celebrating children's books loved by adult readers

(ISSN 1078-8697)

Copyright 2006 Wendy E. Betts.
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Vol. 14, No. 2, May 2006

"Giggerty-geggerty, I can't wait!": long-awaited reprints

Mary Poppins from A to Z by P.L. Travers. Illustrated by Mary Shepard. 1962; Harcourt, 2006 (0-15-205834-6) $14.00

Available once again, only now Beautifully Colored, this Delectable book features Every one of the Favorite characters from Travers' Greatly loved Mary Poppins series. How fun It is to read about their Jolly adventures, from the Kindly Bird Woman to the Lovely Mary Poppins herself. No One should Pass up this Quirky, Really quite funny Story, Told in twenty-six Unusual Vignettes. What a good idea it was to eXpose it to Young (and old) readers once again. Zounds but I enjoyed it! (4-8)


Graven Images by Paul Fleischman. 1982; Candlewick, 2005 (0-7636-2775-5) $16.99

An appropriately mysterious looking cover graces this new edition of Fleischman's Newbery Honor winning collection of moody, evocative stories.

Mouse Paint written and illustrated by Ellen Stoll Walsh. Harcourt Brace, 1989; 2006 (0-15-205533-9) $10.95 board

Now available in big board format: Three white mice who live on a white piece of paper discover the joys of mixing colors after climbing into three jars of red, yellow and blue paint. When the newly red mouse steps into a yellow puddle and does a little dance, he discovers that "red feet in a yellow puddle make orange!" Similar exciting discoveries await the yellow and blue mice. The goofy story and simple but vivid collage illustrations make this color lesson very entertaining. (2-5)

New Books

Gossamer by Lois Lowry. Houghton Mifflin, 2006 (978-0-618-68550-2) $16.00

In the comfortable home of an elderly woman, a small dream-giver known as Littlest One is learning her trade: how to collect the pieces of memory attached to possessions and turn them into dreams...

Meanwhile, something else of import is happening in that house: the arrival of John, a hostile, disturbed foster child. Although the woman is both nervous and somewhat naive--"What does an eight-year-old have to be angry about?" she wonders--she does her best to take care of John, helped, though of course she doesn't know it, by Littlest One and her teacher, who are trying to strengthen the boy with good dreams. Because a boy as wounded as this one is a prime target for the Sinisteed, dream-givers who have become consumed by bad memories and now inflict punishing nightmares.

Short and spare, Gossamer lives up to its title, working less as a chronicle of events than as a demonstration of the value of dreams and memories, especially for those who are weakened by life, such as John and his equally abused mother. The small, wonderful moments in life are treasures here: cozy, domestic weapons against fear. I love the potent vision of the creation of dreams as an artistic endeavor--"found art" at its most meaningful. (9 & up)

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt. Random House, 2006 (0-385-90940-3)

Simone's ordinary life of high school, family, friends, and trying to find a boyfriend grows increasingly complex after she meets her birthmother for the first time and becomes aware of her Jewish heritage. A well-balanced mix of joy and sadness, this book also offers particularly appealing family and friend relationships, a feeling for the beauty of Jewish ritual and identity, and a strong sense of emotional truth. (14 & up)

There is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me by Alice Walker. Illustrated by Stefano Vitale. HarperCollins, 2006 (978-0-06-057080-6) $16.99

Vitale could probably make the phone book look fascinating if he illustrated it, but he was really given a treat to work with this time. Walker's imagistic poem cries out to be creatively illustrated and it blends so perfectly with pictures here, it's hard to envision them apart.

"There is a flower/At the tip/Of my nose/Smelling me" begins the poem, and the flower that curls down from the sky here does seem as fascinated by the girl it is "smelling" as she does with it. A glorious sunrise kisses her skin, "Praising me" and a pen outlines her in lovely calligraphy, "Writing me." The soft brown skin of the girl beautifully complements the pink of her dress and the brilliant colors that bloom around--and occasionally through--her. The final page, "There is a story/At the end/Of my arms/Telling me!" shows the girl's broad, smiling face covered with all colors of the rainbow; the glowing colors and simplicity of line, paired with the evocative words, make her seem an ideal representation of joyful humanity. * (3 & up)

