Monday, December 04, 2006

The Aunts go Marching, by Maurie J. Manning, 2003

A minor twist on the well-known song produces Manning's hundred-plus aunts in raincoats and umbrellas marching to market, led by one very sweet-cheeked little aunt with red drum and yellow slicker. Less of a story, more of a showcase of Manning's illustrative talents, and a nostalgic tribute to the frumpy, endearing aunt-figures of days gone by, in their dresses and rainboots and caps and grocery satchels. A visual pleasure, and my children enjoyed chanting the words and drumbeats, even if I was impatient to get to ten and be done with it.

Cousin Ruth's Tooth, by Amy MacDonald, ill. Marjorie Priceman, 1996

A lost tooth and a houseful of exuberant relatives concoct a colorful mixup in this rhyming romp. Whimsy abounds in the very extended family's efforts to locate or replace Ruth's dental loss, however, the poem's play does run away with itself eventually, and this reader felt less might have been more. Still, lively and fun. Recommended.

Marshmallow, by Claire Turlay Newberry, 1942

What happens when a baby bunny invades a bachelor cat's Manhattan apartment sanctuary? Friendship, or lunch? Newberry's charcoal illustrations of cat and rabbit are delectable. Six decades of stylistic prose changes to the picturebook notwithstanding, the sweetness and warmth of "Marshmallow" come shining through. Strongly recommended.

The Awful Aardvarks Go to School, by Reeve Lindbergh, ill. Tracey Campbell Pearson, 1997

When a quartet of ADD aardvarks invade a multi-species elementary, it takes the whole alphabet to recount the damage. Surprise, whimsy, rhyme, meter, story, tension, and a clever ending all invite multiple rereadings. Phonetics alone are a pleasure. The dread I usually feel when faced with a) an alphabet book, and b) a rhyming book, were happily unnecessary here. Strongly recommended.

The Red Bird, by Astrid Lindgren, trans. by Patricia Crampton, ill. Marit Tornqvist, 2005 (text 1959)

Poor orphans Marit and Anna live drab grey lives of cold and sorrow, toiling to milk and muck the cows of the Myra farmer. They live only for the winter session of school, but there they are mocked for their poverty and hunger. When all reason to live on is gone, a red bird appears and leads them to a place of eternal spring. A haunting and melancholy storybook, offering hope, solace, and many possible interpretations. Delicate, evocative illustrations. Recommended.

Sally and the Some-Thing, by George O'Connor, 2006.

When home gets boring, Sally goes fishing, until something slithery comes out of the pond to meet her. Strong, concise characterization; subtle and sustained humor throughout on several levels; skilfull and richly-textured illustrations enhance its pleasures. Far from boring. Recommended.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch, by Trinka Hakes Noble, ill. Tony Ross, 1987

Nothing much ever happens to Farmer Hicks in the slow-movin' West. For his wife, Elna, there's never a dull moment, with kittens, puppies, piglets, colts, and calves born, prizes and inheritances won, and oil discovered. A tongue-in-cheek picture book with cartoonish illustrations. For this reader, the attempted humor fell as flat as the Western horizon. Not recommended.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Time Hackers, by Gary Paulsen, 2005

Dorso's getting tired of holographic artifacts, such as rotting corpses, showing up in his locker. When Custer and Beethoven appear and seem to see Dorso, defying all the tenets of the grandfather rule of the paradox of time, he realizes something's wrong with his time travel circuitry, and so long as he has his laptop with him, he's liable to be swept into a critical juncture of history, and right in the line of fire. As with most time travel fiction, the attempt to explain the metaphysical premise grows convoluted and wearisome. However, this novel packs a lot of action and humor into remarkably few pages. Dorso's friend Frank singlehandedly justifies the paper the novel is printed on. A fun, quick read; recommended.

Taking Care of Moses, by Barbara O'Conor, 2004

Someone left a baby on the steps of the Rock of Ages Baptist Church, and the whole town of Foley, South Carolina, is in an uproar about it. Nobody knows whose baby it is -- not childless Pastor Jennings and his wife Charlotte, who quickly "adopt" the baby; not Miss Freida the foster mother who's got a license to care for him. Only Randall Mackey knows. But he can't tell. And it's pretty much tearing him and Foley in two. A strong sense of place infuse the dialogue and conflict; Jaybird and Althea are literary siblings not soon forgotten. Strongly recommended.

Midnight Magic, by Avi, 1999

Fabrizio, 12-yr old servant to ex-magician Mangus, accompanies his master when summoned to the castello to help the King by exorcising a ghost who haunts the princess Teresina. Mangus, who has sworn off magic trickery, believes in reason, not ghosts, and he despairs of his life, for if he does not find the ghost, King Claudio will kill him, and the king's evil advisor, Count Scarazoni, will kill him if he does. There's nothing left but for Fabrizio to take the mystery into his own hands. But is he a player or a pawn in a ghostly game of chess? Strongly recommended for fans of historical whodunnits.

The Young Man and the Sea, by Rodman Philbrick, 2004

Not since Skiff Beaman's mom dad has his dad, Big Skiff, gotten off the couch or off the bottle, and so it's up to 12-year old Skiff to run the house and rescue their sunken fishing boat, the Mary Rose. But fixing her waterlogged engine will cost at least five grand, and the Beamans, who live in the last house along the river with an outhouse, ("swampers" as rich kid Tyler Croft calls his folks), can't afford it. Lobstering doesn't earn money fast enough, so when a sportfisher harpoons a giant tuna that commands $6k from a sushi tuna buyer, Skiff hatches a plan. A strong, authentic voice carries a heroic yet believable plot all the way to its surprising close. Strongly recommended.

The Little Gentleman, by Phillippa Pearce, 2004

Bet doesn't know why Mr. Franklin has asked her to read a scientific book about worms while sitting on a log in a meadow, but she doesn't mind doing it anyway. Mr. Franklin isn't cracked in the head after all, she learns, when a mole pops his snout out of his hole and starts speaking with her about earthworms, Mr. Franklin, and the failed Jacobite plot of 1702 to place James of Scotland on the British throne. Contemporary fiction meets history by way of an underground twist, and "the little gentleman in the velvet coat" whose hole caused King William's horse to trip, comes to life in modernity and tells his story. A delicate hand makes this extraordinary premise believable and delightful. Recommended.