JUNIOR EDITION: New Fiction for Younger Readers searches 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!
Give Me Back My Book!
By Travis Foster and Ethan Long
Published by Chronicle Books
Why fight over a book? Plenty would say there are about as many reasons as years have passed since the appearance of bound parchment. However, for this book’s purposes, Travis Foster and Ethan Long’s two different-colored, differently shaped animal types (Bloo, the light-blue one looks like a rabbit; Redd, the furry red one with glasses, who knows?) it’s about the basics of possessive pronouns. According to the polite then very spirited arguing that opens the story, the matter is a word notoriously widespread among a certain age group. The book, green of hue, is “mine.” Noted: the notoriety just goes underground among the grasping adults too many people grow up to be. The argument soon gets physical.
Wondrously, the accomplished Foster and Long (the former the well-known commercial illustrator, the latter the author and illustrator of more than 70 children’s books) meld conflict resolution and creativity in their gripping tale. To prove ownership, there’s a rundown of the various common components that can distinguish a book (and others that may spell differences). Pages. Tables of contents. Reading direction. “Funny little things called chapters.” A bibliographic cornucopia, it’s a fun way to teach books’ fundamentals to new readers. With some more visible than others, Give Me Back My Book! both foregrounds and demonstrates suspense, which here runs to several pages without words, and a grabby bookworm who needs to be instructed in a behavioral grace or two. Likewise, sometimes conspiracy is helpful, as it moves along a story at a breath-bated rate and stresses the importance of common cause.
That this involves the acts of making, inventing, perception, and imagination cuddles at the center of the tale. Change and growth magically convert “mine” to “ours.” A happy entry: it happens without ignoring those modest signals that clinch the deal when an individual’s rights are at stake.
The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen
By Catherine Lloyd Burns
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Younger Readers
New York is one big beautiful adventure for Cricket Cohen. Defined for most of her eleven years largely by the Upper West Side, it’s also given her space to roam because of her propensity for fantasy. This is one thing inside her head, which is also filled with ebullient scientific facts and reams of geology paving her ambitions to become a rock-sciences superstar, but quite another to the outside world. Her recess mates are fed up with her. The loner kid has added to her parents’ worries—her pretty, rigid mother’s, especially, frantically fundraising to the rich and selfish, while her father, a lawyer, tries to bridge their gaps. Storylines have grown further tangled since her favorite teacher, Mr. Ludgate, has decreed that Cricket re-do the memoir assignment she handed in for English class, which bears a resemblance to reality only in her own mind and irresistible sense of logic. If it were up to Cricket, she’d truly go on the lam.
As it turns out, her grandmother Dodo, who in Cricket’s eyes resembles a “50’s movie star” with brains, and dramatically preaches independence for women, is more than happy to oblige. She’s been moved recently from the glamour of an erstwhile glory-day Los Angeles to live dependently down the hall from the Cohens with a caregiver she resents.
This hands over to the novel Central Park in its fullest charm, its allegory-striated geological formations, its doting adventures, its potential harms, and a gateway to the Upper East Side. Looming large is The Pierre according to Dodo’s vision of it when she used to stay there, and a fruitful, hilarious but ill-starred trip to Barney’s. Dodo seems more and more befuddled. Burns beautifully, sensitively illustrates the transformative dawning in Cricket’s consciousness that there may be some outcroppings and dents starting to scar the glittering surface of Dodo’s 75-year-old brain.
This novel will prove itself not only entertaining and gently instructive to its targeted readership, but a full-on delight for grownups open to appreciating the more sophisticated, yet organic, jokes, treats, references and insights Burns slips in. These include the real-life police precinct from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as appropriate to the plot as to the skittering (yes, her, too) serio-comic air of Cricket’s story. Eleven year-olds really do mature, and so do adults..
By Darcey Rosenblatt
Published by Henry Holt & Company
Don’t even think Peter Pan. Darcey Rosenblatt’s Lost Boys isn’t anywhere in the same universe as J.M. Barrie. A markedly memorable and devastating work about extreme youth and war, though set thirty-five years back it illuminates conflicts that still rage everywhere, both clandestine and in the open, local, and global. The story of a boy, it contains thousands.
