BOATS FOR PAPA, by Jessixa Bagley. Roaring Brook Press, $17.99, ages 3-8.
Near the edge of the sea, Buckley, a small beaver in boy clothes, lives with his mama, a larger beaver in a print dress: "They didn't have much, but they always had each other." After his birthday picnic, Buckley sends a simple, handcrafted boat out into the ocean, telling his mama, "If it doesn't come back to shore, I'll know he got it!" A note fixed to the mast reads simply: "For Papa. Love, Buckley." Buckley's mother is warm and kind, assuring him that his papa would be proud of his wonderful boat. Even very young listeners will be gently drawn to empathize -- and perhaps to identify with -- the young protagonist of Jessixa Bagley's first picture book. Buckley makes more boats from driftwood, "each even better than the last," and he always includes a note for Papa.
Bagley's pen-and-watercolor art is filled with the blue-grays, sandy browns and pale oranges of seashore and sunset; her drawings of Buckley's boats are detailed and delightful. When on his next birthday Buckley discovers that his boats have been gathered and cherished by someone he loves as much as Papa, Buckley sends his latest creation to sea with a new note: "For Mama. Love, Buckley."
Bagley's tale of loss, parental love and the magic of the sea is deceptively simple yet deeply emotional. -- KATHIE MEIZNER
TOMMY: THE GUN THAT CHANGED AMERICA, by Karen Blumenthal. Roaring Brook Press, $19.99, ages 12-18.
In light of the recent killings in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, this examination of a particularly deadly gun makes for timely reading. It's a story that involves mechanical ingenuity, moneymaking and the misuse of a firearm designed for warfare. The Thompson submachine gun arrived too late for the fight for which it was created (World War I), but it was put into action during the 1920s and '30s before becoming an extremely effective weapon for the Allies during World War II.
Karen Blumenthal, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, tells the story of this fast-firing weapon through a compelling series of historical figures and events. She starts with John Taliaferro Thompson (1860-1940), who conceived of the weapon, oversaw its design and manufacture, and then was apparently dismayed when the guns were adopted by domestic criminals and overseas rebels.
The book skillfully describes the variety of Thompson customers, from bootleggers and bank robbers to businesses that sought to quell rising labor unrest. Rather than simply lamenting the ubiquity of guns (by some estimates about 300 million in the United States alone), Blumenthal explains how we got to this point and raises wise questions about the challenges that lie ahead. -- ABBY MCGANNEY NOLAN
LOST IN THE SUN, by Lisa Graff. Philomel, $16.99, ages 9-12.
Sixth-grade classmates Trent Zimmerman and Fallon Little see a clear dividing line in their lives: before and after. For Trent, it was a terrible sports accident; for Fallon, a mysterious, long-ago tragedy. Guilt-ridden and angry, Trent avoids school and family activities and sometimes explodes in rage at his father. Fallon refuses to talk about the large scar on her face in anything but joking terms.
This premise might sound grim, but Lisa Graff brings compassion and humor to her story of an unlikely, redemptive friendship. Graff ("A Tangle of Knots," "Absolutely Almost") is a master of the quiet moment that illuminates character, such as Trent slipping in after school to water his elderly teacher's plants, or Fallon excitedly pointing out the mistakes in a movie.
Their small town of Cedar Haven, California, is richly populated with well-rounded secondary characters, including Trent's teacher, who offers the confused boy a calm haven and a sense of purpose. Trent's brothers, too, show their affection and concern in the way that boys often do: by poking and teasing.
This beautifully written novel does not end in a neatly tied bow but, more believably, with Trent slowly moving forward into a life full of baseball, pranks and kindness. -- MARY QUATTLEBAUM