Fall 2002 Shoppe Talk San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe

In looking through the lovely books coming for Fall, 2002, we are pleased at the terrific choices available for older readers; fantasy, humor, and adventure. We found thought provoking and entertaining fiction from writers respectful of their young audience's ability to read challenging, well-crafted prose. As for picture books, they reaffirm our belief that some of this country's finest art appears between the pages of children's picture books.  May you each have a happy and healthy holiday season filled with the joyful company of family and friends.

A Treasure Trove of Picture Books For Fall

If Mary Poppins or Dr. Spock were giving out endorsements, then I’M GONNA LIKE ME; Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell would probably be on their lists. Mary would relate to the snarky attitude and Doc might approve of the healthy messages couched in this zany companion to the Curtis/Cornell growing library of life's concerns (moods and emotions, birth, growing up, and death). Told in alternating voices that would work as a two-voice read-aloud, the girl says “wearing flowers and plaid. I have my own style. I don't follow some fad.” The boy says “I'm gonna like me when my answer is wrong, like thinking my ruler was ten inches long.” Although the rhymes and situations may occasionally be a bit forced, the easy and cheerful approach is a set up to engage kids in follow-up conversation. It concludes with the two children in the book saying to the young reader, “I'm gonna like me. I already do! But enough about me — How about YOU?”  (Ages 4–8, $15.99) 
Okay. Here's a confession. When we were little, our favorite excuse was “But she hit me back first.” We didn't find that one in David Shannon's DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. Nevertheless, he comes up with many of the classics, like “But Dad says it!” For that one Shannon paints David into a corner with a bar of soap in his mouth. (Do parents still do that?) Then there's David grinning at us, his face covered with chocolate cake, his handprint clearly carved into the cake, and the words, “No, it wasn't me!” Oh growing up is so hard. In the middle of the night, on the following pages, he sits up in bed, confesses and apologizes. On the last page, at peace with himself, his mothers hand comforting him, he says, “I love you, mom.” This is one for the kid who has a hard time owning up … well, come to think of it, probably any of us at one time or another. 
(Ages 3–7, $15.95)
In the several “school” theme related books out this season, I.Q. GOES TO SCHOOL by Mary Ann Fraser is our pet. Well Hess actually Mrs. Furber’s pet rat and Hess a bright one who can't wait to be picked as student of the week. He learns his alphabet, numbers, holidays and even performs in the Thanksgiving play, but he has to wait a long time for his turn in the limelight. Fraser’s artwork, full of classroom paraphernalia, is as appealing as her simple story of one school year in the life of a pet rat. It's just right for early readers, for reading aloud to a classroom of kids, or to a child about to begin a school experience. 
(Ages 4–8, $15.95)
For over two decades, Judith Viorst’s Alexander’s Terrible Horrible No Good Really Bad Day has reigned as the most wonderful terrific really good example of using humor to turn the “negative” inside out. Now, in this season, we welcome two new additions to the genre. Jane Kurtz’s RAIN ROMP; Stomping Away a Grouchy Day begins with a grumpy child who refuses to leave her bed on a rainy morning. But Mom and Dad are not easily discouraged. They laugh and yodel and carry on. The pajama-clad child runs outdoors into the rain for a good stomp, joined by her parents and “little silver worms of rain wriggle and slither under our shirts.” A romp in the rain helps melt the grouchiness away. The bouncy rhyming text is set into great soaking splashes of color achieved with watercolors and gouache by Dyanna Wolcott. (Ages 3–6, $15.99)
In one of our favorite books this season, Marla Frazee’s art whirls and swirls across the pages of Linda Smith's MRS. BIDDLEBOX who gets up in a funk on the “wrong side of her bunk.” Her solution is to 
“… cook this rotten morning! 
 I will turn it into cake! 
 I will fire up my oven! 
 I will set the day to bake!”
And indeed, with enormous energy and imagination, the bleak day is transformed into a “merry slice of cake.” In reading the back flap copy, we discover that Linda Smith lost a two-year battle against breast cancer. She left us a legacy of positive humor and fierce determination that Frazee has captured in her spot on portrayal of MRS. BIDDLEBOX as a homely lady of indeterminate age, frizzy black hair contained in a mop of a ponytail flying behind her. (Ages 4–8, $15.95)
A noodlehead story has deep roots in oral storytelling, where an improbable yet not impossible series of actions leads to a satisfying conclusion. One such tale from the deep South, Epaminondas, has been recreated as EPOSSUMONDAS by Coleen Salley, the Mardi Gras’ Queen Coleen. Epossumondas encounters Alligator, Raccoon, Nutria and Armadillo as he travels back and forth between his auntie and mama on a series of misinterpreted errands. The sense of fun is heightened by artist Janet Stevens’s creation of the “sweet little patootie” as a baby possum in diapers, and the mama and auntie as southern ladies (remember the lady in Anne Miranda’s To Market! To Market!, also illustrated by Janet Stevens? — she’s back!) Illustrated in watercolor, colored pencil, with some photographic and digital elements, and told in a rich, honeyed southern voice, EPOSSUMONDAS adds a wonderful variation to an old standard. (Ages 4–8, $16.00)
MY DIARY FROM HERE AND THERE/MI DIARIO DE AQUI HASTA ALLA chronicles the journey made by Amada Irma Perez’s family when they left their home in Ciudad Juarez to find work and make a life in El Monte, California. Her first book, My Very Own Room, described the efforts made by her family to give their only daughter a space apart from her five rough and tumble brothers. Once again she conveys the spirit of her close knit family and the good humor with which they face the challenge of moving from one country to another. As in Perez’s first picture book, Maya Christina Gonzalez’s vibrant paintings fill the pages that include both English and Spanish text.
(Ages 5–9, $16.95)
THE POT THAT JUAN BUILT started out with “clay all squishy and white, Dug in the hills from morning till night.” And step-by-step a clay pot was built, dried, polished, painted and fired. In Nancy Andrews-Goebel’s multilayered rhyming picture book, we see the finished pot first and then peel back the steps to get to the first digging of clay. The familiar rhyme is only one part of this informative and colorful picture book, for on the opposite page of each spread there is a concurrent text that tells the story of Juan Quezada of Mata Ortiz in Chihuahua, Mexico, who rediscovered a pottery making process that had vanished with the potters of the Casas Grandes people who left that area six hundred years ago. The book’s illustrator, David Diaz, uses warm yellow as his background color, overlaid with “wide wet” brush strokes for decorative plants and shrubs, and adobe houses set into the landscape. The paintings of people and animals appear to be stenciled. However Diaz notes his artwork was entirely rendered in Adobe Photoshop. Somehow the juxtaposition of computer technology to illustrate an ancient but still vital art form amuses us. In a more detailed afterword illustrated with photographs, Andrews-Goebel fills in even more details about pottery making and the life of the village of Mata Ortiz where almost every household boasts at least one potter, and the active art community has re-energized its economic base.  (Ages 4++, $14.95)
Inspired by California swap meets and Santa Ana winds, ESTELA’S SWAP by Alexis O’Neill brings us a young girl, hoping to sell her favorite music box while earning money for dancing lessons at the Ballet Folklorico. Estela’s hopes are dashed when the music box is damaged in the aftermath of the winds, but her willingness to aid another vendor leads to a most wonderful swap after all. Warmly illustrated by award-winning artist, Enrique O. Sanchez, the book is a great introduction to the way a swap meet works. 
 (Ages 6–10, $16.95)

