One-Minute Book Reviews

February 2, 2008

A Tale by the Brothers Grimm Returns in ‘The Bearskinner,’ a Picture Book by Newbery Winner Laura Amy Schlitz and Max Grafe

A former soldier struggles to avoid losing his soul to the devil in a parable about faith, hope and charity

The Bearskinner. By Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrated by Max Grafe. Candlewick, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Laura Amy Schlitz is the newest supernova in the field of children’s literature. For years, she had a passionate following mainly among the students who listened to her stories at the Park School in Baltimore, where she is the librarian. But her visibility soared after she earned raves for her 2006 novel for ages 10 and up, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair. This year she won 2008 Newbery Medal for her cycle of one- and two-person plays, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, and she would be equally worthy of a major award for The Bearskinner, her retelling of a Faustian tale by the Brothers Grimm.

The grave and eloquent opening lines of the book set the tone: “They say that when a man gives up hope, the devil walks at his side. So begins this story: A soldier marched through a dark wood, and he did not march alone.” In this tale a hungry and cold soldier returns from war to find nothing left of his home and the people he loved. At his lowest moment, he accepts an offer from the devil, a man with a goat’s hoof for a left foot: For seven years, the soldier will have unlimited gold. But he must wear a bearskin and may not wash, pray or tell anyone of his dark bargain. If he does, he will lose his soul.

Clad in the skin of a bear he has just killed, the ex-soldier goes off to indulge his desires. After three years, he looks like a monster, and people flee from him. He loathes himself, too, and is thinking of ending his life. But he sees a starving mother and child who give him an idea – he will use Satan’s money to feed the poor. This act of charity leads to others that enable him to outwit the devil, throw off his bearskin and marry a kind woman who has seen the good heart behind the repulsive appearance.

All of this has aspects of both a fairy and morality tale. But Schlitz neither sentimentalizes nor preaches, and Max Grafe’s wonderful illustrations remind you the work of the late Leonard Baskin in their boldness, their restricted color palette and their use of fluid body lines to suggest inner turmoil. Grafe sets the text on yellowing pages that resemble parchment, or perhaps charred tree bark, which locates the story in the distant past and may soften its potentially frightening aspects. And his devil is one of the most original to appear in a picture book in years in years. Grafe casts Lucifer as a handsome devil in the literal sense of the phrase, a man who resembles 1930s matinee idol with slicked-back hair and a flowing green cloak. No ogre with a scar, his devil is a smooth operator – just like a lot of devils in real life.

Best line: The first lines of the book, quoted in the review.

Worst line: “He rode to the gambler’s house on a dapple-gray horse.” The use of “dapple-gray” is confusing. Why not “dappled gray”?

Published: November 2007 www.candlewick.com

Furthermore: Schlitz, a Baltimore librarian, won the 2008 Newbery Medal from the American Library Association www.ala.org, for her book of monologues and dialogues, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village (Candlewick, $19.99), illustrated by Robert Byrd. She lives in Maryland. Grafe is a New York printmaker and illustrator.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 1, 2008

Coming Tomorrow — A Review of ‘The Bearskinner’ by Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz

Laura Amy Schlitz won the 2008 Newbery Medal for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, a book of one- and two-person plays for ages 10 and up. Can Schlitz write for younger children? A review of her recent picture book The Bearskinner, illustrated by Max Grafe, will appear tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 31, 2008

My Baby Gift for Parents Who Are Serious Readers – ‘The New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children’

A veteran children’s book critic recommends fiction, nonfiction and poetry

More than seven years have passed since the arrival of Eden Ross Lipson’s The New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children: Third Edition: Fully Revised and Updated (Three Rivers, $18.95, paperback) www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl/9780812930184.html. This means that it omits many of the most admired books of the decade, including all the 21st-century Newbery and Caldecott medal–winners. But it’s still so much better than most books in its category that it’s one of my favorite baby gifts for parents who are serious readers.

This hefty paperback has more than a thousand brief reviews of fiction, nonfiction and poetry for the years from birth through early adolescence, all written by a former children’s book editor of The New York Times Book Review. It also has a half-dozen indexes that let you search for books by title, author, subject and age-appropriateness and more. So it’s easy to find books in popular categories, such as poetry and biography, and on topics such as sports, minorities, and grandparents. Many of the reviews give little more than plot summary. But Lipson’s opinions, when she risks them, are sound. She describes the popular picture book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales as “smart-aleck central” and adds: “There’s a blithe, if mean-spirited, energy in both the text and the clever, angular, layered illustrations.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 19, 2008

Beverly Donofrio and Barbara McClintock’s ‘Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary’

A girl and a mouse share more than a house in an engaging bedtime story

Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary. By Beverly Donofrio. Illustrated by Barbara McClintock. Random House/Schwartz & Wade, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages 2–6.

