(published in the News and Observer, August 20, 2017)
I avoid series that have numbers as their most distinguishing feature. I adore those in which characters grow, plots expand or I can return to locales I love.
In Kes and Claire Gray’s “Frog On A Log?” animals must sit on objects or creatures that rhyme with their classification. That leaves frog squished and splintery as he sits on a log and is sat on by a dog. Frog returns in “Dog on a Frog?” and is “changing the rules.” So begins another round of ridiculousness as frog announces the new world order. Gnus will sit on canoes, slugs will sit on plugs and where will frog sit? There’s another laugh-aloud ending. Both books are from Scholastic, ages 4 and up.
Aaron Blecha’s “Good Morning, Grizzle Grump!” provides as much read-aloud pleasure as “Goodnight, Grizzle Grump.” At last view, Grizzle Grump was headed toward hibernation. In the sequel, he’s “in search of a springtime snack.” Alliteration, noises, refrains and humor follow him from the start to final twist. Both books are from Harper, ages 3-6.
Julia Donaldson pens “The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat” (Candlewick, ages 4 and up), continuing the tale begun by Edward Lear as a bird flies off with the couple’s wedding ring. Donaldson has Lear’s passion for word play and invention. She uses similar rhythms, rhymes and refrains, nonsense words (the runcible spoon is back!), and familiar quirky characters. Charlotte Voake illustrates both books, creating heirloom companions.
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s sequel, “The War I Finally Won,” like “The War That Saved My Life,” is captivating and award-worthy. In the first book, the heroine Ada, suffers from a club foot and her Mam’s cruelty. She and her brother are saved by a WWII evacuation from London to Kent, where they are nurtured by Susan. The sequel makes it clear that Ada’s healing can’t be tied up quickly in one book. She needs more experiences and tenderness. The second book begins as Ada’s foot is fixed and her mother dies. Still, it’s not easy for Ada to escape the barbed self-protection she’s established to counteract her Mam’s abuse. Gradually and believably, Ada risks pain and difficulty to broaden her learning and compassion. Again, the emotional strength is stunning as is the author’s wit and eloquence. Both books are from Dial, ages 10 and up.
Those who wept at the fate of Julie, the heroine of “Code Name Verity,” will delight in meeting her 15-year-old self in Elizabeth Wein’s prequel, “The Pearl Thief.” Julie, saddened at the sale of her family’s Scottish estate, is soon embroiled in several mysteries. She’s attacked and can’t remember what happened to her, or a murder victim, or her grandfather’s stolen river pearls. Rescued by two sibling Travellers, Julie comes to envy their gypsy freedom, is angered by prejudice against them, and confused by her attraction to both. Nearing the book’s end, tensions heighten as twists and turns multiply, but the pacing’s speed never diminishes the emotions or author’s elegant language. Both are from Hyperion, ages 14 and up.