Secret Coders

by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Moving to a new school is always tough, especially when it looks like it might be haunted. The first day starts out badly for twelve-year-old Hopper, as she encounters a creepy janitor and a bunch of bullies. Eventually, along with her new friend Eni, Hopper gets wrapped up in the mystery of the school, which involves four-eyed birds and a leaf-blowing robot turtle. This graphic novel from the “Secret Coders” series is an engaging story and, using relatable examples, is a great introduction to binary code. Students who are intimidated by computers and coding will not have trouble digging into this story. Several times throughout the book, the reader is even invited to actively work on cracking the codes. Each of these challenges teaches a useful lesson. Even the chapter numbers are in binary code, using the birds’ eyes! There are also personal mysteries in Hopper’s life to solve, such as her family’s issues involving her father. The artwork is expressive and comical. There is plenty of humor overall, and the story is entertaining enough that readers will not realize they are also learning at the same time. There is potential for wide audience appeal to both boys and girls, and the ending will leave the reader wanting more.

Reviewer: Lisa Czirr

I Wish You More

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Simple and sweet, this collection of wishes for a young listener is perfect for sharing in an adult’s lap or poring over with a friend. The anonymous narrator, “I,” can be anyone; the situations pictured will remind a child of moments experienced, like watching a caterpillar creep slowly along, tasting a snowflake, or standing under an umbrella in pouring rain. The wishes are short, but full of wordplay and contrasts, and Lichtenheld’s imaginative multi-media illustrations expand on each with an unexpected twist that will bring a smile of recognition. Lichtenheld’s use of colors is fresh, though he excels at using blues, from a snowflake-filled sky to a dark blue night scene with a child reading by flashlight under a sheet. The final, expansive wish is for warmth, love, security, “and more.” An excellent model for beginning writers, the collaboration could lead to an illustrated classroom book of wishes, an exploration of one’s own desires, or a tender gift for someone special. Readers and teachers who want to see more from Rosenthal and Lichtenheld should try the team’s Duck! Rabbit! (Chronicle, 2009), Rosenthal’s Spoon (Disney/Hyperion, 2009), or Lichtenheld’s illustrations for Stick and Stone (HMH, 2015).

Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft

Mama Seeton’s Whistle

Jerry Spinelli

Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The enduring bond between a mother and her four children is delightfully demonstrated through a simple act—the mother’s “simple, two-note whistle” to call her children home. Whether the children are young or grown, whether they are in their own backyard or scattered through the world, their mother’s whistle beckons them. Though plain and sparing, Spinelli’s words capture the affections of a close-knit family and the joys of its members through rituals of family dinners and homemade chocolate cake. They conjure a simpler time when children roamed and played at each other’s’ homes for all hours, and were only called away from friends at dinnertime by their parents. Based on Spinelli’s childhood neighbor, Mama Seeton’s character and life from a bygone era are captured perfectly by the charming illustrations, from Mama Seeton’s clothing and hair style to the cars, bicycles, and a neighbor’s black-and-white television. Rendered in ink and watercolor, the artwork effectively conveys the children’s escapades and their growth and development through the years. One scene beautifully portrays the passage of time by capturing the neighborhood during the four seasons across the page, while others show the children’s exploits through the town and then all over the world as adults. A ribbon of pink twirls through the air in the pages, showing the connection between mother and children. The words and gorgeous pictures complement each other flawlessly, sure to resonate with adult readers with its sense of nostalgia while giving its young readers a sense of comfort, safety, and love.

Reviewer: Ann L. Kreske