Darwin and the True Story of the Dinosaurs by Luca Novelli, Chicago Review Press, 124 pages ($9.99, paperback). Ages 7 to 10. (Also, Newton and the Antigravity Formula, Einstein and the Time Machine, Leonardo da Vinci and the Pen That Drew the Future).
Goldfish Ghost by Lemony Snicket,illustrations by Lisa Brown; Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, $17.99.
The author of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" series brings his wonderfully skewed and original perspective to this unusual exploration of the afterlife featuring a goldfish who has gone belly up in the fishbowl. The journey begins: "Goldfish Ghost was born on the surface of the water in a bowl on the dresser in a boy's room." Finding himself alone, the goldfish drifts off through an open window in search of company, but "it can be hard to find the company you are looking for." The journey takes him over screeching gulls at the pier, the busy seaside town, the beach, the ocean, until he finds the company he is seeking in the book's perfect conclusion. The writing is lovely and Lisa Brown's whimsical India ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly complement the storytelling. Across from the title page is a quotation in faint white type, a Snicket trademark. "I can't believe you are gone out of my life/ So you are not" /Andre Lorde. Snicket's first picture book, "The Dark," won the Charlotte Zolotow Award
This slim little book, amply illustrated with amusing cartoons, photographs, maps and paintings, offers a kid-friendly, entertaining and informative exploration of Charles Darwin and his ideas, and places him squarely in the context of the period in which he lived. How interesting to note that the giant creatures whose fossil remains were being unearthed were viewed as antediluvian monsters - animals drowned in the Great Flood described in the Bible. Kids will be drawn in immediately by the funny, chatty manner in which Darwin tells his own story, as he describes his boyhood love of collecting shells and minerals, the strange chemical experiments that landed him the nickname "Gas," his father's failed attempts to interest him in becoming a doctor or cleric. ("So, I do little or nothing until I am 16.") The life-changing voyage aboard the Beagle makes for riveting reading. This and the three other books in this marvelous Flashes of Genius series are the creative work of Luca Novelli, a writer, artist and journalist who won the Anderson Award in 2004 for popularizing science. Every science book should be this interesting.
Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han; Simon & Schuster 325 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.
Smart, pretty, popular Lara Jean Song Covey seems to have it all, but that doesn't mean her senior year of high school is free of angst in this charming conclusion to Jenny Han's best-selling Song Sisters trilogy ("To All the Boys I've Loved Before" and "P.S. I Still Love You"). Hann has an unerring ear for dialogue and this lovely romance features plenty of drama as Lara Jean worries about the seismic changes coming in her life as she and her boyfriend head off to college - changes she already watched her older sister Margot experience. Meanwhile at home, her widowed father is finally getting married to their across-the-street neighbor, Trina Rothschild. This novel is sweet, but not saccharine, and amid Lara Jean's quest to bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie and plan the perfect wedding are universal truths about struggling to find your own path amid the pressure of family expectation.