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4th and 5th grade scholars from Haven Academy are featured in a commercial for the New York Lottery as part of the Gamble for Good campaign

Many thanks to Foundling friend Celia McGee for the latest issue of our Foundling Family Book Reviews. The characters in this month’s selections are embarking on new adventures, and we hope you are too! Happy 2014!

 

AGES 4-8

Paul Meets Bernadette, written and illustrated by Rosy Lamb (Candlewick Press)

   Going around in circles is the sad opposite of moving forward, of making a fresh start. In Paul Meets Bernadette, author Rosy Lamb, whose non-writing life is as a painter and sculptor, takes this familiar phrase and runs with it. Or rather swims. Paul is a solitary goldfish who thinks he’s perfectly content swimming round and round in a goldfish bowl that, in Lamb’s painterly illustrations, appears as an orb drawn in the shape of the world Paul completely ignores. (The different directions his circles take are also a subtle way of instilling in young readers just how many permutations of movement there are.) But then Bernadette, a fetching young lady goldfish, “drops in” from above, and encourages Paul to look at the world outside the bowl. You could say, though, that the seemingly sophisticated Bernadette is really an innocent—with the transformative vision of an artist—at heart. She’ll crack youngsters up as she instructs Paul that two bananas on a plate are a boat, a vase of flowers a “forest with trees of every color,” or a teapot, an elephant, of course, feeding its young when pouring tea into dainty cups. By this time Paul is head over tail in love with Bernadette. She reciprocates, and they swim happily ever after.

 

AGES 8-12

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum)

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

   It’s usually hard for young’uns to say good-by to their parents. But not for raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah, as they excitedly part from Little Mama and Daddy-O. They’re proudly start their first jobs, as Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts.  Appelt spins their epic in the best south Texas good-ole-boy, tall-tale-telling style. Yet she works in animal facts and Latin names, history and pre-history, and the skullduggery of greedy developers, a female alligator wrestler intent on turning the swamp into a theme park, and an evil-minded landowner aiming to kick young Chap Brayburn (he’s a human boy) and his mother out of their Paradise Pies Café. But there’s more trouble a-brewing in Blue Man Swamp, named after the gigantic, antediluvian, mostly sound- asleep creature who nonetheless rules the swamp, guarded by his trusty rattlesnake Gertrude—if he can be provoked to wake. Down from the north is sweeping a ravenous, destructive family of feral hogs, and only Blue Man can scare them away. Appelt, simultaneously hilarious and instructive, weaves her swamp-dweller thriller like a storyteller by a campfire or rocking slowly on the porch of the Paradise Pies Café. She has the knack of speaking directly, drawl and all, to the reader. (The swamp critters talk, too.) This should not take away from the sense of the downright mythical—the Blue Man is cousin, Appelt lets on, to “Bamanou, Sasquatch and Yeti.” Eat some of those Brayburn sweet sugar pies, and you’ll believe anything too.

 

AGES 12 AND UP

Defy, by Barbara B. Larson (Scholastic Press)  

Defy

   Transformation can be physical or psychological, of the mind and of the heart. Having watched most of her family and village brutally slaughtered in front of her by the army of her country’s arch-enemy, Blevon, young Alexa Hollen cuts off her hair, changes her voice and her stride, and starts a new life as Alex, a boy. Already a consummate swordsman, she joins her twin brother, Marcel, in the Prince’s Guard. While Larson, another debut novelist, is a little wobbly with her story’s vaguely medieval setting—it also runs to sorcerers and magic—when it comes to mano a mano fighting, matters of loyalty and trust, and the stirrings of young, carnal love, she is, as she might say in one of her modern slippages, more than ok. This is a smartly, lushly plotted book, mixing Alex/Alexa’s bravery and brief but agonizing captivity, her passion for yet distrust of her nation’s crown prince, Damian of Antion (his father is a cruel king), and the opposing forces of pride and sacrifice into a boiling cauldron of warfare and desire. There is a saying, Prince Damian tells her at one point, that “it’s better for one man to die than a whole nation to suffer.” Only toward the end does Alexa think she knows what he means. Luckily she is outsmarting herself, and the unexpected is the novel’s conclusion.

