With his big round eyes, toothy grin and fizzy energy, little Tommy is a character easily recognizable to both parent and child. He leaps, kicks and stomps — quite literally bringing down the house. “ ‘I’m an elephant!’ Tommy calls when he clomps./ ‘I’m an antelope!’ he hollers when he hurdles.” His worn-out family, though fond of him, finds him more than a bit irritating and can’t seem to find a way to contain his energy. A chart on the wall lists several ideas, each crossed off, while Tommy dashes down a nearby hallway. His sister suggests a tap class, but Tommy worries he’ll be surrounded by tutus. His fears go unrealized. Instead, his wonderful teacher translates the boy’s unbridled energy into dance steps. The teacher bounces (“I call this a HOP”) and kicks (“I call this a BRUSH”). When she leads the class in leaping, “Tommy leaps l-o-n-g-e-s-t!” Here, it’s okay if Tommy can’t stop: He’s got talent! Mark Fearing’s goggle-eyed characters and cartoon illustrations suit this light-hearted tale, with every page full of color and action. There’s a bit of autobiography in Tommy’s story: Author Tim Federle began dancing as a child and was in the Broadway cast of “The Little Mermaid.” But you don’t have to be theater-bound to appreciate how Tommy turns his kinetic joy into purposeful motion.
Phillip Hoose’s compelling book tells the little-known story of a group of Nazi resisters in Denmark known as the Churchill Club. One of those young rebels, Knud Pedersen, who was 14 in 1940, stands boldly at the center of the book, narrating his tale in extensive first-person recollections. Inspired by the brave fighters of Norway and the Royal Air Force as well as the stirring speeches of Winston Churchill, Pedersen and his older brother began a campaign of anti-Nazi sabotage with a group of like-minded boys. Pedersen, who died in December, shares vivid memories of his group’s daring acts, from smashing signs to stealing weapons. Most of the young men, including him, were eventually jailed, but their courageous efforts inspired the development of a stronger resistance movement. Hoose’s enlightening book contains plenty of tense moments but also features some lighter anecdotes. (At one point, the teens discover that the box they stole from a German barracks building contains dirty underwear, not gunpowder.) The book is a powerful testament to the brave acts of young people who risked their lives for the sake of their country.
Savage boy soldiers, brutalized girls, ruthless leaders: “An Ember in the Ashes,” the first novel by Sabaa Tahir, may be a fantasy set in an empire similar to that of ancient Rome, but its barbarism resonates beyond any particular historical moment. In this gripping dual narrative, Tahir (a former editor for The Washington Post) alternates chapters between Laia, a slave girl and spy, and Elias, an assassin in training since the age of 6. Their paths increasingly cross when Laia volunteers to serve the sadistic commander of Elias’s military school, who is also his mother. The plot thrusts and turns as swiftly as Elias’s flashing scimitar. Laia seeks the help of the Resistance to free her imprisoned brother but soon becomes ensnared in the group’s larger plans. And Elias, although yearning to desert, must battle through a series of trials that will determine the next emperor. As they contend with their separate roles under a vicious regime, both characters emerge as sympathetic, especially Laia. She is no sword-wielding heroine but a terrified teenager unskilled in duplicity or self-defense yet determined to rescue her brother. This novel is a harrowing, haunting reminder of what it means to be human — and how hope might be kindled in the midst of oppression and fear.
By Tim Federle. Illustrations by Mark Fearing
Disney Hyperion. $16.99.
Ages 3 to 5
Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
By Phillip Hoose
Farrar Straus Giroux. $19.99. Ages 12 and up
By Sabaa Tahir
Razorbill. $19.95. Age 14 and up