By Janice Harayda

This quiet, lovely bedtime story goes against the grain of almost everything that is fashionable in picture books. That’s partly what makes it so appealing: It won’t lose its appeal when a book with more glitz comes along, because it has no glitz. What it has is heart, lots of it, that shows up most clearly beguiling illustrations by Barbara McClintock.

Mary and the Mouse is a book of opposites. Mary lives in a big house in the early years of the baby boom. The Mouse lives a little house in Mary’s house. They meet by accident and wave to each other every night until they grow up and leave for new homes. When Mary becomes a mother, she and her family live in another big house. When Mouse becomes a mother, she and her family live in another little house inside Mary’s house. The daughters of Mary and the Mouse vary their mothers’ pattern – they smile at each other instead of waving – until one night each of them “did something brave”: They found the courage to say, “Good Night!”

This simple plot serves worthy themes – affections survive separations, children resemble their parents but are unique, and change may not occur in one generation — well-supported by the art. McClintock creates lively human and animal faces that show real expression. And her warm and painterly seem to catch gestures in midair, as motor-drive camera does. Her cover image has Alice-in-Wonderland quality, and it’s pleasure to fall down the rabbit hole – or mouse hole – into this book.

Best line/picture: As an adult, Mary lives in a beautiful glass-and-fieldstone home in the spirit of Philip Johnson’s Glass House. This is refreshing. You could easily get the idea from recent picture books that all American children live in a) trailers; b) suburban colonials; or c) brownstones. Architectural diversity almost doesn’t exist in them.

Worst line/picture: None.

Published: August 2007 www.randomhouse.com/kids

Furthermore: This is the first book for children by Beverly Donofrio www.beverlydonofrio.com, who lives in Mexico and wrote Riding in Cars With Boys. Barbara McClintock wrote and illustrated the children’s book Adèle & Simon. She lives in Connecticut.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 11, 2008

Will the ALA Honor a Book About a Self-Declared ‘Chronic Masturbator’?

Is a phallic trend developing at the American Library Association?

By Janice Harayda

Will the American Library Association give an award to a book about a self-described “cronic masturbator”? Why not? The ALA gave the 2007 Newbery Medal to Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, which has the word “scrotum” on the first page www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/19/. And Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian recently won the National Book Award for young people’s literature in November (“I Belong to the ‘Tribe of Chronic Masturbators,’ One-Minute Book Reviews, Nov. 16, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/16/).

Alexie’s novel is the front runner for the ALA’s Michael L. Printz Award, which honors “excellence in literature written for young adults,” so a phallic trend may be developing at the ALA. (Don’t ask how many times Alexie’s book uses the word “boner.”) The ALA www.ala.org will announce the winner on Monday, when it will also award the better-known Newbery Medal (for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”) and Caldecott Medal (for “the most distinguished American picture book for children”).

Other questions to be resolved on Monday: Will the ALA give the Caldecott Medal to Jack Prelutsky’s picture book Good Sports, a collection of poems about sports, some of which the American Pediatrics Association doesn’t recommend for preschoolers, the usual readers of picture books www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/o5/12/? Or will ALA honor Prelutsky’s nakedly commercial The Wizard, maybe his worst book? The librarians didn’t give a medal to Prelutsky’s excellent 2006 book Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and may try to make up for it by rewarding a less worthy book at its meeting in Philadelphia next week.

Check back Monday for the names of the winners and, possibly, commentary on them.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 28, 2007

Junior Kroll Celebrates New Year’s Eve and Other Special Days in Witty, Rhyming Poems for Children for Ages 4 and Up

  

Junior Kroll had a date

With Grandfather Kroll to celebrate

New Year’s Eve, home alone,

Just two guys on their own …

 

Junior Kroll. By Betty Paraskevas. Illustrated by Michael Paraskevas. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 36 pp., varied prices.

By Janice Harayda

In the realm of picture books, New Year’s Eve is an outcast, perhaps because publishers think that 4-to-8-year-olds should be in bed by the time the fun starts. And yet, young children often do celebrate the day, either in their own way or their parents’.

Betty Paraskevas acknowledges this in Junior Kroll, a collection of 15 witty, rhyming poems about a mischievous little rich boy who lives in monied seaside enclave resembling the present-day Hamptons. By the give-me-camouflage-or-give-me-death standards of many children, Junior Kroll is a fashion anachronism: He wears a bow tie, white shirt, navy-blue short-pants suit, and the sort of bowl-shaped haircut that used to be called a Buster Brown (which, to judge by his infectious smile, he never minds). In the poem “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” he adds a paper hat, and he and his grandfather spend a lovely evening together eating pizza and watching W.C. Fields on the VCR as the year ends:

The pizza arrived along with the sleet

That tapped on the windows and danced on the street.

