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Foundling friend Celia McGee does it again! Presenting the latest titles for you and your family’s enjoyment!

Ages  3-6

The First Drawing, by Mordicai Gersten. Little, Brown.

   Found in a cave in France not that long ago, some of the oldest drawings ever date back 30,000 years. Even more intriguing, the footprint of an 8-year-old boy and a wolf were found nearby. Caldecott medalist Mordicai Gerstein takes this information and imagines what it must have been like to be that boy, and that he invented drawing. It took fancy and sensitivity on the boy’s part, for he believed he could see clouds shaped like animals, and sense appealing feelings even in the eyes of a hairy mammoth. The problem was that no one else did, and when he transferred his fantasies and impressions to the walls of the cave he shared with his clan, they thought he was practicing magic. Bad magic.  But it pays to stand up for yourself. The young artist agreed that it was magic—and convinced his elders that it was the good kind. Moreover, how is that different, Gersten whimsically asks, from any drawing, painting, sculpture or other form of visual expression produced throughout the centuries to this very day?  That’s the magic all around us.

 

Ages 4-7

Big Bear’s Big Boat, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Clarion Books.

Big Bear's Big Boat

   How nice—and important– it is to have a kind and generous older brother! But even older brothers sometimes have to watch out for well-meaning friends and trust their own better judgment. When Big Bear outgrows his first rowboat, he passes it on to Little Bear, and builds a new boat to fit his size.  Just as he takes a quiet minute to enjoy its perfection, along comes Beaver to suggest a mast. Big Bear obliges. Other pals—Otter, Blue Heron—recommend a top deck, then a cabin. The whole thing turns into a big, ugly mess, and Big Bear fears that there’s nothing he can do about it. After all, you don’t want to insult your friends. Still, a dream is a dream, and Big Bear’s ideal was the simpler boat. By clearly and bravely explaining himself to his friends, he wins over his wrong-headed advisors. There’s one kind of happiness, which is sticking to your dream, but also another, which is knowing that friendship is a constant give-and-take.

 

Ages 7-11

The Lonely Lake Monster: The Imaginary Veterinary, Book 2, by Suzanne Selfors. Illustrations by Dan Santat. Little, Brown.

The Lonely Lake Monster

  They’re back, already—Pearl Petal, Ben Silverstein and their wondrous involvement with once proud Buttonville’s empty old Buttonville Button Factory. Aha, but those of us who read this series first installment, The Sasquatch Escape, know that reality is not what it seems, and that beyond the Known World of humans, there’s an Imaginary one full of creatures out of legends, fairies, and fantastical landscapes. Under the alluring, brain-teasing Dr. Woo and her major domo Mr. Tabby, the factory—revealed only to Pearl and Benn– has been transformed into a hospital for the Imaginary World. But don’t worry if you’re starting with The Lonely Lake Monster, since Suzanne Selfors has clever ways of catching you up and plunging you full-tilt into the new, challenging situation facing Pearl—notorious for her Known World trouble-making—and Ben, the big-city visitor, who have been allowed to apprentice to Dr. Woo. By the way, the disdainful Mr. Tabby is taking on more and more cat-like qualities—was that a tail peeping out from below his elegant jacket? Assigned as their first task to cut the Sasquatch’s toenails—one of the more disgusting experiences ever, Pearl and Ben catch  a glimpse of a gigantic green figure in the paddling in the water outside. It can only be—you’ve heard of Loch Ness, right?—a lake monster. But loneliness changes everything, and this ferocious-appearing tower of scales has a bad case.  Ben and Pearl have to figure out how to cure these blues before the monster kidnaps them for good. Pearl emerges as the smart and resourceful one here, although she does get some help from a very cranky leprechaun. But boundaries have been crossed in the duties Dr. Woo had outlined. How much trouble awaits her young helpers? Yet authority is funny occasionally, and an unusual response can save the day.

 

Ages 12 and up (plus adults!)

The Cutting Season, by Attica Locke. Dennis Lehane Books/Harper Perennial

The Cutting Season

   As our luck would have it, one of the best murder mysteries and historically resonant books of the past year is just out in paperback. Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season (she was indeed named for the famous prison uprising) was a bestseller and has the imprimatur of belonging to Dennis Lehane’s new line of books. It’s easy to see why. Set on the restored antebellum Louisiana plantation of La Belle Vie—slave cabins and all– it’s managed, with understandable ambivalence by Caren Gray, daughter of the plantation’s former cook and a law school dropout thanks to her father’s focus on his second, legitimate family.  While the main part of La Belle Vie has become a party and wedding venue, a destination for tourists and school groups, and the background for a creaky historical enactment play that makes Gone Like the Wind seem progressive and unbigoted, 500 hundred of its acres have been leased to sugar cane harvesting company with dubious intentions. When one of the female cane workers shows up dead on the plantation side of the fence, it’s anyone’s guess how and why she got there. Caren, entangled in past and present romantic relationships and the mother of a young daughter who may know something about the crime, leaves the sheriff’s department in the dust as she seeks the answers.  She knows that “below Belle Vie, its beauty was not to be trusted.” As the real villains emerge, she could not be more right.  A stunning look at changing but anciently soul-mangling Southern race relations, it maintains its mystery to the end.