Issue # 33 The word “lagniappe” (pronounced ‘lan yap’) is a common term used in Louisiana. It means “a little something extra.” The literary community of the University of New Orleans offers our readers a literary lagniappe–reviews of recently published children’s books. Within categories, books are arranged alphabetically by the author's last name.
The Fire Eaters by David Almond. Delacorte, $15.95 Ages 8-15.
This fictional story offers readers many dimensions of interest—history, England, love, hope—all in a believable and compelling, yet complicated narrative. The Fire Eaters is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis—a time when world powers threatened one another with weapons of mass destruction. With a conflict impending, its potential devastation is anticipated in far off regions such as those in the story’s setting of Keely Bay where British teenager Bobby Burns is struggling to reach manhood. Through the story’s several subplots, readers learn that Burns’ ordinary life is not only shaken by his fears of war, but compounded by several other worries: losing his father to illness; witnessing the suffering of others; and dealing with an abusive situation at his school. In a manly fashion, Burns overcomes his fears by standing up to his oppressors and by accepting fate. As Burns climactically reaches these terms, all of the subplots merge with the resolution of Burns discovering that happiness in life is experienced by joyfully sharing it with those he cares for. The author manages to expose the bleak realities facing an impressionable young man living through stressful conditions, while at the same time, interweaving the reassuring influence of family and friends who become the real heroes and cause for celebration in this story. Age appropriate readers will find this read challenging as well as rewarding. —Nancy Pearson
January 1905 by Katherine Boling. Harcourt, 2004. $16.00 Ages 10 and up.
Set in 1905, this novel gives readers a glimpse into what life was like for a child who labored in a mill from dusk until dawn and another child who was responsible for all of the household responsibilities from cooking to milking the cow. The simple, yet hardworking lives of ten-year-old twins, Pauline and Arlene, are detailed throughout the story. Pauline works in a cotton mill with her parents and her brother Josh, while Arlene stays at home to tend to the chores, since she has a crippled foot. The sisters’ hatred for each other is fueled by their beliefs that the other has a better life. Daily, both of the twins let their imaginations run wild by daydreaming about what the other sister is doing. A series of events help Pauline and Arlene realize that life is not always what it seems to be. The sisters learn to appreciate each other for who they are, and they finally create a sisterly bond. The author separates each chapter into two sections. The first section is Pauline’s perspective and the second section is Arlene’s perspective. Interestingly, the author does not need to label who is speaking because the reader will learn the voices of each character enough to realize each distinct narrative. Even though the text is simple enough for a ten-year-old to comprehend, the realistic story is compelling enough for adults to enjoy. The author’s descriptive writing really lets the reader into the minds of Pauline and Arlene so that their feelings and emotions can be truly understood. Also the details and imagery that the author inserts help the reader obtain a visual of the setting. This novel can teach readers about the joy of sibling bonds as well as what life was like at the turn of the 20th century.–Regina Finch
Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti. Simon and Schuster. $15.95 Ages 12+.
Ruby McQueen was not looking for her identity, but on the summer before her senior year she happened to find it. Amongst bad boys, some illegal activity, and a hysterical group of the elderly, Ruby learns about love, family, trust, and most of all how to look at her mother as a woman.
Ruby labels her mother as a strong and intelligent woman with a pathetic soft spot for one thing, her sleazy father. She is not able to accept or understand her mother’s behavior, and she cannot fathom why she constantly puts herself in situations that make her look so weak. All of this is baffling to Ruby, that is until she meets Travis, and her so-called views of the world come crashing down around her. She may be more like her mother than she ever expected!
Featuring non-traditional values and families, mixed in with old-fashioned romance warmed up the novel to grace it with striking realism. The use of foreshadowing and character reflection added great depth, and made the novel a page-turner. Teens will feel for Ruby’s lack of control over her emotions and sometimes her actions. Though the book had a somewhat slow start, the reader has to hold on to enjoy the exciting, if not bizarre, journey Ruby finds herself on.
Klimt and His Cat by Berenice Capatti. Illustrated by Octavia Monaco. Eerdmans Books. $18.00. Ages 7-11.
This picture book portrays the life of Gustav Klimt through the eyes of his cat, Katze who introduces readers to the artist’s lifestyle while also introducing his artwork. It also hints about the battle modern artists face because of the comparison of their art with traditional art. This short story cleverly shows the importance of hard work, dedication, continual education, and being true to oneself.
Along with the text’s view of his life, the book’s illustrations mimic Klimt’s original style. They show readers the wonderful borders of flowers, architectural designs, and shapes Klimt painted which were emphasized through the use of gold and silver. The end pages display some of Klimt’s most famous paintings.
Sing a Song of Tuna Fish: Hard-to-Swallow Stories from 5th Grade by Esme Raji Codell. Hyperion, 2004. Grades 4 up. Sing a Song of Tuna Fish is the story of Esme Raji Codell’s childhood in Chicago in the seventies, but it will appeal to readers who have never been to Woolworth’s or survived the blizzard of 1979. Young readers will connect with the story because Esme writes about her experiences with details that make her world—and her worldview—come alive. Her voice is fresh and confiding; she invites the reader into her life as if to say, “You’re sure to find this as funny and odd as I do.”
Esme is “growing up absurd” with two eccentric parents. Her mother encourages her to egg a rich man’s car and her father tells her “Mazel tov” when she decides not to attend temple anymore. The depiction of the “free” school where students wear Halloween costumes everyday and take classes in puppet making and disco dancing will fascinate young readers who attend schools driven by standardized testing. There are also timeless aspects to her tale, such as her dawning awareness of boys and her love of reading. Many children will relate to the matter-of-fact way she deals with hard times, from her parents’ financial trouble to the death of a classmate.