   Picture Book Biographies
Lives of exemplary people have provided inspiration for gifted artists and storytellers in this season’s selection of top picture books. For example, Leo and Diane Dillon have celebrated the late, great Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878–1949) who tap danced his way to fame during the bleak and dreary days of the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Their own teamwork for RAP A TAP TAP; Here’s Bojangles – Think of That! created a rhyming, hand-clapping, finger-snapping text with colorfilled art so elegantly alive you can almost hear Bojangles feet tapping across the pages in images that overlap and blend like time-lapse photography. In their dedication The Dillons pay homage to African-American artist, Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, whose paintings that blended shapes and designs of African Art with the clean-edged elegance of Art Deco served as inspiration for this lovely book.  (Ages 4+, $15.95)
WHEN MARIAN SANG, a stunning tribute to Marian Anderson, is a collaboration by writer Pam Munoz Ryan and artist Brian Selznick whose first combined effort, Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride provided the idea for this lovely book. A photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt presenting Marian Anderson the 1939 Springarn Medal, NAACP’s annual award for outstanding achievement by a Black-American, was the inspiration. That was the year Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a gathering of 75,000, after the D.A.R. refused her appearance at Constitution Hall. She was the first African American concert artist to record spirituals for a major American recording company and the first to break the color barrier with the Philadelphia Philharmonic. Ryan’s text reveals Anderson’s difficult path to success. The untimely death of her father before her teens and the long history of racial discrimination might have stopped a less motivated person. Even she had to wait almost a lifetime to be the first African-American to make her debut with the Metropolitan Opera. The year was 1955. Anderson was in her fifty-eighth year. Selznick commemorates the event in the final two-paged spread of this handsome book as the spotlight shines on Anderson, arms out stretched. The book, like her life, is a triumph. (Ages 6+, $16.95)
Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating admires the late WILL ROGERS, cowboy-actor-humorist-writer-world traveler, who died in 1935, two years before Keating was born. And from his sympathetic recounting of this quiet humorist, and Mike Wimmer’s paintings that echo the style of Norman Rockwell’s affectionate American portraits, we get a picture of a man we all would have liked. He believed in modesty and plain living. His restless nature spurred him to travel — three trips around the world. (And that was years and years before jumbo jets.) “I never met a man I didn’t like,” he said. We sure could use a few folks like Rogers out there right now. (Ages 5+, $16.00) 

