Images from Janell Cannon's
19 New Reviews
Thanks to the publishers sending books: Athenaeum, Clarion, Delacorte, Dutton, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Frances Foster, Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, J. Paul Getty Publications, Jewish Publication Society, Lerner, Lucent/Greenhaven, Overmountain, Tricycle
Entries this month: ABCs || Picturebooks- Fiction and Non-Fiction || Young Readers- Fiction and Non-Fiction || Adolescent/ YA- Fiction
Reviewers: Alida Allison, Scott Bolinger, Tracy Frie
Individual Reviews by Section:
This colorful book stars a lot of skeletons. Or rather, it stars the family that makes the skeletons for the fiesta el Dia de los Muertos. As the family works together, the process of making the art is shown, along with the generations who pass along and who inherit the craft. The book's design is outstanding; crisp flat colors and black backgrounds highlight the skeletons, for example when they're packed in the back of the pick-up truck heading for the festival.
At this point an actual alphabet begins, with skeletons in every frame, humorously clad as mariachi or zapatero. A wild double truck of all the alphabet characters dancing in fine design almost ends the book. It actually wraps up on the next page, closing the narrative with Pedro and his sons and grandsons ready to begin making calaveras for next year.
The story is warm and informative; the illustrations and design are unusual and original. This is a good book.
Can you even imagine, much less draw, dinosaurs depicted in the shapes of the alphabet--each letter a different dinosaur? Can you put on each double-truck page different delightful mysteries for readers to spot and trace out through the book-mysteries such as which painting by a Great Master is parodized in the illustration? (A key is provided in the back of the book.) Can you find all the letters you've read so far repeated on each new page in clever ways that reinforce the learning going on? Do you want pronunciations for each dinosaur's name-and, to top it off, do you want a bi-lingual book with its lighthearted verses in both Spanish and English? L.C. Sugar's book is all this and more, an original book in which the familiar alphabet cavorts in the shapes of these dinosaurs? In the generous amount of detail on each page are things kids like to find, talk about, then read and find again, like little bugs, fish, and Seuss-like flowers and trees. At the end of the book, Sugar spells with his dinosaur alphabet the message the book presents throughout: Enjoy reading.
Christelow, Eileen. Where's the Big Bad Wolf? New York: Clarion Books,2002. $15.00. ISBN 0-618-18194-6. 33pp.
There is never a moment of peace around the three little pigs as long as the Big Bad Wolf is on the prowl. Detective Doggedly is determined to catch the wolf in all of his mischief, but he always lets the wolf go in hopes of ameliorated behavior. When a strange looking sheep named Esmeralda appears in town and starts giving the pigs bad advice, the pigs' houses start getting blown down. Doggedly must get to the bottom of this mystery before the pigs get to the bottom of the Big Bad Wolf's stomach!
Christelow's spin-off of the classic Three Little Pigs tale leaves something to be desired. The story is an interesting idea, and the characters are laughable (elderly cows and a detective dog), but the presentation and writing is sub-par. The plot is predictable and boring, and the humor slightly misses the mark. The pen and watercolor illustrations are lively and colorful, but the comic bubble dialogue is stale. The reader would be well advised to stick to the classics on this one.
Du Bouchet, Paule. Prince Orpheus. Illus. Fabian Negrin. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Publications, 2003. www.getty.edu. ISBN 0-89236-737-7. No price printed.
I wrote my doctoral dissertation on versions of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth, so I read this finely-produced, small-sized hardback with relish. I noted the author added some incidents to the story, front matter showing the power of Orpheus' music in some new settings. I liked the dancing boulders and oaks. Played up is Orpheus' voyage on the Argonaut. Interestingly played down (actually not mentioned) is what happens after Orpheus, having convinced Hades to let him lead the shade of his beloved Eurydice out of the Underworld back to the living earth on that one famous condition: Don't Look Back, begins the journey upward with Eurydice behind him. Du Bouchet ends this version right after Hades gives that unique chance to Orpheus. In most versions, the next sentence is, Ooops, he turned around. And down she went again. By ending the story before the fatal lapse of Orphic attention, de Bouchet tells a story that is hopeful, one which stresses the devotion to Eurydice and artistic gifts that got Orpheus, a living being, safely to the throne of the Underworld. Orpheus is unique among the semi-divine, depicted as one who felt real love for another, rather than as one either violent or coercive in sexual relations, as were many male characters in Greek myth. Du Bouchet's truncation of the familiar myth is startling at first but makes sense as a prequel for young readers to the inevitable next sentence ("He turned around.") that all who know this story will eventually learn its ending isn't a happy one for anyone.
