One-Minute Book Reviews

January 14, 2008

‘Hugo Cabret’ Wins 2008 Caldecott, ‘Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!’ Gets Newbery

[Note: Additional posts about these awards will appear later today.]

Librarians honor one of their own for the second year in a row in giving Newbery to Laura Amy Schlitz

By Janice Harayda

Brian Selznick has won the 2008 Caldecott Medal for his bestselling illustrated novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Selznick merges the picture- and chapter-book formats in his tale of a young orphan and thief who lives in a Paris train station and tries to solve a mystery that involves a mechanical man begun by his late father. Books that win Caldecott medals typically have about 32 pages and suit 4-to-8-year-olds. The Invention of Hugo Cabret has 533 pages and may be the longest to win the award. It popular among 9-to-12-year-olds.

The American Library Association announced the award today at a meeting in Philadelphia. The Caldecott Medal honors the most distinguished American picture book for children. A review of and reading group guide to The Invention of Hugo Cabret appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on April 21, 2007, www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/21/.

Laura Amy Schlitz has won the Newbery Medal for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, a collection of monologues by characters from an English village in 1255. By giving the award to Schlitz, the librarians honored one of their own for the second year in a row. The 2007 Newbery Medal went to Los Angeles librarian Susan Patron for The Higher Power of Lucky. The medal honors the most distinguished work of American literature for children published in the preceding year.

The Caldecott Honor books are Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson, First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis and Knuffle Bunny, Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems. The Newbery Honor books are: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson.

Christopher Paul Curtis won Coretta Scott King Award for an author for Elijah of Buxton.
The Honor awards for authors went to Sharon M. Draper for November Blues and Charles R. Smith Jr. for Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali.
Artist Ashley Bryan won the Coretta Scott King Award for an author for Let It Shine.
The Honor awards went to illustrator Nancy Devard for The Secret Olivia Told Me and Leo and Diane Dillon for Jazz on a Saturday Night.
Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness won the Michael L. Printz Award to www.ala.org/yalsa/printz for excellence in literature for young adults.
The Printz Honor Books are Dreamquake: Book Two of the Dreamhunter Duet by Elizabeth Knox, One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke, Repossessed by A. M. Jenkins and Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill.
(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 1, 2007

Eric Kimmel’s ‘Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins’ and Other Good Children’s Books About the Festival of Lights

A Caldecott Honor Book and others by Eric Kimmel that offer more than eight days of fun

By Janice Harayda

For a holiday that Jewish scholars regard as minor, Hanukkah has produced at least one major children’s book and others that shine like a just-polished silver menorah.

The best is the Caldecott Honor Book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (Holiday House, $6.95, paperback, ages 4–8). Eric A. Kimmel’s spirited text finds its inspiration in exploits of Hershel of Ostropol, a quick-witted, itinerant Jewish folk hero who lived Eastern Europe in early 19th century.
In this picture book Hershel must outsmart goblins who haunt an old hilltop synagogue and annually spoil Hanukkah in the valley below though tactics such as blowing out villagers’ candles and throwing their latkes on the floor. He triumphs through an ingenious mix of humor, intelligence and feigned indifference to their powers. (When the king of the goblins tries to intimidate Hershel by asking him if he knows who he is, he quips, “I know you’re not Queen Esther.”) The entertaining text is not flawless: A seam shows where Kimmel seems to have edited out the stories of a few goblins who appeared in longer version.

But Trina Schart Hyman’s pictures have their usual rich, luminous beauty – like that of fine stained glass windows – and lift Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins into an aptly ethereal realm. Schart Hyman is one of few picture-book artists can make dark tones rest as lightly on their pages as Tomi Ungerer’s did his great Moon Man.

Kimmel www.ericakimmel.com has also written at least a half dozen other widely respected picture books about Hannukah. One that’s out-of-print but worth tracking down at a library or elsewhere is The Magic Dreidels (Holiday House, $6.95 paperback, ages 4–8), illustrated by Katya Krenina, the engaging story of a boy named Jacob who encounters a goblin who gives him several magic dreidels, the four-sided tops that children spin during Hanukkah.