   Alphabet Books
In every season there seems to be a coincidence of theme – this appears to be the year of Alphabet Books.

Denise Fleming’s colorful paper pulp artwork leads us through an ALPHABET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. Mouse is back, and he’s building the alphabet using 26 different construction methods. Fleming’s playful 
creativity shines. You might find it fun to construct an alphabet with different constructions skills for each letter. 
(Ages 2–5, $16.95)
Perhaps the “classiest” is the MUSEUM ABC using the considerable resources of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Each letter is given a representative word, i.e.; “J is for Jewelry.” Then four examples of jewelry in artworks are shown, including a ring detail from a Dutch painting ca. 1460 and bracelets from an Ingres work, ca. 1851. It’s fun to see how four artists depict “cat”, “kiss”, “nose” and “rose.” The reproduction quality is excellent and the art — what can we say? — is museum quality.  (Ages 2++, $16.95)
Michael Chesworth takes us aboard ALPHABOAT to tickle our punny bones. Offer this up to beginning readers with a developing sense of humor as they work out the joke of a voyage to find buried treasure that will take “n r g” as we take a great “s cape”. His watercolors will help guide the way. (Ages 5–8, $16.00)
You’ll find your toes tapping and fingers snapping when you read Sherry Shahan’s THE JAZZY ALPHABET, a lively, bouncing trip through the world of jazz lingo. The silk-screened paper collage illustrations by Mary Thelen are vibrant and add hidden treats on each spread.  (Ages 3–7, $15.99)

Chapter Books for Young Readers

Wilson is a third grader having trouble with timed multiplication tests. Even his kindergarten brother, 
Kipper can do the x 3’s faster than Wilson. In 7 X 9 = TROUBLE, Claudia Mills’ first chapter book, Wilson is a great kid, with a supportive family and friends, but has trouble with the pressure of the timed tests. He is certain that he would be able to concentrate if the class hamster, Squiggles, could be with him, but the hamster is missing and the third grade’s deadline for x 12’s is looming. G. Brian Karas illustrates this book with a tender touch. (Ages 6–8, $15.00) 
Fudge lovers will be delighted with Judy Blume’s new novel of the Hatcher family, when DOUBLE FUDGE brings the family back to New York. Fudge is in accelerated kindergarten, older brother Peter is in 7th grade and his best friend is moving to SoHo. Fudge is obsessed with money, he wants it all and is sure you can get it from the ATM. A family trip to Washington D. C. leads to the accidental meeting of dad’s long lost cousin Howie and his family, including the Natural Beauties, Flora and Fauna, and little Mini, a younger version of Fudge, with the same great uncle’s name, Farley Drexel Hatcher. Fudge is less than thrilled to share his identity, while Peter must deal with the singing twins Flora and Fauna. A welcome sequel to a series that started in 1972 with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. If you are new to this series, you will get much more than a double helping of Fudge, there are four titles before DOUBLE FUDGE, available in paperback.  (Ages 8–12, $15.99)
Eleven-year-old Pete has just moved to a central California coastal town and isn’t having an easy time making connections. He truly loves surfing, having surfed Huntington Beach and the Newport jetties, but is too young to fit in with the hotshots until he encounters Blackie, the SURFER DOG, who knows just which waves to catch. Blackie and surfing fill Pete’s time as his grades plummet. When he is grounded right before an upcoming surf contest, he must learn the consequences of his obsession. Author Elizabeth Spurr, who lives in Cayucos, California, has written a novel that will resonate with those of us who love living along the coast.  (Ages 8–12, $15.99)

