Here’s one of the titles from my Hopeful Cybils list.
Creature of the Pines. Unicorn Rescue Society #1 by Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly. April 2018.
Newbury Honor and Cybils winning author Gidwitz and illustrator Aly team up again after The Inquisitor’s Tale for this start to a not-quite-middle-grade series. Elliott Eisner is a quiet, self-conscious boy. It really doesn’t help that there’s a field trip, to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, on his first day of school. He winds up on the bus sitting next to punk-looking, poetry spouting Uchenna Deveraux, a cheerful loner who tells Elliott that she’s part African, part New Orleans. The group is led by strange Professor Fauna from Peru. Soon, Elliott and Uchenna have wandered off the trail and found a cute, unidentifiable baby animal trapped in plastic string. Of course they have to rescue it!
Back with the class, they meet with a woman from the local Native American Nation. She was carefully depicted as a modern, educated woman with a doctorate, currently visiting from the city. She tells them how the indigenous people, escaping enslaved people, and British loyalists all mingled in the hostile Pine Barrens, as well as sharing the legends of the maybe mythical, maybe just hard to spot Jersey Devil.
There are no unicorns in this book, but Professor Fauna (spoiler!) inducts the children into the Unicorn Rescue Society, which looks for and protects endangered magical creatures around the globe. Their biggest enemies are the evil Schmoke brothers, whose motto is “remaking the world the way we want it” and whose huge factories spoil the wild places such animals need to survive.
There are plenty of exciting chase scenes woven into the story, and Hatem Aly’s expressive line pictures add to the overall charm. My daughter, age 8 when she read it, is the perfect age for this. She’s mostly only reading graphic novels in print these days, but even she confessed to staying up late to finish this one. Book 2, The Basque Dragon, is out now, and if someone would nominate it, I’d be able to read it yet this year!