Summer 2002 Shoppe Talk San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe

It occurred to us when we began writing this issue, how so many of the best books defy “age” distinction. We place suggested ages at the end of a review as a guideline and to reflect the publisher’s intended audience. But honestly, when we are awed by the creativity of Chris Raschka, or delighted by a Sharon Creech novel, or moved by the anguished reflections of Naomi Shihab Nye on the events of September 11, we understand that good children’s books reach far beyond the arbitrary bracketed age designations. We feel privileged to offer you a collection of books that link you with the children in your lives.

Picture Book Adventures & Colorful New Friends

   Butterflies, Fourth of July and  … Chinese Cuisine?

Until we read Sneed Collard’s BUTTERFLY COUNT we had no idea that the Fourth of July was the official day for the North American Butterfly Count. In 2000, there were counts held in 44 states, Canada and Mexico and over 300,000 were counted, representing hundreds of different species. Collard’s story is about one girl’s participation in the count that takes place on land that was once part of her great-great-grandmother’s farm and is a dedicated prairie restoration project. She is hoping to find a special butterfly, the regal fritillary, that once thrived in the area but is now rare. Paul Kratter’s prairie scenes make you wish you could be there with her. (Ages 4-9, $16.95) 

Janet Wong delights us with another vignette from her American childhood growing up with parents born in Asia. It’s the Fourth of July and their store is open just like it is every day, all year long, except for Christmas. In the street she can hear the drums of a passing parade, upstairs a neighbor is cooking apple pie, but in the kitchen of her parents’ shop they are cooking Chinese food. She can’t convince them that “Americans do not eat Chinese food on the Fourth of July.” People stop in for matches, soft drinks and chips. But they ignore the chow mein and the sweet and sour pork so the family dines on the unsold food. But guess what? At five o’clock customers come in and they want Chinese food. And they sell lots of it until it’s dark outside and time to climb up on the roof and watch the fireworks. (“Fireworks are Chinese” her father reminds her.) And do you know what they eat …  APPLE PIE 4TH OF JULY. (Ages 4-8, $16.00) 
Now for the second course, visit BIG JIMMY’S KUM KAU CHINESE TAKE OUT. Author/illustrator Ted Lewin takes us behind the scenes, into the kitchen of a family’s take out restaurant. On Saturdays the owner’s young son helps out at the restaurant “just for fun.” He assures us that he is not allowed to go into the kitchen … too dangerous with all those pots boiling and knives chopping, but he can tell us all the things that are going on back there with eight cooks and Big Jimmy, his father, supervising. His job is out front, putting all the extras in the bagged orders, like soy sauce and fortune cookies. Mom and Aunty are at the phone and cash register taking orders and ringing them up. At the close of a busy Saturday he has his favorite food for dinner … PIZZA. Because of Lewin’s lively paintings taken from photos shot on location at the real Kum Kau restaurant in Brooklyn, the book will be a terrific asset in a classroom. Even the end papers display dishes laden with delicious choices from the menu, thoughtfully labeled. (Ages 5-9, $16.95)

   Playing with Art & Music 

Two author/illustrators have taken up the challenge 
of translating the world of music into visual 
experiences to give young readers a way of 
approaching sophisticated sound.

