Monday, December 10, 2012


From the Publisher:

A young girl's courage is tested in this haunting, wordless story.

When a farm girl discovers a runaway slave

hiding in the barn, she is at once

startled and frightened.

But the stranger's fearful eyes

weigh upon her conscience,

and she must make a difficult choice.

Will she have the courage to help him?

Unspoken gifts of humanity unite the girl

and the runaway as they each face a journey:

one following the North Star,

the other following her heart.

Henry Cole's unusual and original rendering

of the Underground Railroad

speaks directly to our deepest sense

of compassion.

Horn Book (November/December, 2012)

This wordless picture book opens with a calm scene: a quilt hangs over a rural split-rail fence. A young girl enters the scene on the next double-page spread, leading a cow and watching a small group of Confederate infantry ride by. The girl continues with her daily chores, including gathering potatoes from the root cellar, where, behind the cut cornstalks stored there, she glimpses an eye, signaling that someone is hiding amongst them. Time passes; surreptitiously, the girl leaves food for the fugitive. The family gathers for a meal; bounty hunters searching for a runaway slave appear -- and then leave. Frightened, the girl runs to check on the escapee and discovers that he or she has gone -- leaving her a handmade cornhusk doll. What Cole shows so superbly through his accomplished yet unpretentious pencil art -- the ideal medium for the book, as it looks as if it’s of the era as well as portraying the era -- is the keeping of secrets. The entire family appears to know what’s going on, but the extent of each character’s involvement is never made explicit; it is conveyed by body language alone, particularly in the exaggerated movements of those who believe they are being watched, their averted eyes when facing the bounty hunters, and the various hands that bring food to the fugitive slave. The back jacket, with an arresting close-up of the young heroine, personalizes the experience by asking young readers: “What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?” betty carter

The Spindlers

Kirkus Reviews starred (May 15, 2012)

Liza must venture Below to rescue her little brother's soul, stolen by evil, power-hungry spider people called spindlers, in this refreshingly creepy, intricately woven tale. A concealed hole in the wall behind a narrow bookcase in her family's basement is her entry, and amid loud scratching noises, Liza trips, falling down into the darkness Below. Mirabella, a giant rat who wears newspaper for a skirt, becomes her trusted guide to the spindlers' nests, which Liza must reach before the Feast of the Souls. But things are never what they seem in Oliver's vividly imagined world. ... An arduous, dangerous and fantastical journey ensues. As in the author's first terrific book for middle-grade readers, Liesl & Po (2011), there is a smorgasbord of literary references, including strong echoes of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It is laced with humor and engaging wordplay, as well as riddles and death-defying tests and enchantments. Wholly original creatures populate the tale, some reassuring and wise, like the nocturni and lumer-lumpen, others wonderfully macabre (and ferocious), like the queen of the spindlers and the shape-shifting scawgs. In the course of her episodic quest, Liza discovers she is resourceful and brave; she sees things differently than before. Richly detailed, at times poetic, ultimately moving; a book to be puzzled over, enjoyed and, ideally, read aloud. (Final illustrations not seen.) (Fantasy. 8-12)

Looking At Lincoln

Horn Book (January/February, 2012)

A young girl walking through a park passes a Lincoln look-alike and begins to wonder about our sixteenth president. "Who was he?" she asks herself. Being a clever girl, she goes to the library (a van Gogh-inspired room) to find out. She discovers facts but gets "lost in the photos of his unusual face. I stared at one. I could look at him forever." Never pedantic, but through a natural structure that follows the young narrator's own thought processes, the narrative lists some basic facts she discovers about Lincoln's life and then moves to her childlike musings, printed in a more casual font, that personalize this account. "I wonder if Mary and Abraham had nicknames for each other. Did she call him Linky? Did he call her Little Plumpy? Maybe." Other bits of Lincoln lore (objects such as Mary's vanilla cake and Lincoln's top hat) inspire further questions. The story gradually becomes more sophisticated, introducing war and slavery, for example, and these musings, still interspersed with questions, conclude with Lincoln's death. A gloomy funeral scene with the riderless horse is depicted in grays and blacks, a sobering, even startling, note among the profusion of bright gouache illustrations that are as colorful as springtime in Arles. Additional back matter extends the text, but it is the narrator's concluding words as she faces the Lincoln Memorial that best encourages historical examination: "Look into his beautiful eyes. Just look." betty carter

