JUNIOR EDITION: New Books for Younger Readers | #9
by Celia McGee
JUNIOR EDITION: New Books for Younger Readers will search recent releases to discover the best kids' fiction out there. Given that the line between what makes a novel perfect for a teenager and just as compelling for an adult is anyone’s guess, Celia will sometimes review an “adult” novel that crosses that divide, as well as books for everyone from pre-schoolers to high-schoolers. We hope Celia's terrific choices help get kids reading, and help create the next generation of readers and writers!
Written and Illustrated by Mark Todd (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Food trucks are not just for hipsters anymore.
Mark Todd, who happens to live near Los Angeles, the heart of the original food truck movement, has written a piquant ode to the four-wheeled food vehicles—and illustrated it in a style influenced, he announces, by a childhood obsession with Star Wars comics. With a few sly exceptions, Star Wars his drawings are not, but display a colorful, jaunty bundle of highly diverse food trucks sporting such human elements as headlights for eyes (some with flirtatious eyelashes), different hairdos depending on the foodstuff being vended, and a spread of ethnic cuisines and time-of-day treats (ice cream anyone? then what about waffles?). The sense of each truck’s particular personality is heightened by the fact that there are no drivers or servers inside them. What you see—personable, bountiful road runners—is whom you’ll want as a friend. Todd traveled the country to meet as many of them as he could.
Under the Egg
by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Dial Books for Younger Readers)
Under an egg: a nest, a frying pan, an egg cup, an Easter basket? Under the Egg, a debut novel and mystery story by a trained art historian comes by its title from a different angle, though not one to be lost on Theodora Tenpenny, 13 and a loner, brought up in the topsy-turvy old house in Greenwich Village owned by her adored Grandfather Jack. But she has just lost him, and is condemned, at least for the time being, to life alone with her mother--a cracked math genius incessantly scribbling theorems as the Tenpenny nest egg daily shrinks. In Jack’s attic studio almost all that is left is an abstract painting centered on an ovoid shape.
Yet some meaning must have rested in Jack’s dying words to Theo, which sounded like “under the egg…there’s a letter…and a treasure.” As a veteran museum guard at the Met and otherwise a dedicated painter, Jack was not one for gibberish, no matter how much he let Theo wear cast-off petticoats as skirts, and other eccentrically recycled items.
It’s as if the whole city sets out to help Theo—a reverend at Grace Church, the Toasty Nuts vendor who was a chemist in India, the supercilious and briefly suspect curator Jack worked under, and Bodhi, the girl Theo’s own age (and equally friendless), who has moved in up the block with her movie star parents. Bodhi has the Internet at her disposal. Theo does not.
But she reads books and has spent her life in museums. When a painting emerges from underneath Jack’s weird work, Theo is pretty certain it’s a Raphael, but different from any she’s studied or seen. So is the story she finally uncovers about how it ended up with her grandfather. Fitzgerald reaches back to World War II, where acts of humanity and inhumanity are exposed. They open Theo’s eyes to the very human, deeply tragic, and unknown story the Rapahel painting tells. This book will instill an interest in art history, and an awareness that nothing gets past those who care.
The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier (Abrams/Amulet)
Ages 10 and up
Jonathan Auxier is bringing Gothic back.
His ghostly story takes place in a Victorian England darkly birthed by the ghoulish tales and otherworldly detective fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, the pessimistic, opium-infused deductions of Sherlock Holmes, the domination by spirits gone mad in times of war and depression.
The Night Gardener makes spooky suppositions about what happens when a world that should flourish in nature comes under threat by one who once nurtured it. Auxier’s ghoul is the so-called Night Gardener, in life a trusted groundsman to the aristocratic Windsor family who was abruptly banished (or so the legend goes) from his earthy paradise and now, in phantom form and active only by night, is sickening those living in the ancestral mansion.
The Windsors are going bankrupt under the spirit’s malevolence (and the speculative fever of the time), which fosters greed, among other failings. But what strikes Molly and her lame little brother, Kip, two destitute Irish children grudgingly hired in exchange for room and board, is that the once-grand family and its children are fading away under the Night Gardener’s curse. Class distinctions matter less as evidence emerges that the Night Gardener’s eternal green thumb has coaxed a lethal, ever-spreading tree into invading the house itself.
