Monday, November 13, 2006

Jim's Lion, by Russell Hoban, ill. by Ian Andrew, 2001

Bami, Jim's African hospital nurse, understands exactly how frightened Jim feels of his illness, and of surgeries. She invites him to visit his quiet place and meet his finder, a frightening animal that can give him strength and find him and bring him back, should he ever get lost in the darkness that leads to death. A sober and lovely book, with dreamlike illustrations that expressively capture both Jim's hope and his pain. This reader cried. Strongly recommended.

The Game of Sunken Places, by M.T. Anderson, 2004

Gregory Buchanan and Brian Thatz think they're going to spend a leisurely October holiday in Vermont with Gregory's eccentric uncle Max and cousin Prudence in their rambling Victorian mansion. Instead, they find themselves plunged into a game of mythical stakes and origins, in which figures from Nordic legend are their hunters and allies, and a gruesome death awaits any slipup. Their enigmatic host is no help, but behaves suspiciously at every turn. Schoolboy adventure fantasy reminiscent of, and written in tribute to, a lurid style of fiction of yesteryear. Imaginative, a memorable troll and lots of spine-tingling danger. However, a confusing text that galloped too quickly leaving setting fuzzy and too many questions unanswered. Still, for those who throw caution to the wind, recommended.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats, ill. by the author, 1964

Peter wants to whistle so he can summon his dog, Willie, but blow as he might, nothing comes out but air, until he wears his father's cap . . . Appealing urban illustrations, colorful style and visual design.

Long Night Moon, by Cynthia Rylant, ill. by Mark Siegel, 2004

Following the names given by Native Americans to each month's unique full moon, the text and pictures take readers through a circle of seasons and of nocturnal nature in a lovely bedtime book. Soft, luminous illustrations and poetry celebrate the moon and the creatures of the night. Recommended.

When I Was Young in the Mountains, by Cynthia Rylant, ill. by Diane Goode, 1982

Autobiographical recollections and vignettes from the author's Appalachian childhood paint a loving, nostalgic picture of a rich upbringing despite rural poverty. Muted, affectionate illustrations gently accompany the lyrical text. Strongly recommended.

Puppy Love, by Dick King-Smith, ill. by Anita Jeram, 1997

Nostalgic photo-album-like replay of the author's family's many puppies. Scrumptious illustrations and strong subject-matter appeal subdue the problem of a middle-aged first-person point of view and voice. The illustrations didn't make it clear to me who was speaking until several pages in, which I found disconcerning; I expected one of the three children often featured to be the focal character, and kept trying to figure out which one it was. Not a story but a celebration of puppy charms; kids and dogs lovers will lap it up.

Chicks and Salsa, by Aaron Reynolds, ill. by Paulette Bogan, 2005

The chickens at Nuthatcher Farm are tired of feed, so the rooster, who's been watching the farmer's wife's cooking TV shows, stages a raid of the tomato and onion patches, and whips up salsa, though no one knows where they got the chips. The ducks follow suit with Quackamole, then the pigs make nachos, and soon the barn's raring for a fiesta. Comical illustrations and a farcical plot; a fun premise (shades of Click, Clack, Moo), but the ending lacked that certain je ne sais quoi. Still, recommended.

Leon and Bob, by Simon James (ill. by author), 1997

When Leon's dad goes away with the Army, he and his mother move into a new house in town. He spends his solitude with Bob, a friend no one else can see, who likes listening to Dad's letters and eating breakfast cereal with Leon. But when a new boy moves in next door, Leon's courage and Bob's companionship nearly fail him. Expressive and engaging illustrations complement this sensitive, non-patronizing picture book. We need only two pages to love Leon -- and Bob. The simple ending is a gem -- at once both inevitable and magical. Strongly recommended.

Rain is Not My Indian Name, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, 2001

The day she turns 14, Cassidy Rain Berghoff's best friend (and more), Galen, is killed in an accident, and Rain spends almost the next six months in a coccoon of emptiness and grief, unaware that around her rumors are spreading and lives are changing. As one of only a few Native Americans in her small town of Hannesburg, Kansas, Rain is roped into reluctantly participating (as a photo-journalist) at Indian Camp, where bridges are built, destroyed, and built again. A thoughtful realistic portrayal of grief and healing. Rain's voice and modern-day, mixed-blood Native American sensibilities are convincing. Recommended.

The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman, 1986

Jemmy-from-the-streets is a rat-catcher by birth and preference, but a royal whipping boy by occupation -- plucked from the sewers to live in the palace and take Prince Brat's countless whippings for him. When the prince grows bored of palace life and runs away, he makes Jemmy accompany him, but after they're captured by bandits, it's Jemmy's wit and resource that gets them out of one scrape after another and tests the prince's mettle. Tight, sharp, witty storytelling; strongly recommended.