Preschool and elementary-school readers will find everything from puppies and kittens to women's rights and young love in new books this...

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Preschool and elementary-school readers will find everything from puppies and kittens to women’s rights and young love in new books this spring.

Picture books

Three little kittens spend spring, summer and fall nervously anticipating the cold, wet snow of winter in “A Kitten Tale” (Random House, 32 pp., $15.99, ages 3-6, written and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Eric Rohmann. But the fourth kitten insists, “I can’t wait.” The simple yet expressive artwork shows the kittens discovering snowflakes are fun after all.

Linda Ashman’s poetry in “Stella, Unleashed” (Sterling, 40 pp., $14.95, ages 4-9) is as cheeky and exuberant as a puppy. Told from a dog’s perspective (Stella chooses her family when they come to the animal shelter), the humorous rhymes aren’t forced or cloying. Illustrator Paul Meisel’s playful paintings match Stella’s enthusiasm, whether she’s licking ice-cream cones or bounding around a dog park. As Stella observes, “I welcome guests with friendliness/(unlike the snooty cat)./Trouble is, I greet so well,/I sometimes knock them flat.”

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Nature lovers — and Seattle is full of them — will want to pick up Jim Arnosky’s “Wild Tracks” (Sterling, 32 pp., $14.95, ages 5-10). Ever wondered if paw prints along a trail belong to a coyote — or just a dog? Fold-out pages show life-size tracks from the deer, feline and canine families; other pages explain how to identify everything from reptile to bird to bear signs. The informative text also offers clues on interpreting tracks. Reverse hoof prints, for example, indicate a deer made an abrupt turn to run away; dogs often wander aimlessly, while their wary wild cousins take more direct routes.

Author Philip Dray focuses on “the daring life of a crusading journalist” in “Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells” (Peachtree, 48 pp., $18.95, ages 9-12). Wells, born a slave in 1862, helped raise six younger siblings after her parents’ death, filed a lawsuit against segregation rules, and despite personal threats, wrote several newspaper exposes on lynching after a good friend was murdered. The disturbing topic is treated seriously but not explicitly; the text explains that lynching is “execution outside the law.” Stephen Alcorn’s stylized drawings — including a large arm saying “Whites Only” pushing down a black man and Ida rising like a genie out of an ink bottle — beautifully and effectively convey the book’s message to its older audience.


The 1917 fight for women’s right to vote — and the Nineteenth Amendment politics of the “Suffs” versus the “Antis” — serve as the background of Karen Schwabach’s novel “The Hope Chest” (Random House, 274 pp., $16.99, ages 9-13). Eleven-year-old Violet hasn’t seen her older sister Chloe in three years, since Chloe angered their parents and drove off in her scandalous car, slyly dubbed The Hope Chest. After finding her mother’s hidden cache of Chloe’s letters, Violet tracks her sister to New York City and then Tennessee, meeting a young black girl, Myrtle, and Chloe’s old boyfriend along the way. The mix of segregation, discrimination and politics is a lot to tackle in one book, but Violet and Myrtle’s adventures keep the pace tight and the narrative voice compelling.

The four sisters from Jeanne Birdsall’s National Book Award-winning “The Penderwicks” are back home in “The Penderwicks on Gardam Street” (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 288 pp., $15.99, ages 9-13). The girls devise a “Save Daddy Plan” when their aunt insists their widowed father start dating again. Good-natured deviousness ensues, with several side stories about a cute boy, switched homework and a new next-door neighbor. Readers familiar with the first book will understand more background and references but the new one stands on its own. It’s all old-fashioned fun; even the villain gets taken down by a football.

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