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The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Brangwain Spurge is an historian, and an elf.  Proud to research and document centuries of elvish beauty, elegance, transcendence, and (obvious) superiority, he is especially thrilled to have been chosen as emissary and ambassador for peace between his people and the goblins, with home the elves have long been at war.  Shot in a barrel via giant crossbow over the Bonecruel Mountains to the goblin capital city, Spurge’s mission is to deliver a recently discovered (in the the king’s new wading pool), ancient, goblin-made gemstone as a gift to the goblin king and overlord, Ghohg the Evil One.  While there, he is also to gather and send back information and intelligence on goblin society, culture, customs, and, oh yes, the source of their power.

Werfel is an archivist and a goblin.  He too is thrilled to have been chosen to host the elf as a guest in his home and show him the delights and marvelous history of goblin-kind, especially after the recent war between goblins and elves left so much devastation in its wake.  He is to entertain Magister Spurge and inspect the gemstone while they both await an audience with the goblin king, Ghohg the Protector.  Not an easy task, certainly, with centuries of war and distrust between their peoples, but Werfel is nothing if not an excellent host – and fully committed to upholding ancient goblin traditions of loyalty and honor.  Even if the honored guest is, Werfel is quite sure, not only spying and sending secret messages back to the elves, but supremely under-appreciative of goblin culture.  In fact, Magister Spurge is sanctimonious, sneering, superior, and completely annoying in almost every way, but a good host must soldier on.

The gemstone, however, is not what it seems, a fact that both Werfel and Brangwain are woefully unaware of.  When things come to a head and Brangwain and Werfel find themselves on the run from two kingdoms, will they be able to find a way to stop arguing, survive the Bonecruel Mountains, and save the world?

Elves?  Goblins?  A super-cute ichthyod (sort of a bat with tentacles – adorable!!)?  Award-winning authors of amazingness M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin teaming up to write a tale of a historian and an archivist caught up in centuries of war and distrust between two very different (or perhaps not so different) magical creatures?  Illustrations and prose combining to tell one epic story?  A book that can best be described as Tolkien meets Brian Selznick, with a lot of extra sarcasm? Yes, please!! I’ve been excited for this since I read the first reviews, and it was just as awesome as I wanted it to be.  Shortlisted for this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, this tale of first impressions, misunderstandings, and evil alien overlords that love to dance is the perfect blend of humor, (mis)adventure, snark, and sharp social commentary.  So sharpen your sword – and your wit – and get ready for a wild ride through the making of (goblin) history in The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge!

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Three friends.  Three lives.  Three futures.  One senior year.

Dill is sure that the only thing in his future is working full-time at the grocery store in his small, rural Tennessee town.  Buried in debt from his snake-handing preacher father’s trial and his mother’s car accident that ruined her health, Dill and his mom are going nowhere fast.  All he has is his guitar and his two best friends, Lydia and Travis.  And Lydia is leaving him behind as soon as she get out of their town.

A fashion blogger phenom, Lydia has been featured in the New York Times, which has won her exactly zero friends in her high school, but she could care less – her blog and her incredible grades are her ticket out of Tennessee and into NYU.  Until then, she’s going to while away her senior year at Forrestville High shopping at vintage thrift stores in Nashville, posting photos of her finds on her Instagram, driving around with Dill and Travis in her hand-me-down Prius to chill at the river and watch trains, and trying to convince Travis that a staff is not an acceptable fashion accessory.

Travis is obsessed with the fantasy series Bloodfall.  With the final novel coming out in the spring, all he cares about is re-reading the previous books in the series, chatting with his online friends in the forums, avoiding his angry father as much as possible, keeping his mom safe, and defying all Lydia’s scorn and carrying his staff with him everywhere they go – especially trendy thrifting in Nashville.

Winner of the 2017 Morris Award for debut authors, The Serpent King is a powerful tribute to friendship, family, and faith.  A slow burn of a novel, the story follows these three through their senior year as they fight for their right to a future of their own choosing.  With strong characters, adults both amazing and awful on both sides of the socioeconomic divide, a setting so richly imagined it sent me right back to high school in my own rural, Southern town, and a building tension thicker than a muddy, slow-moving Tennessee river, Dill, Lydia, and Travis will grab your hold of your heart and won’t let go.  I can’t wait to see what Jeff Zentner writes next!

A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson

“Brown-sugar boy in a blanket of white.
Bright as the day you came onto the page.”

I love The Snowy Day!  One of my absolute favorite children’s books, it tells the story of a little boy’s romp through the snow in his city neighborhood.  I also love hearing how authors get ideas and turn those ideas into books.  So when I started to see reviews for this biography in verse by the fabulous Andrea Davis Pinkney about Ezra Jack Keats and the creation of The Snowy Day, I was super excited to read it – and it was AMAZING.

“Like a snowflake you fell, right into our hearts.”

Jacob Ezra Katz was the son of two Polish Jewish immigrants who came to America to escape persecution in the early 20th century.  Born in New York, Ezra spent his childhood drawing, drawing, drawing everywhere and on everything he could, even though his parents couldn’t afford paints or pencils.  An art scholarship came to nothing when his father died the day before his high school graduation, but Jack was able to make a living through his art with the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration.  After the WPA, the young artist spent some time illustrating comics before serving in the United States Air Force during World War II.  But before that, Jack saw a series of photos of in Life magazine of a small African American boy who was sweet-cheeked and laughing, and he saved those pictures for more than twenty years before pulling them back out and creating The Snowy Day, going on to win the Caldecott Medal in 1963 for the first book he both wrote and illustrated.

“Yes, you, Peter child, bubbled up in this man, now free to discover the truth of your colors: The here-I-am Red.  The look-at-me Yellow. The proud-to-be Brown.”

Groundbreaking not only for its sweet, African American protagonist proudly featured on the cover, but also for its urban setting, Ezra Jack Keats brought small, joyful, red-snow-suited Peter bounding into the lives and hearts of a generation just starting to break the color barrier.  Written as a poem addressed to Peter, the little boy romps through the pages of Jack’s story.

“Yes, you.  A bright-hooded hero, snow-suited crusader, crunching through your own quiet tundra of discovery.”

The warmth and light of both Jack and Peter shine through the pages of this marvelous tribute to a great man and a boy full of fun.  Don’t miss this beautifully written, gorgeously illustrated biography!