A picture book that is in print Kimmel’s The Chanukkah Guest (Holiday House, $6.95 paperback, ages 4–8), a folk-tale–like story of an old woman with failing vision who lives on the edge of a forest and serves her Hanukkah latkes to a bear she mistakes for her rabbi. First published in Cricket, The Chanukkah Guest www.holidayhouse.com isn’t in the same league with Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins or even The Magic Dreidels. But it tells an amusing story about a friendly bear that’s likely to appeal to 4- and 5-year-olds who enjoy tales such Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood. Another picture book that remains in print is Kimmel’s turn-of-the-century tale, When Mindy Saved Hannukah (Scholastic, $5.99, paperback, ages 4-8). I haven’t seen it, but you can find reviews on Amazon www.amazon.com that give a good sense of its story.

Kimmel’s holiday offering for older children is A Hanukkah Treasury (Holt, $20, ages 9-12), illustrated by Emily Lister, a collection of songs, poems, recipes and more. I haven’t seen this one, either, but admired his book about Passover, Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion Scholastic, $18.95, ages 9-12) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/24/. That beautifully produced anthology, though recommended by its publisher for school-age children, had some material that would appeal to preschoolers, too.

If you can’t find these books, ask a bookseller or children’s librarian to show you other books by its author, about Hannukah or another subject. Kimmel has been writing for decades and enjoys a well-earned popularity. While the appeal of many Hannukah books won’t outlast the holiday, Kimmel’s stories are seasonless.

Reviews new or classic children’s books appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reivews. You can read other reviews of children’s books by clicking on the “Children’s Books” category below the “Top Posts” list at right. Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic who spent 11 years as the book editor of a large daily newspaper.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 29, 2007

Raise the Drawbridge and Lower the Portcullis! It’s David Macaulay’s Captivating ‘Castle’

A Caldecott Honor Book about the making of a medieval castle in Wales still appeals to children three decades after its publication

By Janice Harayda

This afternoon I found myself in the children’s section of our library with an 8-year-old friend whose mother had agreed to let me to pick out a book for him while she visited the adult stacks. The book I thought Cory might like wasn’t on the shelves. But David Macaulay’s wonderful picture books about the making of large structures – Cathedral, Pyramid, Castle and the new Mosque – stood near its spot.

Cory loves to read – especially The Invention of Hugo Cabret – but hadn’t seen these treasures, which helped to win a MacArthur grant for their creator. So I pulled a few of Macaulay’s books off the shelves and handed them to him. Cory gravitated right away to a picture of how a drawbridge works in Castle (Houghton Mifflin, 74 pages, $9.95 paperback, ages 7 and up), a Caldecott Honor Book about the construction of a medieval castle in Wales.

So I returned him to his mother with three of Macaulay’s books and checked back later. Cory was still poring over Castle – specifically, a picture of soldiers who seemed to be underground. I wondered if they were digging a moat. But Cory pointed to a witty drawing of several of their comrades, who were to trying to reach the ramparts. He explained that if “the enemy” couldn’t scale the castle walls, they tried to tunnel their way in. This he had just learned from the book.

I don’t know if every child reacts this way to Macaulay, a superstar in the field. But by now millions must have been captivated by his intelligent texts and intricate and amusing black-and-white cross-hatched drawings. And Castle, first published in 1977, makes an especially good introduction to his work, because it feeds interests kindled in children by fairy and folk tapes. Houghton Mifflin recommends it for 10-to-14-year-olds, but I’d give it to 7-to-9-year-olds and let them grow into it if they’re not quite ready. The pictures will draw in the younger children even if some words are unfamiliar. Just ask Cory.

Links: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Macaulay and www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com

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© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 13, 2007

Three Good Picture-Book Editions of Ernest L. Thayer’s Classic ‘Casey at the Bat’ – A Poem for All Baseball Seasons


Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

— From Ernest L. Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat”

By Janice Harayda

“Casey at the Bat” is one of the few poems that nearly all American children like. Yet it is hard to say exactly why this is so.