 

AGES 12 AND UP

Pioneer Girl, by Bich Minh Nguyen (Viking)

Pioneer girl

  Though published for grownups, this is a novel the young adult set can equally enjoy. The award-winning Nguyen, at once a longtime fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pioneer life books and a sharp-eyed, tender chronicler of the immigrant experience (her family fled Vietnam in 1975), pulls off a novel that combines both.  Her main character, Lee Lien, a young Vietnamese- American struggling to finish her dissertation on Edith Wharton while unsuccessful at job-hunting and boyfriend complications, is forced into a fraught new life. She moves back in with her cold, widowed mother and sweet, aging grandfather. For years they have been moving from grim place to grim place running “Chinese buffet” restaurants throughout the mid-West, much like the Ingalls family and its perennial efforts to find a better life. But Lee is convinced she has an actual tie to Laura Ingalls Wilder, in the form of a gold pin engraved with a little house given to her grandfather at his Saigon café by an elderly American journalist named Rose during the Vietnam War. Since Wilder’s daughter’s name was also Rose, Lee impulsively sets out on a quest to find the truth about the pin—and more. She learns more about herself, her father’s death, the Ingalls family’s real and long history, and certainly that she’s more a Laura gal than an Edith. In Nguyen’s finely rendered novel, Lee is thrust into a detective story with very personal consequences. Just as her mother and grandfather learn to prosper from the new American taste for authentic ethnic cuisine, Lee gives Nguyen an unbelievably believable mystery not only to solve but to understand.   

Our friends at Ellary’s Greens are all about healthy eating for kids and adults! They’ve offered these great tips to help you and your family survive the holidays without overindulging (while still enjoying the festivities of course!).

 

1. Feed your kids a light meal or snack before going to the big party.  Things like: whole grain crackers, dried or fresh fruit, nuts, raw veggies, and hummus. 

 

2. When your kids arrive home starving and ready to eat, have healthy snacks sitting out on a counter, desk or table ready to go. 

-Try veggies and hummus on a platter cut up and ready to go when your kids come in the door.  You can buy baby carrots, baby tomatoes, red, yellow, and orange peppers, and cucumbers (only needing to cut the cucumbers and the peppers). 

-Unsalted peanuts and almonds are GREAT in a bowl with raisins for a savory-sweet treat.

-Grapes are nice too!

 

3.    When heading to parties try this philosophy: “Let’s have one here, and take the rest home”.  Delayed gratification means they won’t make impulsive decisions.  Often kids are of the mindset “If I don’t have it now, it will never be here again.”  They may get home and realize they don’t even want the sweets.  Or they may see all of the other healthy eating options at home.  They may get home and see there are too many sweets in their bag to handle.

 

4.    Offer to bring a dish to the party, so you know there will be at least one healthy item available.

 

5.   Teach your kids that it’s okay to say ‘No’.  If they are not hungry, they don’t need to accept the treats being offered to them.  And they can always bring the treats home, so they don’t have the feeling they’re missing out.

 

6. Trading can work: trading in Halloween candy for a toy or money.  The same can hold true for Christmas and Hanukkah candy.  Then bring the treats to your local police or fire station – they always appreciate it!

 

7. Save treats to donate and give to someone in need or who isn’t invited to parties.  Help your child feel good about sharing treats and foregoing gorging in the name of helping someone else and brightening his/her day.

 

Happy and Healthy Holidays to all! 

 

Mirza is a 22-year-old former foster youth living in the Bronx. She was recently hired by The Foundling as a Resource Specialist for our Queens office. A shining example of someone who defied the odds, Mirza discusses her future ambitions and reasons for them in the audio clip below:

 

 

 

Where so many youth who age out of foster care succumb to homelessness, poverty, and dependency, Mirza is a college graduate living in her own apartment and working full-time for The New York Foundling, the same agency that helped her years ago. 

 

 

Mirza used her own initiative and self-advocacy to end up where she is today, but relied on help from The Foundling and others to help her navigate the road to independence. Because of that help, Mirza aspires to use her many talents and passion to “be a part of a positive change in someone’s life. I want to work for a social services agency like The Foundling.”

 

There are over 1,000 children like Mirza living in Foundling foster homes. All of them have the potential to live independent and fulfilling lives when they age out of care. But they need our help to provide the proper foundation, and a path to true success as adults.