Sing a Song of Tuna Fish is a story that treasures differences, rejects materialism, and describes a young life unhindered by pressure to succeed and conform. Her adult books, Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year and How to Get Your Child to Love Reading both promote the view that childhood is immeasurably enhanced by books and zaniness. In this chronicle of Esme’s childhood, she portrays what it feels like to grow up amid poetry and drama, romance and realism, open minds and open hearts. –Ann Marie Coviello
The Wish List by Eoin Colfer. Hyperion. 16.95. Ages 12-16.
The Wish List was an enchanting novel with a spiritual touch that dealt with serious teen issues. The story takes place in Ireland where two teenagers, Meg and Belch are always into trouble. When a robbery goes sour, unfortunately Meg and Belch find themselves dead. Meg, however, is equally good and bad so neither heaven nor hell will accept her. The only way Meg will be accepted into paradise is to go back to earth and help someone in need. At the same time, Meg’s evil counterpart, Belch, is trying to ruin her chances of going to heaven. Colfer has done a wonderful job of making his characters come to life giving each character so much depth that readers feel they know them. This page-turner is too hard to put down and leaves readers with a feeling of happiness and a little sadness too. Although published as a YA title, The Wish List is a not-to-be missed book for adults as well. –Toni Williams
Inside Grandad by Peter Dickinson, Wendy Lamb Books, $15.95. Ages 7-12.
Gavin tosses a fish to a whale, and the creature gives Gavin a mysterious smile. Could it really be a selkie, one of those mysterious sea creatures that comes ashore at night and sheds its skin to take on human form? Grandad’s Celtic tales fascinate Gavin. Does Grandad really believe in selkies? Grandad was talking about the selkies when he had his stroke. Grandad cannot speak or respond in any way. Gavin spends most of his after school hours and nights with Grandad at the hospital. The therapist even lets Gavin help with Grandad, but Grandad is not responding to any treatment. If only Gavin could get inside Grandad and tell him how much he loves him? Should he ask the selkies for help? Gavin takes a special present to the selkies. The present is a model boat that Grandad recently made for Gavin’s upcoming birthday. Gavin carefully paints the boat and names it “Selkie.” He takes the boat down to the edge of the water and sends it on its way to the selkies. Gavin does literally get inside of Grandad. Did the selkies work this magic when Gavin took hold of Grandad’s hand? Once inside, Gavin finds that he can communicate through thoughts. He explains to Grandad about the stroke and shows Grandad how to move his hand by helping him remember how to cast a fishing line. Gavin’s family and the hospital staff witness Grandad tightly holding Gavin’s hand. Gavin returns to his own body. Grandad shows more signs of recovery from the stroke. Gavin’s birthday present “Selkie” comes floating back to him one evening. Could these Celtic tales of selkies be true? Dickinson writes of this special bond that exists between grandparents and grandchildren with humor and warmth. Dickinson handles the tough issues of illness and loss with sensitivity. The selkie magic adds a delightful mysterious twist to the story.
Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami. Delacorte. $14.95. Ages 11-15. Told by Amber Dhillon, this book begins at Coppergate Secondary School where she and her two sisters are known as the “Bindi Babes.” Amber-12, Jazz-11, and Geena-14, are known around school as the coolest, hottest girls around, but they are secretly struggling with the loss of their mum who recently passed away. Because their father is uninvolved, the girls have always gotten what they wanted until an unexpected guest arrives and ruins everything. Auntie is interfering and cramping their style. The girls desperately need to get rid of her and there is only one way. They need to marry her off. Will Auntie ever fall in love with someone? The girls go through twists and turns in this rocky story to get rid of Auntie while all along what they really need is the love of their father, their acceptance of Auntie, and the memories of their mum to keep them a happy family. Narinder Dhami captures the involvement of real situations. She attracts a younger female audience by telling a tale of death, love, and life lessons. This novel was delightful. -Ashley Bernard
A Blue So Blue by Jean-Francois Dumont. Sterling. $14.95. Ages 4 up.
A Blue So Blue, translated from the French by Michel Bourque, is a children’s book about a little boy who lives in the middle of a big, gray city. He loves to paint and draw and is consumed with his art. A recurring dream of the perfect blue color sets in motion his quest for a “blue so blue, the blue of his dreams.” He journeys to a museum, the big blue sea, a tropical island, a jazz club, and even an African desert. In each place he receives help from a different source – a security guard, a sailor, a turtle, a bluesman, and a tribesman. After traveling the world, he discovers that the perfect blue color is at home, in his mother’s eyes.
Jean-Francois Dumont uses bright colors, soft, subdued hues, and different perspectives to both capture the moods and allow us a glimpse into this small boy’s world. Through this journey, we learn that what we seek “may never have been very far away.” The language is rich and varied; his descriptions are stunning–“He dipped his brush on the edge of a tear.” He also employs rhyme when the little boy tries to describe the exact blue he seeks, each time altering the description as he struggles to define it. “’Night after night I’ve been dreaming of blue’ the little boy said. ‘A blue so blue, it’s both warm and cool. A blue so blue, it shines like a jewel.’“ This book is a new jewel in the treasure of children’s literature and is certain to become a beloved classic.– Lydia Badon
A House of Tailors by Patricia Reilly Giff. Wendy Lamb Books. $15.95. Ages 9-12.
This memorable book is told through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Dina Kirk. Even though Dina has a gift for sewing, she grows tired of it because she has been working in her family’s dressmaking business every day since age four. When Dina is accused of being a French spy, her mama quickly arranges for her to leave Germany and go to her uncle in Brooklyn, America. She travels alone for fifty-four days on that dreadful journey. Though Dina wants to escape sewing, it seems like it’s her destiny when she steps foot into another house of tailors. She soon becomes homesick and yearns to see her loving family again. As Dina adapts to the new environment, she discovers priceless family values and learns how to care for the people around. Her courage shows through during a time when smallpox is common. Dina’s bravery during a fire amazes her neighbors and strengthens the relationship between her and the Uncle.
Giff brilliantly allows the reader to sense compassion from Dina’s Mama and sister by including their brief but warm letters. The setting of 1870s Brooklyn establishes the mood, letting readers feel as though they are witnessing young Dina’s growing and changing into a more responsible person. Even though the plot seems to be based on big events that the characters can’t control, their actions and behaviors drive the story to its best moments. - Shella Nguyen
The Get Rich Quick Club by Dan Gutman. HarperCollins. $16.89. Ages 8 – 12.
The Get Rich Quick club, led by CEO Gina, has discovered a way to make a million dollars. Gina and her friends devise a wacky plan that involves a UFO, a picture, and a newspaper geared to gullible readers. If the club can get someone to buy their phony picture, then they will be instant millionaires. Or so it seems. But something’s too good to be true. The truth gets out. What will happen to the Get Rich Quick club? The twist ending will keep readers intrigued till the very last page.
Gutman’s story telling ability keeps readers turning the pages. He can grab a child’s interest and hold on to it till the end. He uses a vocabulary that is easy for children to understand and uses short chapters to keep the plot moving. The book’s action rises as the club devises new ways to get rich and falls every time the plan fails, but there’s always a spark of hope waiting at the end of each chapter. This spark is what keeps the reader engaged to the last chapter. Gutman’s humor is over the top with crazy schemes, and readers can’t help but laugh out loud!–Heather Catoir
Ida B … and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan. Greenwillow. $16.89. Ages 9 -12.
Nine-year-old Ida B. Applewood lives in her own world following her own rules (second to Mama and Daddy’s rules, of course). Her bestest of best friends include Rufus the slobbering K-9, Lulu the sassy feline, the brook, and her apple tree orchard. Life-loving Ida B. prides herself in creating fun-filled days of adventure, mischief (the kind you don’t get into trouble for), inventing time saving devices, and coming up with tactics to outwit all kinds of badness.
Out of nowhere, Ida B’s world gets flipped upside down, and she’s left to follow rules that are not her own. She doesn’t understand why Mama’s not herself and why Daddy has turned into the meanest person ever by sending her to school after being home schooled and by selling a part of the orchard to a family to build a home. Brokenhearted, Ida B. must come up with ways to chase away the new neighbors, bring Mama and Daddy back to their normal states, and regain control of her once-was-fun-and-exciting life. This nine-year-old future super hero soon discovers that it’s easier said than done.
Ida B. will take readers out of their world and into hers. This charming book had me chuckling to myself in a roomful of grown-ups, brought back fond and mischievous childhood memories, and filled my heart with delight.– Vinh “Vinnie” Tran
The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse. Illustrated by Wendy Watson. Wendy Lamb Books, $16.95. Ages 6 up.
This picture book is set during World War II in Warsaw, Poland, where the entire Jewish population was herded into a ghetto and suffered terribly. The illustrator’s use of simple water color drawing adds a greater dimension to the telling of the story. The narrator of the story is a little girl who has managed to escape the ghetto because of her Polish looks. This character is fictional but her voice is used to convey the true story of the Jewish Resistance. This child is concerned about the well being of her friends and neighbors who are being starved. In a child-like way, she speaks of the abandoned pets, specifically cats, who no longer have homes, but are free to roam wherever and feast on mice. These cats do not go hungry. They can find their own food, but the people in the ghetto have no such hope. This child conveys the story of how the resistance workers each carrying satchels filled with breads, groats, and sugar will be arriving by train. The Nazis learn of this plan and are ready with their attack dogs. The Jewish Resistance in the city is ready too. Many of those abandoned cats are stuffed in satchels and when the train arrives, the cats are let out of the bags. Mass confusion occurs. The resistance workers are able to carry out their plan. The food is crammed into cracks in the ghetto wall to offer some relief to those imprisoned there. The story is written with clarity and sensitivity. The story is one of bravery and determination set in a terrible time and a terrible place. Even though the subject matter may be considered heavy for a young child, Ms. Hesse delivers a message that children can readily understand: caring about others. This book could be an effective way of sparking chilren’s interest about unpleasant facts of life while not taking away their innocence.
Godless by Pete Hautman. Simon & Schuster. $15.95. Ages 12- 16.
When sixteen-year-old Jason Bock and his friends jokingly create a religion whose deity is the town’s water tower, they never expected things to get so out of control. Beginning with the ascent of the water tower for the churches first mass, a harmless homespun religion turns into an out of control cult. This thought-provoking tale provides the reader with a creative look at the problems that arise when you attempt to create your own religion. With the critical cynicism of a teenager questioning his faith, Pete Hautman captures the essence of the young imagination with such satirical commandments as, “Thou shalt not be a jerk” and “Thou shalt not eat asparagus.” While some may take offence with the way the author pokes fun at Catholicism, such as his comparing communion to cannibalism, the story reflects the critical thinking that often occurs when teenagers question their faith. Godless is a fast-paced novel that presents an interesting look at of the consequences of both having, and lacking, faith in a higher power.- Allison Tine
Fourth-Grade Fuss by Johanna Hurwitz. Illustrated by Andy Hammond. Harpercollins. $16.89. Ages 7-10.
Fourth-Grade Fuss is a comical account of events that takes place over the course of a school year. The story takes the reader from the first day of class to almost the end of the school year. The tale includes the trials, tribulations, and fun that fourth graders Julio Sanchez and his fellow classmates have. The children are anxiously preparing for the “dreadful” statewide test. Leading up to test day, Julio and his friends begin to rely on superstitions to get them a passing grade. The children hope that using a “lucky” pencil or wearing their underwear inside out will get them into to the fifth grade. Most young readers will be able to relate to this story. The book contains several illustrations, which provide a glimpse into Julio’s happy family life, the joy he receives when with friends, and the sheer agony he is going through on test day. Hurwitz does an exceptional job of providing a humorous story, true- to- life character development, an interesting plot that entices the reader, with a setting that makes readers feel like they are personally in the story. –Judy Fenasci
1The Wedding Planner’s Daughter by Coleen Murtagh Paratore. Simon & Schuster. $15.95. Ages 9-13.
Willa Havisham is the twelve-year-old daughter of a wedding planner. Both mother and daughter are still dealing with the loss of the father Willa has never known. To make matters worse, Willa’s mom is determined that Willa’s life should be nothing like her own. Throughout the book the reader is introduced to many interesting characters that help Willa to deal with her life and dreams. And in the end Willa learns that what she thinks she wants is not necessarily as good as what she gets. Told through the voice of this young girl and set in the magical Cape Cod, readers are treated to a romantic atmosphere and are given a glimpse of what it is like to live in the Cape. Young readers may relate to the events that occur in Willa’s world. This is a really delightful read. -Lauren Hage
Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez. Roaring Book Press 2004. $16.95. Ages 15-18.
The first thing that drew me into this book was the fact that it is immensely realistic. While some books deal with young girls who haven’t developed yet and are jealous of those who have, Perez brings to light the reality that girls who develop at a young age are often embarrassed. This book is simply refreshing. Told by Megan, a high school student, the book is written in letters to her teacher Mrs. Westland whom she trusts wholeheartedly. Megan has physically matured very quickly and in her opinion, she is overdeveloped. Perez’ use of similes, metaphors and other colorful imagery brings the novel to life and really taps into a reader’s senses.
As a whole, the novel’s lesson to teenage girls in particular is that of self worth. Inner beauty shines stronger than anything, and intelligence and personality will be with you always; beauty is fleeting. The book demonstrates the message that when you look in the mirror you should see and believe in your wonderful qualities, but not just because others do. You should believe in these attributes because you, yourself see them, and what an unexpected development that will be. This novel may open both teens’ and adults’ eyes to help them see a different point of view. –Jessica Wadge
This collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s work with illustrations by Gris Grimly offers the same great taste with a brand new package. The book is composed of the tales The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, Hop-Frog, and The Fall of the House of Usher. Illustrating Edgar Allan Poe’s tales in a comic book format, Gris Grimly has created horrifying yet hilarious pictures. Readers will laugh at the insane characters and be left guessing on what is going to happen next. Grimly fills the book from the front cover till the last page with ghoulish, dark, and eye-catching pictures and font. The illustrations lighten and add humor to the text, which is perfect for younger readers. Designed to grab the attention of readers of any age, this book is appropriate not only for Edgar Allan Poe fans, but also for new readers and children. -Fariha Khan
How I live now by Meg Rosoff. Wendy Lamb Books. $16.95. Ages 12 up.
how I live now by Meg Rosoff is a young adult novel, telling the contemporary story of Daisy. This self-possessed, yet troubled fifteen-year-old New Yorker is sent by her recently remarried father and stepmother to live with her aunt and cousins in rural England. Since Aunt Penn’s peace work requires her to travel to Oslo, Daisy and her cousins are left without any adult supervision to enjoy the simple, country life. This bucolic existence is forever changed when England is invaded and occupied by an enemy. Daisy and her cousins are left to their own devices to survive. She develops a close relationship with all of her cousins and finds true love. England’s military subsequently take over their home so Daisy and Piper, her youngest cousin, are separated from the others, and all must face difficult conditions and challenges to survive.
Rosoff’s novel is filled with wonderful descriptions and believable characters. She creates an extraordinarily vivid voice for Daisy. “’What impressed me,' Daisy says vaguely, 'is how simple it seemed to be to throw a whole country into chaos by dumping a bunch of poison into some of the water supplies and making sure no one could get electricity or phone connections and setting off a few big bombs here and there in tunnels and government buildings and airports.'” Readers get to know the many sides of Daisy- an angry daughter; a clever, funny, and sarcastic teenager; and a focused, creative survivor. This Printz Award winner explores the themes of love, survival, and how war changes forever those it touches.–Lydia Badon
Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci by Jon Scieszka. Penguin. $14.99. Ages 8-12.
Yet another adventure of the Time Warp Trio, this time takes readers in search of Leonardo da Vinci. Fred, Sam and Joe set out to travel back in time to meet the man behind the legend. They are amazed to find that not only was da Vinci a renowned artist but also an avid scientist and inventor. As they talk with him and flip through his books, they discover the genius of his ideas, well before his time. The trio’s exciting excursion is overshadowed, as Captain Nassti infringes upon their learning experience. The trio does not let him keep them down for long, and they’re back to business! The Time Warp Trio comes away from their encounter with da Vinci with invention aspirations of their own—even if they do involve pizza, television, and underarm tricks! Jon Scieszka’s novel is fast-paced and fun-filled! Adam McCauley’s zany illustrations add to the story’s excitement. With its “go out and get ‘em” feel, this book is sure to intrigue young readers, especially boys. -Ayreca Berthelot
Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Lane Smith. Museum of Modern Art, Viking. $16.99. Ages 6 and up.
Seen Art? is the latest genius of the Scieszka and Smith collaborations. The main character walks through the city streets in search is his friend Art. Helpful New Yorkers send him to MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art), where he repeatedly asks, “Where is Art?” The patrons send him from room to room of the museum where he views mobiles, oils, watercolors, collages, murals, inks, furniture, photography, and even cinema, but still asks, “Where is Art?” Scieszka’s play on what is considered art and therefore where to find it is humorous. Smith’s quirky illustrations blended with full-color reproductions of the artwork serve as a delightful virtual tour of great pieces of modern art found in the famous museum. –Christine L. Henderson
The Boy From The Basement by Susan Shaw. Dutton. $16.99. Age 12 and up.
