The Count’s Hanukkah Countdown, a new Shalom Sesame title by authors Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer, is fun way to get into the holiday spirit. A childhood icon, the lovable purple Count has been counting with children for decades and now he and Grover, the shaggy blue monster, share the story of Hanukkah with them as well. Shalom Sesame, an international spinoff of Sesame Street, has been introducing Israel and Judaism to children and families for years through PBS, videos, and books. Parents and kids will recognize the familiar brightly colored characters by Tom Leigh, longtime children’s book illustrator of Sesame Street and Muppet books. Together, they prepare for this fun Festival of Lights featuring the special number eight – the perfect Hanukkah number – and traditions like exchanging gifts, playing the dreidel game, eating latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and lighting the eight candles of the menorah, one for each of the eight nights. Kids and adults who share this book can count on having a totally awesome Hanukkah!
In Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, by Selina Alko, two parents’ cultural and holiday traditions combine to create a unique experience for one little girl and her family. Like the pop culture reference to the fictional “Chrismakkuh” (Christmas + Hanukkah), this happily blended holiday features the best of both traditions. The gently colored stylized illustrations are gouache, collage, and colored pencil on Arches watercolor paper. They depict the quirky happy hipster family stuffing the Christmas turkey with cranberry kugel dressing, leaving latkes and milk for Santa, and decorating the Christmas tree with a shiny star and gelt (chocolate coins). They even use both candy canes and candles on the menorah. It’s a warm, loving story great for multicultural families and others who might like to create some new traditions of their own.
A painter who never gave up on his dream is the subject of the picture book biography The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall. Making a living as a toll collector, Rousseau was restless. As much as he enjoyed his time spent in Parisian parks, he wanted to capture the beauty of nature he witnessed onto canvas. At the age of forty, he made his first attempts to paint the scenes he imagined.
Self-taught as an artist, Rousseau ventured into natural history museums and studied books and photographs to make his botanical and zoological paintings accurate. When he had enough paintings completed, he entered them into competitions. His "naïve" style, however, was met with the jeers of so-called expert art critics. Year after year, his paintings brought unintentional amusement to the establishment who found his paintings flat and simple. But decades later, attitudes on art had changed, and Picasso and other well-known artists led a re-evaluation and celebration of Rousseau’s work.
While none of Rousseau’s actual paintings are used in this book, Hall’s illustrations (in homage to his work) are astounding. Markel capably introduces the artist to a new audience of young readers who are likely unfamiliar with his work. Readers of this title are certain to remember Rousseau's style when encountering his paintings in the future. The message is clear without being overt – a dream delayed is better than a dream never realized.
Sisters Charlie and Alice Flaherty are The Innocents in Lili Peloquin’s gripping debut that mixes a splash of The Great Gatsby with a dash of Gossip Girl. The duo arrives in posh Serenity Point, a beach town on the Connecticut coastline to spend the summer before heading off to boarding school. Their lives have changed drastically, and a mansion in Serenity Point is a long way from their tiny apartment in Cambridge. But in the span of just a few months, their parents divorced, their father moved across the globe, and their mother married the uber-rich Richard Flood.
The sisters approach their new life differently. Alice, the elder by one year, is more introspective, while Charlie is a free spirit looking for fun. Charlie becomes fast friends with the hard-partying, maybe-couple Jude and Cybil, while Alice is drawn to Tommy, the handsome son of a scandalized physician. The country club is a world full of secrets and Alice and Charlie grow increasingly shocked as they learn more about their stepfather, his family, and even their own mother. Just one year ago, Richard’s wife died from cancer and their sixteen year old golden girl daughter, Camilla, committed suicide soon after. Alice is intrigued by inconsistencies surrounding Camilla and starts investigating, but the truth proves to be highly disturbing. Things get really creepy when Alice finds photos of Camilla and realizes she is a dead ringer for the dead girl. And what about Alice’s clandestine boyfriend Tommy? Turns out he was Camilla’s boyfriend at the time of her death.
The Innocents is the first in a new series which has something for everyone – mystery, romance, and good old-fashioned drama. Readers won’t have long to wait to learn what happens next with these compelling teens as the sequel, This Side of Jealousy, is scheduled for summer 2013.
The real threat of today does not come from a foreign enemy, a natural disaster, or even a medical mystery. It lies in the bits and bytes of cyberspace, where crimes can be committed and identities erased faster than you can blink an eye. Those who navigate this modern-day battlefield are the true soldiers, and they are the catalyst for thriller author Michelle Gagnon’s first novel for teens, Don’t Turn Around. Knowing how to manipulate the system has kept sixteen-year-old Noa alive. She has been in foster care for over five years, using it when she needs to and then escaping into online anonymity. When she wakes up on a cold, metal operating table in a warehouse surrounded by doctors, guards and thugs, her survival instincts kick in and she escapes. Without money, clothing, or access to her online identity, Noa needs help fast.