 

Help us pave the road to independence for more youth in foster care like Mirza. Donate Now!

 

Foster youth who age out of care are struggling to make it in the real world. Reiterating our commitment to better preparing our foster youth for life on their own, The Foundling’s CEO, Bill Baccaglini, discusses some of our initiatives to pave the road to independence for our youth in 2014:

 

Infograph_FINAL

 

I think we can all agree that the figures above are unacceptable. In our current system, when a young man or woman in foster care turns 21, they “age out” of the system and, in the process, lose the only support system they’ve known for most of their lives. The fact is, we have all failed to adequately prepare our youth who grow up in foster care for life on their own. These young men and women have been through more than many of us can imagine: abuse, neglect, poverty, and unstable home environments have all made the road to independence much more difficult. That is precisely why we all need to do more to help each young person in foster care learn the skills necessary to transition smoothly into adulthood.

In the coming year, The Foundling is instituting a number of new and revamped holistic initiatives to help pave the road to independence for the 400 14-21 year-olds in our care:

 

  • Educational Support

 

This fall, The Foundling instituted our “Road to Success” tutoring program, through help from the Hilton Foundation. One of the most intensive tutoring programs to date, Road to Success provides individualized tutoring and college preparation to Foundling 8th graders each year until they graduate high school. 2014 also marks the second full-year of our Educational Specialists, who serve as in-school advocates for our youth in foster care that are struggling to get on grade-level, or need an extra push to get into college. In 2013, we also saw our first graduating 5th-grade class from Haven Academy, our charter school designed to meet the needs of children in the child welfare system. By giving our youngest kids in the system an excellent education, we provide the proper foundation for their success down the road.

  • Housing– The Foundling is placing a premium on finding secure and independent housing for all of our older youth before they age out of care. Statistics show that 32% of youth that age out fail to find stable housing. This can lead homelessness soon after leaving foster care. Our Foundling social workers are helping each of our youth apply for NYCHA housing and expedite their applications so that they don’t face this problem when they age out.

 

  • Mental Health Assistance– Many of our older youth in foster care are struggling to cope with years of trauma. It would be hard for any person to excel without working through the emotionally scarring moments from their past. The Foundling is providing mental health assistance for many of our youth this year to help them overcome the root causes of their difficulty, and begin the healing process. By giving that extra therapy, we give our kids the chance to focus on their future, not their past.

 

These are just some of the ways The Foundling is doubling-down in 2014 to empower our youth with the skills they need to become successful adults. But we cannot do this alone. More people need to advocate for the over 12,000 youth in foster care throughout New York City. We need to treat these children as our own. Together, we can truly pave the road to independence for all children in foster care. 

 

Hope you’ve all been enjoying the book reviews! If you and your kids have been reading this summer, getting back into the school groove should be no problem. In case you need a few more books to get you through your Labor Day weekend, here are Foundling friend, Celia McGee’s latest picks!

 

Ages 12 and up

A Moment Comes, by Jennifer Bradbury. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

A Moment Comes

Drawing new borders on a map is one thing. The human consequences are another. As in multiple distant places under European occupation, India’s imminent independence brought with it the Partition of 1947, declaring a homeland for Sikhs and Hindus in the western part, called India, and a new country for Muslims, Pakistan,.to the east. Formerly peaceful neighbors turned against each other, murderous riots along religious lines erupted. Amidst the turmoil, one of the British cartographers faced with the daunting task of border-making is a Oxford educated man named Darnsley, and into his household in Jalandhar–joining his social-climbing wife and sexually restless daughter–come two new servants, handsome Tariq, a Muslim with aspirations to Oxford, and Anupreet, a beautiful Sikh girl with a vivid, mysterious scar down her face. While Mrs. Darnsley schemes to meet Lady Mountbatten, wife to the Viceroy of India, byzantine tensions, crushes, difficult decisions, jealousies and resentments surface among Margaret, Anupreet, and Tariq, who is also under pressure to join a shady Muslim gang. Jennifer Bradbury draws a roiling yet exquisite picture of both populations and individuals under siege. When Margaret, Tariq and Anupreet finally band together in a daring plan, their bravery is remarkable, and a battle cry for a better, more understanding future.