To be perfectly upfront about Chris Raschka’s JOHN COLTRANE’S GIANT STEPS we are not sure whom this book is really for … only we love it. So maybe it’s the way he gets you to understand Coltrane’s music by using a cast of characters he’s created to explain sound, technique, and tempo. There are raindrops, a box, a kitten and a snowflake. They move across the pages in the way Coltrane’s music moves across your mind. Raindrops begin with a nice medium tempo and then Box, the bass sound, is overlaid. Snowflake appears, representing the piano — blending the harmony. Then enters Cat, on top of it all, the melody. The players get out of control (Raschka’s art gets scribbly, the elements he combines become less distinct, more mud-dled) and the unseen conductor stops them, asks them to think about how Coltrane played his saxophone — “strong and vivid” “relaxed … as if he made time bigger,” color rich “not muddy.” They begin again. Bravo! It works. We understand more and we appreciate more, and with Raschka’s help we can enrich the lives of our kids more. It’s brilliant. So tell us who else on your list is going to get a copy besides you? And bring out your old Coltrane albums. 
(Ageless, $17.00) 
Mordicai Gerstein fills his pages with the words that sounds make … the ribits and bongs and tick tocks and peeps as he tells us WHAT CHARLIE HEARD. Because Charlie’s father was a music teacher and leader of the town’s brass band, he was exposed early to making music. He played baseball and he played drums and trumpet and piano and on Sundays he was the church organist … and that was all before he went on to college. There he studied music but after college he became a successful insurance executive and wrote music in his spare moments — like on the train to and from work. Not many people liked his music because they didn’t understand that he was trying to express through his music all the sounds he could hear in the universe. He would send out his music to orchestras but no one would play it. Finally, in 1951, when Charles Ives was seventy-seven years old, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic broadcast his Second Symphony from Carnegie Hall. That’s an amazing story to tell kids in this hurry up-quick fix in a half-hour sitcom world. Parents and teachers have to be grateful for folks like Gerstein who create such stunning books to help you expand your kids’ universe. Now all you need are a few recordings … he has some suggestions at the back of the book. (Ages 4++, $17.00)
And two new picture book titles to carry us away into the world of art.
Artist George Rodrigue provides another visit into the creative mind with WHY IS BLUE DOG BLUE?; A Tale of Colors. He takes the reader on a visual tour of the colorful possibilities for Blue Dog, conveying the connection between color and experience. He asks what color he might paint Blue Dog if he is thinking about eating a hot dog (mustard) or baking a pie (cherry) or if he fell into a swamp (moss green). The clever text by Bruce Goldstone and page design bring a humor and liveliness to this elegant concept book. 
(Age 2+++, $16.95) 
YOU CAN’T TAKE A BALLOON INTO THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS so only the kids and Grandpa go inside while Grandma hopes for a quiet rest outside with the balloon safely tied to her wrist. No sooner does she get on the right pair of glasses and start reading the guidebook than the green balloon takes off. Her desperate pursuit takes her on a wild, grand tour of downtown Boston’s historical and significant sites. As Grandma chases the errant flyaway, an entire entourage builds behind her. The parade ends up at Fenway Park where the balloon string is accidentally attached to the baseball during the pitcher’s wind-up. It is belted out of the stadium and lands …  yup …  back at the museum. Such a tour de force and there’s more. While we see museum goers inside visiting various paintings and sculptures, life follows art on the outside because the amazing sister team of Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser draw parallel scenes set in contemporary Boston. So as the kids view Rembrandt’s self portrait “Artist in His Studio” c. 1627-1628, the balloon sails by an artist contemplating his painting in the Boston Public Garden (see McCloskey’s classic, Make Way for Ducklings). And if all that isn’t enough, a list at the back locates sketches of famous Bostonians, inviting a re-visit into the pictures to find them, AND a map inside the front cover provides a bird’s eye view of the balloon’s journey above the streets of Boston. This wordless picture book is as full of life and information as the author/illustrator’s previous collaborations on the National Gallery and The Metropolitan Museum. (Ages 3+++, $17.99)

More New Picture Books
Just in case you didn’t know THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BABIES & COOKIES, Mary Hanson’s young narrator will fill you in. Her mother is mixed up when she says things like, “Babies are as sweet as cookies.” She has discovered, however, “you cannot dip them in milk,” And even though their cheeks might be “as rosy as apples,” they’re not something you can present to your teacher. Debbie Tilley’s humorous watercolors reflect this refreshing look at an older child’s adjustments to a new brother or sister in her life. 
(Ages 4-8, $16.00) 
Nobody messes with Mean Jean THE RECESS QUEEN. She rules! Until she swings, kicks and bounces, no one swings, kicks or bounces. She imposes a tyranny at recess. The status quo is teeter-tottered when teeny, tiny Katie Sue comes to school. She challenges the playground dynamic and does something NO ONE has dared to do before — she invites Mean Jean to play with her. And how they twirl that jump rope around, you can hardly believe your eyes! Alexis O’Neill’s zingity text that begs to be read out loud is teamed with zany acrylics with collage by Laura Huliska-Beith. (Ages 5-9, $15.95)
In a lively debut picture book, Suzanne Chitwood Tanner has taken torn-paper collage on a rollicking good day in the country with WAKE UP, BIG BARN! The inventive use of paper torn from catalogs and magazines vividly illustrates a day in the barnyard. The playful art is perfectly paired with rhymes of rock hopping frogs, muddy piggies, waggling weather vanes, crows in the corn, and owls in the night shift at days end. Youngsters will enjoy guessing what word will complete the rhyme on the next page and all ages will enjoy picking out the details of the textures used in the collages. This is a book that will be read with delight and will probably spur some readers to try collage projects on their own.
(Ages 3-6, $15.95) 

