Edge offers an artful, touching exploration
of grief dressed in clever sci-fi trappings.
Though the ending is a bit tidy, Albie’s re-
alizations about his father, himself, and the
importance of not running away from tough
feelings ring true. Albie’s earnest, geeky first-
person narrative, inflected with references to
science and classic sci-fi, will be especially
appealing to middle-grade fans of the genre.
Marty Pants: Do Not Open!
By Mark Parisi. Illus. by the author.
May 2017. 256p. Harper, $12.99 (9780062427762).
Showing uncommon mastery of the
Wimpy Kid genre and narrative style, syndicated cartoonist Parisi introduces a feckless
lad with artistic aspirations, a strong tendency to be seen in humiliating situations
by intriguing new classmate Analie, and
the conviction that his dour teacher, Mr.
McPhee, is an alien scout. Simple line drawings on every page help lay down punch lines
as they portray Marty and his motley set of
friends and adversaries. So, too, do they present Marty’s artistic efforts—notably a hastily
censored comic featuring an innuendo-laden
conversation between Michelangelo’s David
and the Venus de Milo (“Venus, why do we
get along so well?” “I can’t put my finger on
it, Dave”). As it turns out, there is an alien in
the picture (not McPhee), and Marty inadvertently saves the world—not that anyone is
ever going to believe him. Along with useful
new vocabulary (philistine, schadenfreude),
readers will find gags and misadventures
aplenty to chortle over, plus a likable, if unusually clueless, everylad who comes away a
winner. —John Peters
Mary Anning’s Curiosity.
By Monica Kulling. Illus. by Melissa
May 2017. 120p. Groundwood, $14.95 (9781554988983).
Mary Anning is still a bit of an unsung
hero of early paleontology, and this slim,
fictionalized account of her childhood adds
to the growing number of children’s books
about the nineteenth-century fossil hunter.
Kulling focuses primarily on Anning’s child-
hood and the story of one of her early finds,
later identified as an ichthyosaur. Young
Mary loves to traipse about the beach hunt-
ing for “curiosities,” or fossils, that her family
sells to tourists. Money is tight, though, and
when her father dies and leaves them in debt,
Mary and her brother look even harder for
the “great crocodile” rumored to be buried in
the shale cliffs. Though a major conflict—a
competition with another fossil hunter—is
wrapped up a bit too quickly, Mary’s insatia-
ble drive to find fossils and fascination about
what the petrified remains reveal about the
past should make this popular with middle-
graders who love dinosaurs. An author’s note
offers helpful context, both about Mary An-
ning’s life and paleontology. A stirring story
made more inspirational by the reality of its
protagonist. —Sarah Hunter
Oakwing: A Fairy’s Tale.
By E. J. Clarke.
May 2017. 192p. Aladdin, $16.99 (9781481481915);
e-book, $16.99 (9781481481922). Gr. 3–6.
On the seventh anniversary of her mother’s mysterious disappearance from London’s
Hyde Park, Rowan pays a visit, cries herself
to sleep under a tree, and awakes to discover
herself transformed into a fairy. Taken under
the (literal) wing of a talking robin named
Harold and a mischievous boy fairy named
Aiken, she is initiated into the Realm of
the Tree Fairies. She soon discovers that her
mother was also transformed into a fairy and
is in great danger from the vengeful fairy
Vulpes. Rowan becomes determined to find
her mother and return both of them to human form, no matter how impossible the
task. Clarke’s world is charmingly unique:
fairy wings are made of oak leaves and create
music when they flutter, fairies of great power become shape-shifters, and more. Though
the quest’s end is perhaps less climactic or
satisfying than expected, the story throughout is stylish and fun, and there is no doubt
that the world within works its own brand of
magic. —Becca Worthington
By Chrissie Perry. Illus. by Marta Kissi.
Apr. 2017. 144p. Aladdin, $16.99 (9781481466028);
paper, $5.99 (9781481466011). Gr. 2–5.
Penelope doesn’t ask for much; she just
wants to be perfect. She keeps her room just
so, is always on time, and helps out when
needed. Sometimes, though, she feels as if
there’s another Penelope living inside of her,
one who is bossy and easily frustrated. Now
she has a new project: acquiring a best friend.
A new girl is starting at Chelsea Primary, and
Penelope decides that she will be a perfect
best friend. Things don’t start out that way,
and Penelope sees her project dissolving into
nothing. Then she gets advice from Grandpa
about not trying so hard, and as difficult as it
is for her, she takes his advice and finds that
everything does get a little easier. Penelope’s
first-person narrative at times seems a little
stilted, but following her thought processes
offers insight into a certain kind of child.
(We likely all know—or are—a Penelope.)
The delightful, small black-and-white illustrations with their elegant captions sprinkled
throughout round out the book, well, perfectly! —Donna Scanlon
Pennybaker School Is Headed for
By Jennifer Brown.
July 2017. 320p. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (9781681191744).
Pennybaker Hill Academy for the Unique-
ly Gifted might be a good fit for some
kids, but Thomas isn’t sure he is especially
gifted at performing magic tricks, and be-
sides, his public middle school was at least
familiar. Still, wearing the scratchy Penny-
baker uniform (suit, vest, and bow tie), he
enters the academy, establishes himself as
a spitball sharpshooter, and quickly makes
friends. When a statue—the beloved bust of
a revered teacher—disappears and suspicion
falls on Thomas, even his parents think he’s
guilty. He and his dorky neighbor work to
find the sculpture and clear his name. There’s
plenty going on here, from the never-entirely-
convincing veneration of the bust to an
intergenerational subplot in which Thomas’
mother tries to curtail his feisty grandmoth-
er’s pursuit of skateboarding thrills, but it
all ties together in the end. And while the
exaggeration in Thomas’ first-person narra-
tive may undermine his credibility from time
to time, it also makes the story amusing for
readers who enjoy Brown’s offbeat humor.
By Jane Kurtz.
May 2017. Greenwillow, $16.99 (9780060564865).
Fifth-grader Jupiter and her family are free
spirits, living life on the road and busking
to put food in their mouths. But now her
father has moved on like the rolling stone
he’s always claimed to be, her older brother
has elected to temporarily settle down, and
seven-year old Edom, an adopted cousin
from Ethiopia, has joined them in Portland,
Oregon, while Edom’s mother undergoes
chemo. Things are changing, and Jupiter is
not thrilled, especially with the idea that her
mother might be more interested in a family
friend than reuniting with her dad. Readers may be surprised by Jupiter’s lifestyle
(her upbringing makes free-range parenting
look like bondage) and slightly bored by the
book’s extended look—a subplot, really—at
identifying edible plants and distinguishing them from weeds. Nor does Edom seem
particularly Ethiopian. But there is tension as the girls formulate a plan to escape
Portland that keeps the pages turning, and
Jupiter has a fresh voice that extols being unburdened, even as the story shows her that
sometimes adding is better than subtracting.
By John David Anderson.
May 2017. 384p. HarperCollins/Walden Pond, $16.99
(9780062338204). Gr. 5–8.
By eighth grade, Frost feels secure within
his established circle of smart, relatively
geeky boys, including Bench, Deedee, and
Wolf, who know they can count on one
other. But Rose, a new student with a tall,
muscular body and an independent streak,
unexpectedly joins their table in the middle-school cafeteria. Then Bench starts hanging
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