The story told in the poem almost couldn’t be simpler. A home team is losing a baseball game – perhaps not even an especially important one — when its star player gets an unexpected chance to bat in the last inning. Everybody is sure that “mighty Casey” can bring victory to the Mudville Nine. Instead, he strikes out and the team loses.

This is hardly a riveting drama compared with what children read in contemporary books or see in the movies and on television. And you can’t say that author Ernest L. Thayer makes up for it with brilliant poetry – he doesn’t. Thayer tells Casey’s story in rhyming couplets of iambic heptameter, a nearly obsolete verse form known as the fourteener because a line typically has 14 syllables or seven iambic feet. But he has a slack enough grip on that form that you can’t always tell whether he meant a phrase to be read as iambic, trochaic or anapestic meter. Some of his baseball terms are unfamiliar today, too, such calling a weak player as a “cake.”

Generations of Americans have responded to objections like these with, “Who cares?” First published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888, “Casey at the Bat” transcends its limits by appealing to a universal human desire – the wish to have heroes and yet also to see them fail sometimes, letting us off the hook for our own failures. Like all good heroes, Casey is like us and not like us. And three illustrators revitalize him in picture books that use the full title and subtitle of the poem, “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888.”

Thayer’s Casey plays in an adult league. But Patricia Polacco www.patriciapolacco.com turns Casey into a freckled-faced boy — an updated Norman Rockwell character more impish than arrogant — in her winsome 1988 Casey at the Bat. Polacco adds brief prose bookends that allow her to give Casey a baseball-loving sister and a long-eared dog in this paperback edition of the poem, which is hard to find but available in many libraries. If you click on the link for the book on her Web site, you can send a free electronic postcard bearing a picture of Casey. Her youthful characters and bright, airy illustrations, which abound with primary colors, make this a good edition for preschoolers.

School-age children may prefer the 2003 Casey at the Bat (Simon & Schuster, $16.95) www.simonsayskids.com, illustrated by the gifted C.F. Payne. Casey has a handlebar moustache and mythic Paul Bunyan-esque proportions in this atmospheric book that evokes the flavor of 19th-century baseball. Payne’s book ends with an excellent four-page note on the history and afterlife of the poem, which explains some of its real-life parallels and how vaudeville helped to make it famous.

Christopher Bing won a 2001 Caldecott Honor award from the American Library Association www.ala.org for his ambitious Casey at the Bat (Handprint Books, $17.95), printed on pages that resemble yellowing newsprint with halftone pictures (the kind you find in the Wall Street Journal). Each spread is a pastiche that includes more than lines from the poem and a picture of the game. It also has overlaid images — reproductions of the ticket stubs, baseball cards and newspaper editorials about the game. One editorial supports fans outraged by advent of the baseball glove: “They justifiably see this move as a disgrace – perhaps the first step in the calculated and tragic emasculation of the game.” At times the supplementary material can be distracting, a case of what the British call over-egging the pudding. But much of it is fascinating and a feast for detail-oriented children in grades 3 and up.

Each of these editions has virtues. But no one needs to buy a book to enjoy Thayer’s poem. “Casey at the Bat” is out of copyright and available for free on many sites, including that of the Academy of American Poets www.poets.org. (The punctuation varies on the sites, reflecting that of different editions that have appeared in the past century.) It’s also short enough that you could read it to children during the seventh-inning stretch of a playoff or World Series game. And would you really prefer that they hear another beer commercial instead?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 4, 2007

Good Picture Books About Real and Imagined Beaches: David Wiesner and Faith Ringgold

Acclaimed artists depict magical summertime journeys in Flotsam and Tar Beach

Heading to the beach with a preschooler? Or hoping to keep alive the memories of an earlier trip to the seashore? Pick up David Wiesner’s Flotsam (Clarion, $17.95 ages 3 and up), an eloquent, wordless picture book that won this year’s Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/22/. Flotsam www.clarionbooks.com tells the story of a boy who finds an underwater camera that washes up on a beach and takes him on a magical journey to distant times and places.

Consider Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach (Dragonfly, $6.99, paperback, ages 3 and up) , a Caldecott Honor book, for children who can only dream of a trip to the seashore. It tells the story of Depression-era girl who spends summer nights on a Harlem rooftop she calls “tar beach,” a place that inspires dreams of flying above the George Washington Bridge. As often in her work, Ringgold www.faithringgold.com incorporates motifs from black history and culture. Her heroine’s magical journeys build on the flight-to-freedom theme in African-American literature.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an indepdendent blog created by Janice Harayda, who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. A new review of a book for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on this site.

June 8, 2007

Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #2: ‘Madeline’

In an old house in Paris
that was covered with vines
lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.

— The opening lines of Madeline

Madeline. Story and Pictures by Ludwig Bemelmans. Viking, 48 pp., $7.99, paperback. Also available in other editions. Ages 2 & up.

By Janice Harayda

One of the most delightful characters in children’s literature was born, figuratively speaking, in a saloon. Ludwig Bemelmans (1898–1962) may have gotten the idea for Madeline after a bicycle accident sent him to a French hospital, where a girl in the next room had just had her appendix out. But he wrote the first lines of his most famous book on the back of a menu at Pete’s Tavern in New York: “In an old house in Paris / that was covered with vines …”

Those words set the tone for this brief narrative poem that uses rhyming couplets and a loose anapestic meter to tell the story a fearless girl who attends a convent school near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and other French landmarks. Madeline is the smallest and bravest of the girls in the care of a nun called Miss (not Sister) Clavel: “To the tiger in the zoo / Madeline just said, ‘Pooh-pooh.’” She makes such a fine adventure of having her appendix out – the central drama of the book – that by the last page her schoolmates are clamoring to have surgery, too.

Madeline was published in 1939 and is one the few picture books of its day that has never fallen from favor. But it has more going for it than nostalgia or its intergenerational appeal. The amusing line drawings are simple yet dynamic. Bemelmans suggests an entire world through his images of 12 girls who are always identically dressed, whether they wear broad-brimmed hats while visiting the Eiffel Tower or muffs while ice-skating near Montmartre. Like Helen Oxenbury’s pictures for We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, his illustrations alternate between color and black- and-white (plus a sunny yellow in Madeline). This technique helps to quicken the pace, so that the 48 pages of text hold the attention of preschoolers used to shorter books. And there’s another reason why Madeline and its five sequels work so well, astutely suggested by Anna Quindlen in her introduction to Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales (Viking, $35), which contains all the books in the series:

“For those of us who believe that children feel secure with structure, part of the enduring charm of the books must surely be that Madeline’s confidence and fearlessness are set within a backdrop of utter safety,” Quindlen writes. Miss Clavel is “concerned but competent.” If Madeline’s life is regimented, it has an order and predictability that many children long for at a time when the family dinner is becoming a cultural artifact. Madeline and her schoolmates all eat their meals, brush their teeth, and go to bed at the same time. A caged tiger may bare its teeth at the zoo. But as Quindlen rightly notes, “life is safe” in that “old house in Paris / that was covered with vines.”

Best line: The first three, quoted at the top of this review.

Worst line: None. But some parents may prefer to skip two lines on the last page: “Good night, little girls! Thank the Lord you are well!”

Published: 1939 (first Simon & Schuster edition), 2000 (Viking paperback reprint).

Furthermore: A naturalized American citizen, Bemelmans was born in the Austrian Tyrol and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. Madeline www.madeline.com was a Caldecott Honor book, and its first sequel, Madeline’s Rescue, won the Caldecott Medal. More often associated with O. Henry than with Bemelmans, Pete’s Tavern still serves meals at the corner of 18th Street and Irving Place in Manhattan.

