Leave Me Alone! By Vera Brosgol; Roaring Brook Press; $17.99
An author-illustrator born in Moscow weaves something new and entirely original from familiar fairy tale elements in this charming Russian-flavored picture book about a cranky grandmother “who lived in a small village in a small house with a very big family” and who wishes only to find a quiet place to finish her knitting before winter arrives. (The old woman is pictured holding a pile of balls of yarn, scowling at a single leaf falling from a tree, before she is besieged by a rowdy army of children.)
Her search for a quiet place to do her knitting takes her into the forest, where she is bothered by bears (Her plea: “Leave me alone” makes no impact “because bears don’t speak English”); into the mountains to be troubled by goats; then all the way to the moon, where she finds “a rock that was shaped like a chair” but is harassed by little green moon men (but they “couldn’t hear her, because they didn’t have ears”). She finally finds peace traveling through a wormhole to a void where it was “very dark and very, very quiet. It was PERFECT”).
In the utter darkness she knits the 30 sweaters, sweeps the void “until it was a nice matte black,” has a cup of tea from her samovar, then returns home through another wormhole. The rollicking illustrations and the sly humor are wonderful.
Ugly by Robert Hoge, a memoir; illustrated by Keith Robinson; Viking, 200 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 and up.
“I’m the ugliest person you’ve never met,” declares Robert Hoge in this extraordinary memoir of courage and resilience in the face of incredible obstacles. He was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1972, with a tumor the size of a tennis ball in the middle of his face and short, twisted legs. His shocked mother refused at first to even take him home from the hospital. Surgeons removed the tumor, amputated his legs and built him a nose from one of his toes (“toe-nose” would be a hurtful taunt from bullies at school), and with the loving support of his parents and four older siblings, Robert learned to walk with his artificial legs, made friends and learned to navigate a world that could often be cruel, always finding ways to convert the negative to a positive. He survived his teachers good and bad (there was the nun who pulled him out of the muck when he wandered too far out onto the tide pools, only to see him wander back out and get stuck again, there was the teacher who smacked his hand with a ruler for failing a handwriting exercise, another who was unbelievably cruel when he was assigned to a student teaching experience). Hoge writes about the mischief and adventures with siblings and classmates, how he learned to deflect bullying with humor. After several failed attempts at sports, he discovers lawn bowling and a wonderful mentor. “Ugly” ends with a life-altering decision about more surgery to repair his face; we learn on the book flap that Hoge has worked as a journalist, speechwriter, science writer and political adviser and is married with two daughters.