Each Kindness

Booklist starred (August 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 22))

Grades K-3. Starting with the title, this quiet, intense picture book is about the small actions that can haunt. As in collaborations such as Coming on Home Soon (2004), Woodson’s spare, eloquent free verse and Lewis’ beautiful, spacious watercolor paintings tell a story for young kids that will touch all ages. In a first-person voice, Chloe speaks about how a new girl in class, Maya, gets the empty seat next to her and tries to be friends. But Chloe and her clique will have none of the poor white kid in her old ragged clothes, and their meanness intensifies after Maya asks to play with them. Then Maya’s family moves away, and she is “forever gone,” leaving Chloe without the chance to put things right. Chloe’s teacher spells out lessons of kindness, but the story is most powerful in the scenes of malicious bullying in the multiracial classroom and in the school yard. It is rare to tell a story of cruelty from the bully’s viewpoint, and both the words and pictures powerfully evoke Chloe’s shame and sorrow over the kindness she has not shown, as she looks at the empty seat next to her in the classroom, and then, alone and troubled, throws a stone in the water and watches the ripples move out and away. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The combined talents and star power of Woodson and Lewis will undoubtably create plenty of pre-pub. buzz.

Whatever After: Fairest of All

Booklist (April 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 15))

Grades 4-6. There’s “once upon a time” and “happily ever after,” but what happens when the story “gets all tangled up” in the middle? That question is at the heart of this debut title in a new fairy-tale-themed series. Ten-year-old Abby and her seven-year-old brother, Jonah, are living a normal life in a new town until they discover the mirror in the basement. When they knock on its surface three times, they’re whizzed away to fairy-tale land and find themselves at the home of Snow (yes, White). Just as Evil Evelyn, her wicked stepmother, is about to hand over the infamous poison apple, Jonah intervenes. But if Snow doesn’t eat the poison apple, then the prince can’t save her, and that means Snow’s love life is ruined, not to mention Disney’s whole movie. There’s lots of hilarious artistic license here (three of the seven dwarfs are women; one has pink hair), along with unexpected plot twists and plenty of girl power. Tween girls who may not be quite ready for Donna Jo Napoli and Gail Carson Levine’s fractured-fairy-tale novels will find this title is just right.

Jake and Lily

Horn Book (May/June, 2012)

Twins Jake and Lily have always shared a birthday, a room, and a special connection they call "goombla" (e.g., if Lily gets hurt, Jake feels pain). Now it’s the summer before sixth grade, and things are changing for the twins. Their parents decide they should have separate rooms (Jake is game, Lily distraught), and Jake starts hanging around with Bump Stubbins, whom Lily loathes. The story is a conversation between the two, with alternating viewpoints and reactions to each other’s telling (Jake to Lily: "I don’t believe you’re going to bring that stuff up"). The narrative rambles a bit, especially at the beginning before the story line picks up; however, the structure works well to provide insight into the characters both as individuals and as siblings. Jake does some regrettable things but redeems himself by book’s end. Lily shrugs off fear and self-pity to regain her inner vigilante. Spinelli’s hallmark issues -- individuality, nonconformity, alienation, standing up for the little guy -- figure prominently, and the messages are for the most part convincingly worked into the story. There’s also a welcome sense of mystery; no one tries to rationalize goombla, for example, instead allowing the kids’ unique twin-ness to remain unexplained. elissa gershowitz

Monday, December 3, 2012


Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2012)