 

Ages 10 – 14

The Neptune Project, by Polly Holyoke. Disney/Hyperion

The Neptune Project

  “Some say the world will end in fire/Some say in ice,” wrote Robert Frost in one of his most famous poems. In Polly Holyoke’s tense, thrilling The Neptune Project, global warming has definitely wreaked havoc with the future, and the totalitarian government of the “Western Collective” patrols the shores and fishing villages of Pacific California using punitive Marine Guard. The teenage Nere and her friends have grown up by the ocean, but not until her already weak eyes and lungs threaten to give out does her mother, a scientist, reveal that a select number of children were genetically altered at birth to one day live underwater rather than on land, “the best way for humankind to survive.” Under her mother’s guidance, Nere, who already communicates telepathically with dolphins, goes through “the transformation” that enables her to make her home in the ocean—but soon has to watch as her beloved mother is slaughtered.. Holyoke pulls no punches where death, violence and the threat of betrayal are concerned. Nere finds a group of her own, new kind. While they cavort with the dolphins and “telepath” amongst themselves, lethal sea creatures can attack, the Guard is after them, and the “better world” Nere’s father and others are trying to build in a secret location is still many leagues and dangers away. Within Nere’ gang of mutated youngsters, the mix of tough and tender, boy and girl, innocent and corrupted creates a web of romantic attractions and loyalties. Holyoke cross pollinates science fiction with the familiar experiences of being young and in love, a leader or an outcast, a true soul or a lost one.

 

Ages 7-10

Like Bug Juice on a Burger, by Julie Sternberg. Illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Amulet Books/Abrams

Like Bug Juice on a Burger

As summer draws to a close,  lots of kids have camp to look back on—was it a trial or a triumph, or somewhere in between? When Brooklyn youngster Eleanor’s Grandma Sadie makes her a present of ten days away at CampWallumwahpuck, where Eleanor’s mother spent several blissful warm-weather seasons, Eleanor immediately tries to trade this opportunity for the puppy she longs for. No way. And no how do things get off to a good start. Everything bothers Eleanor, from the big silver bus she has to ride in with a bunch of strangers—luckily she makes one, lovably goofy friend—to the woodsy environment, food that grosses her out (she subsists on rolls and salad), the fact that the camp’s special fruit drink is nicknamed “bug juice,” her humiliation at being stuck in the “Guppy” swimming class, and weird night noises that have this city girl shivering in her uncomfortable bunk. Matthew Cordell’s loopy illustrations heighten the tragicomedy. But perspectives have a way of changing, even in such short a time. And it helps that there’s a sweet goat on hand that is almost as cute as a puppy. This is a book about how you live and learn—and that they’re most fun together.

 

Ages 4-6

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great, by Bob Shea. Disney/Hyperion

There are those who say unicorns don’t exist, that they’re made-up mythical creatures found in ancient legends and fairy-tales. Not so the unicorn in Bob Shea’s giggle-producing book, in which the one-horn wonder is not just real but very, very stuck up. His case of hubris makes the goat he rides magical circles around feel pretty bad—what with making it rain cupcakes, flying through the air, and impressing the whole school with his miraculous tricks. But then he starts to notice things about the humble goat that he doesn’t have—cheese-making abilities, cool and useful cloven hoofs, and the perfect gear for head shots in soccer. Instead of staying jealous of each other, though, the two team up, foiling crimes, inventing righteous dance moves, and enjoying simple pleasures like going to the park. They’re both pretty great—especially together. Look closely at the book’s cover, and also run your hands over it—there’s some unicorn glitter sprinkled around. Or is it fairy dust?

 

Ages 2-4

Bella Loves Bunny. By David McPhail. Abrams Appleseed.

Bella Loves BunnyWhat do you do when a bunny bounces on your bed? Well, if you’re a little girl named Bella, and Bunny is your favorite stuffed animal, you catch her, of course. The deservedly popular and revered David Mc Phail—Pigs Ahoy, The Great Race, The Puddle, Edward in the Jungle, and many more—in this board book turns his gentle, loving, sweetly old-fashioned gaze on a believable make-believe world. There, when Bella eats lunch, “Bunny has carrot cake for dessert,” and when Bella plays piano, “Bunny hops.” Turning to nourishing nature, Bunny smells flowers and then, with a bunny-sized shovel, helps Bella plant a seed. Parents paying close attention will notice that all these activities are spanning a day that must end in bed-time, often a point of resistance from their little ones. But with Bunny the one picking out Bella’s nightgown when it’s time to go to sleep, and the two drifting off in their side-by-side beds holding hands, their parents and caregivers can be certain that their children will want to Bella and Bunny in the land of sweet dreams and the feeling of being loved.

