Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb (Delacorte Press, $15.99, 256 pages). Ages 14 and up.
This painfully honest, often hilariously funny and heartrendingly sad novel from a gifted writer explores a 15-year-old girl's struggle to come to terms with her mother's unexpected death and is based on Raab's own experience losing her mother. Unbearable loss and the hole in her family circle compound the normal coming-ofage battles Mia faces with friends, with dating and growing into adulthood. Mia's black humor and fresh insights about grief and healing leaven the sorrow. The author includes a poignant afterword about her own experience, losing first her mother and then her father at a tender age.
This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman (illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, Houghton Mifflin, $16)
This lovely and heartfelt collection of poems offers a chorus of voices in a classroom and their secret hopes and wishes and worries, framed as the work of a teacher and her sixth grade class project.
Here's a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry (collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Polly Dunbar, Candlewick Press, $21.99.)
This marvelous collection features 60 poems, from Lillian Moore, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein and more, printed on large child-friendly pages with colorful, exuberant illustrations. They range from the lyrical and charming "Baby fingers" by Nikki Grimes to "Mud" by Flanders and Swann: "Mud, mud, glorious mud, Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood..."
Animal Poems by Valerie Worth (pictures by Steve Jenkins, Farrar Straus Giroux, $17).
Jenkins' glorious cut-paper illustrations are paired with marvelous effect with Worth's elegant free-verse portraits of 23 animals. (She writes of the snail and "the bare stone spiral of his one unlighted stairwell" and the whale ("his whole hill of flesh floats easily in the sea").
Your Own, Sylvia: a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill (Alfred A. Knopf, $15.99, 246 pages). Ages 12 and up.
Poet Stephanie Hemphill draws from Sylvia Plath's journals and letters and from other source material to brilliantly craft a portrait of the artist in poetry, through the voices of her family, friends and others. It's brilliantly done, following Plath from infancy to her suicide at age 30. Notes on each page explain each poem's relation to Plath's life.
To Go Singing through the World: the Childhood of Pablo Neruda by Deborah Kogan Ray (Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, $17).
A gifted author-illustrator weaves Neruda's own poetry and prose into this beautifully written picture book about the childhood of the Chilean poet, who grew up a shy, stuttering boy in a wild frontier town and whose talent was discovered by poet Gabriela Mistral when she became principal of a school in Temaco, Chile.
Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple (illustrated by Brooke Dyer, HarperCollins, $15.99). Ages 3 to 6.
This charming book is part lullaby and part science lesson, visiting the bear, the gopher, the frog, the bat, even the snake ("Nap, little snakes nap, Heads and tails overlap, one big tangle keeps you warm...") during their winter sleep. Dyer's whimsical illustrations are lovely.
Terrible Storm by Carol Otis Hurst (pictures by S.D. Schindler, Greenwillow Books, $16.99). Ages 5 to 8.
A gifted storyteller and illustrator combine their talents in this entertaining picture book about the 1888 blizzard that blanketed the Northeast with snow drifts more than 50 feet deep in some places. The author relies on her grandfathers' experience of the blizzard as young men in Westfield, Mass., to draw a vivid picture of the storm - and to examine how differently two people can view the same event.
Ghost Ship: A Cape Cod Story by Mary Higgins Clark (illustrated by Wendell Minor, Simon & Schuster, $17.99). Ages 6 to 10.
The best-selling mystery novelist offers an entertaining yarn about Cape Cod history in the form of a boy who finds an old belt buckle on the beach and conjures up the ghost of a cabin boy who tells of "mooncussers" who lured ships toward rocks. A picture book is not the best format for a ghost story, but Minor's illustrations offer a vivid trip into the past.
- Jean Westmoore