REVIEWS FROM DECEMBER 2000
of the latest books, audio,
David. We’re Going on a Lion Hunt. New York: Henry
Holt, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by the author. ISBN 0-8050-6159-2, $15.95.
Nikki. Is It Far to Zanzibar? New York: Lothrop,
Lee & Shepard, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Betsy Lewin. ISBN 0-688-13157-3,
authors of We’re Going on a Lion Hunt and Is It Far
to Zanzibar? use different strategies to convey their theme
of adventure or travel in East Africa. Axtell, in the former,
organizes his story through repetitious phrasing, bold lettering,
and onomatopoeic words. In this imaginative setting, two young
girls set out on a lion hunt carrying a knapsack and stuffed rabbit.
They first pass through tall grass, then a lake, and finally a
swamp before they locate a lion in a cave. When the lion awakes,
the girls return through the various barriers to arrive safely
at home in bed.
contrast, Grimes utilizes poetry to describe a medley of Tanzanian
activities. She concentrates on one country rather than addressing
a region as does Axtell. By her travelers experiencing 13 different
situations, she provides a vivid picture of daily life. En route
to Zanzibar, the traveler focuses on a typical situation such
as bus travel, a view of street sellers, home visits, eating hot
peppers, or picking coffee. Several poems provide a natural point
of discussion concerning the similarities in culture between Tanzania
and the United States. Such poems include "Down the Road a Bit,"
"Bus Ride," "Home Visit," or "Haraka, Haraka." In addition, Grimes
introduces some Swahili words. Sometime she Anglicizes them for
humor. To help readers understand the language, she provide a
glossary of Swahili words with a pronunciation guide. To Lewin’s
credit, her illustrations appear realistic. For example, the people
are portrayed in daily and not ceremonial dress. In preparing
this book, both author and illustrator traveled to Tanzania.
books have limitations. Axtell’s is totally unrealistic from an
East African perspective. In fact, the idea of "girls going on
a lion hunt" is not part of any East African tradition. The illustrations
place wild animals such as elephants, wildebeests, zebra, giraffes,
hippopotamuses, or rhinoceroses adjacent to the girls and out
of context. Although the text may be fun to read, the illustrations
reinforce stereotypes about East Africa that Africans have been
trying to correct since their countries’ independence. A cultural
lesson using this book would be difficult.
Grimes and Lewin’s book, two things stand out. First, similar
to the Axtell story, Grimes includes a poem concerning an unrealistic
lion meeting, or at least a meeting out of context. Images of
a boy and a lion are distributed throughout the book in what appears
to be an attempt to reinforce a misconception about contemporary
Tanzania. The second problem is the illustration of the poem for
"Mount Meru." The poem contains no description of people, as the
others do, and the illustration is designed in a totally different
format. Without any explanation, this section appears out of place.
For these reasons, I do not recommend the Axtell book for the
elementary reader, and I suggest advisory use of the Grimes book.
Gwendolyn. The Music in Derrick’s Heart. New York:
Holiday House, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Colin Bootman. ISBN 0-8234-1353-5,
Gwendolyn. The Shaking Bag. Morton Grove, Ill.:
Albert Whitman, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson.
ISBN 0-8075-7328-0, $15.95.
has written two heartwarming books featuring lovable characters
and events, which embrace the themes of kindness and generosity—whether
of one’s time, talents, or resources. In The Music in Derrick’s
Heart, Derrick’s uncle, Booker T., has promised to teach him
how to play the harmonica. An energetic and enthusiastic youngster,
Derrick listens intently as his uncle plays his music while sitting
on the front porch or walking around the neighborhood. When Derrick
starts to play the harmonica, Uncle Booker T. urges him to slow
down, take his time, and feel the music with his heart. Every
day Derrick practices, and each night he sleeps with the harmonica,
sometimes clutching it in his hand or taping it to his chest or
T.’s sweet harmonica playing rouses everyone in the neighborhood,
including Derrick’s mother, who claps her hands and rejoices in
the music. "If Booker T. keeps on playing like that, we going
to have church right here," she says. Derrick and his uncle visit
Aunt Agnes, who asks Booker T. to play jazz on his harmonica.
Derrick is very determined to play the harmonica like his uncle,
but despite his constant practicing, he still must wait until
he can "feel the music." Uncle Booker T.’s advice to Derrick is
to play what he feels. During the entire summer, Derrick never
lets the harmonica out of his sight. When the daily routine of
harmonica lessons suddenly stops, Derrick feels confident enough
to finally play a song from his heart.
charming and touching story will delight young readers, who will
certainly appreciate the beauty of music. Bootman’s lively oil
paintings successfully capture the enthusiastic expression on
Derrick’s face as he learns to play the harmonica, as well as
the realistic and expressive features of the children who participate
in the town’s marching band. His art also features a rich Southern
setting with folks sitting on their front porches, talking, and
swatting mosquitoes. These images, combined with Battle-Lavert’s
colorful prose, make The Music in Derrick’s Heart a fun-filled
The Shaking Bag, Miss Annie Mae is a kind, elderly woman
who lives with her dog, Effie, in a run-down home. Unable to make
ends meet, she shares all that she has with her friends, the birds
that frequent her yard, giving them birdseed and bits of bread.
