In this medieval Spain-inspired fantasy tale, Zarela will do anything to save her family's dragon-fighting arena—even if it means entering the ring herself.
In this medieval Spain-inspired fantasy tale, Zarela will do anything to save her family's dragon-fighting arena—even if it means entering the ring herself.
Three girls set out to raise their friend from the dead in Riss M. Neilson’s ambitious, haunting and boundary-pushing addition to the canon of teen witches.
Three girls set out to raise their friend from the dead in Riss M. Neilson’s ambitious, haunting and boundary-pushing addition to the canon of teen witches.
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Zarela Zalvidar is practically royalty in Santivilla, the capital city of Hispalia. Her mother was a celebrated flamenco dancer before she was killed by dragon fire, and her father is a respected Dragonador whose family has owned and run La Giralda, a dragon-fighting arena, for more than five centuries. After some dragons escape during a show at the arena, killing many spectators and gravely wounding Zarela’s father, she must find a way to save La Giralda from financial ruin and unmask a traitor who is sabotaging her family’s business.

In order to lure back La Giralda’s audience, Zarela must enter the ring herself, but she’ll need a trainer if she’s to leave the ring with her life. Arturo, a handsome former Dragonador turned trainer who scorns the Zalvidar family and their dragon-fighting legacy, seems like the perfect choice—if only Zarela can convince him to help. With only one chance to secure her family’s future, Zarela will do anything and risk everything to succeed.

Headstrong, resourceful and tenacious, Zarela is eager to emerge from the shadow of her mother’s fame. Arturo is a worthy foil who challenges Zarela to rethink her long-held beliefs regarding dragon fighting. He’s also one of only a few people in Zarela’s life who doesn’t underestimate her, and their crackling chemistry will please fans of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

In Together We Burn, author Isabel Ibañez (Woven in Moonlight) grounds her fantasy world in the culture of medieval Spain, including its food, art and language. Her depiction of the divisions between characters who believe that dragon-fighting is cruel versus those who defend it as a cultural tradition mirrors present-day debates in countries that practice bullfighting.

Packed with high stakes, a well-executed mystery and an appealingly swoony romance, Together We Burn has something to entertain a wide range of genre fiction fans.

In this medieval Spain-inspired fantasy tale, Zarela will do anything to save her family's dragon-fighting arena—even if it means entering the ring herself.

“I must go down to the seas again,” begins English poet John Masefield’s “Sea-Fever.” This trio of picture books is the perfect remedy for such an ailment. They capture the wonderful ways that beach days offer respite from our routines as we cool down, splash around and play.

★ Little Houses

Little Houses is a quietly marvelous book about a girl’s day at the beach with her grandparents. Frequent collaborators (and husband-and-wife team) Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek have created an ode to curiosity that urges readers to open their minds and wonder at the world.

The young narrator of Little Houses loves to visit her grandparents at a little yellow cottage “so close to the water you can hear the waves.” As they comb the beach, the girl’s grandmother reminds her to collect only empty shells, because some might be “little houses.” This prompts the girl to ponder what sorts of creatures might have lived in the shells she sees. She even muses about the possibility that vacant shells might harbor the ghosts of their previous inhabitants.

Then the girl overhears her grandmother say “ . . . things we cannot see” above the din of the waves, and what follows is a deft and strikingly realistic narrative move by Henkes. The girl imagines what her grandmother might have been talking about and starts to describe “all the things that might be under the water,” from “fish as big as cars” to “lost toys, lost coins, lots of lost things that were cried over.”

Dronzek gives form and shape to the girl’s speculations in a brightly colored full-spread scene. An enormous dark blue fish with friendly eyes swims in cerulean waters surrounded by marine life—jellyfish, an octopus, a sea turtle and more. Young readers will love spotting the many items scattered along the ocean floor, including a chain of pearls, a toy sailboat and a white toy kitten that will be familiar to longtime Henkes fans.

Every page of Little Houses reminds readers of the infinite ways that oceans, animals, plants and people are connected.

