Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, illustrated by Nicholas Gannon

Published by Feiwel and Friends

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Summary:  Livy is visiting her Australian grandmother for the first time since she was five.  Bob has been waiting in the closet since Livy told him to five years ago.  Livy has forgotten all about Bob, but as they spend time together, gradually her memories return.  As a five-year-old, she thought Bob was a zombie, but now she doesn’t know what he is.  Adults can’t see Bob, and Livy starts to forget him as soon as she’s away from him.  As the two of them reconstruct what happened the last time Livy visited, they slowly begin to uncover the truth of Bob’s origins, and his importance to Livy and to the drought-stricken community where her grandmother lives.  208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  When I heard of a collaboration between Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, I could scarcely contain my glee.  Although this book is shorter and different from their previous work, it is still a masterpiece of storytelling that will appeal to a wide age range, starting as a read-aloud for primary grades.

Cons:  It would have been nice to have more illustrations.

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The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Published by Little Brown

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Summary:  When we last saw Roz, she had been captured and was in pieces, flying away from her beloved island and her goose son, Brightbill.  As the curtain rises on Act 2, Roz is being delivered to Hilltop Farm, where she is assigned care of the cows and other farm chores.  Being Roz, she soon bonds with the cows, as well as with Jaya and Jad, the two children who live on the farm.  But she is homesick for her island home, and as she goes about her farm work, she thinks about how she can get back there.  Eventually, the two children find out about her past; although they have come to love, her, they know she belongs on the island and they help with her escape.  Leaving the farm is only the beginning; on her journey to the island, Roz deals with vengeful wolves, rivers to cross, and the RECO robots who captured her in the first book.  After nearly being destroyed once again, she ends up in the lab of Dr. Molovo, the scientist who designed her.  Dr. Molovo realizes Roz belongs back on the island; after giving her a new body, the doctor takes her home, and the story ends with, “The wild robot was back where she belonged.”  288 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Roz’s fans will not be disappointed with this sequel.  As much as I enjoyed the original, I thought this one was even better, and a voracious third grade reader recently agreed with me.  To quote Peter Brown, the story is “filled with heart and soul and action and science and even a little philosophy.”  Although the Newbery trend of late does not seem to favor books like this, I would love to see this one win award or two.

Cons:  The happily ever after ending probably means there won’t be a third book.

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Princess Pulverizer: Grilled Cheese and Dragons by Nancy Krulik, art by Ben Balistrer

Published by Penguin Workshop

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Summary:  Princess Serena is struggling at princess school, so she decides to change her name to Princess Pulverizer and convince her father, the king, to send her to knight school.  He agrees, on one condition: she has to go on a Quest of Kindness, performing eight good deeds, and bringing back proof of each one.  So the princess sets off, and almost immediately hears about some stolen jewels that she is sure must have been taken by an ogre.  She succeeds in getting herself get captured by the monster, and does in fact find the jewels, but is unable to figure out how to escape the locked tower to return them to their rightful owner.  A knight school dropout named Lucas and his gassy dragon Dribble try to come to her rescue, but they have problems of their own.  In the end, the three of them combine their talents to pull off the good deed, and the princess is ready to move on to her next adventure as part of a team.  144 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of The Princess in Black, the Hamster Princess, and Princess Pink will be happy to find a new princess series with some fun twists to the traditional genre.

Cons:  The Princess in Black is still my favorite.

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Granted by John David Anderson

Published by Walden Pond Press

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Summary:  Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy who has been trained to grant wishes.  Problem is, the sense of wonder in the human world is dropping off, creating a shortage of the fairy dust required to make wishes come true.  So Ophelia’s been biding her time since her training ended, fastidiously keeping up her skills until it’s her turn to visit the human world.  Her chance comes at last, and she ventures forth to retrieve a nickel a girl tossed into a fountain, wishing for a purple bicycle.  Sounds easy enough, but Ophelia’s best-laid plans are foiled at every turn, and she has to deal with airplanes, fire extinguishers, birds of prey, and a not-too-bright dog named Sam who thinks he’s her new best friend.  Ophelia’s also distracted by a boy named Gabe whose path keeps crossing hers and who seems to have a wish far more compelling than a purple bicycle.  When Ophelia is forced to choose between her original mission and Gabe’s wish, she shakes the fairy world to its very core.  Can there be a happily-ever-after ending for both fairies and humans?  336 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  John David Anderson moves away from realistic fiction to create a detailed imaginary fairy world and a funny, slightly neurotic fairy heroine.  Readers will find themselves thinking twice before pulling on a wishbone or tossing a coin into a fountain.

