— Kathie Meizner
Two new picture books immerse young readers in the ocean. In Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere (Little, Brown; ages 5 to 9), Barb Rosenstock tells a little-known true story about Otis Barton and Will Beebe, who dared to explore the ocean depths inside a hollow metal ball that Barton had designed. When they teamed up, in the late 1920s, no person had survived a depth beyond a few hundred feet. Katherine Roy’s engaging watercolor illustrations capture both the cramped quarters of the Bathysphere (its interior diameter was 4½ feet) and the revelatory views of creatures 800 feet below the surface. With Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible Alvin (Charlesbridge, ages 5 to 9), Michelle Cusolito takes readers on a “you are there” mission to examine the site of once-active underwater volcanoes: “Animals here thrive in toxic chemicals, blistering temperatures, and intense pressure. But you’re safe inside Alvin.” The machine called Alvin can fit only one additional person than the Bathysphere did, but it goes much deeper (more than 14,000 feet, or almost three miles). Nicole Wong’s detailed digital illustrations add an exciting immediacy to the descent and to the glowing wonders of the deep.
— Abby McGanney Nolan
Twelve-year-old Claudia Dalton’s passion for puzzles becomes a high-stakes pursuit when her usually dependable father goes into hiding in The Jigsaw Jungle (Putnam, ages 10 and up), an ingeniously plotted middle-grade novel by Kristin Levine. Soon after he disappears with no explanation, Dad mails a clue — a single puzzle piece — to Claudia at the home of her paternal grandfather, Papa, in Alexandria, Va., where she is staying for part of the summer. This clue is the key to the next in a series carefully constructed by Dad; Claudia and Papa follow each to learn more about Dad when he was her age. Claudia also collects recent emails, receipts, fliers and transcripts of phone conversations and old home movies into a thick scrapbook. Like the protagonist, the reader must piece together clues and insights hidden in these materials. At the heart of this mystery is a secret Dad has kept for years: He is a deeply closeted gay man. Levine handles this revelation with sensitivity and skill. Though times may have changed by 2015, when this novel is set, Claudia becomes more aware of the discrimination suffered by gay people a generation ago, which informed some of Dad’s choices. Levine’s previous three books have been lauded for their nuanced exploration of complex subjects, including racial tensions (“The Lions of Little Rock”) and mental illness and bullying (“The Paper Cowboy”). With this one, she also develops tween and adult characters with compassion and depth, as they evolve a better understanding of a family that can be “both great and broken, all at the same time.”
— Mary Quattlebaum
CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS