One-Minute Book Reviews

March 30, 2007

Bye, Bye, Birdie: Children’s Picture Books About the Death of a Pet

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Children's Books,Libraries,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:30 pm

Saying goodbye to furry and feathered creatures with help from Mister Rogers, Judith Viorst, Margaret Wise Bown and others

By Janice Harayda

A popular Easter tradition during my childhood was bringing home baby chicks that died soon after the holiday in a suburban basement. This practice may survive mainly in all those yellow marshmallow candies made in the unlucky chicks’ image. But other kinds of animal deaths abound in this season of new life. Some good books about the casualties:

Nonfiction
Mister Rogers’ First Experiences: When a Pet Dies (Putnam, $5.99, paperback). By Fred Rogers. Photographs by Jim Judkis. Ages 3–6.
Fred Rogers (1928–2003) did more than host the popular PBS show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He also wrote “First Experiences,” a picture book series that offers children a gentle introduction to situations such as moving, making friends, and going to the doctor. When a Pet Dies is typical. Rogers speaks directly to children about how they may feel about losing a pet and answers basic questions such as, “What is dying?” His message is that when sad things happen, “the best place to be is near someone you love … someone who can understand how you are feeling.”

Fiction
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (Aladdin, $5.99, paperback). By Judith Viorst. Illustrated by Erik Blegvad. Ages 4–9.
Many books talk “at” children about the loss of pets. Not The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, a lovely picture book by the author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It involves a boy who grieves for his dead cat and finds comfort in his mother’s suggestion that he say “ten good things about Barney” at the backyard burial. Viorst’s poetic but clear text includes a conversation between the boy and his friend, Annie, about whether heaven exists. He says no, she says yes, and the book suggests that both have a right to their views. Blegvad’s superb black-and-white drawings add layers of emotion and touches of whimsy that show that sadness doesn’t mean you can never have fun.

The Accident (Clarion, varied prices). By Carol Carrick. Pictures by Donald Carrick. Ages 5-9.
Child psychologists will tell you that a death, if always upsetting, is typically more traumatic if the child has witnessed it, partly because it increases the potential for guilt. And The Accident isn’t just an excellent picture book — it is one of the few that deals with such a situation. The authors use a well-written text and subdued art to tell the story of a boy who sees his beloved dog killed by a pick-up truck while they are walking along a highway. Sad and angry, Christopher keeps replaying the accident in his mind, trying to pretend it didn’t happen, until his sympathetic father helps him find a fitting way to express his grief and begin to feel better. The Accident is out-of-print but worth tracking down for a child who is struggling with this kind of loss. (If you can’t find the book online or at your library, you can ask the library to get it for you through an inter-library loan.)

The Dead Bird (Aladdin, 1987, with a new edition due out in May 2007, varied prices). By Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Remy Charlip. Ages 3 and up.
This book is about the size of Goodnight Moon and offers further evidence of Brown’s genius. The story couldn’t be simpler: Four children find a dead bird, take it into the woods, and bury it amid wildflowers under a stone that says “Here Lies a Bird That Is Dead.” But this story is no less powerful because it is so brief. Charlip uses only a few colors for the art – chiefly blue-green and yellow – and on some pages, no pictures, just a sentence or two on a field of white. The missing colors suggest loss while the blue-green tones symbolize the new life that is emerging beside it. And Brown’s text has a similarly understated drama, especially in the last line, which tells what the children did after the burial: “And every day, until they forgot, they went and sang to their little dead bird and put fresh flowers on his grave.” What makes that line remarkable is that “until they forgot” slipped into the middle. Children do forget some animals, even people, who have died. Many authors ignore this and offer false “comfort” and “reassurance,” doling out sappy clichés suggesting children will “never forget” what they have lost. By contrast, The Dead Bird brims with honesty. Nearly 70 years after it appeared, it remains far better than many newer releases, partly because Brown knew that children don’t need false comfort: They need truth.

Many libraries have other good books on the death of a pet, including books for older children. One is Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog (Morrow, 2006), the true story of the life and death of beloved Labrador retriever, which may appeal to many teenagers. If you don’t see the kind of book you need on today’s list, ask a children’s librarian for suggestions.

A new review of a book or books for children or teenagers appears on this site every Saturday. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept advertising or free books from publishers, so all reviews offer an independent evaluation that is not influenced by marketing concerns. One-Minute Book Reviews also offers reading group guides and discussion questions for some books, including the most recent Newbery Medal winner, The Higher Power of Lucky. You can find these guides archived in the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides” category on One-Minute Book Reviews. All reviews are written by Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com, a former book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle http://bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Gabriel García Márquez on the Difference Between Novels and Journalism … Quote of the Day #15

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Latin American,Novels,Quotes of the Day,Reading,Reporting,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:14 pm

Gabriel García Márquez on truth in fiction and nonfiction …

“In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work.”

García Márquez ‘s answer to, “Do the journalist and the novelist have different responsibilities in balancing truth versus the imagination?” Peter H. Stone asked the question in an interview with the Nobel laureate that appears Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews: Sixth Series (Viking, 1984). Edited by George Plimpton. Introduction by Frank Kermode.

Comment by Janice Harayda:

This is one of the most perceptive comments I have read on the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. How many times have you read a newspaper article that had a small — even trivial — error that fatally undermined a good story? And how many times have you read a novel with a detail so wonderful that you forgave any defects in the book?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Fiona French’s African Tale for Children, ‘King of Another Country’

Filed under: African American,Book Reviews,Books,Children's Books,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:23 am

A selfish young man learns to compromise in a book with bold, kente-cloth colors

[Note: I usually review children's books on Saturday. But I discovered this terrific British author while sifting through picture books on Easter for my March 17 post. And she's so good I can't resist slipping in another of her books during the week. Tomorrow: "Bye, Bye, Birdie: Recommended Children's Picture Books About the Death of a Pet." Jan]

King of Another Country. By Fiona French. Oxford University Press and Scholastic Press, 32 pp., varied prices. Ages 4–8.

By Janice Harayda

Ask children’s literature experts to suggest good picture books with African themes, and you’re likely to hear some titles over and over. Among them: John Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (Amistad, 1988), an African Cinderella story, and Gerald McDermott’s Ananci the Spider: A Tale From the Ashanti (Holt, 1972), both Caldecott Honor books that have become mainstays of school and library reading lists.

A worthy book that has received less attention comes from Fiona French, an English artist who won the Kate Greenaway Medal for Snow White in New York. King of Another Country tells the story of selfish young man who always said “no” but learns to say “yes” after he leaves his African village and ventures into the forest, where he meets people who make him their king. French describes Ojo’s adventures in graceful, economical prose resembling that of a folk tale, though she doesn’t say whether her book was inspired by one. But the show-stoppers are her dynamic illustrations. Each page bursts with vibrant designs that appear inspired by kente cloth, the royal Ashanti fabric known for its bright colors and bold geometric shapes, often with a basket-weave pattern.

French uses kente-like motifs not just on clothes but on shields, houses, a river, and even a face. The effect is to make you feel immersed in a world that is traditionally African, yet and fresh and surprising enough to hold your attention until the last page.

Best line/picture: Ojo meets a King of the Forest rendered entirely in brilliant shades of green and yellow that make him seem fully human but also ethereal.

Worst line/picture: None. But some parents might object to an image of Ojo carrying a rifle when he goes hunting in the forest.

Recommended … without reservations.

Published: April 1993 (Scholastic edition).

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 28, 2007

Anne Porter: An Easter Lily in the Field of Late-Blooming Poets

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Christianity,Poetry,Reading,Religion,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:27 pm

In her mid-90s an acclaimed poet returns with her first book since her National Book Award finalist, An Altogether Different Language

Living Things: Collected Poems. By Anne Porter. Foreword by David Shapiro. Steerforth/Zoland, 176 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

A few months ago, a fascinating article about Anne Porter appeared in the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise.” The story noted that Porter was 83 when her first collection, An Altogether Different Language, was published in 1994. The book was a finalist for a National Book Award for poetry and followed by Living Things in 2006.

The Journal article included excerpts from Porter’s poems that were so good that I began looking for Living Things – online, at libraries and bookstores in Manhattan and the suburbs. Nobody had it, or could get it. It seemed that – whether because of the Journal article or Porter’s growing literary reputation – the book had sold out everywhere.

Just before Lent, Living Things turned up again. And the timing couldn’t have been more apt for the return of this fine collection, which has all the poems from An Altogether Different Language and 39 new ones. Living Things makes clear that Porter is an Easter lily in the field of late-blooming poets. She is a Catholic poet in the same way that Flannery O’Connor was a Catholic novelist: She describes a world that is, as O’Connor put it, founded on “the theological truths of the Faith, but particularly on three of them which are basic – the Fall, the Redemption, and the Judgment.” But she transcends the label “Catholic writer.” As the poet David Shapiro has said, Porter transmits “her Franciscan joy in created things” and “reminds us that the idea of the holy is still possible for us.” At the same time, her poems spring from everyday life, particularly her role as the mother of five children by her late husband, the artist Fairfield Porter.

