In this not-quite wordless, evocatively illustrated book, Laura Vaccaro Seeger explores the idea of blue as a color and as a feeling, with its themes of loyalty, sadness, calm and hope. A very young boy and a puppy sleep, sharing a comforting piece of baby-blue blanket. A slightly bigger puppy exits the scene of bright yellow paint spilled across a child’s blue painting. Boy and dog play together at the beach as ocean-blue waves roll invitingly toward them. Seeger’s rich, layered acrylic paintings and 16 two-word phrases form a poem about a particularly sweet lifelong friendship. Inserted subtly into each page is a die-cut peek into the next shade of blue, cleverly forming a narrative continuity with the pictures and coaxing the reader to anticipate what comes next. With its gentle portrayal of love and loss and its deep sense of emotion, “Blue” (Roaring Brook, Ages 3 to 6 ) will resonate with readers in a way that is musical, meditative and reassuring.
Hope Cemetery in Worcester, Mass., is the first stop in “Hey, Kiddo” (Scholastic, Ages 12 and up), Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s powerful graphic memoir. His grandfather Joe has taken him there for two reasons — to teach him to drive without killing anyone (“everybody is already dead”) and to visit the graves of Jarrett’s great-grandparents. When he’s not inhaling a cigarette, Joe Krosoczka tries to see and tell it like it is. (The book does not hold back on his language — or anyone else’s.) His attentiveness helped Jarrett Krosoczka find his way as an artist and handle his mother’s heroin addiction and his father’s absence. Although it’s told in dark tones, with an occasional pop of burnt-orange color, “Hey, Kiddo” is far from a despairing memoir. The book, a National Book Award finalist, features photographs of happy moments, letters Krosoczka’s mother sent him and artwork they created. Krosoczka emerges stronger through every chapter, no longer the kiddo beset by nightmares. Best known for lighthearted favorites such as the “Lunch Lady” and the “Platypus Police Squad” series, here Krosoczka movingly reveals the complicated origins of his humor and art.
A year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Shirin, a Muslim teenager, feels she has “become a talking point; a statistic. ” The daughter of “proud Iranian immigrants,” Shirin just wants to keep her head down and guard up at her new high school, but she meets resistance from her biology lab partner, Ocean James. He’s tall, athletic and popular, with a “Ken-Barbie face” and a desire to know Shirin. She finds herself drawn to Ocean’s open, trusting nature and his longing to break free of a scripted life. Long accustomed to racist slurs, Shirin warns Ocean of the danger of going public with their relationship, but Ocean feels they have nothing to hide. When the school and community turn on them, the two deal very differently with the mounting hostility. Tahereh Mafi, known for her fantasy and dystopian novels, proves a master of the contemporary realistic novel, as well, with“A Very Large Expanse of Sea” (HarperTeen, Age 13 and up) longlisted for a National Book Award. Shirin’s first-person voice bristles with anger, wit and pain. Even as the fraught love story drives the short chapters to a surprising close, Mafi weaves in moments of camaraderie and joy as Shirin learns to break-dance with her older brother and shares a playful Thanksgiving with her family and Ocean.
On Wednesday at 7 p.m., Tahereh Mafi will read from and discuss “A Very Large Expanse of Sea” at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW.