Reviews provided by Syndetics
Horn Book Review
In addition to demonstrating the bookmaker's art, miniature books have a long history of fascinating readers. In their earliest appearances, they were treasured by adults, but children have also been attracted to the form (so particularly suited to small hands). Now, six paperback reproductions of historical significance in the development of literature for children are showcased in a sturdy triptych designed as a folding bookcase for display by collectors, use in classroom demonstrations, and, it is to be hoped, for enchanting children. Approximately three inches square, the books include The History of an Apple Pie, an early ABC published around 1820; The House That Jack Built, a picture book version of the traditional nursery rhyme, published in 1854 with illustrations by Henry George Hine; limericks from Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense; Walter Crane's Baby's Own Aesop; Kate Greenaway's decorative (and decorous) Mother Goose; and Randolph Caldecott's incomparable Sing a Song for Sixpence. A succinct informational note for all six titles is provided on a back panel. Each little book is inserted into its own slot, devised as part of the bookshelf motif, as if it had just been chosen from the array of classics in antique bindings that form the illustrated background. To add to the fun, all of the spines have been carefully lettered so that the curious reader can readily ascertain the designer's choices for classic status - including Call of the Wild, Little Women, Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, and Where the Wild Things Are. While perhaps not suited for general library circulation, the book deserves consideration as an ingenious and fresh idea, thoughtfully and charmingly produced. I'm already compiling my gift list. m.m.b. C. Collodi Pinocchio Adapted and illustrated by Ed Young. Based on the 1892 translation by M. A. Murray, this version is an artistic achievement in its own right rather than a diluted production for the mass market. By dividing the book into "scenes" and conveying most of the action through dialogue, Ed Young adds a new, appropriately theatrical, dimension to Collodi's classic story. An elegantly phrased author's note precedes the story, placing it in the tradition of the commedia dell'arte, isolating the elements that endow it with universal appeal, and giving a sound rationale for transforming it into a play. And transformed it is through an absorbing series of cut-paper collages that not only interpret the text but virtually embrace it through thoughtful page design. The illusion of an improvisational production is enhanced by the grouping of the original chapters into scenes that emphasize the badinage and wit of the original. More than just another adaptation, this is also a disarming invitation "to read Pinocchio. And to stage Pinocchio. You will be part of a long and old and wonderful tradition." m.m.b. Pam Conrad The Rooster's Gift Illustrated by Eric Beddows. "Once up on a hill in a brand-new chicken coop," one of ten newly hatched chicks is singled out for greatness. He is a rooster, and as the old farmer's wife hopes, he has "the Gift." Very early one morning, much to his sisters' consternation, Young Rooster climbs to the top of the coop and lets out a magnificent "Cot Cot Cot Cot Ca-toodle tooooooo!" When the sun rises immediately thereafter, he thinks he makes the day; years later, when he finds out that he merely heralds its coming, he is devastated. It takes Smallest Hen, his most loyal sister, to help him understand that simply doing something well is a gift in itself ("not quite like pulling the sun out of the night, but a Gift nonetheless," he realizes) - a rather mature message for the average picture-book reader, who presumably has not yet identified his or her own gift, let alone had to scale it down to human proportions. But Conrad here excels at the playful, imaginative, evocative prose that is her trademark ("one night, very late, very, very late, past late to something else"; "Old Rooster and Smallest Hen watched as.the sun rose like the most glorious egg in the world"). And she leavens her allegory with the distinct personalities of puffed-up Rooster and tougher-than-she-looks Smallest Hen. Eric Beddows's illustrations superbly reflect both the allegorical side of the story (with the coop at the top of the chickens' known world, he places the story squarely at the center of the universe) and the personal, with Rooster's changing emotions, for example, perfectly captured in the tilt of his impressive tail feathers. Vignettes of just the figures of Smallest Hen and Rooster against an otherwise totally white space are interspersed with full-page, full-color illustrations that are at times reminiscent of Virginia Lee Burton's Little House (Houghton), as Beddows depicts, in curving lines and soft colors, the changing seasons in the pastoral landscape rolling out below the chicken coop. m.v.p. Tomie dePaola, Author-Illustrator Strega Nona: Her Story The rain fell and the wind blew on the night the bambina was born in Calabria - but only after her Grandma Concetta arrived. Grandma Concetta knew immediately that the baby's name would be Nona and that she would become a strega. Those familiar with Strega Nona (Putnam) and other titles about this engaging Italian witch will quickly recognize her pasta pot and the special secret ingredient (a healthy dose of love) left to her by her grandmother. They will also recall the tall, gawky apprentice that the grown Strega Nona takes on from the village. (But those unacquainted with Big Anthony will be puzzled by the wry conclusion here.) The gently humorous story is told with a straightforward text sprinkled with Italian words and with simply drawn, warmly colored illustrations featuring comfortably rounded figures. Line and wash illustrations are framed in a simple border with text carefully placed to vary format and chronicle the sweet tale. m.b.s. Toby Forward Ben's Christmas Carol Illustrated by Ruth Brown. Miser-mouse Ben, having rebuffed a Christmas gift from his poor neighbor, Tim, learns a lesson in the Christmas spirit from another, ghostly, mouse named Jake. If the names begin to sound familiar, Ruth Brown's gravely romantic paintings confirm the Dickensian connection, as the characters from A Christmas Carol pantomime their own drama while the mice wander beneath and among them. The text is long and slightly too complicated, but Forward makes a wise decision in not leaning too hard on the parallels to the classic tale; instead, Ben's trial is to find one mouse who will accept his treasured candied plum as a gift. Recognizing that the gift is not being made in the spirit of the season, the mice refuse it; only when Ben tries a third time and is confronted with a seemingly dead Tim does he understand the folly of his greed. Readers and viewers old enough to appreciate the unvoiced "other story" going on in Brown's resplendently detailed pictures will be the audience here, but then, you're just a step away from Boz himself and might as well go all the way. r.s. Jack Gantos Rotten Ralph's Rotten Romance Illustrated by Nicole Rubel. Valentine's Day is not Ralph's favorite holiday, and persistent Petunia is not Ralph's favorite cat. When Sarah tells him that they are going to Petunia's party, Ralph knows he'll have a rotten time and tries valiantly to sabotage the affair, from putting a stink bug in the valentine to rubbing himself with garbage. It's no wonder kids love Ralph - what a perfect vicarious way to get back at all those well-meaning adults who make you go to boring parties where everyone else seems to be having a great time. The illustrations are vintage Ralph, and the ending redeems RR as usual, when his true valentine is revealed. e.s.w. Diane Goode, Author-Illustrator Mama's Perfect Present The two children who searched the landmarks of Paris for their mother in Where's Our Mama? (Dutton) return in another carefully conceived, effervescent adventure that addresses a familiar childhood concern: what to give a beloved parent for her birthday. The initial action takes place on the title and dedication pages as the two children prepare for an excursion with Zaza, their faithful dachshund, and sally forth properly accoutered in berets and white gloves. The consequences are foreshadowed when the sister warns her younger brother to "hold on to Zaza's leash. She can help us find the perfect present." And help she does in a series of comic turns in which Zaza leaves a trail of disaster behind her in the elegant shops of their upscale neighborhood - from playing with a fur boa at the couturier's to releasing caged doves at the bird market. And what do they decide upon, Zaza having inadvertently revealed the downside of several elegant possibilities? An oversized, homemade card, on which Mama is portrayed wearing or surrounded by all their possible choices. A remarkable evocation of Seurat's La Grande Jatte (where the children paint their mother's card) is skillfully foreshadowed in an earlier illustration that announces a Seurat Expo. This is a true picture story, with the understated text serving as a straight-faced, innocent commentary on the action, which is visualized through careful manipulation of line, deft shading, and delicate hatching. m.m.b. Donald Hall Old Home Day Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. Hall relates the story of a fictitious New Hampshire small town he calls Blackwater, from the end of the ice age to the present. In a longish, rather choppy text, Hall synopsizes the history of the changes in American population patterns, from the countryside to the city and now, in the late twentieth century, back to the countryside. He describes an Old Home Day celebration in 1999 in which visitors enjoy the pleasures of small-town life and think, "Maybe sometime we can live in this beautiful place." In his concluding note, the author echoes the sentiment expressed by these visitors: "In the future.[per-haps] more people [will] return to the countryside.[and] shrunken cities will proclaim an Old Home Day so that nostalgic country dwellers may return to the places they started from." Though there is little story, the saga of change is brought to life by finely crafted, richly colored watercolors. Almost impressionistic, the illustrations effectively present and capture the feel of an evolving countryside and lend form to the subdued text. m.b.s. H Minfong Ho Hush!: A Thai Lullaby Illustrated by Holly Meade. As a Thai mother tenderly lowers her sleeping baby into a hammock, the silence is disturbed by a mosquito weeping, a lizard peeping, a cat creeping, and a mouse squeaking. The mother anxiously moves from house to pigsty to pond and even out to the forest, cautioning each animal she meets, "Hush! /.don't you cry, / My baby's sleeping / right nearby." As day fades to dusk and all is finally peaceful, the exhausted mother dozes by the window while the wide-awake baby plays with his toes and smiles winningly from his hammock. There is as well a secondary story of the baby's antics: throughout his mother's exhortations for quiet, the illustrations show the baby as he peeps over the side of the hammock, lowers himself to the floor, crawls under a mat, hangs from a pole like a monkey, and, finally, crawls back into his hammock just as his mother returns. The graceful cut-paper collage and ink illustrations are done in warm earth tones with vivid orange-red color outlining people and animals. The use of a variety of textures and perspectives and the different animal sounds, from the "jeed-jeed" of the mouse to the "HOOM-PRAAA!" of the great gray elephant, add immeasurably to the playful quality of this gentle and poetic tale. h.b.z. Tony Johnston The Ghost of Nicholas Greebe Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. The peregrinations of a misplaced bone form the basis of a ghostly tale of Colonial times. Old Nicholas Greebe dies in the midst of a bitter winter, and his family hastily - to their regret - buries him. One year later, a little dog digs up one of his bones, and his ghost immediately appears before the family, demanding its return: "From this night forth / I quest, I quest, / till all my bones / together rest." The dog and bone, meanwhile, start on a long and circuitous journey until, a hundred years later, by happenstance and circumstance and chance, the bone returns home as a scrimshaw handle on a satchel. There, fittingly, a little dog chews it off and buries it once again in Nicholas Greebe's grave, finally satisfying his restless spirit. The appropriately black, sometimes gloomy and sometimes funny illustrations of the ghostly Nicholas Greebe, the scrupulously accurate Colonial setting, and the busy little dog(s) are in a style reminiscent of the work of the late Margot Tomes, with perhaps a dash of Edward Gorey. The pictures and the economical and laconically humorous text make a splendid answer to the perennial request for a not too spooky story. a.a.f. Lars Klinting, Author-Illustrator Bruno the Carpenter Bruno the beaver is a back-to-basics carpenter who demonstrates the concept of tools by building.well, it's a surprise, and a very satisfying one at that. His tools, illustrated with almost photographic, jumbo-size clarity (reminiscent of the Rockwells' The Toolbox [Macmillan]), face soft, animated watercolors of Bruno putting each tool to its particular use, so that the full-page illustration of the pliers, for example, faces a startled, buck-toothed Bruno rocketing backwards as "he pulls out the crooked nail and hammers in a new one." This juxtaposition mingles the precise nature of tools with Bruno's easygoing, carefree nature for a lighthearted yet clear-cut approach to carpentry. Hammer away! marilyn bousquin Helen Lester Princess Penelope's Parrot g Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Chubby-cheeked Princess Penelope is a gimme girl. For her birthday she gets, among other things, a sixteen-wheeler bike, a dress with "ruffles on its ruffles on its ruffles," and a parrot. But the parrot, clearly appalled by the princess, refuses to say a word, and the princess's threats and name-calling ("TALK, BIG BEAK") are to absolutely no avail. When rich - and eligible - Prince Percival comes calling, however, the parrot regains its voice and gets its revenge. Princess Penelope is astonished, but, it has to be said, unrepentant. The tongue-in-cheek starchiness of the text is well-met by the hyperbole of Munsinger's line-and-watercolor pictures of Princess Penelope - think Shirley Temple run amok - and her unrestrained extravagances. Another small funny lesson in correct behavior from a well-known pair of collaborators. a.a.f. Mimi Otey Little, Author-Illustrator Yoshiko and the Foreigner "Good Japanese girls don't talk to foreigners." Nevertheless, Yoshiko takes pity on an American officer who is lost and whose Japanese phrase book proves less than helpful as he loudly proclaims, "I am a dancing girl. Where is the doctor?" Yoshiko helps the American, whose name is Flem, find his way, and a tentative friendship begins - one that must be kept hidden from the young woman's family. Announcing the book's theme of bridging cultural differences, the cover shows Flem crossing a bridge in a Japanese garden, approaching the kimono-clad Yoshiko. As in Ina R. Friedman's How My Parents Learned to Eat (Houghton), efforts to learn another's way of life are sincerely made and gratefully acknowledged. The large full-page watercolors provide immediacy by pulling readers into the world of a Japanese woman in the 1950s. The artist's point of view changes to reflect the mood of the story, swinging in to focus on facial expressions in emotional moments - when, for instance, Yoshiko rides the train for hours, clutching the letter that contains a marriage proposal. On the final spread, the fictional story is given factual surprise with the inclusion of a black-and-white wedding photograph of Little's parents, Yoshiko Sasagawa and Flem Otey. jennifer brabander H Susan Meddaugh, Author-Illustrator Martha Blah Blah Martha becomes a victim of corporate downsizing in the most inspired book yet about this talking wonder-dog. Heedless of her company's motto - "Every Letter in Every Can" - greedy owner Granny Flo fires half of the Granny's Soup Company's twenty-six "alphabeticians," leaving, as the new motto has it, just "Letters in Every Can." Fans will know what this means for Martha. Her regular order at Burger Boy ("Ten plain burgers. No sauce. No buns") becomes a strangled "I i ug. UG! UG!," and Martha is left only with an existential lament: "Wogo. Whihgo? Whoo? Whoo? Wogo." (Helpful footnotes translate this plea as "My words are gone. Where did they go? What to do? What to do? My words are gone.") But with some help from Alf, the former A-man at the soup factory, Martha gets justice, and her letters back, from Granny Flo, the queen of mean who learns her lesson. "What would people do without dogs?" ponders Martha, a theme that has sustained this series throughout, and this latest entry is a superb blend of humor, pathos, and Martha's brave panache. r.s. David Pelletier, Author-Illustrator The Graphic Alphabet A large, square alphabet book for older readers and adults is aptly titled. The illustrator, who is a graphic designer, places the emphasis on letterforms, color, and design, presenting each letter inside a rich black square in a way that reflects the meaning of the word beneath it. "Avalanche" shows a thick, yellow A on a black background, with portions of the top of the letter torn off and tumbling down the side. "Bounce" shows two dotted lines arcing up to indicate the path of a ball. With a little thought, we see that the arcs indicate a B tipped on its side. While this concept is not an entirely new one, the execution heralds a new illustrative style we will surely see more