Fiction for Middle Graders

Sometimes a work of fiction can be disguised enough to look like and read like a “real” story. Marissa Moss accomplishes this by using an illustrated journal format. It brought her a devoted readership for the original Amelia’s Notebook series. Then she branched out into historical fiction, drawing on extensive research to present history disguised as diaries for her Young American Voices series. Now, with the publication of GALEN; My Life in Imperial Rome, she will broaden her readership to include topics of appeal to boys. The need for high-interest, accessible books for boys is a challenge and the call for books about ancient history continues so GALEN is welcome in many arenas. In this first book of An Ancient World Journal series, Moss combines the sorts of information and a mystery plot that will appeal to her targeted readership. GALEN, a 12-year-old Greek slave is encouraged by his master Emperor Augustus to keep a journal detailing his life. He works as an apprentice to his father, a talented painter, but has enough free time to develop a friendship with another young slave who is a charioteer-in-training. Because of the friendship, he attends a victory banquet where he overhears a conversation that makes him suspect his own master’s life might be in jeopardy. Even the book’s format with a smaller trim size than the previous “journals” and lots of colored illustrations sprinkled throughout the hand-lettered text is designed to intrigue a reluctant reader. But there is plenty of substance in this attractive book to satisfy a more accomplished one. 
(Ages 8–13, $15.00)
Roy is the new kid in his middle school in a small Florida town. He’s going through the usual bullying, hazing experience and feeling pretty bummed about leaving Montana. On his way to school he sees a barefoot kid running. He looks about his age and his curiosity is aroused. In the same town, a chain pancake restaurant is about to build its 469th restaurant right on top of a burrowing owl nest. And someone else in town is trying to stop them from doing it. With HOOT, adult writer Carl Hiaasen makes a snappy and entertaining first appearance as a children’s author.  (Ages 10–13, $15.95)
The KEEPER OF THE DOVES is the reclusive Mr. Tominski, someone Amen only hears about in dark whispers from her older sisters. Even Papa’s patient dog, Scout, growls when he’s around. Mr. Tominski keeps to himself, half-hidden in a chapel in the woods but Papa insists he be treated as a member of the family. He tells Amen that Mr. Tominski once saved his life when he was a little boy and ever since, the man has lived on the edge of their property, under their protection. But the twins, the inseparable Bellas, two years older than Amen, continued to tell her frightening stories about Mr. Tom. Betsy Byars’s elegant story set at the close of the nineteenth-century, is a polished gem. Amen is her narrator. She’s the youngest of five living daughters, a gifted child who Grandmama calls a “wordsmith.” Through her eyes we get a glimpse of prosperous family life at the close of the nineteenth century. Toward the end of the story Amen comments on how much has happened in her life in just one month, including the arrival of a baby brother. We think it’s remarkable how much good writing Byars fits into just under 125 pages.  (Ages 9–13, $14.99)
The arrival of a new Lloyd Alexander novel perks us up. With eager anticipation we begin, “Lidi was not easy to ignore, especially when flame shot out of her fingertips.” Lidi is a traveling magician, a genius of the sleight of hand. But the one trick she most wants to learn is THE ROPE TRICK and there is only one person who can teach her that — the elusive “The Fantastic Ferramondo.” Travelling and performing throughout the provinces and little country towns with only one trustworthy assistant since the death of her father six months earlier, she is on a quest to find the great magician. She is soon joined by a winning young waif named Daniella with a streak of clairvoyance who becomes her “added attraction.” Shortly after Daniella’s arrival they add a roustabout to their company named Julian, a handsome young fugitive with a price on his head. Alexander, with his storyteller’s magic, sets the plot for his ROPE TRICK in motion and we follow until its denouement, delighted — surprised — and thoroughly entertained. (Ages 9–13, $16.99)

One of our mother’s favorite sayings was, “If one is good, two is better.” This season there seems to be recurring coincidence of pairs of novels on related themes … including The Vietnam War, Venice, and sea/pirate adventures set in the early nineteenth century — and in all cases, two is truly better than one. 

