One-Minute Book Reviews

October 3, 2009

Kimiko Kajikawa’s ‘Tsunami!’ With Art by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:28 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A old farmer sacrifices his rice crop to save his neighbors from a monster wave

Tsunami! By Kimiko Kajikawa. Illustrated by Ed Young. Adapted from Lafcadio Hearn’s story, “A Living God.” Philomel, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages: See discussion below.

By Janice Harayda

When I was a teenager, I had a summer job with a federal anti-poverty program that once took a group of children on a day trip to Point Pleasant Beach in southern New Jersey. Some of our young charges had never seen the ocean and were terrified by it. I looked after a boy of eight or nine who was so afraid of the water that he would go near it only when I carried him into it.

Since then, I’ve often seen similar scenes at Jersey Shore and elsewhere. Some children are so afraid of the ocean that you see them crying at the water’s edge even when their parents are holding onto them tightly.

So I can’t figure out what the Philomel editors were thinking when they recommended Tsunami! for ages 3–5 on their Web site. Older children might love Caldecott medalist Ed Young’s dramatic mixed-media cover image of a wave powerful enough to sweep up a Japanese temple gate. But if they’re old enough not to be frightened by it, wouldn’t they be too old for a picture book?

As for those 3-to-5 year olds: You wonder about the effect of book that describes not just a monster wave but the destruction of a village and the burning of a rice field, shown on two-page spreads with flames leaping across the gutters as a child screams. Young knows how to evoke devastation without needless gore, and throughout the book he does with it vibrant collage-like images that, unlike his more realistic cover picture, have an abstract-expressionist spirit. He suggests – instead of showing in bloody detail – the power of a monster wave.

Even so, Tsunami! is an odd book. Kimiko Kajikawa tells a dramatic story in this adaptation of a 19th-century tale about an old rice farmer who saves the lives of 400 people in his Japanese village. One autumn day, Ojiisan thinks that something doesn’t feel right, so he stays in his mountaintop cottage with his grandson when everybody else goes to a harvest celebration at a low-lying temple court. His instincts prove correct when the sea turns dark and begins to run away from the land. When he can’t get the attention of villagers who are in danger, Ojiisan sets fire to his rice field, anticipating – correctly — that they will see the flames and rush up the mountain to help put them out. I enjoyed reading this story, and it develops the worthy themes that people are more important than possessions and exceptional events call for exceptional sacrifices. But after living with this book for nearly two weeks, I’m still not sure who it’s for.

Best line/picture: A two-page spread of the rice harvest festival makes lovely use of framing, showing the celebration partly through a temple gate.

Worst line/picture: The picture that goes with “Finally, the sea returned to its ancient bed” is more abstract that than the others and doesn’t convey its meaning as clearly.

Furthermore: Young won the Caldecott Medal for Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Tale from China.

Published: February 2009

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 1, 2009

Saturday – Kimiko Kajikawa’s ‘Tsunami’!, Illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young

Filed under: Children's Books,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:04 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A wise old rice farmer saves the people of his Japanese village from a monster wave in Kimiko Kajikawa’s new oversized picture book, Tsunami! (Philomel, 32 pp., $16.99, ages 4 and up), illustrated by Caldecott medalist Ed Young and based on a story by Lafcadio Hearn. A review will appear on this site on Saturday.

September 19, 2009

Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski Hand in Their ‘Homework’

A pencil and other objects come to life to help a boy write a story for school

Homework. By Arthur Yorinks. Illustrated by Richard Egielski. Walker, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Household objects that come to life have been inspiring brilliant picture books since the Victorian era, when Randolph Caldecott drew a dish running away with a spoon for Hey Diddle Diddle. And few creative teams might have seemed better qualified to preserve the tradition than Richard Egielski, who won the 1987 Caldecott Medal for his pictures for Hey, Al, and Arthur Yorinks, who wrote the story for that book.

The plot of their latest collaboration certainly had promise: One night while he sleeps, a boy named Tony gets help with his homework from four objects on his desktop – a pencil, an eraser, a ballpoint pen and a fountain pen. The four decide to write a story for him about outer space. And the quartet’s bickering and attempts to improve one another’s work tell children something important about writing – that revision is a vital part of the process.

But the text of Homework begins with back-to-back clunky and ungrammatical sentences and moves on to worse. The eraser calls a pen “a jerk.” The pencil calls the eraser and a pen “nincompoops.” And in the interplanetary tale they concoct, the white captain of a spaceship gets attacked by a giant purple splotch and cries out for help to a black crew member – who runs away as his leader is being eaten and, apparently, killed. What message are children supposed to take away from this? That it’s okay to desert your friends in a crisis as long as you help them with small things like homework? And what will children make of a black character running away as a white one is devoured?

Yes, the tale is a fantasy and the objects return to inanimation after Tony awakens and finds inspiration in their work (suggesting that perhaps he dreamed what they wrote). But the lapses all the more lamentable because Richard Egielski – though his art is flatter than usual – uses a remarkable technique in Homework. Midway through the book, Egielski changes the look of the white Tony so that in his darkened bedroom he appears black and later Asian before he is white again when the lights come on again. He also does this so subtly that you might read the book several times before you even noticed it. This is near-genius not just because it allows boys of varied races to see themselves in the hero but because it reflects a truth: fantasy has an appeal that transcends race. For all the imperfections of Homework, a similar technique could enrich many other picture books.

Best line / picture: The first picture in which the white Tony appears black.

Worst line / picture: The opening sentences, “One night, like almost every night, Tony’s mom yelled, ‘Tony! Do your homework!’ And like almost every night, Tony didn’t do his homework.”

Published: July 2009

Furthermore: Yorinks lives in Brooklyn, NY, and Egielski in Milford, NJ. They have collaborated on nine books. Egielski also illustrated the recent The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

September 11, 2009

Dennis Webster’s ‘Absolutely Wild’ – Good Poems About Animals for Young Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:47 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

A collection of 16 light-hearted poems, each about a bird, insect or animal

Absolutely Wild. Poems by Dennis Webster. Illustrations by Kim Webster Cunningham. Godine, 32 pp., $17.95. Ages 2 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Ogden Nash once delighted Americans with light verse — often about animals — such as, “If called by a panther / Don’t anther.” Something of his spirit lives in the 16 short, rhyming poems in Absolutely Wild.

Dennis Webster isn’t as playful as Nash – he doesn’t use wrenched rhymes like “panther” and “anther.” But he’s written the best collection of original children’s poems about animals I’ve seen since Jack Prelutsky’s Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant. And his daughter has enhanced the book with handsome hand-colored linoleum-block prints framed by decorative borders, some reminiscent of the Ghanaian cloth known as kente.

Each poem in Absolutely Wild has 4–12 lines, a strong rhyme and meter, and a focus on a colorful bird, insect or animal. The 8-line “The Yak” sets the tone:
A shaggy species is the yak
With hairy front and hairy back.
It isn’t very hard to spot him
With hairy top and hairy bottom.

Most poems are odes or odes-in-spirit that marvel at the qualities of a creature in couplet quatrains or another traditional form. In the 8-line “The Ostrich,” Webster celebrates the bird in hymn stanzas, arranged in their usual pattern of alternating lines of four and three iambic feet:
The ostrich is a splendid bird
Who’s taller than most men.
It seems a little bit absurd
To call his wife a hen.

Absolutely Wild also has poems about an ant, snail, moose, shrew, penguin, vulture, gnu, puffin, seagull, giraffe, porcupine, gibbon, platypus and ptarmigan. And it reflects David R. Godine’s attention to craftsmanship in its endpapers and elsewhere. It would make a fine gift for very young children and a good resource for slightly older ones who are learning in school about creatures you won’t usually find in the parking lot at Shop Rite.

Best line: Every child’s favorite is likely to be that “With hairy top and hairy bottom.”

Worst line: “The platypus is quite unique.”

Caveat lector: The second and fourth lines of “The Ostrich” should be indented, but the template for this blog won’t permit it.

Published: October 2008

Furthermore: Kim Webster Cunningham has posted the poem about a snail and the art for it on her Web site.

Children’s book reviews appear on this site on Saturdays.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

September 5, 2009

‘Officer Buckle and Gloria’ – School-Safety Tips From a Caldecott Medalist

Do the kids need a few more school-safety lessons before their classes begin? Pick up Officer Buckle and Gloria (Putnam, 40 pp., $16.99, ages 7 and under). Peggy Rathmann won the 1996 Caldecott Medal for this picture book, and her art is no match for that of honorees like Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburg and Virginia Lee Burton. But Officer Buckle and Gloria tells the lively story of a high-spirited dog who helps a luckless policeman teach schoolchildren vital safety lessons such as: Don’t stand on swivel chairs, and don’t leave thumbtacks where people could sit. If only it had a page on how to stay safe from swine flu.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

September 3, 2009

What If You Had an Autistic Disorder and Didn’t Know It? Tim Page’s Memoir of Growing Up With Undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, ‘Parallel Play’

Filed under: Memoirs,News,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:40 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Tim Page is a friend, and I’m in the acknowledgments of his acclaimed biography of the novelist Dawn Powell, which – you will not be surprised to hear – I love. So I can’t review his new Parallel Play: Growing Up With Undiagnosed Asperger’s (Doubleday, 196 pp., $26). But Janet Maslin writes in today’s New York Times that this “improbably lovely memoir” shows in “fascinatingly precise detail and often to pricelessly funny effect” what it’s like to have his autistic disorder and not know it. And nothing in her review conflicts with what I know about Tim, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his music criticism for the Washington Post before he decamped to academia. The Times has also posted an excerpt from Parallel Play, a book that is an expanded version of material that appeared in The New Yorker.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

‘Catie Copley’ – A Friendly Labrador Retriever Greets Guests at a Boston Hotel in a Children’s Book Inspired by a Real Dog

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:26 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Reviews of children’s books normally appear on this site on Saturdays, but I couldn’t post last weekend because of technical problems, so I’m catching up.

Catie Copley. By Deborah Kovacs. Pictures by Jared T. Williams. Godine, 32 pp., $17.95. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Anyone who enjoyed Robert McCloskey’s classic Make Way for Ducklings will find an interesting bit literary cross-referencing in this picture-book inspired by the real-life black Labrador retriever who greets guests at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. Catie Copley became the “Canine Ambassador” for the hotel after eye problems kept her from her intended work as a guide for the blind. In this book, she performs a different service when her excellent sense of smell helps her find a teddy bear lost by Tess, a young female guest. Before the missing Milo turns up, Catie and Tess visit the Public Garden – the spot McCloskey’s ducklings were trying to reach when a policeman stopped traffic for them.

Deborah Kovacs tells a fast-paced story from Catie’s point of view in serviceable prose with some weak spots. Kovacs says, for example, that “all the hard work in the hotel” goes on in downstairs rooms such as the kitchen and laundry – as though the upstairs maids, valets, and concierges don’t work hard, too. But Jared Williams offsets some of her lapses with engaging watercolors that invest both human and animal characters with warmth. And his dynamic endpapers draw you in to the book with dozens of images of Catie holding a teddy bear in her mouth in different positions.

Best line/picture: Williams’s pictures of Catie are expressive and realistic without anthropomorphizing her, especially the full-face images on the cover and elsewhere.

Worst line/picture: Kovacs’s workmanlike prose runs to lines such this one that might have appeared in a Zagat guide: “The food is great and my bed is comfy.”

Recommendation: Catie Copley or its sequel could be a good gift for a preschooler who has a labrador or plans to visit Boston. It could also help to prepare children for a visit to a fancy hotel.

Published: May 2007. Catie Copley has inspired sequel that came out in March 2009, Catie Copley’s Great Escape, also published by David R. Godine.

Furthermore: Children who enjoy Catie Copley can e-mail Catie at an address listed on the dust jacket.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

August 22, 2009

Guy Billout’s Spot-the-Difference Book, ‘Something’s Not Quite Right’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:44 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Something’s Not Quite Right. By Guy Billout. Godine, 32 pp., $14.95, paperback. Ages: 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Something’s Not Quite Right is a more sophisticated and intellectual French cousin of all those spot-the-difference books that require you to find minor variations in side-by-side pictures. Each page of this oversized picture book asks you to figure out what’s wrong with a painting by Guy Billout, an illustrator whose elegantly spare work has appeared in The New Yorker.

Some of Billout’s surreal images show biological impossibilities or incongruities that 5- or 6-year-olds could spot easily — a zebra with stripes that form a bull’s eye, a pigeon with landing gear for feet, a butterfly perched on a lever that lifts a building off its foundation. Other paintings show visual paradoxes that children might have trouble understanding without adult help, such a snowball apparently fired by a war-memorial cannon (which might have come instead from an unseen hand). And all the pictures have titles that, in some cases, add to their ambiguity: What are we to make of the painting called “Writer’s Block,” which shows a human figure standing behind a railing on top of an overflowing dam? Does the scene represent wish fulfillment? Or perhaps an inability to tap the wellsprings of inspiration just out of reach?

The varied levels of meaning and complexity make Something’s Not Quite Right more challenging than most spot-the-difference books and add to its intergenerational appeal. This is the rare picture book that on a rainy day at the beach might interest not just the young children for whom it is intended but their older brothers and sisters and the grandparents who could identify for both groups some of the famous sites on its pages, including the Flatiron Building in New York and the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.

Best line/picture: Some of Billout’s images can be read metaphorically. They include a picture of a World War II tank crossing a field of sunflowers without appearing to harm them. You can read the flowers as a metaphor for France or the French spirit uncrushed by the war.

Worst line/picture: The dust jacket of the hardcover edition says that a picture shows “a Boeing 747 about to touch down without landing gear.” If you hadn’t read that, you might imagine that the plane was taking off and had lifted its landing gear.

Published: October 2002 (hardcover), May 2004 (paperback).

Furthermore: Billout was born in France and lives in New York.  He has posted some images from Something’s Not Quite Right, unlabeled as such, on www.guybillout.com. He wrote the The Frog Who Wanted to See the Sea (Creative Editions, 2007).

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

August 14, 2009

2010 Newbery and Caldecott Medal Predictions From the School Library Journal Blog

From "The Lion and the Mouse"

Update, Jan. 11, 2010: The School Library Journal blogger Elizabeth Bird now predicts that When You Reach Me will win the Newbery Medal and The Lion and the Mouse the Caldecott. She also predicts the Honor Books at http://tinyurl.com/yarluuf.

You say the kids aren’t going back school for a couple of weeks and you’ve run out of ideas on what they could read? You might want to look at the 2010 Newbery and Caldecott Medal predictions that Elizabeth Bird has posted on the School Library Journal blog. Bird is a children’s librarian with the New York Public Library system and a past Newbery judge who has a better record than most of us do for predicting the winners of the American Library Association’s annual awards. Among her favorites for the 2010 Newbery: Jacqueline Woodson’s: Peace, Locomotion (“it has her customary style and grace intact and she’s been edging closer and closer to outright Newbery Award status with every year”). Bird’s 2010 Caldecott candidates include Jerry Pinkney’s “almost wordless” and “meticulously researched” interpretation of a fable by Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse (“the kind of Pinkney book that will make converts out of people who weren’t Pinkney fans before”).