of. The art has been created on a computer using software that graphic designers and some children's book illustrators have been using for several years now, but that most of the public has not seen used in this spare, straightforward way. By the time we come to "Devil" (a red capital D on its belly with large pointed serifs resembling a devil's horns), it is clear that this is not a book for young children. For one thing, the letters are frequently difficult to discern at first glance. They are often shown tipped, tilted, or skewed; Pelletier sometimes shows capitals and sometimes lower case, depending on which works better graphically; and the subtle use of color requires that the book be enjoyed under full bright light. For such a stately presentation, Pelletier even manages a few touches of humor, mainly due to some surprising word choices and his whimsically clever methods of illustrating them. Even X, the most challenging (and often least successfully illustrated) letter, receives a stunningly unusual yet simple treatment, showing what looks like an actual x-ray of two crossed fingers. lolly robinson Elsa Okon Rael What Zeesie Saw on Delancey Street g Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. A loving evocation of the Jewish community in New York's lower East Side during the early years of the twentieth century introduces a number of related themes. The immigrant experience, the importance of community, and the rewards of generosity are interwoven in an account of Zeesie's seventh birthday, when she is allowed to attend a "package party" with her parents. Primarily fund-raisers to bring relatives from the old country to America, these were also social events at which wrapped parcels of home-cooked delicacies were auctioned to willing buyers. But, as Zeesie learns, they also provided opportunities for neighbors to help one another through the "money room," an inconspicuous area where a man leaves as much as he can or takes as much as he needs with no one to observe. Certain that there might be treasures worth seeing there, she slips into the forbidden room, with unexpected consequences. The text has the intimacy of a family chronicle. Its understated tone serves as an effective foil for exuberant illustrations, steeped in a rosy glow, that employ varied perspectives to capture the ambiance of a crowded room bravely decorated for a neighborhood affair. Scenes of the landmarks Zeesie and her parent pass as they walk to the party add a sense of time and place, and an appended note and a glossary offer additional insight into the period. Recipes for tsimmes and leykach (honey cake) round out a generous presentation which offers a number of possibilities for use in schools and libraries - but which is first of all a good story. m.m.b. Robert Sabuda, Illustrator The 12 Days of Christmas: A Pop-Up Celebration Sabuda follows up his elegant Christmas Alphabet (Orchard) with another miracle of paper engineering: a partridge flies up from a pear tree, two turtledoves nestle in a filigreed cage.twelve lords leap, in the form of Christmas ornaments upon a tree. However, unlike the alphabet book, which achieved its stunning effects through restraint and simplicity, this one is brash and busy and maybe just the teensiest bit vulgar. The five gold rings are shiny plastic circles crowning the antlers of a reindeer; the six geese a-laying are elaborate decorations atop a piece of pie; the eleven ladies dance as music box-ballerinas against a Mylar mirror. Showstopping to be sure, but the total impact overwhelms both season and song. r.s. Dianne Stewart Gift of the Sun Illustrated by Jude Daly. In this folktale-like story set in contemporary rural South Africa, a lazy farmer named Thulani aspires to nothing more than basking in the sun all day. He does everything in his power to avoid work, trading his one cow (which must be milked daily) for a succession of animals requiring less and less maintenance, until finally he ends up with a pocketful of seed. These turn out to produce not the expected corn but sunflowers - a crop as seemingly useless and lazy as Thulani himself. "What good are they to us?" asks Thulani's long-suffering, hard-working wife Dora. "All they do is follow the sun from morning to night - just like you." But, like his predecessor in unwise trades, Jack (as in beanstalk), Thulani finds that his crop has value after all, and he is so glad to have pleased Dora that he becomes a model of industry and prosperity, "so busy trading animals he no longer had time to sit about in the sun." Jude Daly's expansive, extra-wide horizontal illustrations take in the whole sweep of the rather austere landscape yet retain an anchoring intimacy. Even as the pictures show the curve of the horizon and an open sky dominated by a huge, radiant, lemon-yellow sun, the focus is on the de-tails - the corrugated tin roof of the square painted brick buildings, the drooping heads of the laden sunflowers, the bright, patterned rug at the door. The touches of visual humor - especially a page of horizontal panels in which Thulani and a variety of animals parade back and forth in an orgy of trading as the sun rises and sets - match the tone of this light lesson about finding joy in one's work. m.v.p. Christopher Wormell, Author-Illustrator Where I Live In a concept book geared to the youngest audiences, fourteen animals are introduced in their natural habitats through a series of handcut linoleum block prints. Some, like the pig, dog, and horse, are conventional choices for beginning naturalists; others, like the beaver, hippopotamus, and tiger, offer more exotic experiences. All are presented in rich full color as authoritative shapes, defined by heavy black lines. Each subject is placed on the left-hand page, its habitat on the right. To add variety, the sequence is punctuated with occasional double-page spreads such as that depicting the camel in its desert setting, but, as is suitable for preschoolers, the left-right