As predictable — and for some, just as welcome — as spring flowers, new spring books are sprouting up in bookstores around the country. To help readers sort through a couple of genres, we've reviewed three new children's books and two new YA novels that we feel stand out from the pack.
"A PUP CALLED TROUBLE," by Bobbie Pyron, Katherine Tegen Books, 208 pages, ages 8-12 (f)
Park City author Bobbie Pyron's charming book "A Pup Called Trouble" pays homage to the great animal classics of literature, but it is also a wonderful read in its own right. The story begins with a curious coyote pup appropriately named Trouble, who finds himself in back of a truck bound for a New York City farmer's market. There, he escapes into the mean streets of the Big Apple, meeting city animals, human friends and a few enemies in this fast-paced, surprisingly tender adventure story. Pyron has a knack for giving personality and voice to the animal characters who pepper these pages, but she also deftly adds in a bit of wisdom for we two-legged creatures as well, explaining that, "Humans did not see the unexpected, especially when they hold the small square things in their hands and against their heads." "A Pup Called Trouble" is worth taking time away from those "square things" and joining Pyron's menagerie. Given the many animals who come and go in the story, this would be an especially good book for families to read together aloud.
"A Pub Called Trouble" is suitable for all ages.
— Cristy Meiners
"THE HEART AND MIND OF FRANCES PAULEY," by April Stevens, Random House Children's Books, ages 8-12 (f)
"The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley" by April Stevens doesn't have much of a plot. There are no daring adventures to far away lands, no time travel or secret missions. But Frances — who prefers her made up name "Figgrotten" — doesn't need any of that. Between feeding the crows in her "rock world," talking to the school bus driver and reading the World Book Encyclopedia, she's pretty nearly perfectly happy. But a lot can change in the fifth grade, and before she knows it, Figgrotten's world is turned upside down. Learning how to cope with death, discovering how to make friends and navigating sibling rivalry are all issues she has to handle — and it isn't easy. But that's the beauty of this book. What "The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley" may be lacking in adventure, it compensates for in the honest emotions of a young girl who is trying her best to make sense of the world and to find her place in it. It's a lovely story from start to finish, one where young readers will reach the end without realizing how they got there.
"The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley" discusses difficult topics that may be best understood with adult guidance.
— Danielle Christensen
"THE MIDNIGHT GANG," David Walliams, HarperCollins, 480 pages, 8-12 years old (f)
Writer and actor David Walliams is a certified best-seller and children's book celebrity in his U.K. homeland, but his name and books are less well-known on this side of the Atlantic. Often compared to Roald Dahl — and not just because Dahl's 85-year-old genius illustrator Quentin Blake often does his books — Walliams has that wonderfully rare gift for writing the unexpected. Whereas most books — even well-written ones — tend to follow well-worth narrative paths, in Walliams' world, grannies steal the Crown Jewels or, in his recent book, "The Midnight Gang," burst out of a hospital roof clutching a bunch of balloons and wearing not much else. The book tells the story of Tom, a young school boy who wakes up in Lord Funt's Hospital with a bump on his head and proceeds to thwart the evil Matron and make his first real friends. It's basically a heartwarming, children's version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" with less sadism and more adorable characters. Although Williams' books are packed with adventure, witty dialogue and loveable types, what makes them most memorable are his messages of kindness and love that manage to leave readers feeling more generous towards the world.
"The Midnight Gang" is suitable for all ages.
— Cristy Meiners
"GENESIS," by Brendan Reichs, G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 512 pages, ages 12 and up (f)
Following the destruction of all life on earth, a class of 64 high school students have been digitally programmed into a computer simulation in their Idaho home town, where only the fittest will survive to repopulate the planet. In a world reminiscent the films "Battle Royale" (or the Hunger Games books) and "The Matrix," morals have become irrelevant, as anyone who "dies" is simply reset elsewhere in the landscape. In this sequel to Brendan Reichs' best-seller "Nemesis," Noah Livingston has become a zealot of the program, hunting down classmates and establishing a fledgling militia amidst the fighting of other established armed forces. Meanwhile, Min Wilder rebels against the program's directives, searching for a better solution to this program that doesn't involve bloodshed. In this action-packed, bloody and gritty account, Min and Noah struggle to discover the secrets of their artificial world that will lead them to the next phase (and book) of Project Nemesis.
"Genesis" contains descriptions of strong violence, and occasional cursing.
— Valarie Johnson
"THE QUEEN'S RISING," by Rebecca Ross, HarperTeen, 464 pages (f)
"The Queen's Rising" might initially make readers think they've just picked up another dull, slow-moving book about royals — kind of like a bad episode of "The Crown." But just as it starts to lull you into that false sense of security, the novel takes off, throwing readers into the middle of a "Game of Thrones" epic. The story centers on Brienna, a young woman who wants to master her passions and be accepted by a lord. But it's not long before she finds herself in the middle of a rebellion looking to overthrow a king — and she, it turns out, is the only one who wields the power to see the rebellion through. "The Queen's Rising" is thrilling to the last page, complete with all the makings of a fantasy epic — sword fights, magic, even dragons. It's a story that holds readers captive to the end, always presenting the right twists and just the right amount of intrigue to keep you reading late into the night. You won't be able to sleep on this beauty of a book.
"The Queen's Rising" contains descriptions of violence, including battle scenes, and some sexual content.
— Herb Scribner