In paper derbies they watched TV,

And they dined with the king of comedy.

Other poems in Junior Kroll have a rhythm just as lively, and though they are about people with money, they aren’t materialistic: They celebrate warm and often amusing ties to family and friends. Junior Kroll cheers up an ailing neighbor in “The Old Lady Who Lived Down the Lane.” And in “The Thanksgiving Day Guest,” he gets to know his mother’s perhaps underappreciated great-aunt Flo:

She told him of traveling to Istanbul

On the Orient Express,

Long ago when women reporters

Were rare with United Press.

 Junior Kroll was popular and well-reviewed when it first appeared more than a decade ago, so it’s easy to find online and in libraries if not in bookstores, and it’s worth tracking down in the new year if you can’t find it by the time you break out the noisemakers on Monday night. “The Thanksgiving Day Guest” ends with Flo’s departure on the day after the feast:

The next morning her cab was waiting

Under a cold gray sky.

From the doorway Mrs. Kroll watched Junior kiss

A remarkable old lady good-bye.

Published: 1993 (first hardcover edition)

Furthermore: The adventures of Junior Kroll appeared in comic-strip form in East Hampton’s Dan’s Papers and in Hemisphere magazine on United Airlines. Betty and Michael Paraskevas are a mother-and-son team who have written more than a dozen books and produced several animated television series en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Paraskevas. They created the Tangerine Bear, the subject of two poems in Junior Kroll and an ABC home video Christmas special.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 21, 2007

Find Award-Winning Children’s Authors at the Site for the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medals

A great place to browse if you’re looking for top authors or illustrators

By Janice Harayda

The British equivalents of the Caldecott and Newbery awards are the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie medals, awarded by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CLIP). And CLIP has a well-designed site www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/home/index.php that’s a great place to learn about some of the best children’s authors and illustrators of the past 70 years. The “Living Archive” page lists all the winners. And if you click on the link that says “Shadow Site,” you’ll go to another site that has reviews and more.

Many books that have won Greenaway or Carnegie medals are available in American libraries if not always in stores. And some of their creators have won worldwide fame and have delighted children in the U.S. for years – Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs, Shirley Hughes, John Burningham, Helen Oxenbury, Edward Ardizzone, Jan Pienkowski and others. So if you can’t find a medal-winning book, you can often find others by the same author or illustrator. The judges of the Greenaway and Carnegie awards tend to take more risks than the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott committees www.ala.org, which have to satisfy more constituences. So the British medalists often include worthy books that would have had little or no chance of an American prize.

One Greenaway winner that’s in stock on Amazon and elsewhere is Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s interactive The Jolly Christmas Postman (Little, Brown, $17.99, ages 3 and up) www.allanahlberg.com. In this sequel to The Jolly Postman, a letter-carrier calls on well-known characters from fairy tales or nursery rhymes and gives them small items tucked into pockets in the book — Humpty-Dumpty gets a get-well jigsaw puzzle – before ending with a visit to Santa. This is an ideal Christmas gift for 3-to-5-year-olds for whom getting mail is still a thrill.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 15, 2007

Good Gift Books for Children and Teenagers — What to Wrap Up for Everyone From Babies and Toddlers Through College-Bound High School Students

Season’s readings for ages 1-to-16 and up

Source: http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

New books don’t always make the best gifts for children and teenagers. These suggestions include 2007 books and classics that young readers have enjoyed for years or generations

By Janice Harayda

Ages 1–2
Nobody does board books better than Helen Oxenbury, who has twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal, Britain’s equivalent of the Caldecott. Oxenbury’s great gift is her ability to create faces that are simple yet expressive and never dull or cloying, which is just what young children need. You see her skill clearly in her engaging series of board books about babies at play, which includes Clap Hands, All Fall Down, Say Goodnight and Tickle, Tickle. (Simon & Schuster, about $6.99 each) www.simonsayskids.com. Any infant or toddler would be lucky to have one of these as a first book.

Ages 3–5
Children’s poet Jack Prelutsky pays homage to Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile” in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 32 pp., $16.99, 3 and up) www.jackprelutsky.com, a collection of brief rhyming poems about imaginary animals. But this picture book stands on its own with amusing poems about fanciful creatures such as an “umbrellaphant” (an elephant with an umbrella for a trunk) and sparkling illustrations by Carin Berger.