First off, we welcome a republication of JIM DAVIS; A High-Sea Adventure by John Masefield. This 1911 novel is in the tradition of Treasure Island, complete with kidnappings and pirates and nautical terminology intact (with a terrific glossary at the back for landlubbers). Jim tells how he, orphaned at nine, is taken in by his uncle on the Devon Coast. After a few years, kindly Mrs. Cottier and her son come to live with them which improves his living arrangement. One day in the midst of an unexpected snowstorm, she fails to return home after an outing into town. Jim, worried she has had an accident, sets out into the night to find her. And so the adventure begins as Jim gets involved with pirate/smugglers plying the channel between France and Britain. John Masefield may be remembered best for his famous poem, “Sea-Fever” that begins, “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” The full poem is included in Michael Murpurgo’s introduction to this reprint. It’s a good yarn for reading aloud.  (Ages 10–13, $15.95)
And any youngster who loved The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, the Newbery Medal novel by Avi, will rejoice in L.A. Meyer’s BLOODY JACK; Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy. In a matter of days Mary loses her family to “pestilence” and becomes one of a family of street urchins, begging for food and pennies. When their main protector Charlie Rooster is found dead, she takes his clothes, arranges protection for the remaining “family” and takes off on her own, now disguised as a boy. Her ability to read gets her a place as one of five ship’s boys aboard HMS Dolphin, “a forty-four-gun frigate and a man-of-war in His Brittanic Majesty’s Royal Navy.” Its first assignment is to fight Barbary pirates off the coast of North Africa to “protect fair England’s merchant fleet.” Her main duties are to help out the schoolmaster who teaches the midshipmen, help scrub the deck, clean the head, and climb into the cooking cauldrons to scrape them out after feedings. Jacky’s thrilled to have regular meals. Her hardest challenge is keeping her gender secret which becomes ever more difficult as she blossoms into her teen years. Meyer has created a plucky heroine and plunked her into a perfect setting to test her mettle. She passes with flying colors.  (Ages 12+, $17.00)

The Vietnam War is a central element of both Valerie HobbsSONNY’S WAR and Joan Bauer’s STAND TALL. They work surprisingly well as a pair to be read in that order. Neither author is afraid to present the hard issues facing kids but both offer positive and hopeful resolution. 

Valerie Hobbs’ perspective is the immediate impact of the war on her narrator, fourteen-year old Corin Davies. The year is 1967 and it’s a tough one for Cory. First came the unexpected death of her father. Now her brother Sonny, (“I loved Sonny with horse blinders on.”) is on his way to Vietnam. Her mother is preoccupied with keeping their family restaurant afloat, and Cory is beginning her first year of high school. Because the family is relatively new in this sleepy little backwater of a Southern California town of Ojala (which Ventura/Santa Barbara County readers will immediately recognize as Ojai) Cory doesn’t have lots of friends. Not much changes in a place like Ojala so the young, tall, blond, skinny, sandal wearing substitute history teacher is big news. He’s a conscientious objector who spends each lunch period demonstrating against the war in front of the school cafeteria. Cory is smitten but the School Board is getting complaints that he’s an “unhealthy influence.” In SONNY’S WAR, Hobbs provides contemporary readers an understanding of how the Vietnam War polarized the country. Through Cory’s engaging voice she gives us a sympathetic and personalized view of the war’s impact on the young men who fought in that war and on their families.  (Ages 12+, $16.00)
In Joan Bauer’s STAND TALL, Tree’s Grandpa Leo is a Vietnam veteran. His words of wisdom and fighting spirit are a great comfort to Tree, who at twelve years old is the tallest kid in the history of his school. At home, Tree towers over his college-age brothers, his father and grandfather. He’s trying to adjust to living in two houses since his parents’ recent divorce and help his grandpa who has just had part of a leg amputated. Over thirty years ago Grandpa’s problem leg “got shot up with shrapnel when he was on night patrol in the Mekong Delta” and has been nothing but trouble ever since. Grandpa is determined to get walking quickly; Mom is determined to get on with her life even as the rest of the family is struggling with her decision. Bauer creates this multilayered plot (and we’ve only given a partial scenario that includes a devastating flood, aging family dog … well, just read it) and turns out the most appealing, humorous (truly laugh out-loud) story. You just want to hug that sweet kid, Tree, (if you could reach up high enough!) and cheer for Grandpa as he walks part of the Memorial Day Parade using his artificial leg. (Ages 11+, $16.99) 

Beautiful Venice, “surely no other place on earth was more proud of its beauty,” is the setting for THE THIEF LORD, a captivating adventure by Cornelia Funke. And it is the inspiration for Mary Hoffman’s intriguing time travel fantasy, STRAVAGANZA: City of Masks

