August2017 Booklist 65 www.booklistonline.com
alike,” but few in children’s literature are as
engaging or amusing as the Vanderbeekers,
even in a time of turmoil. Twins Isa and Jes-
sie ( 12 years old), Oliver ( 9),
Hyacinth ( 6), and Laney ( 4)
react with disbelief, a bit of
guilt, and plenty of indig-
nation when they hear that
Mr. Beiderman, their reclu-
sive neighbor, has refused
to renew the lease on their
beloved Harlem brownstone
apartment. With only 11 days left, the kids em-
bark on Operation Beiderman, a series of secret
initiatives intended to win over their landlord.
A biracial family within a close-knit, diverse
community, the Vanderbeekers are swiftly,
deftly individualized by Glaser, who lets the
kids’ strengths, weaknesses, and quirks emerge
as each takes the initiative and then deals with
the repercussions that inevitably follow. Scenes
are beautifully written, and a subplot adds
depth to the novel. While there’s pain and pa-
thos here, humor is a constant, bubbling up in
unexpected places. The story’s ending seems
inevitable, but it’s moving nonetheless, and the
journey to that destination is wildly entertain-
ing. Add this captivating first novel to the list
of family stories that would make an only child
long for siblings. —Carolyn Phelan
Who Killed Darius Drake?
By Rodman Philbrick.
Sept. 2017. 192p. Scholastic/Blue Sky, $17.99
(9780545789783); e-book, $10.99 (9780545789806).
Newbery Honor Book author Philbrick concocts an intricate whodunit featuring a young
sleuth and his reluctant sidekick, romantic and
family tragedies, hidden treasure, and a genial,
Johnny Depp–esque killer. Having developed
a reputation as a bully, chubby Arthur Bash is
nonetheless discomfited when orphaned brai-niac Darius Drake hires him (with candy bars)
to be his bodyguard. Darius has received the
titular note—written in blood!—with a return
address that leads to a ramshackle old house
near a tough housing project. Determined to
find the note’s author, Darius drags his increasingly panicked hired “muscle” into various
terrifying encounters. Dives into town archives
and interviews with a local historian link the
house to a sad WWI-era love story, a missing
million-dollar necklace, and Darius’ own parents, killed a decade before in a car accident
(or, as it turns out, “accident”). Dropping tantalizing hints of grisly events to come, Philbrick
leads readers to a melodramatic denouement.
An artful mix of clues, cons, and violence, with
prizes at the end that glitter both literally and
figuratively. —John Peters
The Bad Seed.
By Jory John. Illus. by Pete Oswald.
Aug. 2017. 40p. Harper, $17.99 (9780062467768). K–Gr. 3.
“I’m a bad seed,” this titular antihero pro-
claims, his angry eyes taking up the majority of
the page. “A baaaaaaaaaaad seed.” Brow firmly
furrowed, the little but fierce sunflower seed
marches through the city streets while a vari-
ety of other seeds and nuts scamper out of his
way, agreeing with him (“There goes a baaaad
seed”). What makes him so bad? He lies, he’s
late, he doesn’t listen, he tells boring jokes,
and he never puts things back. Of course, he
wasn’t always like that: like many bad guys, he’s
got a pretty tragic backstory. But maybe he’s
done being bad. Maybe he wants to be good
again—if he can remember how. The message,
though heavy-handed, is well-intentioned, and
the watercolor illustrations provide plenty of
comic effect. Young readers will enjoy watch-
ing the dramatic seed intimidate his nervous
neighbors, and might not even realize they’re
learning a lesson about good behavior in the
process. —Maggie Reagan
By Matt Forrest Esenwine. Illus. by Fred
Sept. 2017. 32p. Boyds Mills, $16.95 (9781629794938).
A flashlight becomes a gateway to a whole
new world in this imaginative picture book.
At night, three kids sit in a tree house, telling
stories with only a flashlight to see by. Slowly,
they grow bolder, letting the light guide them
out of the tree house and into a world of adventure. Muted pencil illustrations show the
nighttime scenery—a safe, suburban yard—
while the flashlight beam cuts across the
pages, illuminating more surprising scenes.
Each double-page spread grows more fantastical: a tiger prowls near a dark trail that
leads to an Egyptian tomb, which turns into
a pirate ship. The kids brave the danger, escaping a giant squid by climbing the walls
of a castle (which turns into a tree outside
of the flashlight’s beam) and returning to the
safety of their tree house, where a number of
books and objects have provided inspiration
for their travels. Despite the excitement, the
gentle rhyming text will wind young listeners
down and help prepare them for dreamland
adventures of their own. —Maggie Reagan
By Eve Bunting. Illus. by Kevin M. Barry.
Sept. 2017. 32p. Sleeping Bear, $16.99
(9781585369935). K–Gr. 3.
Miss Maggie McCullen is the lighthouse
keeper of Port Carrick, where she lives with
her cat, Sailor Boy, the narrator of this tale.
After a long and happy life with Miss Maggie,
Sailor Boy decides to stick around for the here-
after and continue to help his owner with her
lighthouse duties. The scraggly Siamese, who
can choose to be visible or invisible—a fact
that doesn’t bother Miss Maggie in the least—
bounds around the island, gleefully teasing
visitors and accompanying Miss Maggie each
night as she lights the lighthouse beacon. One
stormy night, Miss Maggie trips on her way
up the lighthouse tower, and it’s up to Sailor
Boy to fetch help for her and see that the bea-
con gets lit. Dusky plums and luminous golds
flood Barry’s scratchy watercolors, through
which the semitransparent Sailor Boy perches
and pounces. Bunting’s endearing ghost story
is as cozy as they come, and young readers will
appreciate both the fullness of the narrative
and the notion of a beloved pet “living” past
the grave. —Julia Smith
Henny, Penny, Lenny, Denny, and Mike.
By Cynthia Rylant. Illus. by Mike Austin.
Sept. 2017. 40p. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99
(9781481445238); e-book, $17.99 (9781481445245).
Five happy-go-lucky goldfish friends take
center stage in this energetic picture book.
With lots of cool stuff (orange gravel, a pirate ship, bubbles), the fish tank is a paradise
for the titular quintet. They swim, laugh at a
clown fish’s jokes, ogle the angelfish, and ignore the snail, until one day Lenny gets stuck
in the castle, is freed by the snail, who becomes a hero, “and the fish-tank life returns to
what it always was . . . so fab.” The infectious
enthusiasm of the goldfish is brought forth in
the playful text, which is full of action verbs
and heightened with slyly inserted words that
might challenge (ornamental, exotic). Austin’s
eye-popping digital illustrations handily emphasize the hubbub without clutter or chaos
and imbue a fair amount of personality into
the characters. The subtle lesson—don’t over-
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