More Picture Books
One day on the farm Duck has the wild idea to ride a bike. As he wobbles through the barnyard, each of the animals has its own thoughts about the exploits of DUCK ON A BIKE. When nine children on bikes ride into the yard, they don’t notice Duck before they go into the farmhouse. In a fantastic two page wordless spread, the animals all get the same wild idea and soon they are riding bikes too. David Shannon’s illustrations are vibrant and humorous, capturing the delight of the animals’ cycling adventure and the last page shows that Duck might indeed have another exciting idea soon.  (Ages 3-6, $15.95)
Many are the fans of artist/author David McPhail’s young Edward, a boy who finds his adventures in books. The newest adventure, EDWARD IN THE JUNGLE, starts in Edward’s back yard with toy animals and a Tarzan book. He’s rescued from a hungry crocodile by Tarzan and taught how to summon the animals with a mighty jungle yell. Edward rides a startled antelope and saves the crocodile from two hunters. The grateful crocodile returns the favor by helping Edward cross the river to home. The final Tarzan yell comes from Edward’s father calling him to dinner. 
(Ages 3-7, $15.95)
   There’s No Place Like Home

Sometimes we need a retreat from the clamor and demands of our world, and it is good to remember that you can search out A QUIET PLACE. Find a place where a snowdrift can become a polar bear’s lair or an early morning walk on a beach could turn you into an explorer discovering new lands. Author Douglas Wood, whose Old Turtle was a major best seller ten years ago, offers many starting points for launching imagined scenarios, while illustrator Dan Andreason’s oil paintings evoke the images of favorite classics and modern adventurers. So take a break, turn off the TV or computer and start the search for your quiet place. Gently stated, “the very best quiet place of all … is the one inside of you.”  (Ages 3-7, $16.95)

The narrative for HENRY DAVID’S HOUSE is taken from the journal pages Henry David Thoreau wrote each day at Walden Pond. Steven Schnur has edited a selection of those entries to form a story of the building of Thoreau’s cabin. Thoreau began near the end of March when there was yet ice in the pond. By the middle of April he had felled the trees, formed studs and rafters and bought an old shanty to recycle the boards. With the help of some of his acquaintances he was able to frame the house by early May and was moved into it by the Fourth of July. It was small, one room only, equipped simply for a man who wished for the solitude of life in the woods. He was a man who believed “we can never have enough of Nature.” As Schnur points out in his notes, “Thoreau’s cabin lingers in the American consciousness as an image of perfection, the ideal home — modest, spare … a place in harmony with nature.” Peter Fiore’s watercolor and oil paintings reflect the beauty of that idealized time and place.  (Ages 5++, $16.95)
Certainly Wendy Anderson Halperin’s deliciously detailed watercolors give readers a full appreciation of Cynthia Rylant’s testimonial to “Wonderful things about a house.” LET’S GO HOME takes readers on a virtual home tour of a lovely, old fashioned homey place where a front porch is the intersection between the things that live out of doors and those who live within. First stop in the house is a living room, a friendly room made for comfort and for welcoming guests and for quiet evening sits. But almost everyone says that the kitchen is their favorite place especially when cookies are being made. Rylant thinks “bathrooms can be the most interesting room in a house.” But bedrooms are maybe the most important for quiet times, dreaming times. Her house also has an attic. This may be an unfamiliar space to many young readers but they have heard of attics — and this is not a spooky one. It is as inviting as the rest of the house that welcomes you to revisit often and linger as long as you can.  (Ages 5++, $16.00)
Imagine the excitement involved in ordering A HOUSE IN THE MAIL, preparing the foundation, waiting for the train to deliver the house kit, and then putting the house together with a barrel of nails and months of hard work. It is 1927 and Emily’s family has outgrown her grandparents’ house and a new baby is on the way. Rosemary and Tom Wells wrote this story based on their fascination with kit built catalog homes, many of which still grace older neighborhoods across the country. Told in a scrapbook format, Dan Andreasen illustrates Emily’s view of this exciting year. His art depicts photos, line drawings, blueprints, catalog clippings and Emily’s treasures. As the seasons change and the house grows, Emily looks forward to the indoor plumbing and other modern additions, while her young brother Homer hangs on to the memories of the way things were. After the birth of the baby Joseph in November, Emily has her own room with a secret hidden compartment in the floor. And while treasuring their new home, Homer and Emily can be found in a treehouse constructed by Homer from leftover building materials as they remember “how it was in the old days”.  (Ages 6 & up, $16.99)