In Cornelia Funke’s THE THIEF LORD, two brothers, recently orphaned, are runaways. Prosper, who is twelve years old, has brought five-year-old Bo to Venice from Hamburg to escape an aunt who wishes to adopt only the younger child. A small gang of homeless children living in an abandoned movie theater befriends them. Their benefactor is a mysterious masked youngster named Scipio who calls himself THE THIEF LORD. His irregular visits provide them with clothing, shoes, and goods they can convert to cash for other necessities. Scipio brags of his thieving escapades and brings them precious objects they sell to a shady antique dealer. Even though Prosper is worried about their life of crime and his little brother’s growing admiration for Scipio, he is even more concerned about their Aunt Esther who believes they are in Venice and has hired a detective to find them. Funke’s plot is as thick and tasty as a rich minestrone soup. Her story has all the right ingredients for a good mystery yarn with a bit of fantasy tossed in to give it a unique flavor. The novel that won awards in Europe will delight a huge new audience in its English translation.  (Ages 11–15, $16.95)
STRAVAGANZA; City of Masks sweeps the reader through time and space, from 21st Century England to a sixteenth century city, Bellezza “floating on the water, laced with canals, and full of domes and spires.” Arianna has come with her fisherman brothers to Bellezza to cheer the ruling Duchessa’s annual ceremonial Marriage with the Sea. Her brothers don’t know that Arianna has no plan to return home with them. Although it is forbidden for anyone other than a native born Bellezzan to remain overnight on that sacred day, she plans to disguise herself as a boy and hide out in the city overnight in order to enroll in the Scuola Mandoliera. And on that same night, into this Venice-like world, a young man is “stravagated” from 21st century London and awakens in the same hiding place chosen by Arianna. In his real life he is fifteen year old Lucien, bald and weak, struggling to recover from the devastating side effects of chemotherapy. In Bellezza, Arianna renames him Luciano and becomes his guide in this strange place. Here he is healthy, with dark curls and abundant energy. When Arianna takes him to witness the Duchessa’s selection of the candidates to train as mandoliers, he is chosen by accident. But then, just as unexpectedly, he is apprenticed to the mysterious Signor Rodolfo, scientist and magician and consort of the beautiful Duchessa. Rodolfo recognizes Lucien is a “stravagante”, a wanderer between worlds. Mary Hoffman’s novel shifts between two struggles. In Lucien’s modern world, doctors are losing their fight to save Lucien’s life, and in his dream world of Bellezza, Luciano becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the Duchessa. We understand that STRAVAGANZA; City of Masks is the first novel of what promises to be an exciting trilogy. 
(Ages 12+, $16.95)

“Wow!” was the one word written on the jacket of our review copy by the first of our staff to read Nancy Farmer’s THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION. That “wow” will be echoed by every thoughtful middle-schooler who thanked us for recommending Farmer’s Newbery Honor winning The Ear, the Eye and the Arm and by every other student who is looking for the kind of gritty humor and suspenseful storytelling they loved in Louis Sachar’s Holes. Farmer takes the reader into a foreseeable future to a new country called “Opium” established one hundred years ago along the old borders between The United States and Mexico. It is a land owned and run by the drug lords where the cash crop is poppies and the workers are captured illegals. It is a time when clones are produced to insure a long life for their “parent” cells. Matt is the latest in a line of clones that belong to El Patron who is 142 years old at the beginning of the story. Except for Matt’s caretaker and a bodyguard provided by El Patron, there are few people on the family’s estate who treat Matt as human. To El Patron’s descendents and friends, the endearing child is a beast, an “it.” Farmer weaves a fascinating story filled with captivities and escapes, friendships and betrayals and the ultimate victory of love and generosity. And what propels the novel beyond its compelling drama are the underlying thought-provoking ideas and questions about the ethics of human engineering and political solutions. THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION is quite brilliant.  (Ages 11+++, $17.95)