Ages 6–8
Elizabeth Matthews makes a stylish debut in Different Like Coco (Candlewick, 40 pp., $16.99, ages 6–8) www.candlewick.com, a witty and spirited picture-book biography of Coco Chanel. Matthews focuses on the early years of the designer who learned to sew at a convent school, then revolutionized 20th century fashion with clothes that reflected and fostered the emancipation of women. The result makes clear that Chanel owed her success not just to hard work but to boldness and staying true to herself and her artistic vision.

Ages 9–12
Brian Selznick has had one of the year’s biggest hits for tweens of both sexes in The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (Scholastic, 533 pp., $22.99) www.scholastic.com, a cross between a picture book and a chapter book. Selznick’s novel involves a 12-year-old orphan and thief who lives in a Paris train station and, in the days of silent movies, tries to complete work on a mechanical man started by his father. The beautiful packaging of this book helps to offset the so-so writing and unresolved moral issues it raises (including that Hugo rationalizes his thievery and mostly gets away with it) www.theinventionofhugocabret.com.

Ages 13-15
Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner says in The Art of Reading (Dutton, $19.99) that as teenager he was captivated by Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Roc, $7.99, paperback) us.penguingroup.com. And that modern classic might still delight a teenager who likes science fiction (with or without a companion gift of the Stanley Kubrick’s great movie version). Or consider Mindy Schneider’s Not a Happy Camper (Grove, $24) www.not-a-happy-camper.com, an adult book being cross-marketed to teens. Schneider remembers her eight weeks at an off-the-wall kosher summer camp at the age of 13 in this light and lively memoir. (Sample experience: A bunkhouse burned down when a group of boys put candles under their beds to see if they could warm them up by nightfall.) This book is about wanting to fit in and never quite achieving it — in others, about the essence of being a teenager.

Ages 16 and up
Finally, a book for the college-bound, especially for the sort of high school student who might like to join a sorority or other all-female group: Marjorie Hart’s charming Summer at Tiffany (Morrow, $14.94) www.harpercollins.com, a book for adults that many teenagers might also enjoy. In this warm and upbeat memoir, Hart looks back on the summer of 1945, when she and a sorority sister at the University of Iowa became the first female pages at Tiffany’s, the Fifth Avenue jewelry store. They arrived just in time to watch the city erupt with joy when the Japanese surrender ended World War II and to have a much larger experience than they had expected. Hart’s account of all of it has none of the cynicism that infects so many books for teenagers, and that’s partly what makes it so refreshing.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. You can read others by clicking on the “Children’s Books” and “Young Adult” categories under the “Top Posts” list at right.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

 

December 5, 2007

More Good Books About Hannukah and Other Jewish Holidays

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:23 pm
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Kar-Ben publishes children’s books about Judaism that aren’t carbon copies

All About Hanukkah. By Judyth Saypol Groner and Madeline Wikler. Illustrations by Kinny Kreiswirth. Kar-Ben Copies/Lerner, 32 pp., $5.95 Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Thirty-two years ago, Judye Saypol and Madeline Wikler started Kar-Ben Copies to publish a children’s Passover haggadah they had created. That seder companion sold more than two million copies and became the firstof 150 or so titles for Jewish children — from board books to young adult novels — published by their company (named, they say, for their children Karen and Ben).

One of the most popular Kar-Ben titles is All About Hanukkah (part of an “All About Series” that on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Passover). Illustrated by Rosalyn Schanzer, the first edition of All About Hanukkah had admirably clear writing, modest packaging and comprehensive back-of-the-book material – recipes for doughnuts and potato pancakes, dreidel-game variations, English and Hebrew texts and transliterations of Hanukkah blessings (with a musical score) and more.

I haven’t seen the second edition, which has new illustrations by Kinny Kreiswirth, shown above. But School Library Journal says: “Of particular interest is the presentation of the familiar ‘miracle’ of Hanukkah as a legend, distinctly separate from the historical account of the Jews’ rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This edition is accompanied by a read-along recording of the Hanukkah story and a selection of holiday blessings and songs.” The Association of Jewish Libraries recommended All About Hanukkah “not only for students beginning to learn about the holidays, but also for teachers and parents to use as guidelines for teaching children who have not yet been exposed to the holidays in depth.” Kar-Ben is giving a free All About Hanukkah cassette to anyone who buy another book on its Web site www.karben.com on a while-supplies-last basis.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 30, 2007

Good Children’s Books About Hanukkah — Coming This Weekend to One-Minute Book Reviews

Looking for Hanukkah stories that young children may want to hear on every night of the holiday that begins at sundown on Dec. 4? This weekend One-Minute Book Reviews will review picture books about Hanukkah, including the Caldecott Honor Book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, shown here, which has a text by Eric Kimmel and pictures by Trina Schart Hyman. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these reviews or the holiday gift-book guide that will appear in early December.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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