Beginning to Read

Sometime about age seven or so, along with the development of reading independence, comes the onset of sense of humor. You know, all those great school jokes that get repeated in every generation. Remember the humorous skit about THE VIPER? Vell Lisa Thiesing did and she turned it into an amusing easy reader with appropriate vocabulary and scads of colorful illustrations. (Ages 4-8, $13.99)
One to Read Aloud 
Susan Boase’s first book is hard to categorize. It’s really long for a picture book, too short for a novel, a little more difficult text than beginning to read. But it is such a nice story that we didn’t want to pass it by even if we couldn’t quite fit it into any arbitrary pigeon hole. LUCKY BOY belongs to a family far too busy to own a dog. Outside in a yard all day, mostly ignored, he is a lonely fellow. One day he digs under the fence and is discovered by the elderly man next door who is also lonely, missing his wife who has recently died. The two are perfect companions, lucky to have found each other. Boase’s sketches in sepia pencil are as soft and as cozy as the story.
(Ages 5+, $15.00) 

Fiction for Middle Graders & Up

Magic runs in Lulu’s family. In every generation someone has the gift. Uncle Jerry, who performs as Jerry the Great, invites a different niece or nephew along to tour with him each summer to discover which of them has inherited the gift. And this summer it’s twelve-year-old Lulu’s turn, although some of her unkinder cousins are wondering why Uncle Jerry should even bother to try her out. After all, she’s the adopted one, the tiny girl Uncle Jerry discovered, apparently abandoned, backstage during a performance in Atlantic City. To begin the job as Uncle Jerry’s assistant she chooses a shiny black top hat just like her Uncle’s from the old costume trunk. Somehow LULU’S HAT gives her the magic touch, and before she knows it, she is learning to perform many of Uncle Jerry’s tricks — not always in quite as tidy a fashion but still there seems to be magic at work. At one performance a dog appears out of the hat and stays as part of the company. One day it disappears into the hat and doesn’t reappear. Lucy, concerned, sends herself into the hat to find it. The world Lucy enters is Deep Magic Space where she encounters someone who holds the key to her past. Susan Meddaugh, whom we know and love from her humorous Martha the Talking Dog picture books, concocted the words and art (black and white ink paintings) for this romp. It’s just the right length for a newly launched chapter book reader or a good family read-aloud.      (Ages 5-9, $15.00)