Many of her rhymed and unrhymed poems are meditations on saints, holy days or Bible verses. Others are hymns or prayers, steeped in a sense of wonder and gratitude reminiscent of that of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit poet who wrote: “Glory be to God for dappled things.” One of the most memorable poems is “A Short Prayer,” an interpretation – you might even call it a brief modern translation – of the “Hail Mary.” In “An Easter Lily” Porter considers the gift of a lily

Whose whiteness
Is past belief

Its blossoms
The shape of trumpets
Are mute as swans

But deep and strong as sweat
Is their feral perfume.

In seven short iambic lines, Porter links the Easter lily to glory (“trumpets”), martyrdom (“swans”), and purity (the whiteness of the lily and swans). And she does more. The best-known Bible verse about lilies, Matthew 6:28, says they “toil not” – they don’t sweat. Porter’s similie – “strong as sweat” – encourages you to consider the strength of the lily as well as its grace. It also connects flower implicitly to the sweat of Christ carrying the cross. Could anyone look at a lily the same way after reading this poem?

Perhaps the most poignant poem in Living Things is the loving reminiscence, “For My Son Johnny.” Porter told the Wall Street Journal that she believes her late son suffered from either schizophrenia or autism. In the poem she recalls, among other things, his kindness:

Though your shoelaces were hardly ever tied
And you seldom wore matching socks
You tried to behave with dignity in the village
“So as not to embarrass my little sisters.”

Porter’s natural tone and diction, here and elsewhere, are part of the charm of her book. The work of religious poets can imitate, consciously or unconsciously, the language of Scripture or the great metaphysicists. Porter has a voice all her own. How lovely that, however belatedly, people are discovering it.

Best line: At this time of year, many people may especially appreciate the poems that relate to Easter, which include “In Holy Week,” “Cradle Song II” and “Four Seasons Carol.” Anyone who looks for strong rhymes may also enjoy “House Lots,” a meditation on the arrival of bulldozers: “Good-bye sweet whistling quail/ Milkweed and Queen Anne’s lace/ Good-bye shy cottomtail/ Quit your secret room …”

Worst line: None.

Published: January 2006

Furthermore: The back cover of this book has an evocative portrait of the author by her husband. Search Google for “Video: Portrait of Anne Porter” to watch a short video of Porter reading from and talking about her poetry. The Wall Street Journal article by Lucette Lagnado ran on Nov. 11–12, 2006.

Consider reading also: Common Life: Poems (CavanKerry, 2006), by Robert Cording, Barrett Professor of Creative Writing at Holy Cross. The poems in this book reflect a religious perspective and include the four-page “Lenten Stanzas” and the briefer “Pentecost in Little Falls, New Jersey.”

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist has been the book editor of the Plain Dearler and vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle. She wrote the comedies of manners The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004).

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

‘A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise’

Filed under: Books,Poetry,Reading,Women,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:21 pm

Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews …

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about Anne Porter headlined, “A 95-Year-Old Poet Finds Her Muse and Literary Praise.” Porter’s first volume of poetry, An Altogether Different Language, was published when she was 83 and became a finalist for the National Book Award. Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews Janice Harayda reviews Porter’s second collection, Living Things, which has poems about Easter and other subjects.

(c) Janiee Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 27, 2007

Young, Jewish and Hoping for a Short Seder

A short story collection for people with more than four questions — way more — about how to reconcile their Jewish faith with their Phish bootlegs

You’re young, you’re Jewish, and you’re praying – well, maybe not praying – for a short seder. Who understands you? Elisa Albert, author of How This Night Is Different (Free Press, $18.95) a smart, funny and often bawdy collection of stories about young Jews looking for meaning in rituals that include a seder, a wedding, bat mitzvah, a Yom Kippur service and a packaged tour of Auschwitz. As a Nov. 22 review on this site noted, Albert’s writing transcends the label “Jewish fiction.” But How This Night Is Different could still make a fine Passover gift for anyone hip enough to see the comic potential characters such as a 31-year-old single woman who goes home for the holiday with that least inappropriate of ailments, a yeast infection. How many short story collections have, as this one does, a cover inspired by a bottle of Manishevitz?