A Day for Sandcastles

As Little Houses looks out at the big world, A Day for Sandcastles keeps a tight focus on three children who spend a day in the sand. In this wordless picture book, the children work diligently together to build the sandcastle of their dreams. As the author-illustrator duo also did in Over the Shop, JonArno Lawson creates a detailed narrative that Qin Leng’s ink and watercolor artwork brings to life.

The journey starts with a bus ride out of the city, and spot illustrations show each character’s excitement as they step off the bus and catch their first glimpses of the sandy beach and ocean water that await. While always present, the two adults who accompany the children remain largely on the sidelines and allow the children to create their own fun.

Leng nimbly alternates between smaller, narrowly framed views of the children’s construction efforts and larger panels, pages and double-page spreads that depict wider scenes of the beach. These views convey the changing position of the sun throughout the day and the rising tide, which is a constant threat to the children’s castle. Leng’s images give this beach day rhythm as readers experience everything from the wrenching agony of a destructive wave to the uniquely attentive pleasure of using a twig to carve tiny windows into sandy towers.

A Day for Sandcastles is a delightful story about perseverance and the joy of seeing a work in progress to completion. It’s lovely to see the children cooperate as they defend their castle from a windblown hat, a wayward toddler and more, but there are plenty of successes too, as shown by Leng through the children’s facial expressions and energetic movements.

The journey home—packing up beach chairs and umbrellas, trudging up a grassy dune, yawning and boarding (or being carried onto) the bus and, finally, gazing out at waters that glimmer against a blazing sunset as the bus drives back to the city—neatly concludes this summer story. A Day for Sandcastles will leave readers longing for a beach trip of their own.

Hot Dog

A lively, lovable city-dwelling dachshund is the star of Doug Salati’s joyful author-illustrator debut, Hot Dog.

With spare text, the book opens as its canine protagonist overheats while out for a walk on a summer day in a crowded city. Eventually, the poor pup lies down in the middle of the street and refuses to go any farther. Fortunately, the dog’s human companion knows just the remedy.

Salati’s illustrations are full of whimsy and soul. He is a master of detail in these bustling city scenes, capturing everything from the displays of eyeglasses in an optician’s shop to construction workers so hard at work that readers will practically hear their jackhammers. These pages radiate heat via shades of orange and yellow, and a particularly effective illustration shows the sun blazing down on our furry hero right before the dog melts down.

What makes Hot Dog so memorable and fun are all the interactions between the pup and his person, a tall, determined redhead who wears round blue glasses, a turquoise fanny pack and a floppy yellow hat. It’s heartwarming when she kneels down in the crosswalk, ignoring the cacophony of honking cars to gaze into her exhausted dog’s eyes, one hand under her pup’s chin, the other grasping a paw. She immediately hails a taxi, which drops the pair off at a subway station.

After a quick train ride, the woman and her four-legged friend board a ferry. The sweltering glow lifts and Salati’s palette fills with sky blues, verdant greens and clean, creamy sands. Readers will feel relief from the heat as the sea breezes billow, providing “a welcome whiff of someplace new.” A series of playful action scenes show the dog relishing every moment on the shore. The pup chases waves and seagulls, rolls around and digs in the sand and collects rocks for his owner. Splendid touches of humor pop up, such as a large rock that turns out to be a seal and a dachshund silhouette that the woman creates out of stones, shells, driftwood and seaweed.

Canine and human return home on a crowded subway to a beautiful summer night in their neighborhood. The day’s heat has faded and a fresh wind blows as families relax around a plaza with a big fountain. Back in their apartment (a clever visual homage to Vincent van Gogh’s well-known painting of his bedroom), Salati offers the perfect summation: “What a day for a dog!”

Hot Dog captures a much-needed summer excursion that readers will enjoy taking again and again.

This trio of picture books capture the wonderful ways that beach days offer respite from our routines as we cool down, splash around and play.

Miliani, Inez, Natalie and Jasmine are best friends bound by magic and love. When Jasmine is killed by a drunk driver, everything the four girls once shared is shattered. Mili, Inez and Nat try to support one another in the wake of the tragedy while also dealing with illness, addiction and the threat of deportation within their own families. But Mili, the last of the girls to see Jas alive, isn’t content to merely mourn. Drawing on the magical traditions of her Filipino heritage, she convinces her friends that they can bring Jas (or at least a version of her) back from the dead. Though Inez and Nat hesitate, they are spurred onward by Mili’s insistence that their efforts can succeed.