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

August 8, 2009

Caldecott Medalist Richard Egielski Returns in a Picture Book About a Famous Musical Rift – Jonah Winter’s ‘The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan’

A  dual biography focuses on the creation of The Mikado

The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan. By Jonah Winter. Pictures by Richard Egielski. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 40 pp., $16.99. Ages 4–6.

By Janice Harayda

Why do publishers bombard us with book-and-CD editions of books that don’t need them and fail to issue them when they might do some good? Does anybody really need that book-and-CD edition of Curious George Goes Camping? C’mon.

But a disk could have added a lot this slightly fictionalized dual biography of the librettist W.S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan, which focuses the storied feud between the two men that ended when they reconciled to create their most popular light opera, The Mikado. Nobody can argue that the music involved – The flowers that bloom in the spring, / Tra la! – is too adult for children. So the omission of a CD seems mainly intended to avoid copyright fees or pander to the library market, where the book might sell fewer copies if it included a disk likely to disappear quickly from a pocket.

As it is, Jonah Winter plays Gilbert to Richard Egielski’s Sullivan in The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan. Winter tells a story that, if lively, gets much of its energy from hyper-italicizing and the use of capital letters and exclamation points. “I refuse to write any more music for Mr. Gilbert’s ridiculous operas,” Sullivan says. “It’s always the same ridiculous story, over and over over again!” Winter also invests his tale with a whiff of didacticism as he pursues two goals — telling the story of the rift and making a point:  “Sometimes even the best friends fight.”

But Egielski supplies the missing music with bold paintings that, like Maurice Sendak’s, evoke a mood not through intensely detailed facial expressions or body language but the imaginative use of such elements as tone, color, whimsy and framing. Winter’s opening lines suggest the appeal of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas in their day:

“There was a time when jolly old England was not so jolly. Children worked in factories. Queen Victoria frowned. Everything was grim. Everything was dark – except … in the make-believe kingdom of Topsy-Turvydom.”

Egielski illustrates this passage with a wonderfully balanced two-page spread that evokes the setting through cutaway images of multistory buildings in the rain. On the left-hand page, children work in a sweatshop as a coronet-topped Victoria rides in a carriage on cobblestones below them. On the right-hand page, just across the street, an actress puts on makeup as theatergoers approach the Savoy with umbrellas raised against oversized raindrops. This is late-Victorian London, rendered in terms a preschooler can grasp. And on it goes in the book, which reaches its climax with a wordless spread showing a scene from a The Mikado that blazes with sunny colors thrown into high relief by the dank weather on the first pages.

The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan may have its strongest appeal for Savoyards who want to inspire in a love of Gilbert and Sullivan in children. But unlike many books driven by similar motives, this one has enough drama that it isn’t mainly an appeal to parental vanity and pretense. And an author’s note at the end includes a link to a fantastic Gilbert & Sullivan Web site that has the full text and lets you listen to all the music of the operettas by the pair. (To hear any song from The Mikado music, click on “Mikado,” “MIDI Files,” the title of a song, and the speaker icon.) So even if there’s no CD, you can punctuate readings by singing merrily: “The flowers that bloom in the spring, / Tra la / Have nothing to do with the case.” For some adults, the link to so much beloved music might in itself be worth the cost of the book.

Best line/picture: An example of Eglielski’s imaginative use of frames: On one two-page spread he places his images in two circles against a black background, as though you were looking at them through opera glasses.

Worst line/picture: Winter uses British English inconsistently. He writes “dreamt” instead of “dreamed” but “Savoy Theater” instead of “Savoy Theatre.”

Published: April 2009

Furthermore: Egielski won the 1987 Caldecott Medal for his art for Arthur Yorinks’s Hey, Al. He and Yorinks also collaborated on the new picture book, Homework. Winter lives in Brooklyn, NY. Egielski lives in Milford, NJ. Contact the authors c/o Author Mail, Scholastic Books, 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

Reviews of children’s books appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews, a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

« Previous PageNext Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 370 other followers

%d bloggers like this: