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Books in Brief: Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

CHILDREN'S

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone; Crown Books for Young Readers, 223 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12. (Jan. 7 publication)

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In her first novel for middle grade readers, Nic Stone offers a charming, poignant, often funny tale of a black boy and his white grandmother taking a road trip through civil rights history and uncovering some family secrets at the same time

Eleven-year-old William "Scoob" Lamar has been grounded by his dad – unfairly he thinks – for an incident at school, so when his grandmother Ruby, his very favorite person in the world, shows up in a newly purchased RV for a surprise road trip through the South, he's happy to go along.

While Scoob and his grandmother get some dirty looks from store clerks and fellow diners, her weathered Travelers' Green Book, a guide for black visitors to what towns and restaurants were safe to visit in the pre-Civil Rights era, is a revelation to Scoob. They visit Medgar Evers' home, the site of the Birmingham church bombing and other spots meaningful to Ruby from when she traveled the route with her Jimmy in the 1960s. All Scoob knows of his grandfather is that he was a thief who died in prison. As the trip proceeds, his grandmother's behavior grows stranger and stranger (she switches the license plates on the RV, attempts to steal jewelry from a store while Scoob is with her, throws away her cellphone, smokes cigarettes).

In the end, all becomes clear, as Scoob gains a new appreciation and understanding of the grandmother he thought he knew.

Stone, author of acclaimed novel "Dear Martin" and "Jackpot," manages to both entertain and inform and tug at the heart strings in this poignant tale of family love and racial injustice.

GRAPHIC NOVEL

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews; FirstSecond, 330 pages ($14.99) Ages 8 to 12.

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This wonderful dreamlike tale, of two boys forging a bond of friendship during a mysterious nighttime adventure through a fantastical landscape, takes place on the night of the Autumn Equinox Festival when a town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river.

Ben and his friends have resolved to follow the lanterns all the way to the end of their journey, wherever it may lead, riding their bikes through the night, with two rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back. Tagging along behind them is Nathaniel, a target of bullying for his love of science and his nerdy ways. One boy after another drops out, until only Ben and Nathaniel are left. The journey reveals one wonder after another: a talking bear, Madam Majestic and her Avian Cartographer, a star farm, a night swim.

Andrews' gorgeous drawings, all in shades of deep blue and black, are steeped in mystery, whether it's the lanterns bobbing in the river, the night sky, a strange boulder emerging from the mist, fish glowing against the dark of the river and the night sky.

PICTURE BOOK

Ruby's Hope, A Story of How the Famous 'Migrant Mother' Photograph Became the Face of the Great Depression by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Sarah Dvojack; Page Street Kids ($17.99)

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Canadian author Monica Kulling crafts a poignant tale of the Great Depression, using a child's perspective to tell the story of the Dust Bowl that drove families from Oklahoma and inspired  Dorothea Lange's Depression-era photograph "Migrant Mother." Seven-year-old Ruby would rather stay in Oklahoma, but the family sets off for California with Ruby and her four siblings and all their worldly goods stuffed into their Hudson Super-Six. ("It took two weeks and many flat tires to reach California.") The family picks lettuce, then hears of work available in another town but a hard frost kills the pea crop and the family and other migrants are stuck in a camp, with no food and no way to earn any money. It's at this point that  Lange, a photographer working for the FDR-created Farm Security Administration, meets Ruby and takes the photo that became an iconic image of the Great Depression. Dvojack's evocative illustrations add much to the story, and an afterword explains the true history of the photo and its subject.

CHILDREN'S

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 14: Wrecking Ball by Jeff Kinney; Amulet Books, 217 pages ($14.99) Ages 8 to 12.

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In his 14th book featuring hapless "Wimpy Kid" Greg Heffley and his family, Jeff Kinney still manages to entertain and come up with new material.

In this book the Heffleys have unexpectedly come into money, an inheritance from an aunt. Of course the windfall brings nothing but disaster, first with their attempts to build an addition on their house and then to buy a new house (there's a particularly dramatic moment involving a hot tub).

In a particularly amusing opening sequence, Greg decides to make money by disposing of his stuff in a yard sale, offering old birthday cards with his name whited out, broken toys, unwanted gifts from grandparents and a table of "mystery socks" (tube socks with marbles or pencil stubs inside).

 

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