More fiction for Middle Graders & Up

If you’re hankering for a heartwarming “feel good” story, one you could read aloud that would not provoke nightmares and high anxiety, but would be still slightly “edgy” … with enough mystery to keep you guessing and entertained, then visit RUBY HOLLER, Sharon Creech’s latest novel. Twins Dallas and Florida are thirteen-year-old orphans, the oldest inmates of The Boxton Creek Home for Children. A series of unfortunate placements have led them to doubt the existence of loving, reliable grownups. That is until they land in RUBY HOLLER, home of the eccentric and infinitely kind Tiller and Sairy Morey. Tiller and Sairy “hire” the twins for the summer with the idea that each will take one of the twins on the trip of their dreams … Tiller wants to explore creeks and rivers and Sairy wants to find “the red-tailed rocking bird” on a tiny and very remote island. The kids think they are a couple of “old lunatics” but go along with the plans until they can make their own escape. This is a story and plot that in less capable hands than Creech’s would have fallen into the slops of “high camp melodrama.” Instead we get a delightful, almost nutritious snack, kind of like trail mix. Definitely will keep you going.
(Ages 8-12, $16.95) 
Two new books just went on the stack of yummy summer reading, THE GREAT GHOST RESCUE and JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA. They are both by Eva Ibbotson who delighted us with The Secret of Platform 13 and Which Witch? What is really interesting is how the “Harry Potter” phenomenon has revived interest in worthy books that enjoyed quiet successes overseas but never quite made it into the American scene until now. For example, THE GREAT GHOST RESCUE, originally published in 1975, is being reissued this August with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes (whose black and white drawings also grace JOURNEY… ). The story concerns a family of ghosts who are forced to leave old haunts because of all the castle and building modernization going on in England. They are lucky to land at Norton Castle School and in the hands of a plucky kid named Rick Henderson who is willing to travel with them to London to present their case to the Prime Minister. What they want is a ghost sanctuary where they can be left alone to do whatever it is they mostly do. (Ages 8-13, $15.99)
JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA is quite unlike anything else we have read by the Eva Ibbotson whose subjects mostly feature witches and ghosts. At the start of this marvelous yarn, set in 1910, young Maia, recently orphaned, has just been informed by the solicitor in England that they have located a second cousin living in Brazil with his family on a rubber plantation. She is to go there accompanied by the newly hired governess, Miss Minton. Miss Minton seems a bit severe but Maia, mostly optimistic and thrilled to be heading to the Amazon, is unphased by this. On shipboard out of Lisbon, she makes friends with a boy her age who is part of an acting troupe headed for various gigs in Brazil where he stars as Little Lord Fauntleroy. One of their performances will be staged in the town nearest to where Maia’s cousins live and Maia is looking forward to seeing him again when he gets there. When she arrives at her relatives’ she discovers that her cousin’s twin daughters are like Cinderella’s step-sisters, his wife bizarre and her cousin remote. Hiding somewhere in the jungle is another orphan, a young man named Finn Taverner, who is the object of a search by a pair of detectives sent by the boy’s grandfather to bring him back to the family’s estate in England. Finn doesn’t want any part of the life his own father had fled many years earlier. This is the set-up of a richly conceived adventure story as the two orphans are bound to meet, and after many twists and turns of the plot, all will work out happily ever after. It is a delightful JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA
(Ages 10+, $17.99) 
Thirteen-year-old Maria Francisca, called “Cesa” is the “princesa” of her family, the only DAUGHTER OF MADRUGADA and the oldest of the six de Haro children. Their home in 1846 is the sprawling Rancho del Valle de la Madrugada in Alta California. She loves riding within the vast landscape of her family’s holdings that border the Sacramento River. She chafes at the idea of becoming a bride at fifteen, stuck with the routines of cooking and cleaning. “I am a daughter of the land! … My life will always be outdoors,” she tells her Tia, her stern aunt who has the difficult task of looking after this wild, motherless girl and her five younger brothers. Cesa witnesses the end of the Rancho era and the coming of the American settlers who pour into California searching for gold and land. The patriarchs of the ranchos, like Don Blas de Haro, Cesa’s grandfather, cannot defend their vast holdings against the squatters who ignore the geographic boundaries of the old Spanish land grants. Managing the huge properties becomes impossible with the shortage of laborers, mostly Indian “vaqueros,” who have run off to try their luck in the gold fields. At the conclusion of the story, Cesa must accompany her grieving grandfather back to Mexico City where she will be enrolled in the convent school of her Tia’s childhood. But still Cesa remains spirited and optimistic, “A California woman. Like the land I love, I, too, will thrive.” Novelist Frances M. Wood, herself a woman of California, gives readers a sense of the Rancho period with its vast and pristine landscapes and a hospitality and lifestyle to match. (Ages 10+, $15.95)
Jean Craighead George’s name on a book’s cover promises thrilling adventure within its pages. Long before Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, George was writing about survival in the wilderness based on her own varied life experiences and environmental studies. She has taken her readers into a multitude of natural settings from the woods of Pennsylvania and New York to Alaskan Tundra, the Florida Everglades and into forests of the Giant Sequoias. Her latest, TREE CASTLE ISLAND is set in the Okenfenokee Swamp. Jack, visiting his Uncle Hamp on the St. Mary’s River in Georgia during the summer while his parents are in Europe, is eager to try out a canoe he has made himself. Its maiden voyage will be the Okefenokee Swamp, “a bog more than half the size of Rhode Island.” His canoe passes the stability test, but a tough alligator proves to be more of a challenge. His mother has always told him of the strange enchanting quality of the swamp, so when he discovers another boy who looks like his mirror image he thinks he must be hallucinating. The book is as chock full of information as a naturalist’s Okefenokee survival guide and delivers a credibly entertaining story besides.
(Ages 12+, $15.95) 
The thirteenth century in China is a time of change. The Mongol invaders have taken control and even the Europeans are beginning to discover the wonders of Chinese civilization. Author Geraldine McCaughrean says she discovered in Marco Polo’s book of memoirs of his journey, a naval practice of testing the wind. From this idea she has spun a story … compelling and fascinating. Twelve-year-old Haoyou becomes THE KITE RIDER by a cruel twist of fate. His own father has died up in the sky tied to a ship’s hatch cover when he was sent to test the wind for signs of a prosperous sailing. The despicable first mate wishes to marry Haoyou’s grieving mother and does great mischief to accomplish it. But he doesn’t reckon with Haoyou and his cousin, the remarkable Mipeng, who shanghai the man before the wedding. Then Haoyou volunteers to test the wind to get the ship away from port before the first mate awakens to discover he is on board. Haoyou’s feat so impresses the master of a traveling circus that he, along with his cousin Mipeng, are taken on as performers. McCaughrean carries us along on a rich journey filled with humor and derring-do as she delivers Haoyou into and out of the hands of the great Kublai Khan, and finally lands him, oh so deftly, into a most satisfactory resolution.
(Ages 12+, $15.95)