Soon, the girls are attending seances at Mili’s mysterious Aunt Lindy’s house, performing rituals of their own and testing the boundaries between the realms of the living and the dead. But magic always comes with a price, and as the trio descend deeper into spellwork, they uncover terrifying secrets about one another and their families that endanger the plan to resurrect Jas—and could break apart their lives completely. Can the three friends perform the final ritual before everything crashes down around them?

Riss M. Neilson’s ambitious debut novel, Deep in Providence, is a dense, meticulously plotted story. It sits at a curious crossroads, functioning both as a contemporary YA novel about grief and a fantasy rooted in magical practices from Filipino and Jamaican cultures. Remove the novel’s magic and you’d have an emotional yet often-told tale. But by incorporating elements of fantasy, a genre historically predisposed to whiteness and straightness, Deep in Providence becomes a boundary-pushing addition to the canon of teen witches.

Alternating between Mili’s, Inez’s and Nat’s perspectives enables Neilson to create a multifaceted portrait of their close-knit friend group, in which private hurts and joys are refracted and magnified by the girls’ constant proximity. The book’s magic system serves as a metaphor that provides an added layer to the book’s exploration of loss. As the girls’ desperation grows, so too do their powers—and what the trio is willing to do with them. Neilson doesn’t shy away from emotional intensity: The girls’ grief isn’t pretty or palatable, and the spirits answer in full force.

At almost 500 pages, Deep in Providence suffers a bit from too much table setting. Early chapters focus on the girls’ backgrounds without much rising tension, and not all readers will be hooked by the slow start. But once magic enters the scene, the story deepens and widens, eventually arriving at a satisfying emotional climax and denouement.

Deep in Providence is a beautiful, haunting novel about letting go and finding peace for yourself and for those who are gone.

Three girls set out to raise their friend from the dead in Riss M. Neilson’s ambitious, haunting and boundary-pushing addition to the canon of teen witches.

This is what River McIntyre knows about who they are: They are a competitive swimmer. They were born and raised in Haley, Ohio, a town infamous for its failing marine park, SeaPlanet, and they feel a bitter kinship with the park’s captive-raised creatures. They have two parents and an older brother, and they’re Lebanese on their mom’s side. These are the facts River knows for certain.

River begins to realize that everything else is a lot more complicated after a run-in at SeaPlanet with Indigo Waits, an out and proud teenager from River’s past. Seeing Indy forces River to admit that they’ve been drowning under the tide of gender dysphoria and internalized homophobia for far too long. In the absence of the words to process their feelings, however, River jumps into SeaPlanet’s shark tank and sets off a chain of events that will forever link Indy’s and River’s lives.

In Man o’ War, author Cory McCarthy engages with every aspect of River’s life to create an extraordinary story with incredible depth. River’s experiences as a competitive swimmer enable McCarthy to explore the complex relationships that trans athletes have with their bodies, while River’s Arab American heritage raises discussions about biracial identity and passing in a world that’s prejudiced in favor of white, cisgender people.

McCarthy’s prose is suffused with emotion and often employs SeaPlanet’s sharks, orcas, Portuguese man-of-wars and other creatures as beautiful metaphors for River’s feelings. The jagged edges of dysphoria, the suffocating pressure of familial expectations and the all-encompassing need for love bleed through River’s internal monologue with biting clarity.

The novel’s exploration of queer identity ferociously resists the idea that coming out is a simple or straightforward process. River’s journey of self-discovery takes years, and Man o’ War follows them through high school and college. They try on different labels, experience both acceptance and rejection from their queer peers and navigate the joys and trials of medical transition. Along the way, McCarthy’s story provides space for every uncertain step, portraying River’s attempts to untangle the snarl of confusion and self-loathing inside themself with empathy and patience.