New Nonfiction

  Biography and Memoir
Books for children don’t often celebrate famous chefs so we are delighted to discover THE ADVENTUROUS CHEF: ALEX SOYER. Ann Arnold has researched the life of this zany and talented fellow and, along with all the tidbits of his varied life, has added colorful and appealing paintings. Soyer, born in France in 1809, had begun to establish a reputation for himself before he was out of his teens. Summoned to England to cook for the aristocracy, he moved on to direct the kitchens of a London club. With the cooperation of an architect he was able to implement many of his innovative ideas about how a kitchen should be organized and equipped. Arnold paints a two-paged spread detailing the kitchen layout. In time he designed soup kitchens to feed hundreds of people in England and Ireland. In the mid-1850’s he took his skills into the battlefields to train army chefs how to cook nutritious food for the troops on improved cookstoves, saving huge amounts of dwindling firewood reserves. At the request of Florence Nightingale, he trained the hospital cooks to provide “excellent meals for the sick and wounded.” Even when he fell ill of Crimean fever he was determined to carry on. It’s really refreshing to read about the life of someone who used his unique talents to improve his world. (Ages 7–11, $17.00)
Russell Freedman’s biographies are well researched, carefully written, and filled with interesting facts. In many of his award-winning works, his focus has been American notables like Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Wright Brothers. He has now turned his attention to the ancient past, to China and the life and philosophy of CONFUCIUS; The Golden Rule. As he explains, information on Confucius and his philosophy comes from sources written in the centuries after his death. It fell to his disciples to record his wise words in what was to become a volume known as the Analects. Freedman lists a number of English translations for anyone who wishes to read further. But these 48 pages will give young readers a good start to knowing about the life, ideas and times of a man who lived over 2,500 years ago. Although Confucius hoped to influence the rulers of his time, his most ardent following came from ordinary people who were attracted to his advice for pursuit of a simple life. For a time Confucius traveled, visiting the various rival courts within his splintered country, as he tried to find a ruler willing to test his precepts of governance. But his advice threatened the status quo. Freedman relates one story where a nobleman asks how to control thievery. Confucius was said to reply, “If you yourself, sir, were not on the take, no one would be trying to steal from you.” Freedman also notes in an afterword, that in 2000, he traveled to China to the city where Confucius was born to participate in the 2551st celebration of his birth. In attendance, as honored guests, were his descendents of the 77th, 78th and 79th generations including two half-British school children, ages 7 and 12.  (Ages 9+, $15.95)
Among the fifty-six, there were bankers, farmers, shipbuilders and printers. Some held slaves, and some would not. Some were in their early thirties and many were two decades older. But they each promised “that they would stake their ‘Lives … Fortunes, and … Sacred Honor’ on their country’s cause.” These were the men who risked their lives to sign the Declaration of Independence. Now we can read about each of them in Dennis Brindell Fradin’s THE SIGNERS; The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence. Fradin has divided the book into thirteen sections, highlighting the special features, history and map of each colony, some quick facts about each signer from that colony like birthdate, wives’ names, number of children, followed by paragraphs about their lives and significant contributions. With over 150 pages, this handsome volume, with Michael McCurdy’s scratchboard illustrations, is a fine tribute to the “first heroes of our nation.” 
(Ages 9+, $22.95) 
WE ARE THE MANY; A Picture Book of American Indians by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu presents a significant moment in the lives of sixteen American Indians. The first vignette highlights Tisquantum (Squanto) (ca.1589-1622) who showed the Pilgrims how to weave and use fishnets and how to use some of their catch to “enrich the soil for growing corn.” The last two are contemporary figures, Wilma Mankiller (b.1949), who has worked to improve the living conditions of her Cherokee Nation and Sherman Alexie (b.1966) of the Spokane–Coeur D’Alene tribe whose poetry, novels, stories and screenplays continue to celebrate the life of his people. The illustrators, in their afterword, explain how they attempted as closely as possible to capture the essence of each subject within an accurate setting. Squanto and Sacajawea are found in most American History texts but many names in these short introductions may have previously been unknown to young readers. WE ARE THE MANY provides an attractive starting place to learn more about their accomplishments. 
(Ages 5–10, $15.95)
We were fascinated and inspired by Mawi Asgedom’s memoir, OF BEETLES AND ANGELS; A Boy’s Remarkable Journey From a Refugee Camp to Harvard. Mawi’s mother bid farewell to her home in Ethiopia and along with her two sons, ages five and three, and infant daughter began a long journey to find his father and safety in a Sudanese refugee camp. They remained in the camp from 1980 until 1983 until they arrived in white, middle class Wheaton, Illinois, under local church sponsorship. The life of a refugee in America has never been easy. Africans, coming from great deprivation and an enormous cultural divide must face almost insurmountable obstacles to success. Mawi credits “angels,” people who reached out at crucial times to give an extra boost to their own determination to succeed. In his commencement address at his graduation from Harvard in 1999, he reminded his fellow graduates that “today’s small acts of kindness can become tomorrow’s whirlwind of human progress.” 
(Ages 10–100, $9.95 paperback)

