Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  1943 is the year Annabelle turns 12, and a year when heart-wrenching circumstances change her life forever.  The catalyst is the arrival of Betty Glengarry, the 14-year-old granddaughter of Annabelle’s neighbors, and a girl who quickly establishes herself as a bully.  Her targets include Annabelle and Toby, a World War I veteran who lives as a squatter on a smokehouse near Annabelle’s family’s farm.  Although some of the neighbors have always been wary of Toby, Annabelle and her parents know him as a good man, if somewhat reserved and eccentric.  When Betty goes missing, Toby is a prime suspect, and Annabelle believes it is up to her to help.  Despite her efforts, tragic events unfold, and Annabelle sees the best and worst of humanity encapsulated in her small Pennsylvania community.  304 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  The beautiful writing, engagingly flawed characters, and subtle but profound messages have put this book at the top of my 2017 Newbery contender list.

Cons:  This is definitely a tragedy…there’s not a happy ending, although it’s appropriate, and in many ways, satisfying.   Young readers will need some help to understand the many layers of the story.

This Is Not a Picture Book! By Sergio Ruzzier

Published by Chronicle Books 

Summary:  A duckling finds a book, but when he discovers it has no pictures, he kicks it aside.  Contrite, he picks it up again just as his bug friend comes along.  “What is that?”  “It’s a book with no pictures.”  “Wacky. Can you read it?”  To his amazement, the duckling CAN read some of the words.  The two friends walk through a changing landscape that reflects the words…funny, sad, wild, and peaceful.  The words carry them away, then bring them home to read the book all over again.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A great introduction to the magic of words and reading.  Perfect for a newly independent reader.  The duck and bug are pretty cute, too.

Cons:  Kids who are struggling to read independently might not quite be feeling the magic of words.

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

 

Summary:  The story of Jesus’ life is told from a Christian perspective, with an emphasis on miracles he performed.  The narrative begins with him calling his disciples from among the fishermen, then continues with various healings, Jesus calming the waves and walking on the water, and the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  His last supper is recounted, followed by his crucifixion, which is alluded to, but not shown in the pictures (something this reader, who was traumatized as a child by a book called The Easter Story for Children, appreciated).  The resurrection is covered in two pages, one showing a wrapped body lying in a tomb, the next showing Jesus in white, standing outside the tomb, and the sentence, “But God’s Son, Jesus, the Miracle Man, had in store one last glorious miracle…”  An author’s note explains how he came to create this book, and the process of choosing from among the stories of Jesus in the Bible, which necessarily left out some of the story.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The beautifully designed illustrations, incorporating some of Jesus’ words into the pictures, are worthy of Caldecott consideration (would a group of 21st-century librarians recognize a book that is clearly written from a Christian perspective?).  The simple text is a good introduction to Jesus’ miracles and many aspects of his life.

Cons:  As noted by the author, this is a selection of stories, and some key parts of Jesus’ life (birth, John the Baptist, Sermon on the Mount, Mary Magdalene) are excluded.

Hensel and Gretel Ninja Chicks by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Son 

Summary:  Brought to you by the same team (with new author Gomez) that produced The Three Ninja Pigs, Ninja Red Riding Hood, and Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears, here’s another martial arts-inspired fractured fairy tale told in rhyme.  Hensel (renamed from Hansel and now a girl…or “chick”) and Gretel use their martial arts training when they discover their parents held prisoner by a fox in a cornbread house.  Hensel gets stuck in a cage, but Gretel’s stealthy ninja moves rescue her.  The two chicks combine forces to free their parents and stuff the fox in the cage.  Result?  “Justice, not dinner was served.”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros: As in previous books, the rhymes and vocabulary are hilarious, and Caldecott medalist Santat provides plenty of visual accompaniment.  A great read-aloud.

Cons:  Nothing will ever top The Three Ninja Pigs.

The Big Move (Commander in Cheese series) by Lindsey Leavitt, illustrated by A. G. Ford

Published by Random House 

Summary:  Excitement is building in the White House as a new President is about to be inaugurated.  Mouse siblings (and White House residents) Ava and Dean are particularly excited because the new Commander in Chief has two children of her own.  The mice hope to add a Lego to the collection of White House treasures that generations of mice have maintained in tunnels around the house.  They see their chance to explore the kids’ rooms when everyone else is distracted by the inauguration ceremony, but plans go awry.  First, they get locked into a room with no tunnels, then the kids come back and discover them, resulting in a “Code Brown” that brings in Secret Service agents to try to get rid of the “vermin”.  There’s a happy ending for all, both human and rodent, and a promise of further interactions and adventures between the mice and their new human friends.  Back matter includes pictures of all the U.S. Presidents, fun facts about Inauguration Day, a floor plan of the part of the White House in the story, and a preview of book #2.  112 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  As a kid, I would have loved imagining being a mouse in the White House.  Ava and Dean are likeable characters, and readers will effortlessly learn a few facts about the presidency while enjoying the mice’s adventures.

Cons:  The plot is fairly predictable and the characters are pretty one-dimensional.

A Fairy Friend by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Claire Keane

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

 

Summary:  Fairies are all around us, but they can be shy and hard to find.  You have to really seek them out.  The best way is to build a house with soft, fun furnishings, and some flower petal stew to eat.  If you’re lucky, a fairy will move in and become your friend, teaching you to fly and keeping you safe with her magic.  She may not stay forever, but you should never trap a fairy.  Let her go, and some day she and her friends will return.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Rhyming text and Disney-esque pictures (the illustrator is a former Disney animator) will spark the imagination of young readers, who will undoubtedly want to try to lure a fairy or two to their own homes.

Cons:  It would have been nice to have a boy join the girl protagonist.  I bet boys would enjoy making fairy houses, too.

Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan, illustrated by Ben Hibon

Published by Disney-Hyperion 

Summary:  Thorn is trying to find his missing father when he is captured and sold into slavery.  He’s rescued by Tyburn, an executioner from the kingdom of Gehenna, a country of darkness and gloom, rumored to be home to zombies and other questionable beings.  13-year-old Lily, a.k.a. Lilith Shadow, is the new queen of Genenna, having come to power when her parents and brother were murdered.  Tyburn has executed five of the bandits who killed the royal family, and is determined to track down the sixth one, whom he believes to be the mastermind and someone who wants to see Lily dead.  When Thorn becomes Tyburn’s squire, he meets Lily and gets drawn into the dangerous world around her.  Together, they experiment with some dark magic and race against time to try to unmask the evildoer whose ultimate goal is to take over Gehenna.  336 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  Fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson will enjoy this first entry in a new series featuring young teens learning to use their magical powers to defeat the evil around them.  With lots of adventures, plot twists, and short exciting chapters, this is sure to please fantasy readers.

Cons:  A friendly young character is murdered and there’s a slightly graphic description of Lily’s family’s killings.