rich in descriptions of the natural world that
Cara loves, as well as intricate climbing se-
quences which describe so much more than
the struggle to conquer a rock wall. A cast
of complex secondary characters help Cara
find her balance and her way back home.
This thoughtful novel rises above the label
of “sports book” to a contemplative explo-
ration of how we grieve and move forward.
By Cecily von Ziegesar.
Sept. 2016. 336p. Soho Teen, $18.99 (9781616955175).
Since the deaths of her beloved grandmoth-
er and her grandmother’s horse, Merritt has
been out of control. The final straw comes
when she walks out in the middle of the SAT
and is sent to Good Fences, an equine thera-
py program, where she meets Red, an angry,
destructive ex-racehorse, and bonds with
him when no one else can. Soon the two
are excelling on the show circuit, but things
still slip out of Merritt’s control as she bal-
ances growing attractions to Beatrice, Red’s
groom, and Carvin, a competing rider. In
an homage to Black Beauty, the first-person
narration is split between Merritt and Red.
The horse’s narration can be perplexing (he’s
oddly familiar with U.S. landmarks and pop
culture), and his animosity—and unhorsely
murderous tendencies—toward Merritt’s
potential love interests is often uncomfort-
ably absurd. Still, though Merritt’s overnight
transition into a top jumper strains credu-
lity, the competitive riding world is always a
draw, and this is an intriguing look into its
dark side. If that weren’t enough, von Zieg-
esar’s (the Gossip Girl series) name alone will
spur readers. —Maggie Reagan
By Paula Garner.
Sept. 2016. 368p. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763682057).
It’s been three years since Otis’ little brother
died under mysterious circumstances, and
Meg, Otis’ best friend and first love, moved
away. Otis, grieving and confused, threw him-
self into swimming, catching the eye of Dara,
a former Olympic hopeful whose own swim-
ming dreams were dashed when she lost an
arm. Dara’s determined to turn Otis into the
Olympic swimmer she can no longer be, but
for the most part, he’s just going through the
motions until Meg, who has been out of touch
since she left, comes back to town, turning his
world upside down and making him question
what really happened three years ago. Otis’
journey—as a competitive swimmer and as a
grieving brother—is a poignant one, although
beautiful, troubled, dream-girl Meg reads a
little flat. It’s tough-talking, reckless Dara who
will intrigue readers. Her struggles with her
father, her sexuality, and the dreams deferred
because of her accident complement Otis’
story, elevating this to a narrative as much
about human connection as it is about sports.
Wired Man and Other Freaks of
By Sashi Kaufman.
Sept. 2016. 264p. Carolrhoda/Lab, $17.99
(9781467785631). Gr. 9–12.
Ben Wireman’s last name is a constant
reminder that his hearing aids always make
him stand out in a crowd, and for all the
wrong reasons. Nevertheless, he’s been able
to carve out a niche, thanks to his starting
Just because a kid isn’t into sports per se doesn’t mean he or she is lacking a competitive spirit. These three new picture books
feature protagonists involved in more off-the-radar contest.
Fox and the Jumping Contest.
By Corey R. Tabor. Illus. by the author.
Oct. 2016. 32p. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $17.99 (9780062398741). PreS–Gr. 1.
Rather than train for the upcoming jumping contest, Fox decides
to build a jet pack that blends in with his fur, because “when you’re a
fox, every contest is a scheming contest.” The day of the competition,
Fox joins the other animals hoping to win the
jumping trophy. Frog leaps first, impressing the
judges with his style. Next comes Turtle, whose
minuscule hop exceeds everyone’s expectations.
Jumping isn’t really Elephant’s thing, so she
strikes a dashing pose instead. Bear jumps with
a ferocious roar, and Rabbit’s long ears help pro-
pel him far afield. Finally, Fox takes his place at
the starting line and blasts into the sky, literally
smoking the competition. Unfortunately, his jet pack scheme back-
fires slightly, giving him too much height. Tabor’s picture-book debut
doesn’t carry a lesson as such, but it does have plenty of laughs and
utterly sweet illustrations. His gentle colored-pencil-and-watercolor
artwork is digitally enhanced, and the animals’ faces are wonder-
fully expressive. While Fox’s friends aren’t pleased to learn about his
scheme, things (mostly) work out in the end. —Julia Smith
The Grizzly Bear Who Lost His GRRRRR!
By Rob Biddulph. Illus. by the author.
Nov. 2016. 40p. Harper, $17.99 (9780062367259). PreS–Gr. 1.
Fred, reigning Best Bear in the Woods champ, is in fine form
for this year’s competition. He can snatch fish from the stream like
nobody’s business. Hula-Hooping is a breeze. As for frightening the
socks off of picnicking humans, don’t even worry about it. Fred’s
greatest talent, however, is his resounding grrrrr! In fact, Fred is so
focused on staying in tip-top shape that he doesn’t have time for
anything else, including making friends. His gleaming trophy col-
lection makes up for this fact, though—or does it? On the eve of
the competition, a mustachioed blue bear arrives and steals Fred’s
famous roar while the grizzly sleeps. The next
morning a team of woodland creatures rallies
to help Fred search for his roar, but to no avail.
Can he still be Best Bear without his grrrrr Bid-
dulph’s humorous take on competition carries a
winning message about the value of friendship.
The rhyming text has a singsong cadence ideal
for reading aloud, and the vibrant, cartoonlike
illustrations will score lots of laughs with their
amusing details. —Julia Smith
Janine and the Field Day Finish.
By Maryann Cocca-Leffler. Illus. by the author.
Oct. 2016. 32p. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (9780807537565). PreS–Gr. 1.
Cocca-Leffler’s slouchy-socked, pigtailed character, introduced in
Janine (2015), brings her characteristic self-confidence and enthu-
siasm to this follow-up title about field day. Janine knows her body
doesn’t work as well as other kids’, but she’s ready
for field day anyway, from the froufrou good-
luck ribbons adorning her red sneakers to the
kicky cheer she’s invented to spur everyone on.
Her classmate Abby, however, is not impressed:
“You’re going to need more than luck . . .
because I’m going to win.” Abby’s strategy for
winning the race—shoving everyone out of
her way—backfires when she trips and ends
up in last place with Janine, but, thanks to Janine’s good-natured
attitude, she’s eager to help in spite of Abby’s earlier comments, and
together they limp across the finish line. Cocca-Leffler’s expressive,
colorful illustrations capture Janine’s irrepressible spirit, and while
she never names her disability, she gently explains the ways Janine is
a little different from her classmates. With a heartening lesson about
friendship, competition, and what constitutes winning, this encour-
aging picture book nicely demonstrates the value of confidence and
generosity. —Sarah Hunter
ON THE BENCH