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New children’s books: A Lemony Snicket picture book, ‘The Quilts of Gee’s Bend,’ the ‘Queen’s Thief’ series continues

"Goldfish Ghost" by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Lisa Brown. Credit: Roaring Brook

In “Goldfish Ghost” (Roaring Brook, $17.99, ages 3-7), Lemony Snicket and illustrator Lisa Brown tell a tenderly funny story about what might happen after a beloved pet dies. “Goldfish Ghost was born on the surface of the water in a bowl on the dresser of a boy’s room,” begins this wistfully spooky tale. Pale and translucent, Goldfish Ghost hovers upside down above its bowl before heading out the window to find some company. It’s summertime, and the New England seaside town, with a lighthouse on the shore and plain and sturdy houses, is full of busy activity as the ghost drifts along.

Lisa Brown’s art bursts with friendly cartoon lines, lovely nautical hues of blue and delightful detail. Beachgoers sit under umbrellas on the brown sand; children wade in the ocean; people fish from the pier and stroll among the shops. Goldfish Ghost finds the apparitions of other sea animals floating through the air above the waves. Nevertheless, the ocean was not really home for this indoor pet, and “it can be hard to find the company you are looking for.” Young readers may understand this — or they may simply be glad that as night comes on, Goldfish Ghost finds that the former lighthouse keeper has been hoping for company, too. — KATHIE MEIZNER

For generations, women have created bold and beautiful works of art in the isolated African-American community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, but it wasn’t until 2002 that these pieces started getting worldwide attention. With “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” (Abrams Books for Young Readers, $21.95, ages 8 to 12), Susan Goldman Rubin explains what all the fuss has been about. Her expansive and informative book also looks at rural poverty, voting rights and attempts to standardize the quilt-making process.

Wonderfully designed, “Quilts” features archival photographs of Gee’s Bend residents in the 1930s, portraits of contemporary quilters and gorgeous, full-color images of more than 20 quilts. Amid these visual riches, Rubin explains how girls learned the craft and joined their elders in creating stunning quilts in abstract designs, mostly from cotton and corduroy odds and ends. One woman describes the process as “kind of like working a puzzle;” another says, “Ought not two quilts ever be the same.”

Once both sides of each quilt were completed, the women helped each other stitch them together, going “from house to house, quilting quilts.” More than a tribute to the inventiveness of the Gee’s Bend quilters, this book also gives young readers insight into an uncommon community. — ABBY MCGANNEY NOLAN

With “Thick as Thieves” (Greenwillow, $17.99, ages 10 and up), Megan Whalen Turner adds an intriguingly plotted fifth novel to the popular Queen’s Thief series, which is set in a fantasy world resembling ancient Greece. Though each is a stand-alone, the books are bound by a common, often confounding character, the trickster king, Eugenides. Though not central to the new novel, Eugenides is still influential in the desperate escape — or kidnapping — of his enemy’s privileged head slave, Kamet. Both Kamet, the first-person narrator, and his soldier-rescuer, Costis, appeared separately in previous books, but here they form an unlikely team pitted against fiery ships, dogged trackers and even a lion. At first, clever Kamet thinks poorly of Costis’ quiet humor and bulk, but he grows to recognize the man’s strengths and his own limitations. It’s not until they reach the palace of Attolia, though, that Kamet begins to suspect the king’s true motives and why he was paired with Costis. The stakes are high and peace uneasy between Attolia and neighboring nations.

Turner builds suspense not with battles and gore but through strategizing and charged, subtle dialogue. She’s so deft at setting up events and characters for future books that readers will be tempted to search for possible clues in the sketch and short note that conclude the story and in the maps on the end pages. Though originating 21 years ago with “The Thief,” winner of a Newbery Honor, this stylishly written series, with its fractious leaders and fraught politics, remains as fresh as the latest headline. — MARY QUATTLEBAUM


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