symmetry is always maintained. The production is handsome, although relative sizes are not always clear. However, as a beginning bestiary, it has a stylish appeal rarely found in books for the very young. Unfortunately, a companion volume, What I Eat, is less successful, perhaps because the terminology is a bit more abstract - or perhaps because the presentation is somewhat static. m.m.b. For Intermediate Readers Ages 8 to 12 Blockbuster epics are seldom found in books for children, but with this two-volume production, totaling 675 pages, Avi becomes a serious contender in the James Michener sweepstakes. For a précis of the eventful Book One, see the July/August 1996 Horn Book, page 461. The action resumes in Book Two as Patrick searches the hold where Laurence has stowed away; Maura fends off the love-smitten Mr. Drabble; Messrs. Clemspool and Grout find themselves again searching for Laurence Kirkle; and two new principals - eight-year-old Bridy Faherty and Ambrose Shagwell, an American mill owner - are added to the mix. Once more shifting scenes in a series of short, pithy chapters, Avi re-creates the horrendous conditions of the steerage quarters aboard the emigrant ships as well as the numbing environment of the nineteenth-century mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. Unaware that animosity against the Irish, fueled by the Know-Nothings, will threaten their dreams, Maura and Patrick land in America only to learn that their father is dead. With no other sanctuary, they, plus Bridy, head for Lowell. Eventually, Laurence, Mr. Drabble, and the newly penitent Mr. Grout join them as all elements are resolved, partly through the machinations of the embittered Mr. Jenkins, intent on destroying the Irish in general and one James Hamlyn in particular. Pacing and Dickensian characters add color and substance to a bravura performance, clearly the product of empathy and research. The virtuous, except for one tragic figure, are rewarded and the villains punished; the whole concludes on a hopeful note. An adventure in the grand style, the story benefits from its historical foundation and skillful plotting. m.m.b. Betsy Byars Tornado Illustrated by Doron Ben-Ami. When a tornado drives a farm family into their cellar to wait out the storm, Pete, the hired hand, tells stories about a marvelous dog he had as a boy. He tells how the dog arrived in his doghouse, dropped by a tornado, and thus earned his name; Pete then recalls one incident about the remarkable dog in each of the following chapters. Tornado performs a card trick, hides a turtle in his mouth, and confronts a stray cat who dares sit in Tornado's favorite spot. The young Pete and his father give the dog back to the rightful owners when they meet them in town, but Tornado, in a final and satisfying chapter, finds his way back to Pete's house. Pete's obvious devotion to the dog and Tornado's intelligence and gentle nature make them both likable protagonists, and Pete tells his stories with a touch of nostalgia and a good deal of enthusiasm. The farm family, who have obviously heard the stories many times before, are less distinct. Their presence serves as a framework for the story but is otherwise forgettable. Each of the seven short chapters that make up the novel includes a full-page, black-and-white illustration done with a soft focus to convey the nostalgic feel of the text. The format, with large print and plenty of white space, is inviting to younger middle-grade readers, who will move easily through Tornado and on into the canon of dog stories. m.v.k. H Andrew Clements Frindle g Illustrated by Brian Selznick. The author has created a fresh, imaginative plot that will have readers smiling all the way through, if not laughing out loud. Nick, a champion time-waster, faces the challenge of his life when confronted with the toughest teacher in school, Mrs. Granger. Always counted on to filibuster the impending test or homework assignment away, Nick has met his match in "Dangerous Grangerous," who can spot a legitimate question in a second and has no patience with the rest. In answer to "Like, who says that d-o-g means the thing that goes 'woof' and wags its tail? Who says so?" she replies, "You do, Nicholas. You and me and everyone in this class and this school and this town and this state and this country." And thus is born frindle, Nick's new name for pen, promising and delivering a classic student-teacher battle along the lines of - but far funnier than - Avi's Nothing But the Truth (Orchard). The battle assumes the proportions of a tall tale, and although outrageous and hilarious, it's all plausible, and every bit works from the premise to the conclusion. The brisk narration is rapid-fire, and Nick is one of the most charming troublemakers since Soup. The merchandising future of this one is too terrible to contemplate; the cutting-edge gift this Christmas has got to be a frindle. e.s.w. Pam Conrad Zoe Rising A sequel to Stonewords (Harper), this story has a similar theme of returning to the past to modify events and turn away catastrophe. Zoe, now fourteen, lives a rather isolated life with her dearly loved grandparents on an island. She has always yearned for her aloof, undemonstrative mother, clearly suffering from emotional problems, to be what she calls a "true" mother to her, instead of an occasional visitor. While Zoe is away at camp, the deaths of another camper's parents upset her enough to precipitate her into an out-of-the body journey, where she happens into the time of her mother's childhood and becomes aware of a hideous threat to the child from a disturbed handyman. Zoe struggles in her disembodied form to avert the disaster and just barely manages it in a shattering climax. And, indeed, her mother subsequently returns home, clearly improved and trying to establish a relationship. The theme of changing the present by altering the past is not a new one; it is notoriously difficult to construct successfully, and this attempt