Now (or Again) in Paperback

Odds are Good by Bruce Coville. Harcourt/Magic Carpet, 2006 (0-15-205716-1) $6.95 pb

Previously published as the two books Oddly Enough and Odder than Ever, this collections gathers together some of Coville's most thoughtful and resonant fantasy stories, in which humans can become mythical beings, and mythical beings can be strangely human. Themes of duty and responsibility, bereavement and compassion abound, as Coville strips away the border between fantasy and reality to express troubled yet generally hopeful perceptions of the world. Underlying almost all of the stories is the theme of becoming one's true self, whatever form it may take and whatever the price may be, whether in a humorous form as in "Am I Blue?," in which a confused boy gets a highly satisfactory revenge on a world of homophobes, or a heartrending one like "The Japanese Mirror," in which a young man must learn to accept and conquer the ugliest part of himself. (13 & up)

The Llama Who Had No Pajama by Mary Ann Hoberman. Illustrated by Betty Fraser. 1998; Harcourt, 2006 (0-15-205571-1) $8.00 pb

This book gathers 100 of Hoberman's much anthologized poems, for an easy-going collection that's easy to enjoy. At its best, it finds the wonder in ordinary things: an entire poem about the potential for fun implicit in a bowl of applesauce, or a vision of a "Magic Hand" that can "cover anything,/No Matter what its size." The view of childhood as fresh and innocent inevitably dips into archness, ala A.A. Milne, but not often enough to be unbearable. Small, colorful illustrations make good use of the space in and around the poems, decorating them without overwhelming them. (3-8)

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. Razorbill, 2004; 2005 (1-595-14032-8) $7.99 pb

Boy meets girl; boy and girl unravel mysterious conspiracy; boy gets girl, plus a lot of surprises. It's pretty much the same outline as Peeps (reviewed volume 14, number 1) except that this book is funnier, yet also much closer to the bone.

The aptly named Hunter is a Trendsetter, one almost at the top of the pyramid of Cool, and he's so good at it, he even gets paid to look for the latest in cool and spread the word. Then he meets Jen, who turns out to be at the very top of the pyramid: an Innovator, one of the rare people who actually finds or creates the unusual, the unexpected, the innovative. Pushed by Jen--"Innovators often lack the risk-assessment gene"--Hunter finds himself caught up in a mystery that only threatens his life, but also threatens the entire way he, his trendsetter friends, and everyone else who cares about being cool view the world.

With a sharp eye for an image and ear for an allusion--anyone who follows popular culture will instantly recognize the "Missing Black Woman Formation" Jen observes as a standard in commercials, and be stunned they never noticed it before--So Yesterday succeeds, not only because it's funny and right-on, but because it clearly recognizes both the value of genuine, innovative "cool", as well as the shallowness of manufactured corporate "cool" It's frequently compared to M. T. Anderson's brilliant YA novel Feed, except this is Feed for those of us confused geeks who simultaneously love and despise consumer culture. * (12 & up)

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson. Putnam, 2003 (0-399-23115-3) $15.99; Speak, 2005 (0-142-40149-8) $5.99 pb

"Write fast, Lonnie" says his poetry teacher, and Lonnie is trying to, trying to get all his words out before Miss Edna's "Be quiet!" makes all the ideas in his head go out like a candle. There's a lot of ideas to get out, a lot of feelings, and a lot of story, and gradually Lonnie's poems reveal them: a boy who loves poetry and basketball and likes a girl names LaTenya; who lives in a foster home with Miss Edna because his parents both died in a fire; whose beloved little sister Lili now has a "new mama" who "didn't want no boys."

Woodson accomplishes so much in this short book, it's hard to know where to begin. Along with experimenting with poetic forms, Lonnie's words incorporate images, descriptions, memories, to make a few words do a lot of work, as in this end of a poem about learning that his classmate Eric is in the hospital, with a disease that's "common among African-Americans":

Through Lonnie's poems, we get to know everyone in his life: his inspiring but often ineffectual teacher, his tough and caring foster mom, the "dogs" he can share basketball with, but not poetry, and the parents who gave him a childhood filled with love, a legacy that lives on in his ability to write and to love the new people who claim his as family. A powerful and beautiful story, with an exceptional voice. * (8 & up)

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