Links: Author site www.elisaalbert.com. One-Minute Book Reviews review
www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/11/22/elisa-albert/

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 26, 2007

A Totally Authorized Reading Group Guide to ‘Manhattan on the Rocks’ by Janice Harayda

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Novels,Reading,Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:10 pm

10 Discussion Questions
Manhattan on the Rocks
A Comedy of New York Manners

[Note: After more than 200 posts about other authors' books, I have the right put up one about my own, right? A movie option on this novel would make it easier for me keep posting reviews, so I have to get the word out to those Hollywood high-rollers. And how do I know that you aren't Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, or Kate Hudson looking for her next starring role? You did get invited to the Vanity Fair Oscars party, didn't you? Unlike the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides on One-Minute Book Reviews, this one is just shameless self-promotion ... Jan]

Laura Smart has thrived in her job as a writer of quirky stories like “Bowling-Trophy Wives,” an article about the wives of Ohio’s best bowlers, for a Cleveland magazine. But she can’t resist an offer to move to Manhattan and work for a talk-show-host-turned-magazine editor. She hopes her job at Cassandra will improve her troubled romance with an aspiring screenwriter and turn her into “Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s without the foot-long cigarette holder.”

Instead, Laura finds that she must deal with the alpine cost of New York apartments, a flirtatious corporate power broker, and a boss who wants her to track down elusive pop star. She also has to decide whether to break ranks with co-workers who see their cascade of perks from advertisers — free clothes, makeup, trips, and even cars — as fair compensation for their low salaries. The result is a sparkling comedy that sends up the sex-and-celebrity-driven world women’s magazines, written from the insider’s perspective of a former editor of Glamour.

1. Many works of fiction deal with young women who are transformed after moving to New York City. One of the most famous is Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Why do the best of these books have an appeal that lasts for generations?

2. Laura Smart, the heroine of Manhattan on the Rocks, dreams of becoming “Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s without the foot-long cigarette holder.” Does she achieve her dream? What similarities and differences do you see between Laura and Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

3. If you have read Breakfast at Tiffany’s and seen the movie, you know that the novella is darker than the film. In the book, Holly Golightly is a call girl, a high-priced prostitute. In the movie Audrey Hepburn appears to have no fixed occupation. Why do you think filmmakers made this change? What changes might be necessary in a film of Manhattan on the Rocks?

4. Novels about characters who step outside their usual setting are often called fish-out-of-water novels. These books include some of the most respected novels of the past century, such as Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (about a naive young man who attends an elite English university). They also include recent fiction such as The Princess Diaries. Why do these books have so much potential for comedy? What pitfalls do authors need to avoid in writing them?

9. Harayda calls Manhattan on the Rocks “a comedy of New York manners.” Some people say that New Yorkers have no manners. Can you write a comedy of manners about a city perceived as “rude”? Why?

5. The catch to many fish-out-of-water novels is that characters who at first appear to be out of their element may turn to be more at home in a new setting than in an old one. Is this true of Laura? Why?

6. Laura leaves Ohio to work for a magazine run by a television personality who hopes “to become the next Oprah or Martha.” Is Manhattan on the Rocks mainly about the cult of personality that surrounds those two stars? Or is it about something different?

7. Olivia Goldsmith, author of The First Wives Club, described Harayda’s first novel, The Accidental Bride as “satire with heart.” Does this description also fit her second? What does Manhattan on the Rocks satirize?

8. Manhattan on the Rocks brings back Brad Newburger, a public relations executive from The Accidental Bride who represents a condom boutique called Condom and Gomorrah. The author also writes about a law firm called Soke and Bilkem (inspired partly by the firm of Dunning, Spongett, and Leach in The Bonfire of the Vanities). She clearly likes to have fun with words. What is the effect this kind of playfulness? Can wordplay be satirical? Your group might want to compare The Accidental Bride and Manhattan on the Rocks to Wendy Holden’s comedies of manners, Bad Heir Day and Farm Fatale.

10. Like Manhattan on the Rocks, the bestseller The Devil Wears Prada involves a young woman who works for a fashion magazine and sees her co-workers receiving perks such as free clothes, makeup, and more. Discuss the different points of view that the authors of the two novels have toward this practice.