You may also want to read: Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #1, Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág, reviewed on this site on Jan. 5, 2007 https://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/05.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 5, 2007

Good Picture Books About Noah’s Ark

“High and long, / Thick and strong, / Wide and stark, / Was the ark.”
From Peter Spier’s Caldecott Medal–winning Noah’s Ark

By Janice Harayda

No Bible story has fared better at the hands of picture-book illustrators than that of Noah’s Ark. Preschoolers love stories about animals, so picture books and the Flood are a natural fit. And there are so many outstanding versions of the story in Chapters 6–9 of Genesis that many bookstores and libraries have several or more.

The best book for toddlers and younger preschoolers is Noah’s Ark (Dell, 48 pp., $7.99, ages 2–6), illustrated by the Dutch-born American artist Peter Spier, who won the 1978 Caldecott Medal for it. Noah’s Ark begins with a translation of a Dutch poem about the Flood that has singsong rhymes simple enough for 3-year-olds: “Dog and cat, / Mouse and rat, / Fly and vole, /Worm and mole … In they came, / Pair by pair, / Gross and fair.”

From then on, Spier uses only pictures – his signature black line drawings washed with color – to tell the story of the Ark from the gathering of the animals through the appearance of the rainbow symbolizing God’s promise never to send another flood like the one Noah survived. And Spier’s vibrant and sympathetic illustrations suggest both the gravity of the situation and the potential for humor in crowding so many species onto a wooden boat. Within the larger story of the Flood, his drawings tell hundreds of smaller stories of the endless tasks faced by Noah and his family, such as milking cows and gathering eggs from hens. Noah’s Ark has stayed in print for decades partly because you see something new each time you return to it.

An excellent book for older preschoolers and young school-age children is Arthur Geisert‘s The Ark (Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine, 48 pp., $7.99, ages 4–8). Geisert tells Noah’s story through a spare, interpretive text and black-and-white etchings that include wonderfully detailed cross sections. The pictures in his book may fascinate even children who shun traditional Bible stories, because they show how ships of any kind might transport animals. Larger creatures like bears and elephants take up the lower decks while flamingoes strut and peacocks spread their tails on the upper ones.

Jerry Pinkney won a 2003 Caldecott Honor citation for his Noah’s Ark (North-South/SeaStar, 40 pp., $16.99. ages 4–8). It tells the story of the Flood in modern words arranged on the page like stanzas of free verse: “The zebras munched their hay. / The geese gobbled up the grain. / The monkeys nibbled on sweet grapes / and climbed to the roof / where the sparrows / perched and sang.”

As usual in Pinkney’s books, the exquisite illustrations steal the show. Pinkney works on a dramatic artistic scale. His illustrations bleed across gutters and off the page. And he zooms in so closely on faces – human or animal – that you can see the whites of Noah’s eyes and up the nostrils of a bear. Among living picture-book artists, perhaps only David Wiesner has more skill at creating stylized watercolors that are dreamy yet realistic.

Pinkney’s book is harder to find than Spier’s and Geisert’s but available in many libraries. And children who like it may enjoy learning about his unusual techniques, which he described in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators (Houghton Mifflin, 542 pp., $17), edited by Anita Silvey. “In illustrating stories about animals, as with people, research is important,” Pinkney said. “I keep a large reference file and have over a hundred books on nature and animals. The first step in envisioning a creature for me is to pretend to be that particular animal. I think about its size and the sounds it makes, how it moves, where it lives. When the stories call for anthropomorphic animals, I’ve used Polaroid photographs of myself posing as the animal characters.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

A new review of a book or books for teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. The site does not accept advertising or free books from publishers, and all reviews offer an independent evaluation by an award-winning critic. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these reviews and, if you work for a school or library, consider adding the site to your Ready Reference links.

February 24, 2007

A Bedtime Story for the ‘Goodnight Moon’ Set

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Caldecott Medals,Children's Books,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:28 am

A Caldecott Medalist returns with a book that may help toddlers and preschoolers fall asleep

So Sleepy Story. Uri Shulevitz. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 32 pp., $16. Ages: 2 and up.