Peter is a rich kid, the only surviving son of a lawyer and an investment banker. After his brother’s death, he retreated to the world of online gaming, eventually becoming accepted into the brotherhood of elite online hackers and creating the group ALLIANCE. While breaking in to in his father’s desk one night to help himself to the bourbon hidden there, Peter finds a set of files that seems to allude to large sums of money and terrifying medical experiments. Before he can discover more, the door is smashed in and a small army of black-suited men throw him down, grab his laptop, and tell him to give a message to his parents. Peter calls on ALLIANCE for help, and Noa answers his call, for a price. The two soon discover that they are running from the same enemy, and Noa is one of the test subjects in a twisted plot to cure PEMA, the disease that killed Peter’s brother.
Echoes of Lisbeth Salander ring through in Noa, a computer genius with few social skills who is distrustful of anyone in authority and who prefers to be alone. Gagnon twists threads of corporate espionage, bioterrorism, and government corruption into an edge-of-your-seat thriller. A good choice for teens who are asking to read Stieg Larsson or for readers who like a good corporate thriller that is not too graphic.
Negotiating life outside of London's Caldwell council estate is a little like surviving a video game for the sympathetic characters in British writer Zadie Smith’s most recent novel, NW. The NW stands for the gritty northwest corner of London, where this story takes place. Just like a video game, cantilevering to the next level involves luck, mobility, chance encounters, and the ability to beat perceived demons. The fictional housing project known as Caldie to locals is ground zero for Smith's thirty-something survivors who now cope with the vagaries of their life beyond their rough beginnings. At its core are Leah and Natalie, longtime best friends whose divergent paths belie their internal struggles to thrive. While Natalie in her dogged fashion goes about shedding her old life (she becomes a lawyer), Leah appears stuck in a morass of her own making. Their march toward college, adulthood, and marriage is not without the hardship of merging the past with a present that is strewn with self-doubt, regrettable decisions, and misguided envy. Along the way, their messy lives entwine with others from the old neighborhood, including likeable Felix, a recovering addict whose desire for a respectable life proves illusive.
No stranger to literary rebellion, Smith’s brassy tinkering with narrative style asks a lot of her readers. She divides the story into sections, with the largest given over to Natalie and conveyed in 185 snapshots, some only a sentence long. The author of several highly regarded novels, including White Teeth, Smith is adept at drawing out the heart and soul of her characters and sandwiching them between the rough edges of a diverse, violent, and modern city. In this case, it is a world too layered to fully understand and too fluid to remain still.
There is an unsettling mystery at the heart of Bianca Zander’s debut novel, The Girl Below, a tale of family secrets and self-discovery set in modern-day London. When Suki Piper was a little girl, she lived with her parents in a basement flat in Notting Hill. One night, her parents threw a party in their building’s courtyard. During the revelry, Suki and a few others became trapped underground in a World War II-era air raid shelter on the property. Suki has no memory of how she escaped, and this incident haunts her repeatedly, in dreams and also in waking moments when she is suddenly transported back to the party. She has other strange memories, including a hand which would reach out to her from a wardrobe and an unnerving statue of a girl in her neighbor’s flat. In the present day, Suki is in her late twenties and having a tough time. After a decades-long lonely existence in New Zealand trying to reconnect with her father, she has returned to London. Having little success with a job search or friendships, she becomes reacquainted with her former neighbors, a nice but dysfunctional family. Suki is once again launched into her past and must make sense once and for all of her fractured family and the missing pieces.
Suki can be a frustrating narrator, coming across as fairly lazy, impulsive and immature. Yet as she embarks on her search and more is revealed about her unstable family and upbringing, she becomes a more sympathetic character. Childhood events are relayed as Suki remembers them, giving a large portion of the story a fantastical, magical bend. Among her influences, Zander cites authors as diverse as Haruki Murakami, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Sarah Waters. From these inspirations, a unique story is spun.
For the children of the eighties, big hair and make-up ruled the music world. MTV made music visual, and successful artists embraced the music video as both a promotional tool and a method of self-expression. Perhaps no band embodied the visual storytelling of this decade as completely as Duran Duran, Britain’s “other” Fab Five. John Taylor, founding member and bass player, chronicles the band’s career highs and lows with In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran.
While Taylor does venture into the confessional arena, revealing the typical rock-star excesses of sex and drugs, the true pleasure of this biography lies in his first-person account of British music in the seventies and eighties. As a teen in Birmingham, he and friend Nick Bates (later Rhodes) pooled their pence in order to see their idols perform live. Sitting at the proverbial feet of Queen, Bowie, and Roxy Music, they soaked up music like sponges and learned that the look was as vital to the success of the music as the beat. The band that would become Duran Duran was born from these young lessons learned. As they grew into their ruffled shirts, their conceptual lyrics combined with new wave, highly-synthesized music to give birth to the sound known as New Romanticism. Duran Duran was perfectly poised for stardom at the start of the MTV era, and the band created ground-breaking videos that still set the standard today such as “Girls on Film”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, and “Rio.”