Cons:  The story didn’t really pick up for me until Ophelia left her fairy home and ventured into the human world.

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The Quest of the Cubs (Bears of the Ice, book 1) by Kathryn Lasky

Published by Scholastic Press

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Summary:  Svenna, mother of two polar bear cubs, is dismayed to find Roguers at her den one day, demanding that she hand over her children to them to be taken to an unknown destination.  She refuses, saying she will go in their place.  She’s given a few days’ reprieve, during which time she desperately tries to find them a new home and teach them to hunt.  After leaving them with a distant cousin, she is taken away.  The cousin proves to be evil, and the two cubs, known only as First and Second, escape to try to find either their mother or the father they have only heard about in stories.  Plenty of adventure awaits them, and various animals help them, including a fox, a seal, and a snow leopard.  Chapters about Svenna show her to be in a bizarre city where polar bears worship a large ice clock and sacrifice cubs to keep it running.  First and Second (who name themselves Stellan and Jytte halfway through the book) manage to survive on their own to the end of the book, but it’s clear they’re not free of danger and many more adventures await.  240 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Fans of Warriors and Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’hoole will enjoy her latest series, which seems to tie in to the world of Ga’hoole (this connection seems like it will become clearer in book 2).  Plenty of animal adventure and a touch of the supernatural will leave readers anxiously awaiting the rest of the series.

Cons:  The anthropomorphizing occasionally goes a little too far, e.g. when the bears are sitting around drinking hot chocolate with a snow leopard.

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Black Panther: The Young Prince by Roland L. Smith

Published by Marvel Press

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Summary:  T’Challa is the prince of Wakanda, the most technologically advanced nation in the world, and will one day follow in the footsteps of his father, the Black Panther.  When danger threatens their country, the king sends T’Challa and his friend M’Baku to safety in the United States. At their new middle school in Chicago, the two African boys find friends–and danger.  When M’Baku is lured to the dark side, T’Challa must decide whether or not he can confide in his new friends Zeke and Sheila about his true identity to try to save M’Baku. Armed with a Black Panther suit and a ring containing Vibranium, the secret substance that is the key to Wakanda’s power and success, T’Challa finds himself on a dangerous mission involving voodoo as he struggles to do the right thing and make his father proud.  Sheila’s final question, “When’s the next mission?” leaves open the possibility of a sequel. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Just in time for the Black Panther movie, this action-packed story will appeal to Marvel fans as well as anyone who enjoys a middle school story about an outsider making good.

Cons:  There could have been more interesting commentary on the two African boys’ first experience with American life and culture.

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Mez’s Magic (The Lost Rainforest, book 1) by Eliot Schrefer

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  Young panther Mez knows she is different from the rest of her family.  Unable to sleep during the day, she eventually sneaks out of her cave, triggering a series of events that lead to her family’s discovery of her as a daywalker.  This revelation makes her too dangerous to stay with the family, and she is cast out.  She is rescued by Auriel, a huge boa constrictor, who tells her that her birth during an eclipse has given her unusual powers.  Auriel is traveling through the magical rainforest of Caldera, collecting other eclipse-born animals who have been giving the task of defeating the evil Ant Queen, who is about to emerge from a long period of dormancy.  The animals gather at the stone ziggurat, where billions of ants are preparing for their Queen’s arrival.  Danger and betrayal await them as they try to discover their magical powers and save Caldera.  The enemy is temporarily defeated at the end of the story, but danger still lurks.  The animals go their separate ways, agreeing to gather information and reunite in a year’s time.  Includes a lengthy Q & A with the author about his adventures in the rainforest.  357 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Packed with adventure and interesting, funny characters, this book will appeal to fans of animal fantasy like Warriors and Guardians of Ga’hoole.  This is the first book in a planned series in which each installment is from the point of view of a different eclipse-born animal.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters to keep track of, including some unusual animal species that I wasn’t familiar with.

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