 

 

 

This book review was given childrensbookstore.com’s “Book Review of the Month Award. Big thank you to the blog writer, Celia McGee, who contributes all of The Foundling book reviews. 

 

Ages 2-5

Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (Houghton Mifflin/Clarion Books)

New Blue Socks

A little green duck has lost his new blue socks, and he is very sad. Eve Bunting recounts his quest in lilting rhyme. He looks everywhere at home, but then remembers that friends are the ones to call on in trouble. He enlists such animal buddies as Mr. Fox (we notice, he’s a reader), Mr.Ox (a painter), and the Peacocks, a family of color-conscious birds if there ever was one. Each has their own ideas, but this book teaches that only if you really look and also put two and two together about your own habits and personality traits that you will you find the right answer. Sometimes what’s lost is hiding in plain sight, other times not quite so much. Small children will get a kick out of this goofy tale and may soon be reciting or reading it on their own.

 

Ages 5-8

Toys in Space, by Mini Grey (Alfred A. Knopf)

Toys in Space

What could be scarier for a group of beloved toys than to be left outside overnight? At least they have each other—which is more than be said for the careless little boy who forgot them there. Each with their own personality and distinctive voice, they express their fears. Yet in that same place, the Wonder Doll, the stuffed rabbit, the play robot, the cuddly wool rabbit, the toy dinosaur, and the tiny cowboy and his horse see something they’ve never seen before: the dark night sky with its fireworks display of stars and planets. And Wonder Doll tells them a story to get them through the night. It involves an alien spacecraft that swoops down to earth and beams them up into the lonely, anxious life of a creature they name the Hoctopize. He’s lonely even though he has a room where keeps all the lost toys collected from gardens on earth. The merry band of visiting toys soon takes care of that (parachutes help). But this still does the Hocotopize no good because he’s lost  his own very special toy, his Cuddles. The toys try to console him, but must return to earth before Dawn. Where is Cuddles? “It will be in the last place” the Hoctopize “looks. Things always are.” Can you guess?

 

Ages 7-11

The Sasquatch Escape, The Imaginary Veterinary: Book I, by Suzanne Selfors (Little, Brown)

Sasquatch

Condemned to spend the summer with his grandfather in the boring burg of Buttonville while his parents “work things out” back in glamorous L.A., Ben Silverstein isn’t just unhappy, he’s mad. Making things worse is the strange local girl Pearl Petal, who works at the 99 Cent store of this once thriving center of button-making and has a reputation as “a bit of a troublemaker.” But they bond over a strange shape they see fly by one night—a bird, a plane, Superman? A dragon. But what is an imaginary creature doing in their all-too-real world, let alone Buttonville? These questions lead them to the abandoned Buttonville Factory, which is no longer as empty as it seems. Secretly taken over by a Dr. Woo, they discover she’s a veterinarian to every sick or wounded imaginary creature ever…imagined, briefly allowing the suffering ones into the Real World for her medical ministrations. But then a Sasquatch escapes and gets up to some very furry mischief. Can Ben and Pearl re-capture him? After all, it was Ben’s fault the giant big foot is on the lam. It turns out there is more than one way to catch a Sasquatch, and many ways to transform a dull summer into a blast. And if you end up the apprentice to a magician, what’s not to like? Summer is only three months long, but a lot of growth can happen.