By Janice Harayda

True story: I found this book in the third-floor children’s department of my public library, where a librarian recommended it to me. By the time I got to the checkout desk on the first floor, I was yawning just from looking at the cover. So Sleepy Story is so remarkably effective at making you feel sleepy that every time I tried to review it during the daytime, I had to put it aside, because I was afraid of nodding off. Imagine, parents, what this book could do for your children.

So Sleepy Story draws on a fact well-known to psychologists: Yawns are among the most contagious — perhaps the most contagious — of all forms of behavior. A lot of us will start to yawn, even if we’re not tired, just because we’re looking at someone who is. Or because we read the word “yawn” on the page. If I use the word “yawn” a couple more times in this review, you might be yawning by the end.

Uri Shulevitz makes brilliant use of this principle by beginning and ending his story with a picture of a house with a yawning “face.” He also uses pen-and-watercolor illustrations in muted colors that intensify the soporific effect. Goodnight Moon is a riot of color compared with So Sleepy Story, which looks so much more somber than many picture books that you might pass it up if you saw it on a shelf.

But that subdued quality is a part of what’s so effective about this tale of boy who wakes up in the night when music drifts into his room, then falls back to sleep. So is the heavy use of repetition of the word “sleepy,” which appears on almost every page, including the first: “In a sleepy sleepy house/everything is sleepy sleepy.” And because I’m getting a little sleepy from writing this, I’ll end by saying that the book includes a series of pictures of dishes with human faces that pay homage to Randolph Caldecott’s famous illustrations for the nursery rhyme about the dish that ran away with the spoon. So Sleepy Story may especially appeal to a child who sometimes wakes up at night and needs a little help getting back to sleep … and isn’t that just about every child?

Furthermore: Uri Shulevitz won a Caldecott Medal for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, written with Arthur Radsome. And some librarians thought that So Sleep Story had a good shot at this year’s medal, which went to David Wiesner’s Flotsam.

Published: August 2006

Links: www.fsgkidsbooks.com

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 22, 2007

Review of 2007 Caldecott Winner: David Wiesner’s ‘Flotsam’

Filed under: Book Awards Reality Check,Caldecott Medals,Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:10 pm

Flotsam. By David Wiesner. Houghton Mifflin/Clarion, 32 pp., $17.95. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

David Wiesner won the 2007 Caldecott Medal today for an eloquent, wordless picture book that encourages children to find the magic in everyday life. Flotsam tells the story of a boy who finds an underwater camera that washes up on a beach at the New Jersey shore, where the artist spent summers as a child. (The book doesn’t name the location but shows a beach tag reading “LBI” that, along with other visual references, situates the story clearly on Long Beach Island.) Wiesner’s young hero rushes to have the film developed and finds that it reveals a fantasy world of remarkable images, beautifully rendered in lush watercolors — a red wind-up fish, an undersea flying saucer full of miniature aliens, a starfish carrying a mountain Atlas-like on its back. The boy also sees photos of children from other countries and times, including one that appears to show the Jersey shore at the turn-of-the-century (a tribute to the artist’s great-grandparents?).

After taking a photo of himself, Wiesner’s hero throws the camera back into the ocean, where it takes another fantastic journey before being found on the last page by a young girl in a tropical realm where nobody needs a beach tag. As in his wordless picture book Tuesday, Wiesner invites children (and their elders) to make up their stories to go with his images. And he provides material rich enough to captivate a variety of ages. Toddlers and younger preschoolers may enjoy simply looking at the vibrant images and pointing to creatures they recognize while adults fill in the story. Older preschoolers and young school-age children may want to make up their own tales to explain, for example, how an octopus came to be sitting on underwater armchair. (They get help from clues such as an overturned “Moving and Storage” van also resting on the bottom of the sea.) Throughout Flotsam, shifting perspectives encourage children to see the world from many angles and, above all, to find the extraordinary in ordinary life.

Best line/Picture: One that shows Wiesner’s witty use of detail: The fringe on a sofa and ottoman provide a subtle visual echo of the tentacles of an octopus sitting on an armchair.

Worst line/picture: None.

Recommended … without reservations.

Published: October 2006.

