Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan; Penguin Random House, $16.99. Ages 8 to 12. Jan 31 publication
This fabulously entertaining novel, rich in both humor and heart, was inspired by Holly Goldberg Sloan’s childhood experience playing a Munchkin in a summer theater production of “The Wizard of Oz.” It was also inspired by her experience being the shortest girl in her class every year until seventh-grade. Julia Marks, who narrates the tale, sees some pluses to being short (“I’m still small enough to fit through the dog door at home if we accidentally get locked out”), but it’s her mother’s idea that she audition for a role as a Munchkin in a regional theater production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Julia’s musings throughout are often laugh-out-loud funny as this one as she prepares to audition: “We all make our own choices, except of course when it comes to the big things. Those decisions seem to be made for us, which is why I’m standing here.” Julia instantly takes a shine to the director, Shawn Barr, who takes notice of her take-charge attitude and gives her an additional role, playing a flying monkey in the show. Through her experience in the production and her friendships with cast member Olive, an adult with dwarfism, and an elderly neighbor – who turns out to be a surprising asset to the show – Julia discovers a new sense of self even as she grieves the loss of her beloved dog, Ramon. The details of what it’s like to be in a dramatic production (including a disastrous opening night for the Munchkin chorus, that draws the attention of the local newspaper critic) are both entertaining and fascinating. Julia Marks will leave you cheering by the end.
A Greyhound, A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Chris Appelhans; Schwartz & Wade Books; $17.99.
Emily Jenkins’ exuberant, tongue-twisting wordplay (“A groundhog, a greyhound, a grey little round hound. A greyhound, a groundhog, a found little roundhog”) and Chris Appelhans’ charming watercolors combine for one rollicking good time in this amusing picture book about two unlikely friends, who chase around in circles, scaring up butterflies in one particularly lovely page, until they wear themselves out. The author of lovely picture book “Toys Meet Snow” and related chapter book series “Toys Go Out” notes that this book “owes a debt of inspiration and rhythm” to Ruth Krauss’ “A Very Special House.”
Jubilee by Patricia Reilly Giff; Wendy Lamb Books, 160 pages, $16.99. Ages 8 to 12.
Patricia Reilly Giff, who won Newbery Honors for “Lily’s Crossing” and “Pictures of Hollis Woods,” crafts another perfect gem of a novel in this poignant story of a girl, abandoned by her mother and raised by her aunt, and her struggle to find her voice again. Giff has an extraordinary gift for understanding a child’s perspective, as Judith struggles with the certainty she is somehow to blame for her mother’s departure. The novel is decorated with Judith’s amusing cartoons, as she uses her gift for drawing to communicate. Along with a memorable cast of characters including Aunt Cora, Gideon the ferry captain, sympathetic new teacher Ms. Quirk and even Judith’s dog (named Dog), Giff offers a picturesque setting, on an island off the Maine coast (complete with a storm that sends islanders to take shelter in the church).