“Sophisticated chick lit.”
Pamela Redmond Satran, The New York Times

“Harayda, a former senior editor of Glamour, provides an inside look at the life of a New York magazine through an appealing heroine’s eyes.”
Kristine Huntley, Booklist

“Laura’s voice in this novel is spunky, and Harayda draws on references to both pop culture and literature to give Laura an intelligence that is the most compelling aspect of this novel. As her name indicates, she’s smart.”
Kelly Magee, Ohioana Quarterly

“Harayda teasingly pokes fun at the differences between Cleveland and Manhattan.”
Linda Feagler, Obio Magazine

A “blockbuster… autumn’s hot new book.”
Complete Woman

“Manhattan on the Rocks will make readers laugh out loud.”
Vince Brewton, ForeWord Manhattan on the Rocks

Vital statistics:
Manhattan on the Rocks: A Novel. Sourcebooks, 297 pp., $14, paperback. By Janice Harayda. Published: October 2004. Also by Janice Harayda: The Accidental Bride: A Romantic Comedy (St. Martin’s/Griffin, 1999). Please visit the “For Book Clubs” page of the Web site below for the reading group guide to The Accidental Bride.
Links: www.janiceharayda.com

Janice Harayda enjoys speaking to reading groups in Manhattan and parts of New Jersey, when her schedule permits, about this novel. She speaks to groups in other places by speakerphone.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Robin McGraw’s Faith in Herself

Dr. Phil’s wife writes about her $50,000 Mercedes, her crystal chandeliers, and those tabloid rumors

[Note: I picked up Inside My Heart along with Love Smart, reviewed on this site on Feb. 8, planning to do a dual review. The books were so different I decided to do this one separately.]

Inside My Heart: Choosing to Live With Passion and Purpose. By Robin McGraw. Nelson, 223 pp., $24.99.

By Janice Harayda

Robin McGraw devotes four pages of Inside My Heart to a vasectomy reversal that her husband had without telling her – an incident that included, as she puts it, “fabricating” a cover story for his whereabouts during the surgery. This is by far the most revealing anecdote in her memoir of her marriage to Dr. Phil McGraw. What would her husband say if a man on his talk show confessed to doing the same thing?

McGraw says that she wrote Inside My Heart to get female readers excited about becoming “the woman that God created you to be,” a process that involves learning to stand up for themselves as she says she has done. Presumably to help them get “excited,” she writes about her $50,000 Mercedes, her “Italian Renaissance style” home with its “mosaic floors and crystal chandeliers” and her “black suede bomber jacket” that her husband gave her for Christmas. She says little about her day-to-day spiritual practices and struggles beyond that she gives thanks each morning for how “God has blessed” her.

Although Inside My Heart comes from a publisher of Christian books, God comes across in it as a generic figure with a goody bag that always has something for McGraw. So it’s hard to say who the target audience is. Inside My Heart may offend evangelicals with its glib materialism and lack of references to Jesus and the Bible. But it’s so shallow it has little to offer others, including people who enjoy good celebrity memoirs. Perhaps it’s is aimed partly at all those tabloid readers who wonder if there’s truth to the rumors that its author has been so lonely in Los Angeles, she went door-to-door trying to find someone to play bunco with her? If so, let the record show that McGraw says the stories about the dice game are false. “I had never even heard of it,” she says, “let alone played it.”

Best line: McGraw was startled when she first learned of her husband’s vasectomy reversal: “And then I took a good look at him and saw that he had a bulge under his trousers from a bandage and icepack.”

Worst line: At times McGraw slips into her husband’s nasty, hectoring tone. An example occurs when she urges people to have colonoscopies: “If you’re over fifty and haven’t had one done because you’re too squeamish to deal with it, stop acting like a baby and go have one.”

Consider reading instead: Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd, by Sue Monk Kidd. A review is archived in the “Essays and Reviews” category on this site.

Published: September 2006

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

March 24, 2007

Good Passover Books for Children Ages 4–12

A picture book and an anthology explain the meaning of Seder and other aspects of the holiday

Miriam’s Cup: A Passover Story. By Fran Manushkin. Illustrated by Bob Dacey. Scholastic, 32 pp., $5.99, paperback. Ages 4 and up.

Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion. Written and Compiled by Eric A. Kimmel. Scholastic, 144 pp., $18.95. Publisher’s suggested ages: 4–8. School Library Journal suggested ages: 9–12. [See further discussion of ages below.]