Charlie is a twelve-year-old boy trying to survive being abused by his parents. After accidentally locking himself outside of the house one night, he gets lost and passes out. He wakes up scared in the hospital and wants to return to the only type of home he has known. He cannot tell the authorities anything about himself except his name because he does not know anything else. On the journey through his past, Charlie begins to realize that things in his house are not right and that he cannot return. Once authorities learn what is going on in Charlie’s life, they place him with a foster parent. Through that loving and caring environment, Charlie begins the road to recovery.
Susan Shaw portrays the realities of child abuse without getting into graphic details. Having Charlie tell the story in first person narrative gives the reader an inside look into his thoughts and feelings. Through Charlie’s eyes, readers experience an emotional roller coaster ride. This heart-wrenching novel is sure to have you gasping for breath. –Kazia Brister
Here in Harlem: poems in many voices by Walter Dean Myers. Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 12+.
The poems in this book recreate authentic locations and real people through the poet’s manipulation of point-of-view. Myers’ technique involves writing from the perspectives of residents from his childhood neighborhood of Harlem to create vivid impressions that reveal characters representative of a people, an era, a way of life, a struggling, yet persevering African-American community. Through the descriptive nature of his poetry and his inclusion of photographs of the era, Myers again manipulates the reader’s perception by having audiences create images from his words and evoke meaning from his photographs. What he ultimately crafts is a window into his Harlem, a place that he has immortalized in a way that prose cannot duplicate. Through his words, readers perceive the strength of character and pride that embodied this culture of people who were striving for a better way of life while living and working in a racially biased country that did not enforce the principles of equality. The intensity of Myers’ depictions rely heavily upon the use dialect and cultural references, and while his poetry is rich in meaning, younger audiences may experience difficulty deciphering his cultural allusions and understanding the intricacies of his artistry without the aid of an instructor. Regardless of the complexity of his work, his book offers a unique sense of time and place, and is well worth the effort of contemplation.—Nancy Pearson
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson. Illustrated by Phillipe Lardy. Houghton Mifflin. Ages 12 up.
This stunning book is unlike any other–exquisite and tragic. It is a collection of fifteen interlinked sonnets, called a heroic crown of sonnets, a form that the author admits to knowing only one other example of. Marilyn Nelson further explains that she used the form as “a kind of insulation, a way of protecting myself from the intense pain of the subject matter.” The subject matter is the death of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy whose lynching in Mississippi in 1955 was a galvanizing force behind the civil rights movement.
Throughout the series of poems, Marilyn Nelson imagines that she is weaving a wreath to memorialize Emmett Till, and the poems abound with lush plant imagery. At the same time, she is creating a heroic crown for Till, in the form a ring of sonnets, each connected to the other. Her ability to master both the horror of Till’s death and the intricacy of the poetic form is breathtaking. Phillippe Lardy’s illustrations perfectly adorn the poet’s work. This book will take its place among the most moving and profound books for young adults.
–Ann Marie Coviello
Science Verse by Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Lane Smith. Viking. $16.99. Ages 8 & up. Science Verse is Scieszka and Lane’s complement to Math Curse. Again the student has been cursed and can now hear only scientific poetry. He shuffles through the day where he finds the poetry of science everywhere. The author parodies traditional nursery and jump rope rhymes, children’s songs, classic poetry, and much loved stories with scientific theories and proofs that will amuse readers of all ages. A favorite, for this reviewer, is a jab at teachers’ overuse of the thematic unit of dinosaurs. The author suspects that this over-teaching was what really caused their extinction. When the student awakens, he realizes that the curse has been lifted and it was all a dream, but unfortunately his art teacher hints that there might be another curse on its way. —Christine L. Henderson
Parts by Tedd Arnold. Dial Books. $15.99. Ages 5-9.
This colorful book is the third in a series of books by Tedd Arnold, but you don’t need to read the first two to enjoy this one. It is about a young boy who becomes concerned about commonly used phrases describing body parts. Elementary students would definitely enjoy this book. The level covers first grade through fourth grade, but it could be enjoyed by students of all ages.
The format of the books gives readers many sayings to reflect upon. Each page introduces a new idiom about a body part with an illustration in the center of the page. Then along the bottom of the pages are smaller versions of different idioms and illustrations that reflect the same subject matter. An example of what you might find in this book would be “my ears are burning” showing a boy running with his ears on fire. This book cleverly depicts sayings we use on an every day basis, but never stop to think about what they mean literally. Arnold skillfully depicts these pictures without any sign of disturbing images. He just uses humor.
The art of this book would definitely appeal to school age children. The text of the idioms is written in hand letters by the artist. The illustrations are completed in color pencils and watercolor wash. -Kristy Ramirez
Langston’s Train Ride by Robert Burleigh. Illustrated by Leonard Jenkins. Scholastic. $16.99. Ages 7-10.
A fast-paced sense of anticipation starts our journey. Short, concise phrases and sentences create an aura of excitement The pace slows as the sound of clicking heels on the sidewalk triggers a memory. It is 1920 and we are riding across the country with Langston Hughes. His rambling thoughts parallel the rumbling journey of the train. The Mississippi River comes into view and “Whoosh. Words and phrases come rushing into my head” as Hughes conceives a poem. Robert Burleigh respectfully chronicles the intense ethnic pride and sense of accomplishment embodied in Hughes’ poem. Burleigh’s book flows smoothly and pointedly like a stream of consciousness mirroring the train ride, the journey of a people, and the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” itself. The bold, distinctive colors of Leonard Jenkins’ illustrations vividly portray the symbolic journey narrated by Burleigh.