Books for the Holidays

Our choice for this year’s family Christmas read-aloud is the late Pearl Buck’s CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE MORNING, written almost fifty years ago, but as fresh as newly fallen snow with Mark Buehner’s handsome paintings. Her story is about a man, who recalls a Christmas fifty years earlier, when as a youngster of fifteen, he recognized for the first time, that his father loved him. They were a hard-working farm family, one with little time for expressing endearments and little money for frivolous gifts. That Christmas he decided to surprise his father with a gift unlike any he had ever received. The boy woke far earlier than the usual four a.m. milking time. In the early hours of Christmas morning, for the first time in his life, he did all the chores alone. When his father came to wake him, he was back in his bed, pretending sleep. Some minutes later, his father returned and the two embraced. Every Christmas morning from then on, his father’s words, “The best Christmas gift I ever had”… reminded him of that first Christmas he had given “his first gift of true love.” (All ages, $16.99)
Almost twenty years ago we met that really cute little mouse who was trying to keep the “big hungry bear” from eating his “red, ripe strawberry”. In the intervening years, its creators, Don and Audrey Wood have given the world a marvelous array of classics like The Napping House and King Bidgood’s In the Bathtub. We’re happy to welcome back our old friend mouse for a happy reprise in MERRY CHRISTMAS, BIG HUNGRY BEAR! This time mouse’s good-hearted generosity wins out as he hauls a cache of gifts and decorations to the bear cave. As in the first book, young readers can imagine their own versions of bear who never appears in the artwork. And speaking of artwork, we also welcome back Don Wood’s use of the same paper and paints he used for the original little mouse book.  (Ages 2–7, $15.95) 
ONE CANDLE is placed alongside the traditional eight-branched menorah every year in one family’s Hanukkah celebration. This is no ordinary wax candle, but one in which a cotton wick is dipped into oil held within a hollowed potato. Each year Grandma and Great-Aunt Rose wait until the lovely meal of latkes, brisket and apple sauce is enjoyed. Then Grandma carves the potato to form a well for the oil. As she carves she tells the family of the first candle she had made in this way; of the margarine and potato smuggled from the kitchen in the Buchenwald Prison Camp where the sisters were forced to cook for the officers. “All that wonderful food. None of it for us.” But one potato hidden in their skirts in order to celebrate Hanukkah became a symbol to remain “strong in the bad time” and remember “it in the good…” ONE CANDLE made from a potato to remember those who didn’t survive the concentration camps and to be grateful for lives spared to share the stories and to raise a glass to life, “L’chayim.” Eve Bunting’s sensitive story of courage and hope is beautifully illustrated by K. Wendy Popp’s pastels. As the words recall the past and celebrate the present, her colors mirror the shifts from hardships to the present where families feel safe enough to place a menorah in a window for all to see.  (Ages 5–9, $15.99)
In families with young children, eight nights of Hanukkah mean eight nights of gift exchanges. At least one of these nights should be a night of books — gifts that light a child’s imagination far beyond the eight nights of celebration. Jewish folklorist Howard Schwartz’s INVISIBLE KINGDOMS; Jewish Tales of Angels, Spirits, and Demons reaches into centuries past and geographies far flung to share a taste of folklore that intrigued and captivated earlier generations. Artist Stephen Fieser provides the paintings for these nine magical tales. (Ages 8+, $16.99)


Jane Breskin Zalben in her introduction to LET THERE BE LIGHT; Poems and Prayers for Repairing the World, presents the idea that every act of kindness and compassion by one person to another, no matter how small, becomes part of the process of repairing the world. In reading through this lovely collection that draws from many faiths and cultures, and looking at the exquisite and varied artwork she has created for each selection, one understands that this volume is her own effort in furthering the work. On finishing our first reading of it, we were moved to say, “Amen.”  (All ages, $15.99)
Where else would you find a “beautiful rhinocerose,” “hippopotamushrooms,” or “the detested radishark”? Come along with us to Scranimal Island “where magical creatures are found.” You’ll discover a tantalateasing awry of SCRANIMALS created by the brilliant word magician, Jack Prelutsky. His poetry takes you on an inventive adventure of wordplay with equally innovative visual effects provided by talented Caldecott Honor artist Peter Sis. These are “make you read–aloud” poems as the words slither and slide with vocabulary verdant and abundant. SCRANIMALS marks at least the fourth time this pair have worked together. Beware the creative power of “Jackpeter Prelutsis.” (Sorry, this book just makes you say things and see things you might never have before.)  (Ages 4++, $16.99)

This year, two California authors have depicted the middle school years in verse in two distinct voices.

For the first year of middle school angst SWIMMING UPSTREAM; MIDDLE SCHOOL POEMS, by Kristine O’Connell George, starts with the first day “not knowing where I’m going” and ends on the last day “shining from the inside out”. This luminous voice is a real winner, with the added benefit of the rich variety of poetic forms used to shape the year.  (Ages 9–12, $14.00)
A great companion piece is GIRL COMING IN FOR A LANDING, written by April Halprin Wayland as a novel in poems. The title character is just starting the second year of middle school and more than 100 poems take the reader through friendships, romance, personal growth and challenges. Illustrator Elaine Clayton, has created a scrapbook collage in tones from gray to black. The After Words section encourages new writers to pursue their dreams, whether of publication or journaling for personal enjoyment. (Ages 11 & up, $14.95)

Newsletter text Copyright 2002 © by Jody Shapiro.  All Rights Reserved.