Links: www.clarionbooks.com

Furthermore: Wiesner received earlier Caldecott Medals for Tuesday and The Three Pigs. His Sector 7 and Free Fall were Caldecott Honor books. If you found this review of Flotsam helpful, you may also want to read the review of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, who won the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux. The review was posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on January 27, 2007, and is archived in the Children’s Books category.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an indepdendent literary blog created by Janice Harayda, who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. A new review of a book for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on this site.

November 18, 2006

Emily Arnold McCully’s Wild West Thanksgiving Story for Children

A Caldecott Medalist casts Butch Cassidy as a Victorian-era Robin Hood

An Outlaw Thanksgiving. By Emily Arnold McCully. Dial, 32 pp., $15.99. Ages 4–8.

A few days ago, I stopped by a good suburban library to see which children’s books the staff was recommending this week besides Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims, that perennial dish of cranberry sauce on school reading lists. A librarian handed me An Outlaw Thanksgiving by Emily Arnold McCully, who won the Caldecott Medal for Mirette on the High Wire. No surprises there. Librarians are always promoting books by American Library Association award-winners.

The surprise came when I went to www.amazon.com to see if there was a paperback edition and found, along with the expected rave from a librarian, a couple of attacks by parents on the poor moral “value systems” of the book. Let’s try to sort out the clashing views of this tale, which was inspired by a real holiday meal in Brown’s Hole, Utah, in the 1890s.

McCully casts bank robber Robert LeRoy Parker — alias Butch Cassidy — as a Victorian Robin Hood in this story of a young girl’s cross-country trip by rail. When a blizzard stops their train, Clara and her mother must have Thanksgiving dinner with strangers, including the man played by Paul Newman in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Clara recognizes Butch from a “Wanted” poster she has seen. But she doesn’t turn him in, despite several opportunities, because she’s heard that he is good-hearted: “Gives some of what he steals to needy folks.” Clara also thinks her mother would “faint dead away” if she did. It doesn’t increase her motivation to turn informer when Butch, realizing that she recognizes him, gives her a silver dollar that could be construed as hush money.

You can see why some parents are furious. They’ve warned their children not to take candy or other bribes from “bad people” and to “tell an adult” right away if this happens. Then a Caldecott Medalist comes along and portrays sympathetically a girl who looks the other way when face-to-face with criminal. And another aspect of McCully’s tale might irk some parents: This is one of those books in which the child is smarter — or at least braver — than her parent. Clara isn’t intimidated by Butch, but believes her mother would be.

But the librarians who like this book have a point, too. As usual, McCully uses lush watercolors to tell a dramatic story. Something is always rushing forward – a train, a horse-drawn wagon, travelers at a railway station. Many people see watercolors, the neglected stepchild of painting, as a relatively static medium best suited landscapes or still lifes. McCully shows how dynamic the form can be in the right hands.

So this book is a judgment call for parents. It may give children at the younger end of its age range ideas that conflict with what they have learned at home. But it could give parents of older ones a way to test whether their children been paying attention to all those lessons about “bad people.” What should Clara have done when she recognized Butch? The question could launch a fascinating intergenerational conversation after Thanksgiving Dinner.

Best line: McCully includes an afterword about Butch Cassidy and the Old West that has colorful facts such as this one: “Snow was a problem for six or seven months of the year on the prairie. Passengers could perish in a blizzard. ‘Snowbucker’ plows rammed into drifts at 65 miles per hour.”

Worst line: After Clara arrives in Omaha: “Her mother hurried into the station to freshen up.” The euphemism “freshen up” sounds odd in context, if not anachronistic. And why did only the mother and not Clara need to use the bathroom after a long trip?

Recommended if … your children are old enough not to take the heroine’s behavior as a model for how to act when a stranger offers a bribe.

Published: 1998 (Dial hardcover), 2000 (Picture Puffins edition. For information on McCully en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Arnold_McCully/.

Posted by Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com
© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent literary blog created by Janice Harayda, an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor and critic for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. Please visit www.janiceharayda.com to learn more about her comic novels, The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004).

 

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