Fabian Negrin, artist for this and also Getty's The Perfect Knight,, deploys vibrant reds and greens and thickly-textured, flowing color, capturing the magic of this story about an artist as flowers float in air, the yellow Argonaut floats in blue space, and the wingless Sirens spew their tunes. The Dragon guarding the Golden Fleece is grandly satanic, but my favorite is the bright red penultimate painting, of Orpheus and Eurydice on their way Up. This is extraordinary art complementing a well-told text, and making a beautiful book of art.
Kotzwinkle, William and Murray, Glenn. Walter the Farting Dog: Trouble at the Yard Sale. Illus. Audrey Coleman. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 2004. $15.99. ISBN 0-525-47217-7. 29pp.
Walter is as happy as can be, farting away at the yard sale. A lack of customers worries Father, when a man finally comes to the table with an offer. To Walter's utter surprise, the man wants to buy him! Surely Father won't sell him to this strange man! For a mere ten dollars Walter is sold to his new owner, who happens to be a clown. The Clown harnesses Walter's unusual talent for blowing up balloons, and Walter is content to help make children happy. When he sees on the news that his new owner is using the gas filled balloons to rob banks, Walter knows he cannot let the clown continue. Will he be able to foil the Clown's evil plans?
Glenn and Kotzwinkle have created a sure-fire hit with this new addition to the Walter the Farting Dog series. Walter's new adventure is a creative masterpiece, and hilarious to boot. The narrative is fast-paced and witty, and the illustrations are inventive and wonderfully detailed. Audrey Coleman creates a carnivalesque atmosphere with her action-packed, collage-like depictions, without sacrificing detail or originality. Young readers will find Walter's escapade laugh-out-loud funny, while adult readers will appreciate the creativity and wit of this new classic.
Norman, Tyler and Jose S. Perez. The Banjoman. El Hombre del Banjo. Illus. Jose S. Perez. Tennessee: Overmountain Press, 2004. $12.95.ISBN 1-57072-292-7. 24pp.
This is a picture book written in both English and Spanish about a banjoman who is traveling by foot playing his instrument to whoever wants to hear him. He sees some children and plays the banjo for them which not only the children enjoy but the animals in the surrounding area also dance and enjoy. Unfortunately the banjoman breaks one of his strings and is unable to play. He becomes sad as well as everyone else. A blue bird hears the banjoman and the children crying and comes up with the idea that he will sing the missing notes so the banjoman can continue to play.
This book shows how people and animals in this case can work together and overcome any obstacle they face. This also shows the reader that simple acts of kindness can make someone else's day. The illustrations are beautifully done and show the interaction between animals and people as a normal occurrence. This book will be enjoyed by children and adults who speak either English or Spanish.
Steig, William. Yellow and Pink. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. $10.00. ISBN 0-374-38671-4. 28pp.
As most wooden puppets do when they gain consciousness, Yellow and Pink tackle the philosophical issue of their creation. They use their vast reserves of wisdom to determine how they came to be in that exact spot at that moment. Yellow asserts that their formation was purely accidental, to which Pink replies, "You mean these arms I can move this way and that, this head I can turn in any direction.all of this just happened, by some kind of fluke? That's preposterous!" (7). To this Yellow adamantly details the cosmic coincidences that occurred over millions of years to form each puppet with exacting accuracy. Pink remains unconvinced, agreeing that arguing on such a fine day is futile. When a man with a beard collects the puppets, the reader is exposed to the irony of Yellow's position.