–Charmaine Costa NONFICTION
Hitler Youth: Growing Up In Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Scholastic. $16.96. Ages 10 and up.
Susan Campbell Bartoletti has done it again. Her research and extraordinary ability to present this blistering story as if never heard before deserves medal recognition. Bartoletti lets the reader know from the beginning this is a story of the youth during Hitler’s time, not Hitler himself. With phenomenal research noted in the foreword, epilogue, author’s note, photograph sources, and bibliography, Bartoletti seemingly tells this story with her researched characters sitting beside her. Their quotes, naturally placed, authentically interject each perception.
An initial attention-getting section is a glimpse inside the main characters. Throughout this historical narrative of Hitler planning to build a new world with the youngest of Germany’s people, these children and more draw the reader to feel their personal devotion, hope, and confusion. From 1926 with the Hitler Youth membership at 6,000 to the 1945 collapse reaching 7,031,226 members, their interactions with parents, families, commanders, and other youth, including Jewish and other outcasts, are remarkably presented in the most neutral tone possible while subtly connecting it to corresponding political and world events.
A cover-to-cover reading of this book leads to an opportunity for teachers to draw students into the world of history and nonfiction writing. The access features and layout allow students to see into the research and writing process. Particularly helpful is the “Quote Sources” section. Each quote is simply organized by chapter with a number behind it. The number corresponds with a specific numbered bibliography reference to help readers easily locate citations of interest and to recognize the delicate way of inserting quotes into nonfiction writing. The timeline, summary in nature, helps to put the distant past into perspective. Adding to its historical ambiance are the consistent antique white pages, black and white photos, black font, and light gray side borders, chapter headings and page numbered frames. The engaging photos capture the soul of each chapter and clarify the complex emotions and events crafted into the text. –Myra Mitchell
The Prairie Builders: Reconstructing America’s Lost Grasslands by Sneed B. Collard. Houghton Mifflin. 17.00 Ages 11up.
In narrative and photographs, Collard captures a fascinating view of the efforts of a group of scientists to reconstruct a large grassland area in Iowa. Thanks to the efforts of Congressman Neal Smith, Congress made this area a National Wildlife refuge. The story chronicles the lengthy, complicated reconstruction process. Along with organizing the task force to do the work, the project directors created a learning center to teach the local community and other visitors about the grasslands and the varieties of plant and wildlife associated with the prairie. Collard’s exceptionally sharp photographs dramatically document the beauty of the grassland and the wildlife that was introduced back into this habitat. The clear, concise narrative flows easily from page to page and is organized to nestle in amongst the photos. Inserted boxes provide the reader with information about plants and animals Through both text and photos, the author did a masterful job of documenting the ongoing process of prairie building. Collard brings three important lessons to our attention. First, we need to protect the healthy ecosystems we still have left. Second, we need to realize the importance of scientific research. Finally, we need to realize that we humans are part of the world around us –Gerald Gooch
Pictures Telling Stories: The Art of Robert Ingpen commentary by Sarah Mayor Cox, illustrated by Robert Ingpen. Penguin, $29.75 Grades 10th and up.
Australian illustrator Robert Ingpen uses his more than forty years of experience in illustration to survey the role of illustrations in stories. Not intended to be a definitive or comprehensive collection of his work or a book about his life, this book gives an explanation of the thinking and preparation that goes into each illustration. The artwork shown is taken from drawings Ingpen of the more than a hundred books he has illustrated for both children and adults. While the pictures are breathtakingly stunning and make up at least 90% of the book, the focus is not on artistic technique but rather homage to the art of storytelling and the illustrator’s duty to convey the author’s meaning as accurately as possible while leaving “space” for the reader’s imagination.
Sarah Mayor Cox provides several commentaries throughout the book explaining Ingpen’s technique and his reasons for choosing to draw pictures in certain ways. It is the artwork, however, that makes this book memorable. Many of the paintings and sketches Ingpen has illustrated throughout the years are reproduced. Some are small, rough drafts, while others are completed works enlarged and shown on double-pages. All artwork have captions, and these pictures and captions almost serve as a review of some of the greatest literature written.
The strength of the artwork could not completely compensate for the somewhat confusing organization and text. This is definitely a book where the introduction should be read. The chapters are 15 to 20 pages of drawings and captions followed by a commentary on Ingpen’s process. While this style is uniform throughout each chapter, a better understanding of each picture discussed in the commentary would have been achieved if the explanation would have come before the pictures. Also, the captions for each picture lacked consistency. Some were explanations of the pictures, some were excerpts taken from the books in which they appeared, while others were reasons by Ingpen for the decisions he made concerning the techniques he used. The book ends with a chronology of Robert Ingpen’s life and a catalog of the reproduced illustrations.
This book is quite successful in showcasing the work of Robert Ingpen and in demonstrating the amount of thought necessary to accurately represent the author’s vision. It is a worthwhile read for art enthusiasts as well as students of illustration. –Susan Guidry
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Houghton Mifflin. $15.00. Grades 2 to adult.
Jacqueline Davies focuses on a vignette from the early life of Audubon in this biographic picture storybook. On his farm in Pennsylvania, Audubon becomes so attached to a family of flycatchers that he devises a plan to see if the same bird family will return to him in the spring. The author writes using colorful language and authentic details that capture the fabric of colonial life and Audubon’s unabashed enthusiasm for birds. For example, when Audubon dashes in to tell the housekeepers about his flycatchers, she points her wooden spoon at his muddy boots in dismay before she responds. Illustrator Melissa Sweet’s distinctive combination of watercolor sketch and collage (seen previously in Girls Think of Everything) is well chosen to reflect the style and nature of Audubon’s journal sketches and natural collections, interspersed throughout the story illustrations. The book is well researched, including a bibliography and notes on sources from both the author and illustrator. Even the bird songs (written in musical notes) from the illustrations are sourced! Humorous touches throughout the text and illustrations lighten the subject and spark interest. An enjoyable read, which just happens to be a true story, Davies’ book is also distinctive in that it reveals a snapshot of the scientific method in action.
