In The Journey (Flying Eye, Ages 5-8) Francesca Sanna takes a potentially sad and scary idea — leaving home forever for a new land — and tells it both fully and gently . Here war forces a small family — a mother and two children — to flee an unnamed country. “One day the war took my father,” the child narrator says, and now they must leave to find safety. Sanna imbues the tale with details gleaned from true refu­gee stories, and her art — with abstract lines and sweeping curves, geometrical, angular figures and warm, muted colors — conveys every emotional moment. Dark shadows of war are echoed later by the dark, hulking shape of a man who takes money to help the family get past a wall at a border; a deep sea full of bright creatures lurks below the boat that becomes their fragile home for a time. “The further we go the more we leave behind,” says the narrator, simply and poignantly. “The Journey” offers a beautiful message to readers — young and old alike — about the difficulties of finding a new home, and the value of welcoming strangers once they arrive.

Kathie Meizner

"The Polar Bear," by Jenni Desmond (Enchanted Lion )

Jenni Desmond’s The Polar Bear (Enchanted Lion, Ages 4 to 8) is full of fresh perspectives. In one of its gorgeous double-page spreads, a polar bear peers into the expanse of ice and ocean beneath the surface as a small seal heads up through the cold waters to its all-but-certain fate. As in her previous book, “The Blue Whale,” here Desmond adds some wit and whimsy to her fact-based presentation. Both books begin with a red-crowned child dipping into a book about the subject at hand, and this child can be found in many of the scenes that follow. At one point in “Polar Bear,” this inside-the-story reader laughingly raises one arm to cover herself from a polar bear shaking its wet fur. In such scenes, the bear seems a bit like a very large dog, but Desmond makes clear in other places that the polar bear and its habitat are quite extraordinary. Adult polar bears, she points out, can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and their eyes have an extra layer that works “like a pair of built-in sunglasses.” A perfect book to cuddle up with this winter, “The Polar Bear” is second in a series about majestic and endangered species; Desmond plans to embrace the elephant next.

Abby McGanney Nolan

"Siren Sisters," by Dana Langer (Aladdin)

The Salt sisters of Dana Langer’s spellbinding first novel have a secret power that seems tied to their mother’s recent, tragic death: They lure ships to their doom off the rocky coast of contemporary Maine with songs as sweet as “strawberry lemonade.” When Siren Sisters (Aladdin, Ages 9-13) begins, Lolly Salt has only a week before she turns 13 and comes under thrall, like her three siblings, to the destructive Sea Witch. And to complicate matters, the bullying stepfather of her best friend, Jason, vows to hunt down the source of the shipwrecks. Are the sirens lovely monsters, or the Sea Witch’s “protectors of the sea”? This fantasy explores the backstory of victims of a witch trial in Maine in 1692 and the ruinous nature of large-scale commercial fishing. Lolly is a relatable, often disorganized seventh-grader who is trying to navigate middle school and connect with a musician father unmoored by grief. The first-person narrative is grounded beautifully in the small joys of daily life, including sisterly camaraderie and Lolly’s newly tender feelings for quiet Jason. When the girl unravels the family secrets at the heart of her fate, the reader can truly appreciate her final, difficult decision.

Mary Quattlebaum