 

Ages 9-11

Dorko the Magnificent, by Andrea Beaty  (Amulet Books)

A lot of kids dread school talent shows, and make fun of them. Not fifth-grader Donny Darko, unfortunately dubbed Dorko by the cooler, stronger kids in school. He wants to show off the magic skills he has practiced since he was a little kid, and maybe win the attention of a girl he’s developing a crush on. Despite many setbacks, Donny has a great sense of humor and a sharp wit that will have his readers cracking up, even as his life is falling apart. His father’s new job has him constantly away from home, his mother is over-worked, his younger brother is a practiced pest. But what truly spells disaster is when their obnoxious and dour Grandma Melvyn—actually some kind of crotchety distant relative– moves into the already crowded, strained household to await an operation. Will Donny prevail, learn his lessons, and survive the humiliation of flopping on TV quiz show in front of the entire town? The least likely person in his constellation proves his guide. But up on stage he’s all alone. Or is he?

 

Ages 12 and up, and adults

Far, Far Away, by Tom McNeal (Alfred A. Knopf)

Far, Far Away

High-schoolers and their parents may at first scoff at the thought of a book suffused with the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Watch out. Award-winning Tom McNeal’s Far, Far Away will soon weave its enchantments around readers almost as strongly as frightening mysteries, tragic disappearances, ancient puzzles, and magical book-learning impose themselves on the citizens of the village of Never Better. Fans of A.S. Byatt will appreciate the almost invisible scholarly touch that applies the history of the famous fairy tales—violent and scary, psychologically prescient and almost unbearably gory—to the lonely life of young Jeremy Jeremy Johnson. Then along comes Ginger, the brave, smart girl he initially fears but comes to love. As sadly often happens in our own world, Jeremy’s mother has left his father and sent him into a housebound depression. Young children keep disappearing. Kindly individuals may not be who they seem. Yet there’s also a pivotal ghost whose identity is key to the plot—and indeed tells the story. Keep guessing. Ultimately a tale of love, self-discovery and liberation, this novel sparkles with the remarkable made real.  

 

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We have wishlists registered at Target and Walmart! If you’d like to contribute you can mail or deliver items to 590 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10011

Thanks to Foundling friend Celia McGee for this Issue! 

Ages 3-6

Water in the Park, by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. Schwartz & Wade Books.

 waterin the park

In addition to all the things water does in a city, it can also tell the time of day.Well-known children’s book author Emily Jenkins takes this idea and runs with it in this winsome book, lovingly illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, which is also a tribute to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Turtles bathing in the park as early dog walkers start to ramble, babies held high to take a sip at a water fountain mid-morning, play grounds filling up and emptying out depending on life’s other demands, park volunteers arriving to water the flower beds around 11—and had you noticed that “On very hot days, puddles ooze across the asphalt by nine o’clock,” and “three sparrows hop in and have their sparrow baths?” Then, of course, around five, there’s the little girl who doesn’t want to go home for dinner. Crammed with water lovers of all ages, shapes, sizes and colors, Water in the Park also has the advantage of offering many pages of busy scenes that young examiners can explore for activities and interactions that catch the eye only with careful attention.

 

Ages 7-9

Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery. By Margaret A. Weitekamp with David DeVorkin, illustrated by Diane Kidd. Abrams.

Pluto's Secret

   Treating astronomy as a fun game of hide-and-seek, Pluto’s Secretshows how scientific ideas and observation have changed over the centuries concerning the mysterious, “icy world” called Pluto—a name conceived by 11-year-old Venetia Burney of Oxford, England, in 1930, by the way, when none of the grown-ups’ suggestions would quite do. Planets, stars, and distant galaxies have their own personalities here, and often talk sassily about the poor humans who can’t quite suss out whether or not Pluto is a planet until 2006, a discovery that changed the face of outer space. In 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to visit Pluto for itself. Written and published in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, this book should whet many young appetites for a trip to Washington to visit the museum in person and learn about the many other wonders of the universe there.

 

Ages 9-12

Twerp, by Mark Goldblatt. Random House

Twerp

   When your name is so close to Twerp—ok, ok, his real name is Julian Twerski–you have a lot to live up to, even if you’re already the fastest runner and one of the smartest kids at P.S. 23 in Queens. Julian’s challenge in the course of this book, written in the form of a journal assigned by his English teacher, Mr. Selkirk, is to explain how and why a nice kid like him did something so cruel, malicious and shameful that he was suspended from school—and to come to terms with who he really is. Though the misdeed isn’t revealed until the very end, lending the book an air of suspense, the way Julian’s story builds up to its revelation allows Mark Goldblatt—who admits to some autobiographical elements—to immerse the reader in the world of Julian’s gang of friends, their rich range of families, his first love, his competitive fears of a new athlete in school, his reconciliation with betrayal, and  evenhis ultimate acceptance of Shakespeare. Set in 1969, this book slyly brims over with life lessons more than fit for today, and Julian is an increasingly self-aware kid readers won’t soon forget.

