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Bookshelf: Four new books for children and young readers

"Mosquitoland" by David Arnold sends its teenage heroine

"Mosquitoland" by David Arnold sends its teenage heroine on the road. Credit: Viking

SUPERTRUCK, by Stephen Savage. Smiling confidently, blocky trucks in bright colors cruise the streets of a city. The vertical lines of office buildings create a maze for these vehicles: a bucket truck fixing a power line, a firetruck quenching a blaze, a tow truck rescuing a yellow, unsmiling bus. And then there is the unassuming, neutral-colored, bespectacled and slightly rounded garbage truck: "He just collects the trash." But when snow begins to fall one evening, wrapping the city in a blizzard, the other working trucks are stopped in their tracks. "Just then, the garbage truck sneaks into a garage and becomes . . . SUPERTRUCK!" A red snowplow affixed to his front, Supertruck digs out the city before returning to his usual work. Author and illustrator Stephen Savage gets the rhythm and drama of the story exactly right: The snow is deep but not scary, the trucks seem concerned about their plight but not frightened, and Supertruck is every small child who dreams of being a hero. (Roaring Brook, $12.99, ages 2-6) -- KATHIE MEIZNER

LISTEN, SLOWLYby Thanhha Lai. In "Inside Out & Back Again," a National Book Award winner, Thanhha Lai told the riveting tale of a girl who flees Vietnam in 1975. In her new novel, her subject is a contemporary young American who returns to Vietnam to reconnect with her family there. Twelve-year-old Mai absorbs the country's cultural norms (respect for elders, lack of privacy) and vivid sights, sounds and smells ("sweat and fruit and boiling oil and raw meat") as she helps her grandmother discover what happened to her husband when he disappeared during the war. This quest provides the book's momentum and tension, but readers will also enjoy mischievous Mai's clandestine motorcycle rides, the banter with her teen translator and her budding friendship with a frog-loving cousin. Mai comes to better understand both herself and the quiet woman who raised seven children by herself and now joyously drags the girl into a spring rain to "catch memories" in a land where "nothing happens or everything happens." This lively valentine of a novel may jump-start questions in young readers about the people and places of their families' past. (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 8 to 10) -- MARY QUATTLEBAUM

WHY'D THEY WEAR THAT?: Fashion as the Mirror of History, by Sarah Albee. With a foreword by style guru Tim Gunn, this lavishly illustrated book presents history as a long and winding runway of fashion. In its brightly adorned pages, readers can gaze and gawk at the strange outfits humans have dreamed up since "casting off their smelly bearskins" 10,000 years ago. Author Sarah Albee not only discusses the materials, colors and designs of the past, but also shows how people have suffered from wearing and making some of these garments. With a light hand but vivid details, Albee makes clear that fashion's victims are legion, from the slaves who labored on cotton plantations and the workers in sweatshops the world over, to tightly corseted women and girls whose feet were bound for years at a time. The lively book covers an impressive variety of topics and themes, including battle garb, functional clothing and passing fads, including 14th-century cone-shaped headdresses and early-20th-century hobble skirts. Such examples should help alert young readers to think skeptically about the vagaries of fashion trends. (National Geographic, $19.99, age 10 and up.) -- ABBY MCGANNEY NOLAN

MOSQUITOLANDby David Arnold. American literature is full of male travelers, from the footloose poet of Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road" to the headlong Beats of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." With "Mosquitoland," a smart, brash 16-year-old named Mary Iris Malone (Mim) joins their ranks. Mim, who is half-blind, starts her 947-mile journey in Jackson, Mississippi, and wends her way to Cleveland by Greyhound bus, Subaru, on foot and in a truck called Uncle Phil. Her mission: to find her mother, who has suddenly stopped communicating with her. The girl's journey connects her with some curious characters, including an old lady with a locked box and a photographer in search of his foster sister. Layered into this first-person narrative are Mim's memories of her complex mother and the therapist who prescribed pills for a psychosis that Mim may not have. Author David Arnold combines brio with compassion in this captivating first novel, which holds surprises, big and small, right to the end. It's illuminating to view this swathe of the United States through Mim's one good eye. (Viking, $17.99, age 12 and up)


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