By Janice Harayda

Last week I reviewed Easter books for children, and because I don’t know Passover books as well, I’ve deferred to Higher Authorities in selecting today’s titles: a children’s librarian, who recommended both, and the Jewish Book Council, which gave a National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Books to Wonders and Miracles. Both books cover some of the same material, including the story of Moses and his sister, Miriam, and explain why some people now place a Miriam’s Cup next to the Elijah’s Cup at the Seder, the Passover meal. But there are big differences.

Miriam’s Cup is a picture book that refracts the Passover story through the eyes of a modern family preparing for the holiday. Before guests arrive for the Seder, Mama Pinsky tells her daughter, Miriam, about the “the prophet you are named for.” Mama’s account focuses on the biblical heroine’s role in events more often associated with her brother Moses — his discovery in the bulrushes, his flight from Egypt, the plagues of frogs and other afflictions, and the parting of the Red Sea.

The text of Miriam’s Cup is at times stilted. The Pinskys are modern enough to have a Miriam’s Cup at their Seder, but Miriam Pinsky calls her parents “Mama” and “Papa” as though living in the early 20th century. And although Fran Manushkin never says so directly, her book has a feminist slant. (Anybody who doesn’t recall seeing Miriam on the list of prophets in that Bible-as-literature class in college may want to read the entry about her that you can find if you go to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia www.wikipedia.org and search for “Miriam.”) But Bob Dacey’s bold watercolors draw you in quickly and help to offset the effect of the anachronisms, and the cover offers a bonus in the form of the words and music to Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song” based on Exodus 15:20–21.

Wonders and Miracles is, in effect, a children’s coffee-table book – an exquisite collection of poems, stories, prayers, recipes, and more – that befits the high reputation of Eric A. Kimmel, who won a Caldecott Honor for Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. His Passover anthology doen’t include a complete Haggadah, the collection of readings used at the Passover meal. Instead Kimmel walks children through each part of the Seder, explaining why it matters with the help of beautiful illustrations spanning three centuries – from an Egyptian tomb painting to contemporary photographs of three versions of a Miriam’s Cup (silver, glass, and clay).

If the publisher and School Library Journal disagree on the ages for this book, it’s because Wonders and Miracles has something for all. J. Patrick Lewis’s simple rhyming poem “Spirit of the Seder” would suit preschoolers. Gershon Levine’s story “And You Shall Teach Your Children” makes a good introduction for adolescents to the Soviet Jews known as “refusniks” who lost their jobs or were investigated by the secret police if they tried to practice Judaism or move to Israel. And adults might appreciate the recipes for almond macaroons (“a lovely change from the traditional coconut macaroons”) or both an Ashkenazic and Sephardic charoset.

For all its virtues, this book has such an unexpected dust jacket I might have missed it if a children’s librarian hadn’t put it in my hands when I asked for “the best Passover books.” The cover comes from the gifted Bagram Ibatoulline (creator of the crucified rabbit for Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane). Ibatoulline shows Moses and Aaron in red tunics that make them look like – there’s no getting around this – Santa Claus, with seraphim and cherubim above and below them. An editorial note traces the cover influences to the Amsterdam Haggadah “illustrated by a Jewish convert who copied his illustrations from a Christian source.” And while the winged angels might confuse some children about Jewish beliefs, in a sense the cover brilliantly reflects the spirit of this book. On his first page, Kimmel tells us that Passover is ancient and modern, solemn and joyous, and timeless and ever-changing. It is, in other words, “a holiday filled with contractions.”

Recommended ages: The publisher recommends Wonders and Miracles for ages 4–8 while School Library Journal suggests 9–12. Both are right. But very young children might destroy this book while some 11- and 12-year-olds might be too old for some of it. I would probably give it to 6-to-9-year-olds or as a “family” gift.

Published: March 2006 and Feb. 1998 (paperback and hardcover editions of Miriam’s Cup) and Feb. 2004 (Wonders and Miracles, hardcover only available).

Links: www.ericakimmel.com

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

The Top Five ‘Most Influential People Who Never Lived’ in Order

Filed under: History,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:25 am

Postscript to yesterday’s review …

I realized after posting the March 23 review of The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived (Harper, 2006) that you might like to see the authors’ list of the top five in order. Here they are:

1. The Marlboro Man

2. Big Brother

3. King Arthur

4. Santa Claus (St. Nick)

5. Hamlet

You can find the full list of on page 9 of the book and read more about the rankings by scrolling down to the full review. Who would be on your list?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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