Fiction for Middle Graders & Up

The Iliad and its rich setting of ancient Greece and Troy are the bedrock of Caroline Cooney’s romantic novel GODDESS OF YESTERDAY. At six-years-old, Anaxandra is taken from her parents’ rough island home, “just a rocky place in the (Aegean) sea,” to be raised as a companion to Princess Calisto on the rich island of Siphnos. Six years later she is the sole survivor when that island is sacked by pirates. Spartan King Menelaus’s fleet discovers the devastation and rescues her, believing she is the Princess Calisto. But Menelaus’s wife Helen, half-mortal, half-goddess, refuses to believe the red-haired Anaxandra is truly the Princess of Siphnos. Nevertheless Menalaus is fond of her and she becomes a close companion to their daughter, Princess Hermione. Anaxandra knows she must avoid Helen who is as vain and cruel as she is beautiful. Once again fate intervenes when Helen sails off with Paris, Prince of Troy, forcing two of her children, Hermione and her youngest son, the infant Pleisthenes to accompany her on the perilous voyage. Anaxandra is sent in Hermione’s place to protect the young prince from treacherous Paris. Her courage and perhaps the divine intervention of her GODDESS OF YESTERDAY make her a heroine worthy of the bigger drama of the Trojan War. Cooney has created a story that should spark further interest in the mythology of Ancient Greece and the tales of the Trojan War. (Ages 12+, $15.95)
Once in a while we read a book that moves us to tears. We mean gushing, running down your cheeks in rivers, hanky soaking tears. Margaret Bechard’s HANGING ON TO MAX sure did that to us. Sam is the custodial parent of a baby boy. They are living with Sam’s father who has offered financial support only until Sam completes his senior year at an alternative high school. Then the plan is that Sam will go to work, send little Max to daycare, and ultimately they will move into their own apartment. It’s a formidable challenge for Sam to keep up with his school work while trying hard to be a responsible, loving father. He thinks it’s really crazy when his high school counselor suggests he take the SAT even though college is no longer an option. Bechard builds Sam’s story so that the reader begins to understand the reality of Sam’s situation. She never glamorizes or preaches but tells the story of one kid’s dilemma and how he works out his choices and priorities. She does it with humor and grace. Sam seems intensely real. We know sons like him, kids know other kids like him, they could be him. That’s why we end up so emotionally tied to the story. (Ages 12++, $15.95) 
Lucy Otswego is well known in Sitka. She lives with her father, the town drunk. Her mother abandoned them both when Lucy was seven. She’s only fifteen but could pass as an adult because she is tall — so tall everyone in high school calls her LUCY THE GIANT. She’s a good student and a really nice kid and mostly ignores the teasing that comes from her classmates because of her size. One day a stray dog shows up at her house and Lucy adopts her. But then she realizes the dog is ill and before the vet can treat her, she dies, leaving Lucy heartbroken. In despair she ends up at the airport and impulsively seizes an opportunity to join up with a workforce heading up to Kodiak to the canning factories. Once there she lands a job on a crabbing boat in the Bering Sea. The rest of the crew have no idea she is underage and, because of her size, she is strong and catches on quickly to the shipboard routine, making friends with several of the other crew members who take her under their wing. In between crab seasons, during the several week break, she finds a room in the house of a retired captain. But the good life doesn’t last when someone from her home town recognizes her. She has to return to Sitka and school and wait for the time when she can determine life on her own terms. This is a strong first novel by Los Angeles writer, Sherri L. Smith(Ages 12+, $15.95) 

