A resourceful boy outwits a gluttonous snake in Daniel Bernstrom’s rollicking, rhyming tall tale “One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree” (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, Ages 3-5). The untroubled young hero is just having a pleasant stroll — “whirly-twirly toy” in hand — when he is gobbled up whole by a “sneaky-slidey” snake that slips from among the leaves of the eucalyptus tree. The clever child loudly suggests from inside the snake’s dark belly that perhaps the snake is still a bit hungry. Bernstrom’s spirited variation on cumulative tales of hyperbolic consumption begs to be read aloud, and Brendan Wenzel’s sly and delightful digital illustration is filled with a matching cartoony exuberance. The hilariously expressive characters, with their bright, goggling eyes and cheerful colors, show a range of surprise, concern and confusion as the greedy snake swallows them one by one. A napping cat, a sloth sipping tea, a bear with “qually-wally” hair, and various other denizens of the tree all succumb to the snake’s toothy jaws and join one another in the snake’s belly. The snake’s susceptibility to the boy’s crafty insistence that perhaps it could eat one more “something small” eventually results in a not unexpected yet amusing comeuppance. Young listeners will giggle over and repeat the marvelously silly phrases even as they root for the boy — someone their size who can master a scary situation with aplomb.
— Kathie Meizner
“This Land Is Our Land ” (Abrams, Ages 10 to 14) is a clear-eyed history of American immigration — an important subject for any kid who has been paying attention to this year’s presidential election, and perhaps even more so for those who haven’t been. This sweeping, wonderfully illustrated narrative looks at both the high and low points of U.S. policies and attitudes. Author Linda Barret Osborne begins with her own ancestral heritage — eight great-grandparents who emigrated from Italy in the late 19th century — then returns to the Colonial period, when now-familiar patterns of fear and prejudice started to take hold. There were difficulties in the various journeys here, and in many cases, the troubles continued after arrival. Osborne’s tone is measured, with an eye toward explaining rather than faulting, as she recounts how nativists and others reacted, sometimes violently, against German, Irish, Southern and Eastern European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern and Latino immigration. There are no easy solutions going forward, Osborne acknowledges, but she suggests that the conversation be continued with respect and compassion.
— Abby McGanney Nolan
Meredith Russo’s “If I Was Your Girl” (Flatiron, Ages 13 and up) has many of the typical elements of a coming-of-age novel — a teenager moves to a new town, tries to make friends, adjust to her environment, all the while hiding a secret from her past. But this touching novel has another twist. Its narrator, Amanda Hardy, was once Andrew Hardy. Amanda plans to finish her senior year and attend college in New York City, where she might finally feel safe and accepted for who she is. But her self-described “complicated” life becomes even more complicated when she befriends a few girls and becomes attracted to a boy named Grant. This is a time of tentative, joyous milestones for Amanda: first girls’ sleepover, first beer, first kiss. It’s a welcome blossoming after the difficult days of her past — including a suicide attempt and a complex relationship with a father whose love is often masked by shame and vigilance. Amanda is “tired of hiding” but terrified of being hurt emotionally and physically. Russo, a transgender woman, offers a vivid portrait of a teenager finding her place in a world that can be dismissive of, even violent to, women and trans people. In the roiling aftermath of a high school dance, Amanda discovers her true friends and a strength she didn’t realize she possessed. As this compassionate love story unfolds, Amanda’s assertion of her “best, most complete self” becomes the most important story of all.
— Mary Quattlebaum