is not without flaws. But the imaginative sweep of Zoe's frantic, ghostly exertions to avert the impending doom is riveting, and the writing is vividly atmospheric. a.a.f. Catherine Dexter Safe Return Ursula is an outsider on the Swedish island where she lives with her aunt and uncle: she's an orphan, she comes from Stockholm, and she can't knit - a serious drawback in a place where absolutely everyone knits and the beautifully patterned sweaters they make provide much of the islanders' livelihood. When her aunt Dana sets sail, as she does each year, for Stockholm to sell the sweaters, Ursula is lonely and distraught. The ship is expected back in a month, but meanwhile there has been a terrible storm, and the ship does not return at the appointed time. After many weeks, the islanders begin to prepare a funeral for the women believed lost. Ursula, however, refuses to accept that they have died. She remembers her aunt's teaching and knits her first mitten in a pattern called "Safe Return." On Christmas Eve, the ship arrives safely. Ursula finally feels like an islander when she is reunited with her aunt and united with the community through their common suffering and joy. Dexter writes a clear and emotionally satisfying novel based on a true 1824 incident. She weaves information about island life into the first-person narrative, and the setting becomes a vivid part of the story. This is the best kind of sentimental tale, with a strong story, emotional power, and a truly happy ending. m.v.k. H Nancy Farmer A Girl Named Disaster An extraordinarily rich novel set in contemporary Mozambique and Zimbabwe and featuring a most remarkable heroine is divided into roughly three parts: life in the girl's traditional, remote village; her solitary journey via river and lake to a series of uninhabited islands (by far the longest section); and her experiences in "civilized" Zimbabwe. The reader spends much of the novel solely in the rewarding company of Nhamo, who, as we meet her in the beginning, is a virtual Cinderella, overworked and unloved except by her grandmother. When a cruel marriage is arranged for Nhamo, her ambuya sends her off across the river to Zimbabwe to find her long-lost, no-good father's people. But the boat drifts off course, and what should have been a brief journey becomes an epic odyssey. Nhamo fetches up first on a tiny island where she has a terrifying encounter with an evil witch, Long Teats, and then on a larger island, where she will live for months, putting all her considerable traditional skills to use to survive. Nonetheless, she is beset by ordeals ranging from a near-fatal scorpion bite to routine starvation and loneliness to the paralyzing loss of her one treasure (a picture torn from a magazine that Nhamo imagines is her beloved dead mother). Her experiences are told in fascinating, minute detail that incorporates much of the Shona belief system as the author matter-of-factly provides Nhamo with companionship in the form of the spirits of her mother and Crocodile Guts (the late owner of her boat), as well as the creepy but benevolent snakelike njuzu, or water spirits. Eventually, she makes her way to Zimbabwe, where she faces more challenges and, at first, more loss. The novel is unusual in its scope and setting, although, as in The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, the author's skill makes the setting real and nonexotic even as the reader learns an amazing amount about survival techniques, Shona culture, and Zimbabwean politics. Farmer simply follows Nhamo on her long and haphazard journey, so that the novel lacks a conventional pacing. But the reader who has been captivated by this courageous and wise girl named Disaster will gladly accompany Nhamo to the very end, where her own fairy godmothers (Ambuya, the spirits, and the residents of a scientific community in Zimbabwe) have ensured not only her survival but a home, an education, and financial independence. m.v.p. Kristine L. Franklin Nerd No More Sixth-grader Wiggie V. Carter is a nerd by association. As the star of an educational science program, Wiggie's mom appears weekly on his classroom's television to share her knowledge about - of all things - parasitology. New kid Eddie Grzinovich starts calling Wiggie "Bowel Boy" and steals his best friend, Billy, leaving Wiggie alone with his horrible new nickname until a new girl appears in class and befriends him. Unlike Wiggie, Callie doesn't seem to mind being smart or unpopular, but Wiggie is determined to create a new image for himself - even when it comes at Callie's expense. The plot climaxes at a class field trip during which Wiggie, with Callie's help, rescues Eddie from a fallen tree - and breaks his own arm in the process. In a comfortably neat and happy ending, Wiggie wins back Callie's friendship along with that of the guys, and finally relaxes into being himself. Franklin addresses the ever-present issues of peer teasing and acceptance in this amiable school story. l.a. Ellen Howard A Different Kind of Courage The work of the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II is the inspiration for this novel, which focuses on two refugee children struggling to understand why their parents have elected to send them away. An appended note to the reader explains that although the central characters are fictional, the book is based on the heroic efforts of American Martha Sharp to rescue children from France following the advance of Hitler's armies. Precise and informative, the author's note perhaps should have preceded rather than followed the story as events of that era may not be clear to today's readers. Alternating sections describe the disparate experiences of preadolescents Bertrand and Zina. The initial chapters depict Bertrand's flight from Paris in June 1940 with his mother and small sister. The horror of that journey, ending with the Germans strafing the roadway filled with escapees, is all the more intense because it is seen from Bertrand's