By Sarah Moon.
Oct. 2017. 272p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $18.99
(9781338032581); e-book, $18.99 (9781338032598).
When eighth-grader Sparrow wakes up in
the hospital, she can’t convince the doctors
or her mother that she wasn’t attempting
suicide on the roof of her school. Once she
starts seeing her therapist, she reveals that
when she experiences anxiety, she becomes
a real sparrow and flies with other birds.
Moon’s debut novel deftly normalizes therapy and prioritizing one’s mental health. In
lyrical, minimalist prose that resounds with
authenticity, Moon tracks Sparrow’s relatable
experience with trauma and anxiety. The recurring therapy sessions never come across as
manufactured or heavy-handed, nor do they
present a singular, correct way to cope with
anxiety. After opening up to her therapist,
Sparrow takes a brave step and enrolls in a
month-long music camp. There she finds
unexpected validation and a community of
women who build her up. An elegantly told
and important novel about learning to cope,
live, and be happy with depression and anxiety. —Caitlin Kling
This Tiny Perfect World.
By Lauren Gibaldi.
Feb. 2018. 304p. Harper Teen, $17.99 (9780062490070);
e-book, $17.99 (9780062490094). Gr. 9–12.
Life in small-town Florida holds few surprises for Penny. She has the steady company
of her best friend, the reliable affection of her
boyfriend, and a place to work at her dad’s
restaurant. It seems like a fluke when she’s
chosen for an exclusive theater camp, since
Penny adores acting but has little onstage experience. But Penny flourishes. She catches
the attention of handsome, worldly Chase,
who encourages her to take risks as an actor
and exposes her to new experiences. Consequently, Penny dares to wonder if her future
might extend beyond the familiar faces and
places of her little town. The depiction of
Penny’s hometown life realistically mixes the
comfort of dependable friendships with the
disappointment of limited opportunities. In
contrast, Penny’s experiences at camp constantly challenge her to take risks with her
artistic expression and in her social life. Theater buffs will enjoy the descriptions of Penny’s
acting classes and her audition scenes. The
focus on self-discovery makes this a worthy
recommendation for fans of Sarah Dessen’s
The Moon and More (2013). —Diane Colson
By Maddie Ziegler.
Oct. 2017. 256p. Aladdin, $16.99 (9781481486361).
After her family’s recent move to Florida,
Harper tries to settle into her new life, and
the first thing on her agenda is finding a
new dance studio. Despite having taken les-
sons since she was two, Harper is incredibly
relieved when she is accepted to DanceStarz
and lands a place on the Squad, its elite, com-
petitive dance team. But being one of the
new girls means trying to break in with the
Bunheads, a tight-knit group of dancers that
rules the roost. Written by Dance Moms star
Ziegler, this is sure to appeal to middle-grade
readers wanting a peek inside the competitive
dance world. While the overall story may be
predictable—Harper faces mean girls, jeal-
ousy, and some embarrassing falls—its focus
on friendship and teamwork make it a posi-
tive read. The technical aspects about dance
are sure to please readers who are dancers or
wish to be. This series starter is a nice choice
for those looking for an insider view of what
dance is really like. —Sarah Bean Thompson
The Nutcracker Mice.
By Kristin Kladstrup. Illus. by Brett
Oct. 2017. 336p. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763685195).
In 1892, St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre
is home to spectacular ballet and the location
(under the stage) of the Russian Mouse Ballet
Company, in which young Esmeralda dreams
of becoming a prima ballerina. The upcoming premiere, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker,
is cause for concern, however, since a rodent
audience won’t appreciate villainous mice and
a lack of romance. Esmeralda concocts an
alternate story that fits Tchaikovsky’s music,
contrives to procure scenery and costumes for
the mouse production, and takes the lead after
the star ends up in a mouse trap. Kladstrup’s
imaginative story features high adventure,
plenty of theater and ballet details, and mostly short chapters that will aid readers new to
chapter books. Helquist’s black-and-white
drawings (usually one per chapter) bring the
mice and their activities to life, and a subplot
involving nine-year-old human child Irina
adds to the book’s appeal. With a foreword
summarizing the original Nutcracker and an
afterword recapping Esmeralda’s mouse-cen-tric version, this is perfect for balletomanes
and mice fans alike. —Kay Weisman
Claude on the Big Screen.
By Alex T. Smith. Illus. by the author.
Oct. 2017. 96p. Peachtree, $12.95 (9781682630099).
Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes have stepped out
for the day, which can only mean one thing:
it’s time for an adventure. While bouncing on
his trampoline, Claude, a beret-wearing pup,
glimpses the peculiar sight of a gorilla drinking tea a few streets away. Eager to investigate,
he and Sir Bobblysock (best friend and, well,
a sock) dash out for a closer look and find
themselves in the midst of a movie shoot.
Despite their disruptive entrance, the director
invites Claude and Sir Bobblysock to stay and
watch the filming. But a series of zany acci-
dents, thanks largely to a clothesline escaping
from underneath Claude’s beret, soon propels
the friends from spectators to actors! Smith’s
endearing duo will easily hold the attention of
young readers through their camaraderie and
silly escapades, both behind the scenes and
in the spotlight. Energetic, two-toned illus-
trations flood the pages of this early chapter
book with humor and clever details, and the
text is well suited to primary-school readers.
Hand to fans of Digby O’Day or Inspector
Flytrap. —Julia Smith
Sebi and the Land of Cha Cha Cha.
By Roselyn Sánchez and Eric Winter.
Illus. by Nivea Ortiz.
2017. 30p. Penguin/Celebra, $16.99 (9780399583636).
Sebi is a spunky little girl who wants to
learn to dance the Cha Cha Cha. One day
when she is out for a walk, she sees a group
performing the dance for Carnaval. Sebi and
her friend Keeke see a cotorra (parrot) and
follow the bird into the Land of Cha Cha
Cha and begin an adventure filled with Latin
music and dance. The parrot teaches the
children how to Cha Cha Cha; the monkeys
teach them the merengue; and the squirrels
teach them the samba. They bounce to the
various beats until it’s time to leave for home.
When the children return, Sebi’s mother and
grandmother can’t believe their eyes: the
children have become expert dancers! Ortiz’s illustrations fill the page from edge to
edge with bright colors, designs, and wonderful characters. There is a small amount of
Spanish text and a small section in the back
matter explaining the Cha Cha Cha’s origins
and techniques. —Rosie Camargo
This Is It.
By Daria Peoples-Riley. Illus. by the
Feb. 2018. 32p. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780062657763).
A joyful celebration of dance that also reminds readers that doing something well
requires hard work. While the cover shows a
young girl leaping over the title and her surroundings, the end pages illustrate all of the
practice poses that ballet requires. The focus
of the book is the moment before an audition, and the text offers a pep talk, complete
with reminders about how to feel confident
and soar. Each sentence is an imperative addressed to a young dancer who is pictured in
the flesh dressed in practice clothes, and as a
shadow decked out in costume and complete
pose. Some lines rhyme but not consistently,
mimicking the uneven sense of dance movements. The illustrations posit a big world,
often colored in gray, as a foil for the red-haired dancer. The book opens and closes
with the same simple advice, which is true for
all endeavors: “Stand up tall, arch your back,
hold your head high.” Pair with Misty Copeland’s Firebird (2014) for encouragement
from a very successful ballerina. —Edie Ching