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!
Big Foot and Little Foot
By Ellen Potter, illustrations by Felicita Sala
Published by Amulet/Abrams Books
If you’re a human looking for a scary thrill, spotting a Sasquatch—the super-size hairy Bigfoot of North American folklore—could do nicely. But Ellen Potter’s Big Foot and Little Foot stages a giddy turnabout. In this case, a lust for adventure resides inside a lovably iconoclastic young Sasquatch (or “squidge”) named Hugo. He’s gently fed up with his own species, which, in reversal of received legend, is peace-loving and people-fearing, a cozy, rule-bound culture in which the “Most Important Rule” is, “never be seen by Humans.”
Sweet-natured though he is, Hugo is tired of being confined to a strictly limited part of the chilly North Woods, longing for the freedom represented by “The Big Wide World,” where there are presumably no tattle-tale older sisters or hyper-protective parents, and at least one of those intriguing Human beings for him to meet. Naturally, he gets detention when he messes up the most popular group exercise at school, “Hide and Go Sneak,” which trains its pupils to evade Human detection, and involves a gooey mud-bath base for a camouflage of forest vegetation. Potter doesn’t miss a bit of wilderness gross-out potential or relatable charm to create a domain where Stink Sap is a hot kids’ commodity, caverns are divided into pleasant apartment blocks, and the best of all possible treats are acorn-butter-and-raspberry-cream sandwiches, walnuts in their shells and wild-mint juice.
Distinctive about Hugo is also a quality atypical of the general Sasquatch population, imagination. It quickly proves its utility when he launches a little boat he’s carved onto the stream running through his bedroom and out into the BWW, since it returns with a toy cargo message from a lonely Human boy called Boone. Indefatigably tracking Boone to his home turf is adventure writ large. Equally significant, the two youngsters bond over their similarities, their differences, and their bravery confronting mythological beasts in order to get to the Sasquatch Spring Frog Festival in time. The biggest prize is their friendship. Its story, as Hugo says right where the book ends, is “To be continued.” Big Foot and Little Foot: The Monster Detector comes out in a few months.
By Dave Eggers, illustrations by Eric and Terry Fan
Published by illustrations by Eric and Terry Fan
It’s not a kid’s favorite rite of passage, showing up at a new school not knowing a single freakin’ person. If that’s bad, Granite Flowerpetal has it worse. (The problem of the name he thinks he’ll solve by trial-ballooning the nickname Gran.) His isn’t just any old newbie’s loneliness: at Carousel Middle School, a teetering, patchwork structure serving the weird, hilly, higgledy-piggledy town Gran’s family has moved to, he might as well be invisible (and not because he’s practically the smallest and skinniest in his class).
The town of Carousel’s dips ‘n’ tips don’t look good for his mother’s wheelchair, his father’s mechanic’s job isn’t panning out, and the only schoolmate who talks to him, under embarrassing circumstances, is a girl as scrawny as he is. Catalina Catalan has a puzzling chip on her shoulder, a daily image of Ruth Bader Ginsberg on her t-shirt, and a tendency to vanish at random. Dave Eggers’s The Lifters understands what it’s like both inside and outside the skins of middle-schoolers. Despite Gran’s habitual scaredy-catness, once he catches Catalina entering a hillside by producing an ornate handle that opens a doozy of a door, he’s a goner. In the throes of his first crush, he hasn’t gotten as far as wondering why Carousel is prone to sinkholes that often swallow its examples of unusual architecture whole.
Dave Eggers is a very cool, and very committed, American writer, a best-selling author for adults who’s also known for founding seminal youth programs. He doesn’t let down his Lifters characters, or his target audience. He pulls every one of his action- and emotion-packed chapters up short with a cliffhanger or an a-ha moment. When the going gets iffy, he drops in something sure to crack up his readers. A peculiar underworld hides beneath Carousel, accessible only to Lifters. They’re tasked with propping it up—with a touching assortment of everyday objects—against The Hollows, supernatural forces intent on destroying it and anything above that it holds in place. Yet to qualify as a Lifter takes more than a magic handle. It takes a sensitivity to negative states of mind and soul, and their creep wherever loss has occurred. Gran discovers that his great-great-grandfather was a very specialized kind of metal smith in Carousel. A lot is to be learned from how the town got its name, why it was once world-famous, and what sidelined it. Its Lifters have their jobs cut out for them up top, too. That work couldn’t be more charming, nor exceptional.2 .
