Book review: New Kid, by Jerry Craft

Craft, Jerry. New Kid. Harper, 2019. 249p. $21.99. ISBN 978-0-06-269120-0. Ages 10-13. P9Q9

When Jordan Banks is sent by his parents from a Bronx public school to an prestigious private school, the black seventh-grader finds an almost totally white world of sometimes unintentional racism, where both black students and teachers are mistaken for others because of their color, classmates and teachers think that all black students need financial aid, and all blacks are seen as athletic. Even a teacher’s careful avoidance of appearing racist comes out tone deaf. Jordan’s mother, who works at a mostly white publishing firm, wants her son to deal with the white world; his father, a community center director, believes that Jordan needs to keep his connection with his Washington Heights home. Struggling with these different philosophies and just wanting to be an artist, Jordan looks to his grandfather for help in navigating his path with a mixed set of characters.

Verdict: Craft details the differences between Jordan’s worlds as he starts his daily bus ride in a hood and sunglasses, trades them for his sketchbook, and then puts away his drawing implements nearer the school so no one will think he’s a tagger. The character development shows Jordan moving from concentrating on a nonthreatening demeanor to standing up for another student, and the discovery of his wealthy white friend’s misery aids his education. Colored panels are accompanied by his black and white sketches expressing his feelings, and his empathy for a girl who uses puppets and silliness to hide hands that she thinks have ugly burns round out the understanding that Jordan—and Craft—display. A wonderful read to show how many young people are forced to live compartmentalized lives.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: Nico Bravo and the House of Hades, by Mike Cavallaro

Cavallaro, Mike. Nico Bravo and the House of Hades. First Second, 2019. 185p. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-250-19698-9. Ages 9-12. P8Q9

Vulcan’s Celestial Supply Shop, owned by the Roman god of fire and metalworking and staffed by the boy Nico, sphinx Lula, and unicorn Buck, is the retail shop for mythological heroes, but everyone’s life is turned upside down when Eowulf, descendant of monster slayer Beowulf, buys a magical sword to kill Cerberus, the three-headed hound guarding the underworld. Nico knows that Cerberus keeps the shades from invading the world, but Eowulf is determined. The protagonists’ personalities are well-defined through the action and conflicts: upbeat Lula, smart Nico, paranoid Buck, and unreasonable Eowulf. The danger is mitigated with humor; for example, one of Cerberus’s heads comes from a standard pink poodle, and part of the book’s resolution involves Eowulf’s long missing uncle, E.O. Wulf.

Verdict: Quirky, action-packed color panels lead the reader on a roller-coaster ride from one turn to the another. Mythological references don’t stop the plot, and zany touches such as two Bucks, 50 years apart, in this universe keep the chuckles coming. The ending promises a great sequel.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Lost Sloths, by Graham Annable

Annable, Graham. The Lost Sloths. (Peter and Ernesto, book 2). First Second, 2019. 112p. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-62672-572-0. Ages 4-7. P9Q9

In the sequel to A Tale of Two Sloths, the lovable sloth pair again prove that opposites attract as they search for a new home for themselves and their tribe of five after a hurricane takes their beloved tree. Confident Ernesto and careful Peter lead the group through the jungle and face dangers of snakes, ants, and a jaguar while a rampaging group of peccaries keep charging toward them. Their saving grace is a “great tree” and a new friend, the lonely bird who welcome them and saves them from the hungry jaguar. The last five pages provide illustrated “Fun Facts About Sloths!” divided into a “Real Fact” and a “Peter & Ernesto Fact!”

Verdict: As in the first book, travel and danger form the basis of the story which results in a charming collection of different facial and body expressions. Colorful Photoshop panels highlight the warm story about teamwork, cooperation, and friendship among those with a diversity of personalities and needs. Annable shows the same caring and fondness for his characters that they do for each other.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: It Feels Good To Be Yourself: A Book about Gender Identity, by Theresa Thorn, illustrated by Noah Grigni

Thorn, Theresa. It Feels Good To Be Yourself: A Book about Gender Identity. Illus. by Noah Grigni. Holt, 2019. Unp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-250-30295-3. Ages 4-8. P7Q6

Colorful watercolor and gouache accompany the text that introduces four transgender, cisgender, and non-binary children with explanations about their feelings and reasons for these beliefs. Families of all these children are accepting.

Verdict: The clear and non-critical narrative provides an uplifting perspective of acceptance for different gender identities, but the direct approach without any story may be designed for adults to present to children instead of as a read-alone book. The definition for intersex fails to clearly identify a body’s anatomy because other explanations refer to gender not matching bodies.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Fergal and the Bad Temper, by Robert Starling

Starling, Robert. Fergal and the Bad Temper. IMPRINT/Macmillan, 2019. Unp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-250-19862-4. Ages 4-7. P8Q8

Imagine the fire when a dragon can’t control his temper. That’s what happens with Fergal every time someone tells him to do something: he gets angry—and breathes fire. He burns his dinner, the soccer goal, cakes, and games—everything he encounters if he can’t “keep his cool.” Distraught because he doesn’t have any friends, he gets some advice from his mother and from animal acquaintances about how to feel less “fiery.”

Verdict: The colorful acrylic, gouache, and digital illustrations appear block like, and the solution is almost too easy. Yet the lesson is a good one for young readers who think that their life is “not fair.”

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Fisherman and the Whale, by Jessica Lanan

Lanan, Jessica. The Fisherman & the Whale. Simon & Schuster, 2019. Unp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-5344-1574-4. Ages 4-6. P9Q9

In this wordless story, a father takes a young boy, possibly his son, on a fishing trip where they discover a whale caught in ropes. Lush watercolors and gauche show the adventure above and below water as the man dives in to rescue the whale before the boy throws over a life preserver as the man swims back to the boat. In a superb finish, the whale leaps into the air before the ship heads back to shore in a sunset. An author’s note describes “purse seining” method of catching salmon and the problems of whales, porpoises, and dolphins becoming entangled in commercial fishing nets.

Verdict: The vivid communications between the boy and man are enhanced by the variety of perspectives, including the pair of eyes, one showing the whale in the human pupil and the reverse showing the two protagonists reflected in the whale’s pupil. A book that can be “read” over and over.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Wolf Who Solved the Mystery of the Missing Mask, by Orianne Lallemand, illustrated by Claire Frossard, translated by MaryChris Bradley

Lallemand, Orianne. The Wolf Who Solved the Mystery of the Missing Mask. Illus. by Claire Frossard. Trans. by MaryChris Bradley. Auzou, 2019. Unp. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-7338-67402-2. Ages 4-7. P8Q8

Quirky bold illustrations begin with a black wolf sporting a huge, long nose who grumpily goes to a museum with his friends because he wants to be with Wolfette. The narrative proceeds with punny artists’ names, beginning with Leonardo da Wolfinci, and Wolf wanders on by himself. A missing tribal mask traumatizes the little guard, Barnabas, and Wolf sets out to uncover the perpetrator, finding more clues and pieces of the museum. The gentle story finishes with the discovery that Wolf’s friend, Miss Yeti, had taken the mask because it looked like her father. All ends happily when Miss Yeti buys a replica of the mask in the gift shop and Wolf falls in love with a painting that looks like his forest.

Verdict: Twists and turns take the reader through a museum, a mystery, and a relationship that ends in pure joy.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.