In the Pleasure Groove is not a tell-all, nor is it simply an insider’s guide to the biggest names in eighties music. It is a smooth glide through more than twenty years of music history. Fans of eighties music, as well as those of us who were teenagers then, will enjoy reliving the decade’s watershed moments such as Madonna writhing in a wedding gown, and Bob Geldof’s charity extravaganza Live Aid. Perhaps the quietest Duran member, Taylor reveals enough about the band to keep Duranies happy; they will certainly want to read this book more than once.
At the center of The Good Woman by Jane Porter is Meg Brennan Roberts, who has always been good. As the oldest of a large Irish-American family, she is the good daughter, always available for support for her siblings, especially now that their mother’s cancer has returned. She is a good wife to Jack, her loving, successful architect husband and a good mother to three wonderful children. She has a good career as a publicist for a small winery in Napa. But lately, Meg has been having thoughts that are anything but good.
It all starts on a business trip to London with her younger, handsome boss Chad Hallahan. The international locale and whirlwind of fine food and wine prompt Chad to passionately express his feelings for Meg. She is flattered, and upon returning home cannot get him out of her mind. His declaration coincides with her recent feelings of emptiness, second-guessing her life choices. All of that, combined with the recent emotional distance of her husband, leads Meg right into Chad’s arms.
The guilt is overwhelming, but when she is with Chad, she feels like herself again and is blissfully happy. Unfortunately, that happiness comes at the cost of everyone else in her life and who they need her to be. She chooses her family, but Jack discovers the affair, kicks her out of the house, and turns their children against her. Her family is shocked at their good girl’s behavior and heaps judgment upon her. This is an emotional story that packs a lot of punch. Porter captures the sisterly relationships perfectly and shares the story of infidelity without casting Meg as victim or villain. It is a real life story about tough choices and the aftershocks of mistakes. Readers will rejoice as this is the first of a trilogy, guaranteeing future meetings with the fabulous Brennan sisters.
It used to be really difficult to make things. First, you had a great idea. Then you had to design it, build a prototype, and get a company to buy it. That company would then take your idea, send it through committees, change it to be mass manufacturable, and finally (maybe years later) sell it to the public. By the time your great idea goes through all that, it might not be so great anymore. But with twenty-first century technology, there is a better way. In his book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson of Wired magazine envisions faster, cheaper, more open, and more individualized ways to make products that can be sold to a global audience.
Say you want to make an innovative watch using your own design. Nowadays you can buy desktop manufacturing equipment and make the parts in your garage. Or you can post your idea on a website and have people from around the world fund your production costs by preordering the final product. Or you can collaborate with other inventors online to collectively transform your idea into a tangible object. According to Anderson, the people who use this more hands-on personal approach to manufacturing, called Makers, are gaining momentum as a new force in the global marketplace. He advocates the Maker movement as a way for America to reestablish itself as a manufacturing hub through a million individuals and small businesses creating products using the Maker mindset and selling them worldwide. In a book that is as much manual as manifesto, Anderson provides insider tips on how to get started making your own ideas into reality. A Maker-turned-businessman himself, Anderson’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. Tinkerers, creative souls, and budding entrepreneurs will be itching to start making after finishing this inspiring read.
Here are a few tips for surviving life with Mark Tatulli’s cartoon character Lio, who returns to library shelves in Lio: There’s a Monster In My Socks:
If there's a KEEP OUT sign on his door, don't try to vacuum in there.
You maybe should just concede the Science Fair to him.
And for goodness sake, don't give Lio a turn at Show and Tell.
Lio's decidedly unorthodox (and frequently disproportionate) responses to familiar school-age situations and pursuits are depicted in a scratchy black and white style with a distinct Gahan Wilson flavor. When flying kites with the other kids, Lio brings a dragon. When it's time to play football, Lio brews a Mr. Hyde potion that turns him into the ultimate linebacker. Some strips take a little effort to decode, which makes their punchline that much funnier.
Despite hearty helpings of grotesque slapstick violence, Lio is a goodhearted character with an active sense of justice, frequently victimizing bullies, sticking up for other kids, and championing the voiceless -such as prey animals, aliens, and monsters. Like Big Nate, Lio lives along with his patient, long-suffering schlub of a dad. Lio steals his garbage can to make a robot, the steaks from the fridge to feed the monsters under the floor, and routinely uses him as a test subject. Overjoyed at breakfast time to find a giant egg in the kitchen, he ends up with an alien stuck to his face. Lio's near-wordless, anarchic humor will appeal to teens and adults, not to mention a wide variety of kids - smart kids, kids who think they are weird, pranksters, and kids who sometimes get in trouble.