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!
The 5 O’Clock Band
By Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Published by Abrams Books for Younger Readers
Learning about time and how to tell it brings with it the pleasure of identifying favorite times of day. Young New Orleans trombone-player Shorty and three of his friends have even named their band after the clock stroke of five that marks school day’s end, homework accomplished, and the start of their music making together. Time also has its challenges, though, and one day Shorty is so swept up in a solo practice riff, time gets away from him and he misses the usual kick-off moment for parading through the streets of Tremé. But in Troy Andrew’s autobiographical story The 5 O’ Clock Band, Shorty’s city has his back: its history, traditions, wisdom and role-modeling step up to make things right.
Dealt his tardiness hand, and feeling sensitive about it, Shorty is lucky enough to encounter some elders who show him important pieces of the path toward what he wants to become—a great bandleader, in particular—and nudge him in the direction of where he can find his pals in enough time to complete their circuit. Tuba Tremé, “a giant of a man, but… as sweet as pecan pie,” is the first to greet him, followed by the restaurant queen Lola and the chief of Tremé’s Mardi Gras “Indian tribe.” The Mississippi River pipes up as well. Passion and empathy spice a book as savory as Lola’s signature fare. New Orleans swings past on notes of memory and music. Kids and their dreams keep pace with the sweeter sounds of destiny. Go to tromboneshortyfoundation.org to learn more about the Trombone Shorty Foundation and the Trombone Shorty Academy.
Running on the Roof of the World
By Jess Butterworth
Published by Algonquin Young Readers
Age 9 and up
School can make just about any 12-year-old girl restless. But sprinting through her Tibetan village isn’t an option for spirited Tash, who lives there with two loving parents and constant tension in the air. Her country has been under Chinese occupation since 1956, the situation only worsening, and anything beyond a careful walk can get her stopped by soldiers on patrol. Though Jess Butterworth, who spent much of her childhood in the foothills of the Himalayas, makes the political picture in Tibet the grim backdrop for her story, she doesn’t leech out any of the color and detail of Tash’s daily life. She builds a lively tale of courage, persistence, and growth.
Tash will be haunted by the incident that sets her own adventure in motion—a fellow villager sets himself on fire in an effort to bring the world’s attention to Tibet’s oppression, triggering a full-bore military sweep—but it doesn’t stop her. Her parents taken prisoner, Tash decides on a nearly impossible journey, together with her best friend, Sam, a backpack from her father containing an encrypted message, two awesome yaks, and little idea of what awaits her as they travel through the wintery Himalayas to India in search of the exiled Dalai Lama and the assistance Tash hopes he can deliver. Soldiers are on their heels, friendly nomads might well be informers, and the physical toll that the struggle through a stunning but treacherous landscape takes means every step is an act of willpower and ingenuity. Butterworth engenders warm appreciation not only for what the scrappy Tash and Sam endure but also the culture and its traditions they wish to protect, without denying that the conflict is still ongoing. Ever since Tash learned of the secret resistance movement her journalist father belongs to she has wanted to join him. Running on the Roof of the World is her membership card..
Out of the Blue
By Sophie Cameron
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Age 12 and up
Jaya McKenzie could care less about angels dancing on the head of a pin. As if they even exist in today’s Scotland for a mixed Scottish and Sri Lankan teenager with an irreverent head on her shoulders, crucial exams to take, her love life in confusion, and her mother’s recent death an unremitting ache. But in Sophie Cameron’s marvelous Out of the Blue, angelology is suddenly on the table. However Jaya feels, her father and obedient younger sister have joined the millions now obsessed with who and what the winged creatures are that have been falling from the sky around the world, over 80 so far, dead on their crash landings, their wings useless against the pull of gravity or some other force, and stripped of their different-hued feathers by rabid mobs. Their bodies go to science, which has yet to reach conclusions and has compromised with its habitual sparring partner, religion, to label the airdropped arrivals Beings.
Exacerbating the turmoil is a move from Jaya’s village home to a cramped flat in Edinburgh, where her father is fanatically calculating the next Being will manifest, making him his fortune and vindicating his damaged existence. If she had the time, Jaya would ask why she’s instead the one who’s standing on a deserted hilltop when a female Being’s hapless descent is broken by a tree. Her left wing is mangled, but she’s alive. The adventure of getting the exquisite creature, who speaks no known language, through a teeming, seraph-mad city to an eccentric hiding place is just the beginning for Jaya and the two companions she picks up along the way, an unusual brother and sister who help name their ethereal, endearing ward Teacake after her fondness for terrestrial sweets. Sophie Cameron pits her incongruous band against the myriad, conflicting theories about the Beings’ origins and the new world orders they’ve created. Without losing the momentum of a flesh-and-blood mystery story, she ranges through theology, philosophy, myth, history, art history, and the potential for angel-themed restaurants. As might be expected, Doomsday cults have sprung up, and get personal, including about the girl Jaya loves from high school. This blissfully layered novel speaks to differentiating sheer evil from human failings, and stockpiles degrees of goodness. It tingles the spine of body and spirit, blending closure with surprise. It uplifts with no simple answer.
The Ruinous Sweep
By Tim Wynne-Jones
Published by Candlewick Press
Age 14 and up
Drugs, money laundering, death by red pickup truck, and unearthly earthly terrain set themselves the task of tripping up young love in The Ruinous Sweep. This shape-shifting thriller demands premium brain juice to read, but the expenditure is worth it. Star-crossing a standup high school baseball ace, Donavan Turner, with classmate Beatrice “Bee” Northway, a pretty stage manager, “who loved theater but didn’t have much time for drama,” Tim Wynn-Jones, an author partial to magic realism, tackles his story unafraid of either portraying the effects of terrible violence or of slipping Dante’s Inferno into the mix. In exploring whether knowing someone closely outweighs new, contradictory information, Wynne-Jones simultaneously tugs at received notions of reality and where it may go in crisis situations.
Donovan’s parents are long divorced; he lives in suburban Ottawa with his very cool mother. But against his better judgment—and Bees’ smart admonitions—he has continued regular visits to his manipulative, suicidally alcoholic father, a once-respected newspaperman on the gambling end of the skids. Still, his latest drop-by is supposed to be his last. Interspersed with what transpires (Donovan has chronic anger bouts, dad ends up dead, there are gnarly escapes and many types of harm) are Bee’s tender, keen stretches with Donovan in the ICU, the police attributing lethal actions to the boyfriend she won’t give up on, and detective work that grows not only out of Bee’s chasing down convoluted aspects of Donovan’s past but also a fugitive’s fevered journey. Chilling roadway terrors point one way. Hallucinatory stops, in an off-the-grid hippie landscape canopied with a sense of fairytale, anchor another. Lifesaving is given a fascinating spin..