In Man o’ War, McCarthy validates how finding your name, accepting your name and telling others your name can all be separate, unique battles. Despite the pain those battles sometimes bring, River’s transition is driven by an irrepressible hope—a hope that will assure readers their true happiness is always worth the fight.

River's plunge into the shark tank at SeaPlanet sets off a journey of self-discovery and transition driven by an irrepressible hope for true happiness.

Separated by a sturdy wooden fence, two companions—a little girl and a dog belonging to her neighbors—are drawn together by a shared love of stories. They forge a bond that transcends boundaries and changes their lives forever.

Everywhere With You is uniformly flawless. With a master storyteller’s rhythm, author Carlie Sorosiak (Leonard (My Life as a Cat), I, Cosmo) narrates in present tense, close-third person from the lonely pup’s perspective, and his thoughts and unspoken words propel the story forward. Sorosiak’s writing is heartfelt and brimming with emotion. You’ll be so caught up in the narrative that you may not even notice the artistry beneath the words—poetic turns, perfectly tuned descriptions, the power of a concise, earnest statement—but it’s worth a second read to catch and savor it all.

If Sorosiak’s beautifully told story does not completely capture your heart, the artwork will seal the deal. Illustrator Devon Holzwarth’s vibrant, lush images of jewel-tone flowers and trees are mesmerizing, as botanical wonders in deep, rich colors threaten to overflow the edges of the pages.

The kind-faced girl and her canine companion are utterly charming. When the girl reads aloud to her four-legged friend, Holzwarth’s art blossoms even more as the friends’ imagined worlds come to life, with spectacular kingdoms filled with magical creatures and daring adventures—and no wooden fences.

The book’s heightened emotions walk a tightrope between poignance and heartbreak at a pivotal point toward the end. Sorosiak and Holzwarth give real weight to this moment of yearning, tip-toeing the reader up to the edge of despair before pulling back with a final burst of fantasy and delight. It’s a balancing act impeccably managed.

It will be the rare reader who can finish Everywhere With You without a slight catch in their throat. It rings with tender truth: When you are with the ones you love, everywhere you go is home.

Carlie Sorosiak and Devon Holzwarth's flawless picture book rings with a tender truth: When you are with the ones you love, everywhere you go is home.

Two-time National Book Award finalist Eliot Schrefer is best known for YA and middle grade novels that depict environmentalist themes and relationships between people and animals. Endangered followed a teen girl and a young bonobo on a trek for survival through the Congolese jungle, and Schrefer was also selected to write an authorized sequel to the classic 1938 novel Mr. Popper’s Penguins. He shifts to nonfiction in Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality, a fun, refreshing book that will have dry biology textbooks shaking in their book covers.

Part research-based science writing and part memoir, Queer Ducks unfolds in 10 chapters that each look at a different type of same-sex behavior in the animal kingdom. From the nonreproductive intersex white-tailed deer known as “velvet-horns” to a number of bird species that raise chicks in same-sex pairs or polyamorous trios, Schrefer offers nature-based analogs for many types of human sexual orientation and gender identity. The chapter on doodlebugs investigates homosexual behavior between male animals, while Japanese macaques serve as the launching point for examples of sexual activity between female animals.

Discover why Eliot Schrefer turned to nonfiction to write ‘Queer Ducks (and Other Animals).’

Charming comics-style illustrations by Jules Zuckerberg open every chapter, serving as perfect little amuse-bouches before Schrefer dives into the hard science. Interspersed throughout the book are personal anecdotes from Schrefer that reveal how science saved him when he was a young queer person.

Schrefer gives readers glimpses into the scientific field as well, offering tales of data obscured or observations omitted from final reports and illuminating the closeting of this important knowledge. Q&A-style interviews with contemporary queer scientists provide a hopeful view of the path ahead.

“It’s humbling and freeing to know that humans aren’t the only creatures with complicated sexual feelings,” Schrefer writes, connecting the dots between the human and animal worlds. Readers will finish Queer Ducks having learned much about animals, but even more about humankind.

Read our Q&A with Eliot Schrefer.

A fun exploration of same-sex behavior across the animal kingdom, Queer Ducks (and Other Animals) will have dry biology textbooks shaking in their book covers.

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