Isle of Blood and Stone
By Makiia Lucier
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Age 12 and up
The resplendent island kingdom of St. John de la Mar, with its rich culture and seafaring triumphs, revels in its far-flung possessions and trading network. Not only the center of power but of mapmaking, it privileges its Royal Explorers, each a graduate of the peerless Royal School of Navigation, as well as the Royal Navigator at its head, who oversees cartography’s science and art. Ruled by Ulise, the handsome, intelligent young king, the monarchy is also lucky in his best friend and supreme explorer, Elias, and in Mercedes, the king’s exquisite, invincible, spymaster cousin, first in line to the throne. The abrupt appearance of two unknown, identical maps, each from opposite ends of the ocean, only heightens the mystery of the clues they contain, the impossible familiarity of the hand that drew them, and the secrets they dare the three friends to keep. Almost as impossible to process is that the history, geography and numerous societies that Makiia Lucier chronicles in her fantasy debut never existed. Resting somewhere on the cusp between a Middle Ages and a Renaissance, buoyed by a sea loosely resembling the Mediterranean, the inspired reality conveyed by Isle of Blood and Stone is hard to un-believe in its abundant details and treasure troves of experience.
The compass is the country’s overarching symbol, but no “leading stones” ever located Ulises’s two older brothers after they disappeared during a court picnic, still little boys, eighteen years earlier, along with Elias’s father, the Royal Navigator at the time. The twin maps, which also spark to the spirit world, throw into question the truth of the captives’ deaths at sea, confessed to by a soldier from Mondrago. That despised former ally, laid waste in the aftermath of perceived perfidy, is one reason that Mercedes, half-Mondragon, has so much to prove in the ceaseless twists and turns of Lucier’s plot. That she’s a woman is a second goad. A great journey is undertaken, its destinations and distances intricately surprising. Lucier never leaves doubt about the humanity of her elevated company, good and bad. As she finely teases out a romance and tends to a host of dawning insights, the outward and inward voyages aren’t over. This commanding novel is the first in a duology.
America Is Not the Heart
By Elaine Castillo
Published by Viking
Age 15 and up, and adult
The American immigrant experience now has a way of moving through increasingly muddled landscapes, crossing oceans in patterns close-fisted around tragedy, and not always staying the course. Reaped from it, fictional masterpieces have started to stand out. Elaine Castillo’s first novel, America Is Not the Heart, a narratively bold, pungently complex, heart-punching saga, can be declared such an achievement. Its remarkable tale of frictional, wavering, unshakable ties, and of the ghostly reframed, is ideal for YA readers and all ages above.
Her impetus initially murky, Hero (short for Geronima, a family name) leaves the Philippines for Milpitas, California, the Bay Area suburb where a large Filipino-American community has spawned a singular cosmos. Insular and hardworking, success-driven yet frequently destined for defeat, it smarts under its class, color and generational divisions, nonetheless clinging to old-country rituals and traditions. Castillo celebrates its fullness in food, language and folk beliefs, in try-hard glamour, persistent expectations and generous resignation. By the time Hero arrives in 1990, she’s on the equivalent of her third life. Her youth as a spoiled daughter of the snobby, Marcos-connected De Vera clan preceded a fugitive period as a hardened guerilla medic in the revolutionary New People’s Army, with two shattered thumbs courtesy of a government prison camp a perpetual and painful reminder. The novel’s uncommon time-shifts among past, present and future are extraordinary. Castillo has two kinds of stories on her mind: those of lives as they happen, and the versions birthed a world away.
It takes a ridge rope of people, portrayed with memorable individuality by Castillo, to bring Hero, a traumatized swimmer, firmly on land. A passionate love for her on the part of a determined, street-savvy makeup artist, embedded in the local music scene and struggling with her own identity, may prove an anchor. Hero’s slow, hesitant acceptance of a new sort of family, its occasionally misguided actions no less in the picture, holds much promise too. Castillo’s impressive novel mixes places and eras, politics and personalities, deeds and reflections to create for us all a new home.4 .