 

Ages 12 and up, and adults

Mortal Fire, by Elizabeth Knox.Frances Foster Books. Farrar Straus Giroux

Mortal Fire

  In a place called Southland that somewhat resembles Elizabeth Knox’s home base of New Zealand, things happen to 15-year-old Canny Mochrie that indicate it’s not quite of this world.   Readers of Knox’s Dreamhunter Duet novels and her others will know to expect a complicated tale of the supernatural, this one taking place in the 1950s to give it a historic flavor from the start. This sense of the past is heightened, for instance, by the denigration—because she’s a girl–of Canny’s award-winning math abilities, and her outsider status as a fatherless, mixed-race teen. But the magic Canny comes up against when she embarks with her brother and his girlfriend on a research trip to a distant coal-mining town, devastated earlier in the century by an infamous mine explosion, is something truly ancient yet oddly familiar. For, as Caddy gets to know the strange, old-fashioned farming family the Zarenes, at whose seemingly Arcadian homestead she and her traveling companions come to board, she slowly discovers the magic in herself. This includes the ability to see a Zarene mansion farther up the hill normally invisible to human eyes, and to engage with the handsome, enigmatic young man held captive there. As their romance blooms, dangers only seem to mount, some foreshadowed by the cryptic alphabet developed by the Zarenes’ once populous and powerful ancestors, others lurking in Canny’s famous mother’s past. Canny must use not just her head but her heart to make her otherworldly powers work for her and those she loves. This is a complex, brain-teasing and rousing tale that adults will also appreciate.

By Foundling friend, Celia McGee

 

Ages 3-5

Gus the Dinosaur Bus, by Julie Liu. Illustrated by Bei Lynn. (Houghton Mifflin)

The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy, by Martha Brockenborough. Illustrated by Israel Sanchez. (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)

Chick-O-Saurus Rex, by Lenore and Daniel Jennewin (Simon & Schuster)

 Chick-O-Saurus Rex

These three books offer off-beat stories about some of the greatest creatures that roamed the earth, tailor made for little ones.

 

Gus the Dinosaur bus is this best possible school bus—no taking the elevator to board on the ground floor, for instance—until certain things start to get in the way. Like when he forgets about his tale and swings it in the middle of traffic, or that not every bridge can hold up “when you weigh as much as five elephants.” Put out to pasture next to his school, he cries big, fat dinosaur tears. And it’s these that bring the happy ending. Just read the book with its playful pictures and you’ll soon see how.

 

The dinosaur tooth fairy, on the other hand, lives deep in the bowels of a museum some might gleefully think resembles The American Museum of Natural History. She is happy with her collection of toothy, towering treasures. But one day she develops a longing for the wobbly tooth of a little girl visitor, and follows her home. But all isn’t easy in a human house for a dinosaur tooth fairy, until she encounters another visitor. Just as in children’s lives, friendship between tooth fairies is a cause for celebration.

 

Now, when Little Chick gets excluded from the fun-filled tree house on his farm by all the bigger animals, it’s sad and unfair. But what he lacks in size he makes up for in smarts, resolve and resilience, especially when his father comes to the rescue with an interesting tid-bit about his family tree. It turns out this modest chick is descended—you guessed it—from a Tyrannosaurus, and he has an archaeological dig to prove it. Even the big bad wolf can’t stand up to Chick-O-Saurus Rex. Newfound courage and unexpected knowledge win him just the kind of acceptance he had hoped for.

 

Ages 4-8

Mister and Lady Day:Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her, by Amy Novesky. Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton (Harcourt Children’s Books)

 

The incomparable blues singer Billie Holiday lived a glamorous life but also a tragic one. The saddest notes affecting this African American icon are kept off-stage in this touching book about Ms. Holiday, who was a fervent dog-lover, and her favorite, “a boxer named Mister,” who stood by her in good times and bad. On the way to meeting Mister we encounter a lavish assortment of Lady Day’s other pooches, from Chihuahuas to beagles, poodles and Great Danes, whom she proudly paraded around dressed in her finest, another known grace note. At her lowest, though, Mister was there for her, and in this elegant picture book about steadfastness and loyalty, he helps her to accomplishments that have gone down in history.