But Kip is, as it were, a day gardener, and his restorative work in the ravaged Windsor plots proves both physical and psychic. His goal is to revive everything that the Night Gardener schemes to destroy, including human lives.
Wishes keep hope alive. But what if they become entwined with the addictive, poisonous effects of the Night Gardener’s tree? Auxier wants such confusing dysfunction indicted. The enjoyment, enlightenment and shivers his novel supplies draw strict moral and emotional lessons.
We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart (Delacorte Press)
Ages 12 and up
The rightfully extolled YA author E. Lockhart has taken the resurgent popularity of the WASP-centric novel and carved from it a young-adult story in which joy, love and sea-sprayed insularity slide eerily into the anger and grief of the bereft. Not in a while has there been a novel in which the mystery propelling it reveals itself so shockingly in final retrospect.
Two years earlier, something awful happened to Cat Sinclair, then the 15-year-old beauty and heiress to the august Sinclair fortune and the dwindling American dynasty’s powerful and historic name. Her close-knit, ambivalently devoted extended family, ruled by pater familias Grandfather Sinclair, retreats every summer to its own private island. Anticipation is always highest among four of the third generation’s cousins, nicknamed The Liars, led by Cat and her cousin John, and expanding with the arrival of his school-friend Gat. Darkly handsome, and extraordinarily intelligent, Gat comes from an East-Indian background and modest circumstances that are not the stuff, in the eyes of some, of which Social Register marriage prospects are made. Yet to Cat, he is her “first and only love.” For him, she needs to acknowledge that she’s never learned the servants’ names.
One cloud Lockhart lets hover over the novel is “King Lear,” shadow-playing with inherited houses and sibling rivalries among Cat’s mother and two aunts. And almost before you can say Wuthering Heights, Cat and Gat are parsing Catherine and Heathcliff and “the monstrous” with which Gat purports to identify.
Why, now, is the formerly carefree Cat dosed with Percoset and incessantly hallucinating herself dripping blood, while her mother talks of stiff upper lips, and “acting normal?” The command seems aimed at keeping buried horrors buried. As much as Cat resists, she dredges up only happy memories.
It’s a painful pleasure to watch Lockhart slowly disclose the reversal of passive and active that Cat’s mind has achieved, and why she hasn’t been able to rearrange them. Putting together the jumbled puzzle pieces Lockhart has strewn about, as if by a window left open to an unpredictable summer storm, is a daunting exercise in reading, mystery-solving, and feeling a sadness no sunlight can repair.
Celia McGee grew up surrounded by books from an early age. In her column, "JUNIOR EDITION: New Books for Younger Readers," she shares her interest in newly-released books for kids, from pre-K through high school. She also contributes regularly to The New York Times on books, authors and the arts. She has been a publishing columnist for The New York Observer, a media columnist and features writer for the New York Daily News, and a book review editor and contributing writer for New York magazine. She continues to review books for adults. Director of the @Macaulay Author Series, she has served on the board of the National Book Critics' Circle, and is a board member of The Center for Fiction. Her earlier reading years were spent in Montana and the Netherlands.
And don’t forget our KidsRead Events and Books For NYC Schools — helping to promote literary fiction and Young Adult novels to under-served public schools right here in New York. Here’s what some participating teachers had to say about recent KidsRead Events:
“One of the things I love most about the program is that the kids really get to see how important the writing process is in their lives as students and adults.”
“The kids had a wonderful time. We were sent the books in advance and kids were ready with questions. It was the first time any of them met an author and getting their book signed was an important experience for them.”
“Knowing they would meet an author was a motivating factor for them to read the novels. And getting to ask questions about an author’s intent was a great complement to our literacy work.”
“I give a few avid readers the books, and the next thing I know I have students hounding me for the book. These trips have had such a positive effect on the students that I have started a book club.”
“Meeting the different authors has been an eye-opening experience for the students. They get to ask about creating characters, ideas they have about the novel, and they learn the circuitous route the author took finding his/her career. Each of the authors has had a completely different approach, but they have all been enlightening.”