point of view. The child's perspective is successfully maintained in the succeeding section describing Zina's obdurate attitude toward her parents, Russians living in the south of France. Although designated the "Unoccupied Zone," this area is little safer than the north. The two stories meld in November 1940, as the group of children entrusted to Martha Sharp and her co-workers makes its way from Marseilles to Lisbon. Having endured illness, deprivation, unfamiliar surroundings, and the feeling that they have somehow been abandoned by their parents, Bertrand and Zina somehow must find a means to forge on, exhibiting the different kind of courage suggested in the title. The narrative style, punctuated with French phrases readily understood in context, evokes time and place, and the unusual subject is treated with the sensitivity and insight characteristic of Howard's writing. m.m.b. Diana Wynne Jones The Time of the Ghost g Sally Melford cannot understand what has happened to her - in fact, she's not even sure who she is. She seems to be lacking a body, and she can't think. But gradually she realizes she is a ghost observing her own family, seven years in the past, where the four Melford girls, the daughters of a schoolmaster in a boys' boarding school, lead a ragtag, neglected life; their parents are so busy running the school that they pay them no attention, leaving them ill-fed and unsupervised. But they are clever, imaginative girls, and just for fun they devise and begin to worship a goddess they name Monigan. Unfortunately, Monigan is horribly real and demands a life seven years hence as a sacrifice. The scene shifts back and forth as Sally, critically injured in an accident, desperately tries as a ghost from her hospital bed to alter the past and save her life. The complex plot, which twists and turns to the surprising climax, is absorbing, but equally interesting and frequently amusing are the family dynamics and the character sketches of the four fascinatingly eccentric sisters. a.a.f. Welwyn Wilton Katz Out of the Dark In this complex novel, thirteen-year-old Ben struggles to come to terms with his mother's death as well as with his family's recent move from Ottawa to the small Newfoundland village where his father grew up. Absorbed almost to the point of obsession with the history of the Vikings, Ben develops an elaborate fantasy life in which he imagines that, as a young Viking shipbuilder, he played a crucial role in an early Viking settlement (the settlement has been reconstructed as a tourist site nearby). The Viking scenes, which are fully realized and historically accurate, parallel incidents in Ben's life and draw connections to his mother, who was also passionate about the old Norse tales. As Ben retreats further and further into his fantasy, the tension builds steadily, culminating in an explosive if somewhat overloaded ending that interweaves Ben's present conflict with some hostile local children; a Viking battle; and Ben's guilt-laden memories of his mother's violent murder. Katz grounds the novel with sensory details and descriptions that connect the physical and psychological elements of the plot; as Ben meticulously crafts a model Viking ship using his mother's wood-carving tools, he unknowingly creates the vehicle for his release from his crippling feelings of guilt and loss. anne deifendeifer Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Shiloh Season g Marty's voice is consistently strong and true in this sequel to Shiloh, where he faces the consequences of his "bargain" with Judd Travers, the man who gave Shiloh to Marty in exchange for his silence about Judd's illegal out-of-season hunting. Judd has been drinking hard and growing increasingly reckless with both his truck and his gun, and Marty fears that he'll declare a "Shiloh season" any day. The tension is well-paced as scary incidents involving Marty and Judd pile up. But the scenes of Marty's family life add comfort and contrast; there's dry humor as well, as in a scene of flying rumors the day after Judd's dogs get loose and run amok: "By the time that bus rolls into the driveway at school, we have cats missing, babies missing, girls with their arms torn clear off their bodies, and a whole pack of men.all out lookin' for Judd Travers." A touch of deeper substance is added when some of life's big paradoxes ("I tell the truth, and look at what happens") are naturally integrated into the story without preaching. Shiloh fans will be well served by the sequel. e.s.w. June Oldham Found In this unusual survival story, four children - each orphaned, abandoned, or unwanted - join forces to save an abandoned baby from a dual threat: first from abduction by a volatile, hill-wandering woman; then from a life-threatening fever. The desolate, rural, twenty-first-century setting establishes an initial sense of isolation that gradually gives way to a feeling of community, as the four children learn to trust one another and themselves. The title refers both to the name the children give the baby and the predominant theme of self-discovery; during the few days they are together, each of the four children comes of age. Timid Ren finds courage; streetwise Lil faces the unthinkable consequences of her training in self-defense; hill-born Brocket confronts an overwhelming fear bred by superstition; and bookish Hilary pushes himself beyond the previous limits of his physical strength. The sharply focused novel explores the profound effect the short series of events has on each individual's life and stresses the importance of friendship and community. anne deifendeifer Elizabeth Partridge Clara and the HooDoo Man In this story set in the Tennessee mountains at the turn of the century, Clara rashly accepts her younger sister Bessie's dare and jumps over her mother's crock pots, breaking one in the process. Since there's no money to buy a new one and the pots are necessary to store provisions for the winter, Clara sets out to redeem