Poetry for All Ages

One of the most amazing things about poetry is how, with just a few words, it tweaks our brains, polishes our perceptions and re-focuses our eyes and our hearts.
The cover of the book says EMILY DICKINSON’S LETTERS TO THE WORLD. Only by turning it over do we see the words, “Story and pictures by Jean Winter.” It is the sort of modesty Dickinson would understand for it was not until her death that her sister Lavinia discovered 1,775 poems, “her LETTERS TO THE WORLD.” Winter has selected twenty-one of these and set them into a palette of colors softer than primary but as vibrant as the poems … shades of green, blue and mauve that paint the world with the noise level turned down. We are delighted by Emily at sea in her white dressing gown, kept afloat by the open pages of a book. That painting accompanies the poem: 
“There is no Frigate like a Book 
To Take us Lands away 
Nor any Coursers like a Page 
Of Prancing Poetry.”
Winter’s book offers a lovely introduction to Dickinson and her poetry.  (Ages 7+++, $16.00)
   A Nod to Beginning Readers & A Little Math Practice
Marilyn Singer’s FOOTPRINTS ON THE ROOF: Poems about the Earth turns us into “a quiet giant” treading softly over the “mazy metropolises under the earth.” Are islands merely “the earth playing peek-a-boo with the sea”? The poet thinks perhaps there is a more dangerous game afloat. Singer writes of mud and deserts, fens and caves. After reading the nineteen poems, the earth looks different — perhaps we are the astronaut in space “with the world dangling below … like a yo-yo from a giant’s hand.” This collection is illustrated with Meilo So’s delicate brushwork in black and white. (Ages 5+, $14.95) 
When we met Little Dog in Kristine O’Connell George’s first tribute to him, we were smitten and we saw how beginning readers would feel terribly proud of themselves to be able to read through a whole book, poem by poem, learning all about Little Dog’s endearing ways. In this second collection, LITTLE DOG AND DUNCAN, a visitor comes to stay for a while. Little Dog has to share his water, food and bed but outsmarts his visitor by hiding his toys in a place the bigger dog can’t reach. When “Duncan droops and mopes,” “ Little Dog sits close.” He’s got a pal to play with in the mud, and to roll with in the grass, and to stand watch with at the window. June Otani’s watercolors are in perfect tandem with George’s poems. They both capture the appealing qualities that remind us why we love our dogs.  (Ages 4-8, $12.00)
Arithmetic plus literacy add up to one good ARITHME-TICKLE when J. Patrick Lewis and Frank Remkiewicz are devising the combination of text and art. Lewis supplies the tricky rhyming story problems like “The Tortoise and the Hare”:
“Thomas Tortoise crawls 1 mile a day.
Jane Hare can run 1 mile an hour.
How much faster is Jane Hare if
She’s using all her jet hare-power?”
If you’re stumped, the answer is revealed in a mirror. On some of the problems Remkiewicz’s illustrations help guide the reader to the correct solutions. The dozen and a half (how many is that?) problems vary in difficulty and math skill.
(Ages precocious to 10, $16.00) 
A Special Gift To Help Us See Another World

The quiet anguish of Naomi Shihab Nye spilled from her heart into ours. She is a gifted poet and writer with a shared heritage — a daughter of a German-American mother and a Palestinian father who values the beauty of both cultures. She offers us her poetry as an impeccable hostess might serve her honored guest only the finest, ripest fruit of the fig tree. Savor the words and honor the gift that awakens understanding of the desert life of her father’s people. 19 VARIETIES OF GAZELLE is her attempt to bring some glimmer of light to the terrible, “huge shadow … cast across the lives of so many innocent people and an ancient culture’s pride.” (Ages 11+, $16.95)