 

Ages 6-10 and all ages

Barbed Wire Baseball, by Marissa Morse. Illustrated by Yuko Shimuzu (Abrams)

 

Yuko Shimuzu’s extraordinary illustrations, which evoke Japanese woodcuts crossed with 1940s American Scene painting, immediately signal that this is no run-of-the-mill baseball story. Mixing history and sports, Barbed Wire Baseball follows the successful and real-life Japanese-American baseball player Kenichi “Zeni” Zenimura as he defies many odds—not the least of which is his short stature and parents who would’ve preferred he be a doctor or lawyer—to become a well-known player and manager, playing exhibition games with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. But after the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, Japanese and Japanese-Americans on American soil were herded into internment camps, surrounded by barbed wire, and Zenimura’s hardest challenge began. This was to build not only a first-rate baseball diamond at the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona, where he was detained, but to gather and train baseball players, uniforms, equipment and all, to instill a sense of pride, hope, self-confidence and joy in a community unfairly brought low. Everyone played a part, and each of those roles is now happily commemorated in the form of this book.

 

Ages 8 and up

The 13-Story Treehouse, by Andy Griffiths. Illustrated by Terry Denton. (Feiwel& Friends/Macmillan)

 13 Story Treehouse

If it’s pure zaniness you want—sprinkled with science, world history, astronomy, and a little rock ‘n roll—then climb right up into the 13-story treehouse created by the inventive Australian duo of Andy Griffiths (already a New York Times best-selling author) and Terry Denton. Planted somewhere between fantasy and reality, their tree-born existence is all for giggles and laughs, but their silliness simultaneously reminds young people always to be on the lookout for the foolish, the rash, and unrealistic, hasty decisions. Andy and Terry’s household includes a marshmallow-shooting machine, a bowling alley, a shark tank, swinging vines and a secret underground laboratory. When Terry places an ill-advised order for sea-monkey eggs, or catches himself in his own giant bubble-gum bubble, both domestic devices and quick-wittedness must come to rescue. At the same time, these guys have to finish a book on time for their big mean publisher. Three guesses which book it is.

 

Ages 10 and up

What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World, by Henry Clark. (Little, Brown)

 

Next time you see an abandoned sofa, you might want to give it a second glance.

 

That’s what the three friends River, Freak and Fiona do when they find an old wreck by their school bus stop one day, and they wisely hunt around among the cushions, too. Among the last inhabitant of Hellsboro, where a chemical plant malfunction has left most of the their blue-collar area festering atop an underground fire, these kids can sometimes be down on themselves, and each other, but the revelations of the sofa—and Henry Clark’s dry, humorous writing style—start to change all that. An evil industrialist is plotting to take over the world from another dimension where he has already enslaved the population, but with the help of his rebellious son, some tricks with physics, oddly-shaped balloons and the sofa’s futuristic powers, the kids could save the day.  After that, coming to terms with high school will be a piece of cake.

 

 

For grownups, and ages 13 and up

Visitation Street, by Ivy Pochoda. (Ecco)

 Visitation Street

It is no surprise that Dennis Lehane chose this as the second title for his new line of books. A thriller set in an all-too-real yet lyrical Red Hook, the murder mystery revolves around two 15-yer-old girls, best friends since childhood, who one bored summer night decide to take an inflatable raft out on the East River’s treacherous waters. Val survives, June disappears.  Their Red Hook is sharply divided along class, ethnic and racial lines, and freshly slicing gentrification adds to the tensions that surface as the hunt for June goes on. Italian-American Val must come to terms with her feelings for Cree, a young African American, as well as her music teacher at St. Bernadette’s, a traumatized alcoholic. A Lebanese bodega owner works to keep the peace, and a family of women with spiritual powers chip in. Pochoda’s portrait of a classic New York neighborhood is memorable, from sad sacks to artists to quiet heroes, just enough of them making up a kind of new family that holds promises for a new day for Val, and her quest for June.