Billy Creekmore by Tracey Porter (HarperCollins, $16.99, 320 pages) Ages 10 and up.
This marvelous yarn, set in rural West Virginia in the early 1900s, takes its inspiration from Oliver Twist and Huck Finn and the author's ancestors' experience battling the injustices of late 19th century capitalism. Billy Creekmore's epic adventure takes him from a Dickensian-style orphanage (where the only salvation lies in being sent to labor at the local glass factory) to a coal town to a traveling circus. The author shows the same gift for vivid storytelling and creating memorable characters as she did in "Treasures in the Dust." This would make a wonderful read-aloud.
Angelina's Island by Jeanette Winter (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $16).
A talented author-illustrator offers s tribute to Jamaica in this lovely story of a little girl who is transplanted to Manhattan and pines for her island home. The colorful folk art-style illustrations contrasting Jamaica and Manhattan (especially one of tiny figures dwarfed by skyscrapers) are marvelous.
Me, I Am! by Jack Prelutsky (pictures by Christine Davenier, Farrar Straus and Giroux, $16)
A poem originally printed in "The Random House Book of Poetry for Children" becomes a joyous celebration of identity and diversity through the artist's illustrations of three very different children.
Buzz (DK books, $19.99, 140 pages) Ages 7 and up.
DK publishers specialize in glitzy non-fiction books that make learning fun -- and give equal credit to page designers and writers. This fascinating book offers a breezy introduction to the insect world including a silk worm's life history, the difference between butterflies and moths, a recipe for a crispy mealworm stir-fry and soundchips on the cover of crickets chirping and bees buzzing.
The Princess and the Pea by Rachel Isadora (G.P. Putnam's, $16.99)
An African setting (the talented author-illustrator lived in Africa on and off for 10 years) adds an exotic and very colorful new dimension to this spirited retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
First Light by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, $15.99, 328 pages). Ages 10 and up.
This fascinating debut novel takes place at the top of the world, in Greenland, and tells the parallel stories of 12-year-old Peter, who is living in a tent with his parents on a research expedition, and Thea, who also lives in a frozen world, but has never seen the sun. Her people, suspected of witchcraft, had fled the surface for an underground world called Gracehope, built under the arctic ice and carefully sustained through innovative farming and carefully planned breeding. Thea and others are convinced that survival depends on finding a way to the surface, but can she defy her grandmother, who warns of the danger and disease that await in the world above? This masterful novel beautifully blends science and suspense, with intricate physical details of survival camping above-ground, a cautionary lesson about global warming, and imaginative but credible details of how human life might be sustained below the ice. The intricate plot, and its collision between the two worlds, comes to a most satisfying conclusion. And Stead's themes of community and the importance of embracing the unknown resonate in our world today. This has the makings of a classic.
-- Jean Westmoore