More Poetry
Dust off the dictionaries and prepare for some mental gymnastics as you enter into the off-beat world of F*E*G RIDICULOUS (STUPID) POEMS FOR INTELLIGENT CHILDREN. With examples ranging from haiku, spoonerisms and sight gags to sonnets featuring candy bars, Robin Hirsch, with help from his two young sons, has fashioned a book of poetry certain to dazzle fans of wordplay and entice the neophyte to join the fun. Illustrating his first children’s book, the artist known as Ha plays with graphics in a way that has the words running right off the page. Start with the introductions, peruse the footnotes and enjoy the floss and gloss of the glossary, but don’t stop there — use this book as a springboard to dive into the fun of poetry as you create your own variations. 
(Ages 6 & up, $15.95) 
Doug Florian’s twenty-eight rhymes and full-color art make us all celebrate this season with SUMMERSAULTS. Playful language, saucy ideas, possibilities … like a four-part reading of “Fireflies” for a campfire skit. Or read “What I Love About Summer” and “What I Hate About Summer,” and then make lists of your own. Hey Doug, when summer perspires us, you inspires us!  (Ages 4++, $15.95)


For kids who would prefer reading about real people doing interesting things, THE SKY’S THE LIMIT; Stories of Discovery by Women and Girls is an appealing choice. Catherine Thimmesh, in her introduction, talks about the place of curiosity in the process of discovery. She says that Marie Curie is undoubtedly the most well known woman scientist, but that there are so many more who have made a significant impact with their work. She features eight women whose fields range from archeology (Mary Leakey, Denise Schmandt-Besserat, Sue Hendrickson) and anthropology (Jane Goodall) to engineering (Donna Shirley) and astronomy (Vera Rubin). Her last chapter discusses some of the discoveries made by girls as a result of science fair projects that have practical and useful applications, like using bluegrass weed for making paper, sterilizing water in a puddle, and the potential problem of using soil contaminated with lead to grow vegetables. Melissa Sweet’s illustrations add to the informative text. Additional text that expands on each article is set apart in purple ink and more information and an index are provided in the back pages for students who wish to access websites or write to organizations that sponsor science fairs and reward innovation.
(Ages 8-14, $16.00) 
You could hardly pick a more intriguing photograph for the cover of PHINEAS GAGE: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman. And his opening chapter just keeps you going as he describes the horrible accident in Vermont, 1848, when an iron bar entered Phineas Gage’s left cheekbone and in a fraction of a second, exited his forehead. The victim survived, but his accident and its after effects contributed to great leaps in the development of brain science. Fleischman writes a lively account of Gage’s story (it’s his skull on the cover) and of medical history and practice and what scientists have learned about the brain in the last one hundred and fifty years. His presentation is so entertaining you will forget to watch “ER” until you finish the book.   (Ages 9++, $16.00)
The trekkers heading west to California in 1849-1850 took many trails that led to many stories. OLD CRUMP, The True Story of a Trip West is a welcome addition to the literature available on the early history of California settlement. Using diaries of the 49’ers on an ill-fated journey from Salt Lake City into Death Valley, Laurie Lawlor chronicles the story of eight-year-old George Bennett, his two sisters Melissa and Martha, and little Charlie. Old Crump is the only ox gentle enough to carry the children across the desert. Australian artist John Winch traveled to Death Valley to capture the desolate landscape in a stunning combination of photos, watercolors and pen and ink. It’s poignant to see the abandoned household goods scattered along the trail. By March of 1850 the ragged and weary group stumbled into Del Valle family rancho, now known as Rancho Camulos in Ventura County. As the Bennett family moved on to the coast and ultimately into the San Joaquin Valley, the faithful ox, Old Crump, was never again worked in harness, but allowed to graze with the cattle and perhaps dream of a journey well done.  (Ages 4-9, $16.95)
Ancient history is often a blend of fact and myth. In today’s world of technology, instant replays and sound bites can give the impression of historical accuracy, but in actuality all history can be “adjusted” to fit the bias of the historian. Award winning author, Milton Meltzer’s TEN KINGS AND THE WORLDS THEY RULED serves as a view into the world at the time of each king, how the political and physical climate shaped each ruler and how each ruler then reshaped his kingdom. Special attention is given to historical sources and how historians might reinterpret a ruler’s accomplishments. A fitting companion to Meltzer’s TEN QUEENS, PORTRAITS OF WOMEN OF POWER, both illustrated by Bethanne Andersen, this set can be used not only as a window to past events, but also for discussion on how the events of current history might be written. (Ages 9-14, Ten Kings, $21.95; Ten Queens, $24.99) 

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