Exquisite design coupled with evocative illustrations enrich this charming tale of a little bat taking his first solo flight and how he learns to "see" with his "good sense," otherwise known as echolocation. Although picture books about bats abound, small Chiro will capture readers' hearts immediately. When the bat-mother tells her child it is time for him to fly alone, the little one shares his fears about the darkness and his inability to see. His mother instructs him on what to do--"sing out into the world, and [listen to] the song the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you'll see." Up to this point, Long, utilizing acrylics and graphite, features the two creatures up close in toasty browns against a textured dark background. When the mother lets Chiro go, the page turn reveals an emotional change in perspective. No longer is the young bat cuddly and large on the page; now he appears tiny and vulnerable in the immense black spread. Talented storytelling features rich yet concrete language to describe and to build suspense during the bat's nocturnal trip. Vague but frightening shapes in the dark become defined as trees, bugs, geese and ocean waves in the bluish-green tones used to render a visual of the bat's echolocation. Young ones will relate to Chiro and cheer as he gains confidence with his newfound skill and will be deeply satisfied flying along on his sensory-rich journey. (Picture book. 4-7)

Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy

Booklist (November 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 5))

Preschool-Grade 2. In an anything but soothing lullaby, a rather high-strung cowboy tries to strum a pair of little dogies to sleep. He punctuates his somniferous lyrics—It’s time for little cows to rest their heads. / It’s time for little cows to go to bed—with a regular Eeeeek! as he mistakes a shadowy flower, a stick, and a harmless shadow for a spider, a snake, and a large, lumbering bear, respectively. In typically elemental cartoon illustrations, Thomas uses loud colors that don’t always stay within their outlines, and she places her large figures against plain backgrounds of deep blues and purples. Ultimately another shadow actually does turn out to be a huge wolf, but as wolves also love lullabies, the stage is set for a cozy finish. In this, as in Thomas’ other comically manic crowd-pleasers, the only thing wrong is that it’s all over so quickly.

Creep and Flutter

Booklist (April 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 16))

Grades 3-5. Similar in approach to Arnosky’s Slither and Crawl (2009) and Thunder Birds (2011), this large-format book features many colorful illustrations, six foldout pages, and a wealth of knowledge about insects and arachnids. Each section presents a topic such as “Mayflies, Dragonflies, Stoneflies, and Caddisflies” or “Beetles and Bugs.” Used in combination with beautifully shaded pencil drawings, the colorful and sometimes dramatic acrylic paintings of creatures (represented life-size, enlarged, or supersized) will draw readers to the book. The approachable text is quite informative as well. Writing in first person is chancy in a science book, but it works here because it springs from Arnosky’s decades of observing nature and discovering how things work. Whether he writes of living in woods infested by gypsy moths or walking down a trail into a huge spiderweb, a personal narrative opens each section, which broadens to describe a group of insects or arachnids and offers facts about particular species alongside many pictures of the animals. An inviting, informative addition to science collections.

Abe Lincoln's Dream

Horn Book (November/December, 2012)

Smith channels his inner Dickens, presenting a ghost of White Houses past: the specter of one Abraham Lincoln. While visiting the White House, a young girl named Quincy spies a tall man in a stovepipe hat pacing around. He confesses to worrying about the path the country has taken since 1865. Quincy persuades him to leave the “Executive Mansion” (as he still thinks of it), and the two soar over Washington DC. “Are the states united?” Abe asks. Quincy assures him they are, and that his optimistic, forward-thinking wish for equality for all people is now possible. “And Man?” the ghost asks as they fly past the Capitol. “Does he no longer Fuss ’n’ Fight with his fellow man?” Quincy’s answer -- “We’re still working on that one” -- is underscored by an illustration of a chair being thrown out of that august building. Here, Smith’s palette, which lightens from darker reds, browns, and blacks to the glorious promise of Washington’s cherry blossoms, shows faith in that possibility, leading to the story’s hopeful ending, with America’s Ship of State (appropriately, a nineteenth-century paddle wheeler) heading toward a better world. Abe’s Ichabod Crane-like angularity is set against an imaginative array of design elements, from the hand-lettered broadside printing of the nineteenth century to collages incorporating various patterns and effects -- crackle, sponge-painting, spackle -- that also lend an old-fashioned feel. However, Smith combines and juxtaposes these elements to create a look both bold and spectacular. Beyond its visual pleasures, the book effectively, and with a light touch, presents government as a work in progress rather than the done-deal children are usually taught; author’s notes (effectively pitched at a young audience) provide historical context. betty carter