Daniel's Good Day by Micha Archer; Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99.
Micha Archer's vibrant oil-and-collage illustrations depict young Daniel’s diverse urban neighborhood as a paradise of budding trees, blooming flowers and friendly people as Daniel asks one person after another (a woman painting houses, a woman driving a bus, a baker, a mail carrier, a nanny, a girl with a kite, a crossing guard): "What makes a good day?" The paper in the collages adds an interesting texture to the colorful, beautifully detailed illustrations.
So what makes a good day? The answer, in poetry, and only in part: "A clear sky, a steady wind, a shady bench, a long nap... bees on flowers...wagging tails, busy sidewalks, friendly faces." This joyous book is a companion volume to Archer's Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning "Daniel Finds a Poem!"
The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen; Balzar + Bray, 440 pages ($19.99) Ages 12 and up.
Seventeen-year-old Emma Saylor Payne barely remembers her mother, who died when she was 10, but she does remember her mother's vivid stories of growing up on a lake that went on forever. With her father newly remarried and set to leave on his honeymoon in Greece, Emma's plan to stay with friends falls through and her father instead sends her off to stay at the lake with her maternal grandmother and an army of cousins she hasn't seen in 13 years and doesn't remember.
North Lake is a working-class vacation spot where her grandmother owns Calvander's motel. The rich people stay at the fancy resort on the other side of the lake known as Lake North. Dessen does a skillful job painting the dynamics of the class divide between the hardworking young Calvanders and their entitled, hard-partying peers across the lake. Her cousins know Emma comes from money and see her more as a Lake North kind of person until she gets to work cleaning motel rooms with her very pregnant cousin Trinity. Her cousins and their friends know her as Saylor, her mother's name for her; a boy her own age nicknamed Roo seems particularly familiar in some strange way.
Emma finds she knows just a tiny part of her mother's story: her parents divorced over her mother's drinking problem, which turned into a drug problem, which ended in a fatal overdose. But in North Lake, Emma learns for the first time of the long-ago tragedy connecting her mother and Roo's father. As the days go by, she has to decide which girl she is, Emma or Saylor, and where she truly belongs as Roo helps her rediscover the story of herself.
Dessen peoples her novels with appealing characters, and she offers the perfect romantic hero in Roo, a perceptive, kind person who rides to the rescue, more than once, in an ice cream truck.
A young girl seems to have the weight of the world on her young shoulders in this poignant debut novel by an author who grew up with a younger brother with special needs.
Cat is the one who knows best how to calm down her younger brother Chicken, when he gets upset by loud noises or the itchy tags on his shirt or being called by his real name, Henry. Their widowed mom works more than one job to support them, and Cat has her hands full keeping track of Chicken, who has wandered off more than once as the two travel to and from school in San Francisco. When a plan for the kids to stay with family friends in Atlanta falls through, their mother calls on her estranged parents to take in Cat and Chicken at their home on an island off North Carolina.
McDunn offers a colorful picture of summer life on the island, as Cat finds herself for the first time free to do things on her own without her brother. She makes a friend, goes turtle-watching with her gruff grandpa and enters the local fishing contest. Her mother writes a children's book series starring Cat and Chicken, and Cat gains new perspective on the Cat character's constant sacrifice as her grandparents relieve her of some of the responsibility of caring for her brother.