REM WORLD, by Rodman Philbrick. (Blue Sky/Scholastic, $16.95; grades 4-6.) Arthur Woodbury is fat. And one day, he decides to do something about it. He orders, for $9.99, “the miraculous REM SLEEP DEVICE,” guaranteed to make you “lose weight while you sleep!” When Arthur puts on the device, a mysterious- looking helmet, he is transported to REM World. But something has gone terribly wrong, his guide Morf, a deadpanning, cat-like being, informs him. Because Arthur has failed to read the directions carefully, he’s become separated from himself and now exists in two places at once, a logical impossibility that has caused a crack in the universe. Unless Arthur can get back to his unconscious self lying in his basement, the universe and all that is in it will cease to exist. Arthur and Morf set out on a series of hilarious, thrilling, and epic adventures in their quest to save all of existence, discovering friendship and courage along the way. Philbrick’s story is a wonderful concoction of wild fantasy, wisecracking wit, and wry wisdom, all wrapped around a very real 11- year-old.
ADALINE FALLING STAR, by Mary Pope Osborne. (Scholastic, $16.95; grades 4-8.) While researching her book American Tall Tales, which was published several years ago, Osborne discovered that Kit Carson, the legendary scout and trapper, married an Arapaho woman and together they had a daughter, Adaline. This girl haunted Osborne, and many years later Adaline Falling Star was born. The result is a gripping fictional account, told in the voice of 11-year-old Adaline, of loss, separation, trials, and redemption. After her mother’s death, Adaline’s father leaves her with cousins in St. Louis while he joins one of John Fremont’s expeditions into the Rockies. Though Adaline is mistreated by her cousins, despised and pitied as a “half breed” and a “heathen savage,” and reduced to the role of servant, she remains with them because she promised her father that she would await his return. When Fremont’s expedition returns to St. Louis without Carson, Adaline assumes her father has abandoned her and heads up the Missouri River to find him. She travels across the American Frontier of the 1840s, struggling through heartbreak, to reach her home and her destiny.
I WAS A RAT!by Philip Pullman, with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes. (Knopf, $15.95; grades 2-5.) Old Bob, a cobbler, and his wife, Joan, a washerwoman, are startled one evening by a knock at their door. Standing in the moonlight is a young boy in a disheveled page’s uniform. His first words: “I was a rat.” So begins this wry and witty take on the Cinderella story-with a bit of Oliver Twist, Pinocchio, and tabloid journalism thrown in. The boy-named Roger by Bob and Joan-becomes the vehicle by which several rogue characters seek to fulfill their ambitions. Meanwhile, the tabloid press- represented with hilarious excerpts from The Daily Scourge-transforms Roger into “the monster of the sewers,” the embodiment of all that is evil, hideous, and frightening (thus boosting circulation). Hapless Roger’s hilarious, picaresque adventures on the way to finding a home, love, and boyhood make for a rollicking good read reminiscent of the best of Roald Dahl and Mordecai Richler.
ROLLING ALONG: The Story of Taylor and His Wheelchair, by Jamee Riggio Heelan, with illustrations by Nicola Simmonds. (Peachtree, $14.95; grades K-2.) This book—about real-life twin brothers Taylor and Tyler, one with cerebral palsy, the other without—is part of a series produced by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to teach kids how children with special needs get on with their lives. While picture books that carry an overt message tend not to be very interesting or effective, this one works, thanks in part to Simmonds’ bright multi-media illustrations, which give readers an up-close look at Taylor’s life. The boy describes for readers—Heelan writes in his voice—the debilitating effects of cerebral palsy, the details of his therapy, and the liberation of getting his own wheelchair. Without a trace of self-pity, Taylor also explains how hard it is to navigate his chair through a world designed for walkers, and why such things as ramps and low elevator buttons are important. This gentle, informative book is a bit staid, but it’s likely to provide answers to questions some children have been hesitant to ask.
THE AMAZING LIFE OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, by James Cross Giblin, with illustrations by Michael Dooling. (Scholastic, $17.95; grades 2-6.) Fans of Giblin and Dooling’s acclaimed picture-book biographies of Washington and Jefferson have a stellar new volume for their bookshelves. Like those earlier books, the text here runs neatly through the highlights of a remarkable life. But what makes this duo’s book stand out is the careful attention to historical and personal detail. Readers learn, for example, that Franklin didn’t see his wife for the last 10 years of her life—he was in England, she in the colonies— and that he practically disowned his son, William, for remaining loyal to the British during the revolution. Dooling, too, does a fine job of bringing Franklin and his times to life. For young readers, this is the perfect introduction to one of the nation’s first and greatest statesmen.
BUTTONS, by Brock Cole. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16; grades K-3.) Those who know The Giant’s Toe, Cole’s odd but immensely popular picture book about a severed toe that turns into an imp, will find the author/illustrator in similarly fine form here. Set in the distant past, the narrative begins when a portly old man eats so much that the buttons on his trousers pop off and burn up in the fireplace. For some reason, this rather banal event throws the household into a tizzy and winds up changing the lives of the man’s three daughters forever. It’s an entertaining tale, and, as always, Cole’s lively watercolors are rich in humorous detail.
—Stephen Del Vecchio and Blake Hume Rodman