Reza is a twelve-year-old looking forward to thirteen, as if it can liberate him from the mounting pressures and ugly restrictions piling up as far as his eyes and emotions can sense. It’s 1982 in Shiraz, Iran, and the recent revolution is coming down hard under control of the Ayatollah Khomeni, his mullahs and his army. For an opening salvo, the country has invaded neighboring Iraq for reasons age-old and modern—byzantine religious differences within the same Muslim faith, the politics of oil. Seeds of the Gulf War are being planted, along with the torturous conditions and in-the-globe’s-face pestilential confrontations and attacks we live with today. Food is scarce, the music Reza loves and excels at forbidden, education pared back to ancient creeds and segregated genders, his father already lost in the war, his mother so fervently in thrall to a new fundamentalism that she tells her son she would rather have him die a martyr than live outside the cause.
Between that and constant macho egging from his best friend, Edi, Reza signs up to fight the enemy alongside nation-wide recruits all-too-frequently as young as he, and just as innocent. They are surreptitiously transported to the gates of hell. Not the enemy’s: the boy soldiers’ commanders put them to a use so deadly it beggars imagination—but for the reality that stares back from documented events. Rosenblatt spares no facts. (More chilling contemporary resonance: “The man who signed me up said something about going south to the assault on Basra,” one boy says.)
Reza is among the lucky ones (although sometimes he wonders). Captured, he ends up in an Iraqi POW camp where the only grownups are guards, military, and a red-headed teacher from Ireland. Miles O’Leary is an aid worker there to help make the camp, unlike the rest of the lad gulag, look almost acceptable to foreign press visitors, and, it turns out, change Reza’s life. Lost Boys’ every chapter head is topped by a barbed-wire strand drawn pages’ edge to edge; Reza and the others’ predominantly hopeless existence is additionally impaled on harsh boredom, deprivation, ruthless weather, their captors’ gimlet-eyed cruelty and the unanswered question of when—or if—they may be released. (The likes of such places ultimately know no nationality, age or side.) Rosenblatt brings music back to Reza, but sacrifices are a trade-off. She has relieved him of hidebound beliefs in martyrdom and paradise but, throughout most of the book, death remains the nearest certainty. A sustained edginess lies in just how unlikely is the possibility of escape.
By Chelsea Bobulski
Published by Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
Most people wouldn’t give the apparently three acres of woods by Winter Parish’s cozy suburban home a second glance. Such numbers are deceptive, however. After all Winter is, apparently, again, just another sixteen-year-old girl at a local American high school, except that she’s an infinite forestland’s “guardian,” descended from an 800-year tradition, like her father before her patrolling and helping control a tract endless in its relationship to time. Full of portals to and from periods and places in history, the forest demands that Winter’s most important task be apprehending “travelers” from other eras and spots on earth, guiding them back through their portals before damage is done to time and historical sequence—to the past, the present, the future, and the wanderers’ sanity as well. This makes Winter not even your normal social outlier when it comes to prom and stuff—such as her hopes of attending college, having boyfriends, wobbly opinions of peer pressure, and giggling in the halls with her increasingly distant best friend Meredith. Debut author Chelsea Bobulski teases out all the difficult tendrils implied by Winter’s commitment to care for the mystical, enchanted wood.
At the same time, as might be expected in a current era wrestling with and about climate change, something is going amiss with the woods, their bright green leaves turning black in certain locales, poisonous ooze marring sculpted bark where before only regeneration flourished. And Winter’s father has disappeared. Metaphor is as metaphor does—in The Wood, nefarious developments relate to affairs ancient, magical, and evil. Reign is by fractious council, alliances have two faces, and the power of the written word has been dangerously interrupted.
It’s good for Winter—who is starting to face that her father, moody of late, either deserted his family or is dead—when a handsome young time-traveling hunk from the 18th century insists on staying this side of time’s tricks to help her solve the mysteries human, natural, sacred, and superhuman encroaching on her formerly sunny world. Slippery as identities are in the shifting environment, Winter must learn to pin them down by validating trust, cultivating self-knowledge, and feeling around for what’s appropriate to romance in her day and for her age. Happily ever after is also a measurement of time..