Aaron Becker’s gorgeous, wordless fantasy stories demand a lot, but in a good way. They require some sophistication in understanding plotting and pacing and in recognizing characters and their relationship to each other. Still, the absence of text nicely slows the process of turning pages as young readers — and their listeners — consider and interpret what is taking place in each jewel-toned painting. “Return” (Candlewick, ages 4-9, $15.99), the third in a trilogy that began with “Journey” and “Quest,” opens in a studio in a tall city house, with a young girl holding a bright red kite. She has clearly had it with waiting patiently for her father to finish his work. Abandoning the kite and taking up a red marker, the girl draws a door in the wall of her room and then leaves a trail for her father to look for her. He goes through the door and finds himself in a grove hung with lanterns, thus beginning an extraordinary adventure. The long-necked boat that ferries him along a river to the castle turns out to be a kind of Trojan horse, bearing soldiers who invade with a fearsome weapon in hand. Father and daughter must escape and figure out how to free the captured king and prince. From the castle and its surroundings to the cave where a parallel adventure is depicted in petroglyphs, Becker’s detailed watercolors invest his tale with visual and narrative richness — and invite readers to return again. — KATHIE MEIZNER

 

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Sachiko Yasui was 6 years old in August 1945 when American forces shocked the world by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan. When the bomb code-named “Fat Man” hit, Yasui was a half-mile away from ground zero, playing with friends in a cave that was used as an air-raid shelter. “Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story” (Carolrhoda, ages 10 and up, $19.99) follows Yasui as she grows up and recovers from the damage inflicted that day. One sibling was killed, two older brothers died soon after, and Yasui’s little sister died of leukemia at 13. Still, Yasui felt fortunate that she and her parents survived. Author Caren Stelson tells Yasui’s story with warmth, sympathy and the vivid details of Yasui’s life before and after the bomb exploded. Filled with powerful archival images, the book also sensitively describes the historical context: the players in World War II, the effects of radiation sickness and the details of postwar American occupation of Japan. Stelson mentions recent controversies about wartime commemoration in both Japan and the United States but focuses on Yasui and the peaceful philosophy she and her family adopted despite what happened to them. Quoting Gandhi — “Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind” — Stelson celebrates the fact that Sachiko Yasui lived to teach such ideas to the next generation. — ABBY MCGANNEY NOLAN

 

Richard Peck is at the top of his game in “The Best Man” (Dial, ages 9-12, $16.99), a soul-satisfying novel bookended by two weddings. Set in a small town close to Chicago, the story spans six years of shenanigans and change in the life of Archer Magill, the observant though sometimes clueless first-person narrator. As with “A Year Down Yonder,” a 2001 Newbery medalist, and “The River Between Us,” a 2003 National Book Award finalist, here Peck brilliantly handles leaps in time and shifts in tone that range from raucously funny (a mistaken school lockdown) to quietly tender (the post-stroke care of Archer’s grandfather). Peck touches on important issues, including bullying, gay-bashing and same-sex marriage, but it never feels forced. The author is known for his redoubtable female characters, and Archer’s acerbic friend Lynette Stanley inhabits her scenes with savvy brio. Lynette is “always with a plan, always knowing everything,” whereas Archer learns over time to more fully embrace his dad’s unrushed, flexible stance on life. “It’ll take the time it takes,” the boy quotes his father, to sage and sometimes comical effect. It’s the rare novel for young people that considers, with humor and nuance, what it means to be a man today within the context of multigenerational relationships. This year brings two gems: Jason Reynolds’ “As Brave as You” and Peck’s “The Best Man.” — MARY QUATTLEBAUM