the enemy Medes. Strong evidence emerges that the story doesn't end here, and fans will savor this while they wait for more. Ages 10–up. (Apr.)

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-545-20719-5

In this exciting steampunk adventure, Carnegie Medal–winner Reeve takes readers to a far future that looks back at our era with a darkly humorous sensibility (how's “Blog off,” for an expletive?), while laying tantalizing groundwork for his Hungry City Chronicles quartet. Fever Crumb, a 14-year-old orphan, is the only girl ever accepted into the Order of Engineers and has been raised in seclusion by obsessively logical scientists in an enormous head, part of an unfinished statue of London's deposed ruler, the hated mutant “Scriven,” Auric Godshawk. But Fever's thoroughly rational nature is thrown into flux when she's sent into the bustling, violent city on her first job, working for an eccentric archeologist who may have discovered Godshawk's secret cache of scientific inventions. As invaders near the city's outer perimeter, the streets of London erupt in mob violence, and Fever finds herself proclaimed a mutant and pursued by an implacable enemy. Beautifully written, grippingly paced, and filled with eccentric characters and bizarre inventions (such as foldable assassins made of paper), this is a novel guaranteed to please Reeve's fans—and very likely broaden their ranks. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)

Just Popping In
 
Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods and Heroes by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda. Candlewick, $29.99 (12p) ISBN 978-0-7636-3171-0

Reinhard and Sabuda continue to raise the bar in their second Encyclopedia Mythologica pop-up (following Fairies and Magical Creatures), a global tour of gods and other deities. Multiple stories unfold on each page within layered tableaus in miniature booklets, like treasures to be unveiled. A sort of flip book detailing Hercules's 12 tasks is triggered by pull-tab; one booklet shows the destruction of Atlantis; elsewhere, a grimacing Pele erupts from the spewing lava of a volcano; and the plumed Aztec serpent, Quetzalcoatl, seems to fly toward readers on the final spread. A fun and engaging assemblage that seamlessly marries its form and content. Ages 5–up. (Feb.)

Congratulations to these authors!

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