herself by finding some rare ginseng root to trade with the barterman. Once in the woods, however, she and Bessie cross paths with the hoodoo man, who, her mother has warned her, can cast evil spells, although he insists he uses his knowledge of wild plants only to do good. When Bessie becomes ill, Clara fetches the hoodoo man in a scary, late-night ride through the mountains. His remedy, a willow bath, brings about Bessie's recovery. The author occasionally burdens the narrative with extraneous details about herbal cures, but her strong storytelling skills are obvious in this first novel. The period setting and the African-American characters are convincingly drawn, and there is enough doubt about the outcome of Bessie's illness to generate substantial tension. Clara's willfulness, her little sister's "poutful" ways, and their busy mother's impatience with them both are the stuff of real people. Indeed, an appended note explains that the story is based on a true incident. n.v. H Katherine Paterson Jip: His Story A brief prologue and a short epilogue written in the first person frame an intense, third-person novel that maintains its riveting pace from the opening chapter to the final moment when the protagonist triumphs over adversity. Set in Vermont in the years 1855-1856, the book evokes the attitudes and social conditions of the times in lucent prose, enhanced by imagery drawn from the realities of farm life. The central character is Jip, thought to be a gypsy, who, eight years before the story opens, fell from a wagon on a hilly road, leaving no clue to his origins. Without kin or means of support, he becomes a resident of the town's poor farm and seems likely to spend his days in permanent servitude - until an elderly man, subject to intermittent fits of violence, is sent there for safe-keeping and confined in a wooden cage. Sympathy for the man impels Jip to befriend him, releasing emotions never previously acknowledged as he becomes more aware of the wretched conditions under which the paupers live. This awareness, combined with the concern of a new teacher and the ominous presence of a curious stranger, foreshadows the outcome and propels the plot to a startling revelation about Jip's origins (as well as a surprising identification of the teacher). Descriptions of the poor farm are Dickensian in their evocation of poverty and despair; it is perhaps no accident that Teacher chooses to read Oliver Twist to her students, offering a glimmer of hope and momentary escape from squalor. Because style and story are so closely welded, the narrative flows effortlessly. Only retrospective analysis reveals how carefully each element - from the naming of the characters to the final scene - has been considered and joined to the whole. m.m.b. Susan Shreve Warts Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelson. The week before third grade begins (and Jilsy has to face her new teacher, the notoriously difficult Ms. Greene), she has a problem: warts. By the time school starts, her hands are covered with them, and even though Jilsy wears her grandmother's gloves to school, her classmates tease and avoid her. Finally, at Ms. Greene's instigation, Jilsy stands in front of the class, shows them her hands, and listens while her new teacher sympathetically and accurately discusses the warts and demonstrates that they are not catching. Jilsy's mortification at the presence of the hideous warts and her efforts to take care of them herself - she makes them worse by trying to bite them off - are realistic. The illustrations add little to the story, and Jilsy and her classmates look much older than third graders. But readers who get past the unattractive dust jacket will find a great deal to like: the story is strong, the characters are sympathetic, and the warts are just gross enough to appeal to every third grader. m.v.k. Jane Yolen Hobby g This second book of the Young Merlin trilogy (the sequel to Passager, reviewed in the July/August issue) continues the adventures of Merlin as a boy. When his adopted family dies in a tragic fire, the boy sets out to find a new life. On his journey, he is taken up by a sinister and cruel thief, but escapes to become the apprentice to an apparently kindly traveling magician, Ambrosius, who names him Hobby. He finds Ambrosius's magic deceptions distasteful, however, and realizes that only truth will serve him and his dreams in the future. We find him at the end of the book escaping once more into an unknown future. Slight but winning, this is an enjoyable introduction to Arthurian fantasy. a.a.f. Kazumi Yumoto The Friends g Translated by Cathy Hirano. In this award-winning book from Japan, three boys' morbid curiosity about death is artfully transformed into a celebration of life and friendship. When the grandmother of one of the school chums dies, they become obsessed with the experience. What do dead people look like, they wonder, and what happens after they die? They find a solitary old man in a nearby neighborhood who doesn't seem long for this world and begin to stalk him (surreptitiously, they think), hoping to catch him at the point of his demise. In a plot that is laced with ghoulish humor, the boys find their task becoming ever more complicated as they get to know the man. Concerning themselves with matters that young American readers might find peculiar, they worry about his poor eating habits and his social isolation, and they help him with his housekeeping chores. The book is firmly set in another place and another culture. Scenes at soccer camp, at "cram school" (where they study for junior-high-school entrance exams), with parents, and in the marketplace will make clear to young readers that they are not at home. But some things they will recognize. A friendship develops between the man and the three boys, as we knew it would, and his death at the end is not unexpected. What may be a surprise is how much we care. n.v. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.