Steig's innovative use of philosophical puppets is reminiscent of Hoban's The Mouse and His Child. Yellow and Pink are more overt than Hoban's wind-ups, revealing Steig's points to the most obtuse reader. The puppets' simplistic ideas about their creation get to the heart of the creation and evolution debate. Yellow parodies the confused evolutionist using complex theories involving numerous coincidences, while Pink asserts the straight -forward questions of the creationist that go uncontested. Steig ruthlessly pulls the rug out from under Yellow's feet when their creator scoops up the puppets and admires his work. The art is as simplistic as the philosophy, leaving something to be desired. The colors are pale and the backgrounds are lifeless. Nonetheless, for a picture book, this one goes deeper than most, and can entertain the adult reader and young reader simultaneously.
Allon, Hagit and Zehavi, Lena. The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Illus. Yossi Abolafia. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003. ISBN0-8276-0800-4. 58pp.
Daniel is an aspiring detective hot on the trail of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Assigned to do a report on them for class, Daniel must unearth their mysteries using history and archaeology as his tools. The first stop on his journey is the Shrine of the Book at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where he encounters a conspicuous man also interested in the Scrolls. Daniel finds that this strange man is a friend of the Curator of the Shrine of the Book, and these new guides point Daniel to Qumran in the Judean Desert. After convincing his parents that this is a worthy cause to lose sleep over, Daniel and his family venture to the birthplace of the Scrolls. Befriending a like-minded archaeologist, Daniel begins to learn about the mysteries of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls.
Written by trained archaeologists and senior educators at the Israel Museum, Hagit Allon and Lena Zehavi, The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provides a great deal of knowledge regarding these ancient artifacts. Eleven-year-old Daniel serves as an entertaining way to get facts across to the reader without causing boredom. As the reader follows Daniel in his quest to reveal the mysteries of the Scrolls, he is swept up in the adventure. Illustrations superimposed over photographs provide a unique visual as Daniel travels from place to place. Readers interested in these two thousand year old documents will find Daniel's quest intriguing and informative alike.
Portnoy, Mindy Avra. Where Do People Go When They Die? Illus. Shelly O. Haas. Minneapolis: Kar-Ben Publishing (Lerner), 2004. ISBN 1-58013-081-X. $15.95
Beautifully written and illustrated, Where Do People Go When They Die? depicts young children asking this question one at a time to members of their family or to people close to them. The father gives a naturalistic response, the mother speaks of heaven, the grandfather of memories, the aunt of living in the hearts of those remaining, the teacher of longevity through the generations. The children then ask themselves and answer that people go to God when they die, and the lovely text then summarizes the preceding answers. In the Afterword, sensitive advice is given to adults who will need to answer these questions for themselves, as well as for the children in their lives.
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Sis, Peter. The Tree of Life. Illus. Peter Sis. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2003. $18.00. ISBN 0-374-45628-3. 35pp.
Peter Sis takes on the arduous task of bringing Charles Darwin's writings to life in illustrated form with The Tree of Life. This chronicle of Darwin from nativity to demise is brimming with detailed images taken from the naturalist's diaries, letters, and other writings during his extensive scientific career. Sis is painstakingly thorough, with as many as sixteen drawings with diary entries on a single page, and detailed charts and maps on others. The book reads like a diary, and to compensate Sis writes explanatory text on several pages to help the reader keep track. Towards the end of the book Sis uses three different categories of Darwin's life to follow: his public, personal, and private lives. With this structured way of presenting the text, the reader is able to see Darwin's progression in each of his three different areas of life.
The Tree of Life can be overwhelming to the casual reader because of the large volume of small text and accompanying illustrations. The meticulous reader will not be disappointed with the amount of information conveyed and the efficient use of twenty-nine pages to summarize Darwin's life. Sis' book focuses mainly on Darwin's five-year voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, and Darwin's discoveries leading up to his writing of The Origin of Species. It does not inculcate evolutionary doctrine, nor does it spend more than a few pages on the subject. It fails to mention however, the prodigious lack of paleontologic evidence supporting Darwin's age-old assumptions. It also says nothing of missing intermediate fossil remains, or of Darwin's own doubts concerning his theories towards the end of his life. The Tree of Life offers a glimpse into the personal life of Charles Darwin that is largely unknown to the public, as well as a look into Darwin's legacy in science. It is left to the reader to determine whether Darwin's legacy is one that should be perpetuated in children's books, or any book for that matter.
Sis, Peter. The Tree of Life. Illus. Peter Sis. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2003. $18.00. ISBN 0-374-45628-3. 35pp.