W. E. B. Du Bois: A Stranger in My Own House. Bonnie Hinman. Morgan Reynolds. $27.00, Grades 5-12.
This enlightening, well-written biography chronicles not only Du Bois’ broad career as scholar, trailblazer, activists, writer, and cofounder of the NAACP but also the African American experience. Hinman presents DuBois’ academic accomplishments from high school to being the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard. He emerged as one of the greatest black leaders in U. S. history and fought for the liberation of black people all over the world. He used his position as a writer and editor of The Crisis to educate masses of people. Du Bois’ ideas conflicted with the ideas of Booker T. Washington and Walter White (executive secretary of the NAACP) often creating unrest among Americans. His quest for the truth about his own people and his outspoken beliefs eventually caused him to flee the U. S. for Ghana, Africa, where he died at the age of 97 in 1963. This engaging narrative is readable and contains table of contents, timeline, sources, chapter headings, maps, archival portraits and documents, bibliography, websites, and index that add credence to the work. Hannah Trufant
Shutting Out The Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York 1880-1924by Deborah Hopkinson. Orchard Books. $17.95. Grades 5 to adult.
Hopkinson focuses on the immigrant experience of living in the tenements in the Lower East Side of New York in the early 20th century. She follows the lives of five different immigrants as they struggle to survive in abominable housing, find decent employment, and educate themselves against frightening odds in a strange country. The scope of Shutting Out the Skyis broad, ranging from topics such as immigrant home life, working conditions, and child labor, to informational chapters about historical events such as the Triangle Fire, union formation, and Jacob Riis’ call for decent, affordable housing. The immigrants’ stories, told in narrative form and punctuated by quotes from autobiographies, alternate with and pepper the informational writing about the conditions in New York at this time. Stylistically, Hopkinson’s switchbacks from informational to the narrative immigrant stories are sometimes awkward and disconcerting, especially since there are five different immigrant stories woven into the book. Perhaps Hopkinson’s flaw with this book was her ambition to portray the individual nature of each immigrant’s experience (stated in the foreword and reiterated in the author’s note.) If she had focused on a single immigrant’s experience in depth, rather than five, the book’s balance of informational and narrative might have flowed, creating less confusion. On a positive note, the book is superbly documented, containing a bibliography, author’s notes, timeline, and index. The numerous sepia photographs are striking, (reminiscent of Russell Freedman’s Immigrant Kids), and well chosen to illustrate the text. Hopkinson’s book is definitely engaging, if not riveting. Her specialized non fiction work sheds light on the historical shadows surrounding immigrant life in the slums of New York. –Michelle Posey
The Story of Halloween by Carol Greene, illustrated by Linda Bronson. HarperCollins $16.89. Grades 2nd – 5th.
At first glance, this book appears to be a simplistic overview of Halloween. After the first couple of pages, however, it is quite apparent it is more than that. Carol Green explains the entire history of Halloween in enough detail to keep readers curious and interested. Although no documentation is provided regarding research done for the book, its content is quite thorough. The book spans from Celtic celebrations of 2000 years ago to Halloween as it is known today. The easy-to-follow narrative shows how ancient customs and traditions spanning thousands of years have been altered and carried on into modern times. It provides a wealth of information in an easy-to-read, straightforward, and appealing way with enough depth to keep readers interested without presenting too many elements that may confuse young readers. It ends with pumpkin art projects and Halloween riddles. The book starts off and remains strong until the end, but does contain a couple of areas that seem somewhat detached from the greater part of the book. A section toward the end describing ways people have made Halloween unsafe and how communities have dealt with the problem makes that segment uneven and somewhat difficult to follow. In addition, the illustrations, although colorful, tend to cause further distraction. The drawings are stretched and slightly distorted, and have muted colors which give an eerie mood that contradicts the lighter tone of the text. Because the book is so full of factual information, having to stop to figure out what is going on in the illustrations distracts from the content without offering any additional insight or meaning. Despite these minor weaknesses, this is definitely a book worth reading for anyone interested in the origins and evolution of Halloween. –Susan Guidry
Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester. Illustrated by Karen Barbour. HarperCollins. $16.89. Grades 1 – 6.
Julius Lester, Newbery Honor Award winning author, says, “I write because our lives are stories. If enough of those stories are told, then perhaps we will begin to see that our lives are the same story. The differences are merely in the details.”
Through his strong and passionate tone, Julius Lester immediately makes readers feel they are conversing with a potentially new friend. Diversity is brought to the forefront in a uniquely succinct manner. Lester’s ability to promote higher-order thinking while using natural and casual vocabulary to support a young reader’s understanding is admirable. Through his narrative story, subtle statements and occasional questions spur discussions of a reader’s personal opinion.
Metaphorically, Lester compares the human race to a story. He conveys that readers have their own stories. The people and events occurring in their lives are part of their personal story. The elements of their story are personal preferences of favorite colors, foods, religion, and yes, even race. With vivid and figurative descriptions, Lester actively involves the reader into understanding his stance that race is only one detail of their individual story. Everyone is rudimentarily the same, made of the common bones.
The sporadic changing font size is not particularly effective. Although it’s more distracting than interesting, it makes the format visually unique. Karen Barbour nicely complements the voice and tone of this sensitive topic. In harmony, her thick black outlines, bold color overlays, facial expressions, and character stances speak loudly to emphasize Lester’s passion for all to consider taking off their skin and looking deeply into each other. Every librarian, teacher, and parent should share aloud Let’s Talk About Race. The message is very current and needed with today’s ethnic unrest. –Myra Mitchell
Remember the Journey to School Integrationby Toni Morrison. Houghton Mifflin. Ages 6 and up.
