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Books in Brief: The Hate U Give, Princess Cora and the Crocodile, Jabari Jumps

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; Balzer and Bray; 444 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.
This stunning, timely and critically important debut novel tackles tough issues of police violence and racism through the experience of a 16-year-old girl who is the only witness when her childhood friend is killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. Starr Carter has gotten used to being two different people, shifting between two worlds: the poor, inner-city black neighborhood where she lives and her father owns a grocery store, and the mostly white world of the expensive suburban prep school she attends. But after Khalil is shot, Starr finds herself forced to make a choice: Will she be silent when Khalil is described as a thug or a drug dealer and blamed for his own murder, or will she speak out about what happened that night? Thomas vividly evokes Starr’s world and peoples it with unforgettable characters, including Khalil, his drug-addicted mother and loving grandmother; Starr’s hard-working, loving father, a former gang member who did time in prison and sports tattoos of his three children on his arms; and her beloved Uncle Carlos, himself a police officer. The colorful supporting cast includes Starr’s classmates and the neighborhood characters who patronize the grocery store. The title comes from Tupac’s definition of Thug Life: “The Hate U Give Little Infants ---- Everybody.” There are some hilarious bits, including her father’s theory that Hogwarts houses in the Harry Potter books are “really gangs” with “their own colors, their own hideouts.” This hard-hitting, thoughtful exploration of a critical issue in our time is a call for justice and a must-read.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca; Candlewick Press, $16.99.
A Newbery Medalist (“Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!”) and a Caldecott Medalist (“Locomotive”) team up for a very entertaining feminist fairy tale of a princess who rebels against her overbearing parents in rather novel ways. Schlitz is a marvelous writer (“When Princess Cora was born, her mother and father thought she was as perfect as a snowflake” with her “big blue eyes” and toes like “pink pearls”) and spins a most amusing yarn, of a princess and her stifling training routine - forced to take three baths a day, read dull books about how to run a kingdom, and run laps and skip rope in the castle-prison turned gym. A despairing Cora writes her fairy godmother a letter begging for a pet, and her wish is answered in the form of a cream puff-loving crocodile who swears he doesn’t eat people, only likes to “chew on them.” Delicious mayhem ensues. Floca’s droll pictures, done in ink, watercolor and gouache, are a delight.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall; Candlewick Press, $15.99.
A little boy has finished his swimming lessons and is trying to get up the courage to jump off the diving board in this utterly charming debut picture book with a valuable lesson about conquering your fears from a gifted author-illustrator. The marvelous illustrations with their pastel backdrops include one of Jabari atop the board, looking out on the swimming pool far below with a vast a cityscape of buildings of newsprint stretching to the horizon.

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