This is a beautifully prepared picture book about the life of Charles Darwin. The book begins with a summation of his life which tells the reader what will be further explained in the book. Charles Darwin's childhood is presented as well as his education and his father's desire for his future. Each page briefly tells the highlights of his life during a particular period of time. The book further informs the reader of his five year expedition on the H.M.S. Beagle and how this experience opened his eyes to the differences and similarities around the world. All the differences and similarities exposed to Darwin in terms of people, animals, and plant life, helped guide him to his hypothesis and writing of his book The Origin of the Species. The Origin of the Species created uproar in society since it states that all living things evolve from one state to another and only the strongest will survive. The book concludes with how he lived his final days as writer and scientist.
The illustrations are done in circles which could represent the world Darwin encircled during his voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle or they could show a continuation of change during his lifetime. Maps are also included to show where Darwin traveled. Sis also shows what a page out of his lab book could possibly look like with many illustrations as to animals, plants, and people Darwin encountered. Children enjoying a visual rather than textual account of Darwin's life will thoroughly enjoy how his book is prepared. I found this biography to be very informative and creative.
Ahlberg, Allan. The Improbable Cat. Illus. Peter Bailey. New York: Delacorte Press, 2002. $9.95. ISBN 0-385-73186-8. 107pp.
The Improbable Cat is a story about a family that adopts a kitten that comes limping into their backyard one afternoon. The seemingly innocent kitten is described as cute and little. He is adored by the entire family except for David a 12-year-old and his dog Billy a mongrel terrier. The kitten begins to grow very quickly over a matter of a few days and David's Mom, Dad, and sister Josie appear to be hypnotized by it. As David watches the cat it seems to be not only becoming very large, about the size of a Labrador after only 10 days but it is also transforming into something else. The family is continuously cooking for the cat and they keep the house dark since the cat cannot stand too much light. The house which is normally kept clean now resembles an animal's den with rotting food everywhere and all the windows are covered. David and his friend George go away to camp for a week. When David returns he sees his home and family even more different than before so he then decides he must do something to get rid of the cat now or else his family will be lost to the extremely large, transforming into something cat.
This story is very imaginative and causes the reader to want to continue to read to the end to find out what is happening with this cat. I personally could not stop reading until the end. This is a small chapter book with illustrations which compliment the text. The jacket cover and the hard cover book are both illustrated beautifully. I highly recommend this book. The young reader will enjoy this mysterious tale.
Hathaway, Barbara. Missy Violet & Me. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. $15.00. ISBN 0-618-37163-X. 100pp.
Missy Violet & Me is a story about an 11-year-old girl named Viney who learns about "catchin babies" from a popular midwife named Missy Violet. One summer after her mother gives birth to her seventh child, Viney works for Missy Violet, the local midwife, in compensation for payment her parents owe for the last baby. Even though Viney is a young girl, she learns all about different roots for medicinal purposes as well as what is involved in helping in the birth of babies. Viney's cousin Charles who is a troublemaker spends part of the summer with her also. This turns into a special summer for Viney not just for learning about babies but she also learns of Missy Violet's life when she was a slave as a young girl.
This book was very interesting because it allows the reader to see life in the south as a young black girl working with a midwife. It also shows the bond that develops between Missy Violet and Viney. Viney's apprenticeship with Missy Violet not only teaches her how babies are born but she also becomes more knowledgeable than most women in Richmond County at this time.
Lowry, Lois. Gooney Bird Greene. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. $15.00. ISBN 0-618-23848-4. 88pp.
Gooney Bird Greene has a story for you, and for everyone else too, if they would all just listen. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a 'suddenly' stuck somewhere just for suspense. As a matter of fact, Gooney has lots of stories; there's the one about how she got her name, how her family got from China to Watertower, and even how her cat was consumed by a cow! When she tells you her stories, she might dress up in an orange jacket to look like a cat, or carry a cowhide purse, but she will not wear whiskers or a tail, that would be overdoing it. Make sure you don't interrupt her too many times with questions, or you may never hear about the Prince, the Palace, and the Diamond Earrings, or the lawn mower accident. If you begin to doubt her sincerity, Gooney Bird will prove you wrong, because all of her stories are absolutely true.