Toni Morrison has created a photographic and narrative memoir of school integration. Ms. Morrison states “Because remembering is the mind’s first step toward understanding, this book is designed to take readers on a journey through a time in American life when there was as much hate as there was love; as much anger as there was hope; as many heroes as cowards.” The photographs selected vividly portray the intense emotional fervor of the era while contrasting the courage and cowardice of the players. The black and white lettering on sepia pages symbolically forwards each collection of photographs while the fictional dialogue illustrates a sincere empathy with the emotional intensity of the event. –Charmaine Costa
The Great Brain Book, An Inside Look at the Inside of Your Head by HP Newquist.
Illustrated by Keith Kasnot and Eric Brace. Scholastic. $18.99. Grades 6-12.
HP Newquist’s book about the brain will engage even the most reluctant science student. The cover is bright and flashy, and the accompanying photographs, medical illustrations, and cartoons add even more appeal. The reader will understand the author’s sense of awe towards the human brain after reading the text. Newquist briefly introduces the brain and then follows with more complex chapters. Within the chapters there are many subtopics. By having less technical, yet interesting topics as his beginning chapters, the reader will feel compelled to read the more scientific, subsequent chapters. Newquist introduces many technical terms and complex ideas about the brain. A phonological guide is missing, however, for all the medical vocabulary. The author writes about the history behind the brain, humans’ understanding of the brain, what’s inside our brains, how our brains work, and more; all the while he emphasizes that we still know very little about this organ. Newquist uses medical illustrations, sidebars, photographs, and many metaphors to help support understanding. At times, he uses too many metaphors that seem too simplistic given the complexity of the brain. There is white space between paragraphs; this allows the reader to more easily process the information. Newquist writes in a conversational style whenever possible, which makes the book easy to read. This makes the humorous cartoons seem somewhat superfluous since the tone has already been established by the writing style. There are large printed leads for every chapter; they invite the reader to imagine, ask questions, or just ponder the upcoming topic. The chapters are color coded, but this seems unnecessary. All pages have a small medical illustration of the brain and there are many large clarifying medical illustrations. This reference book about the brain will actually excite children to learn about this amazing organ. –Julie Schneider
Turtle Tide: Ways of the Sea Turtle by Stephen R. Swinburne, Illustrated by Bruce Hiscock, Boyds Mill Press. Ages 8-11.
Stephen R. Swinburne uses a descriptive story to cover the journey of a loggerhead turtle to a sandy Atlantic beach in search of a place to make her nest. There she will lay about 100 eggs. After laying her eggs, she makes her journey back to the ocean. Bruce Hiscock uses vivid watercolor scenes to provide readers with a visual account of the sea turtle’s life cycle. Once the eggs are laid and covered, life begins for the new generation of loggerheads. Swinburne shows how threats to their survival by raccoons, ghost crabs, a blue heron, sand sharks, and sea gulls are reduced to one lone survivor. Two-paged appended section entitled “About Sea Turtles” provides ore information about these mysterious creatures.–Hannah Trufant
Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes by Pamela S Turner. Houghton Mifflin. $17.00. Ages 12 up.
The author tells an interesting, informative, and compassionate story with photographs and narrative of the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. The crystal clear photographs are fascinating in their revelation of the life of the gorilla population in Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans and of the dedicated people who care for them. Perhaps not indicated but implied in the photos are the inherent dangers when dealing with these wild animals.
Turner brings readers to 1902 when scientists first learned of the mountain gorillas from a German officer who shot two of the apes and for whom the scientific name is derived. Because the forests were cut down to make farmland, mountain gorillas were forced higher up the mountain. Another hunter came in 1921 to collect specimens for museums and realized that these animals were not the “hellish creatures” he thought. Ashamed that he had shot one of the gorillas, he persuaded the government to create a national park. Other scientists in the late 1950s followed to study the mountain gorillas. Dian Fossey did much to bring the plight of the mountain gorilla to the world’s attention, laying the groundwork for the Morris Animal foundation to fund the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.
Turner relates events of current day veterinarians as she alerts readers to new dangers facing the mountain gorillas––human diseases and injuries caused by poachers.
Turner has done an excellent job of documenting the continuing story of the mountain gorillas. She has not only provided beautiful photographs of the apes, the countryside, and the people but also she has provided maps, informative insets, additional resources, web sites, and compassionate stories about the animals. –Gerald Gooch
The Salem Witch Trials An Unsolved Mystery from History by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabeth Yolen Stemple. Illustrated by Roger Roth. Simon and Schuster. 16.95 Ages: 8-12
This very informative book told from a young girl’s point-of-view transports readers to 1692 where they learn some factual details about the witch trials. Two girls named Betty and Abigail become very sick. They did strange things and shouted things that people did not understand. The town became frightened when other people in the village began to act the same way. The local doctor Mr. Griggs did not know what to do so he pronounced the two girls bewitched, and the town was in an uproar. Later it was discovered that perhaps someone in the town had bewitched the girls.
This book was very good at explaining the vocabulary to young readers. I liked how each page had word boxes with definitions. The book was very factual and well documented. The authors were sure to let readers know that some things were unknown. The young narrator explains how these stories are only theories and not definite facts about what truly occurred. At the end of the book, readers will be able to read several theories of what might have occurred in 1692, and they can be the detectives and decide which theory holds true for them. The pictures are very vibrant and fun to look at. The pictures capture the readers’ attention, as they show a notebook of clues that invites the readers’ participation.This is not just a boring historical book, it is worth picking up.
– Toni Williams
Editor: Patricia Austin
Reviews by undergraduate students of children's literature.
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