Gooney Bird Greene will enchant young readers with her intriguing stories and wild fashion sense. Greene, straight from the creative mind of Lois Lowry, looks and acts like an amalgamation of Pippi-Longstocking and Punky Brewster. The story-telling second grader is a remarkable character with a magnetic personality that will draw in the most skeptical reader. Set in a second grade classroom, Lowry creates a humorous and lively atmosphere to facilitate his quirky main character. Any reader interested in the art of storytelling, or even one who simply loves stories will enjoy this book. There is never a dull moment with Middy Thomas' amusing artwork and Lowry's clever text, making Gooney Bird Greene a recommended read.
Ogden, Charles. Edgar and Ellen- Rare Beasts. Illus. Rick Carton. Berkeley/ Toronto: Tricycle Press, 2003. $12.95. ISBN 1-58246-110-4. 110pp.
This book is about 12-year-old twins Edgar and Ellen who live, according to the author, on the wrong side of town in a very tall dilapidated mansion. The twins do not get along with the other children in the town because of pranks they continuously play on them. There parents are away on vacation and the twins are left alone to entertain themselves with only a caretaker. The caretaker's only concern is maintaining the house but does a very poor job at it since the outside of the home is covered with weeds. The twins have an unusual pet named Pet who is hairy all over and hides from them because of how rough they play with him. While watching a TV program about exotic pets, Edgar and Ellen decide to kidnap the town's pets and disguise them as exotic unheard of pets to make money. The book tells of their adventures in the kidnapping and transforming of ordinary pets. The twins never realize that their pet, Pet, is an unusual, exotic animal.
The book is extremely entertaining. The illustrations are wonderfully done to give the reader a glimpse into various parts of the story. The art work is beautifully done on the cover and lets the reader get a partial look at Edgar, Ellen, and their home with their pet. Readers will enjoy this tale of two siblings living life by their own rules.
Olsson, Soren and Andres, Jacobsson. Translated by Kevin Read. In Ned's Head. New York: Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 2001. $16.00.ISBN 0-689-83870-0. 133pp.
In Ned's Head is a book about a boy named Ned who keeps a diary. Since it is uncommon for boys to keep diaries Ned keeps it a secret from everyone. In it he writes about his inner thoughts of what is happening in his life and how it affects him. Ned writes about the school bully, his friends, girls, and how he attempts to make certain girls his girlfriend. This book shows how similar his feelings are with girls such as trying to fit in with his peers rather than standing out because he wears glasses. Ned even has issues with his name. Ned would rather be named something cooler and takes the alias of Treb Vladinsky when writing in his diary in case someone discovers it and reads it.
This book gives the reader a look into the mind of an 11-year-old boy. It also emphasizes to the reader that what seems trivial to an adult is a very big deal to an 11-year old. What I liked about this book is that from a boy's point of view and I am able to see boys and girls at this age have similar difficulties with being themselves and being accepted by their peers.
Young Readers- Non-Fiction
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, left America reeling and uncertain. In the midst of the confusion and fear that gripped the country, many Americans turned against their Japanese neighbors. The government reacted to the bombing by placing Americans of Japanese descent in relocation camps just three months later. Remembering Manzanar recalls this shameful chapter of American history with a glimpse into the trials and tribulations encountered by the evacuees, and what they did to overcome. The Japanese in the Manzanar camp were faced with crowded barracks, extreme desert weather, scorpions, sub-par food, and a lack of school supplies. Held behind barbed wire with 120 military policemen a half mile south of the camp, the evacuees tried to live normal lives. They went to dances, played baseball, even constructed a large community park with trees and roses, fish ponds, a gazebo, and a rustic wooden bridge. The Japanese in Manzanar tried to find hope and contentment in the midst of the war's injustice.
Michael Cooper's tribute to Manzanar reveals the everyday activities and struggles of the evacuees with gripping detail. This book is perfect for the young reader who is unfamiliar with the relocations of 1942. Cooper includes numerous photographs to illustrate the details of the camp, while providing researched and accurate specifics in the text.
Sofer, Barbara. Ilan Ramon: Israel's Space Hero. Minneapolis: Lerner, 2004. ISBN 0-8225-2055-9. www.lernerbooks.com