She and Effie also share the bread. One evening she receives a
visit from a stranger named Raven Reed, who needs a room for the
night. Miss Annie opens her home to this traveling stranger, who
hands her the old seed bag that she left outside. She apologizes
to the stranger about her poor living conditions. Raven Reed offers
to take care of her needs by shaking the seed bag while uttering
the words, "Shake it up! Shake it up! All around!" Surprisingly,
everything Miss Annie Mae needs starts to fall out of the bag,
such as wood for the stove, furniture, and mounds of food. Miss
Annie remarks that she feels like a queen as she and her dog and
the friendly stranger enjoy the feast. There’s something mysterious
about the stranger, who insists that Miss Annie Mae keep the shaking
bag as a gift for her generosity. The Shaking Bag is a
feel-good treat filled with comfort and mystery. Robinson’s unique
drawings are captivating.
Marie. Momma, Where Are You From? New York: Orchard
Books, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Chris K. Soentpiet. ISBN 0-531-30305-2,
Osceola and Govenar, Alan. Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper’s
Daughter. New York: Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2000. 64
pp. Illus. by Shane W. Evans. Edited by Alan Govenar. ISBN 0-7868-0407-6,
of these books, one for younger children and the other for older
ones, take readers on a journey to the past. In Momma, Where
Are You From? an African-American mother delves into her memory
to tell her young daughter what her life was like when she was
a child. The mother returns to a place where a bus carried her
siblings way across town past school after school until the bus
stopped at one where all of the children were shades of brown.
She tells of a place at the edge of town where families grew and
chickens ran in a neighborhood "as close knit as a sweater." She
details fish fries outside on Friday nights and children dancing
while parents listened to records by Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Bradby’s poetic text is wonderfully paired with exquisite watercolors
by Soentpiet, an artist with whom she has shared awards.
Osceola, folklorist and filmmaker Govenar records the memories
and recollections of Osceola Mays after 15 years of interviews
and meetings with her. Osceola, who is over 90 years of age, tells
of a childhood in East Texas, where she was the granddaughter
of slaves. Her memories include poems from the Civil War period,
tales of men singing the blues, and the painful death of her mother
when she was 10. Osceola, who lives in Dallas, continues to share
her history at schools, museums, and festivals.
colorful illustrations, framed by white borders, are a perfect
complement to this powerful oral testimonial of poverty, loss,
and survival. Both books are highly recommended.
Bryan. Uptown. New York: Henry Holt, 2000. 32 pp.
Illus. by the author. ISBN 0-8050-5721-8, $15.95.
Patricia A. Brian’s Bird. Morton Grove, Ill.: Albert
Whitman, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Layne Johnson. ISBN 0-8075-0881-0,
who is blind, is the eight-year-old younger brother of Kevin in
Brian’s Bird. Brian’s family presents him with a birthday
gift. Brian expects to feel the shape of a box with wrapping paper
on it, but instead he feels something that’s hard and has wires.
It’s a cage and inside the cage is his gift, a parakeet. The boy
has been completely blind for the past three years, so he immediately
asks for a description of the bird. His grandmother encourages
him to interact with his new pet. She opens the cage, and the
bird lands on his finger. Because the bird’s feet scratch his
finger, the boy decides to name it Scratchy. As time passes Brian
works with the bird and trains him to land on his finger on command.
After many painstaking attempts, he also prompts the parakeet
to mimic a few phrases.
is very proud of his efforts to get Scratchy to say a few words,
and he wants to demonstrate the bird’s prowess to his brother.
Unfortunately, the bird doesn’t cooperate and decides to remain
mute. Kevin scoffs at the notion that a bird can talk, and he
leaves his little brother embarrassed and angry with him. Their
grandmother steps into the breach. She gets Brian to think of
a few reasons why Kevin isn’t such a bad guy.
would consider this story as one about a family coping with a
member who is physically challenged. The fact that the characters
are African American has no impact on the events. The only way
to tell that these characters are members of an identifiable ethnic
group is through the illustrations. The illustrations are very
intriguing. Bright, bold colors abound throughout the text. The
facial expressions on the characters seem to be in a perpetual
state of gee-whiz wonderment. You couldn’t find a happier group
of mainstream Americans this side of the Cleaver family.
the domestic tranquillity found in Brian’s Bird we go to
Uptown by Bryan Collier. The author/illustrator uses watercolors
and collage to take his reader on a travelogue of America’s most
famous African-American urban area: Harlem, New York.
young resident of the neighborhood serves as the host and narrator.
He tells us about the people, the transportation, and the daily
occurrences that pulse across 110th Street. He also takes us through
the cultural history of Upper Manhattan.
text is minimal and is used as part of the artwork, which is absolutely
stunning. Harlem has never looked so beautiful as it does on the
pages of this book. For anyone interested in learning about the
culture and history of Harlem, this is a book where the pictures
really are worth a thousand words.
(Wis.) Metropolitan _School District
Rene. The Song of Six Birds. New York: Dutton, 2000.
32 pp. Illus. by Lyn Gilbert. ISBN 0-525-46314-5, $15.99.
this folktale from southern Africa, a young girl, Lindiwe, is
excited to get a flute. But it has no music, just a loud unpleasant
noise that frightens a child nearby into screaming. The dog howls,
and the chickens squawk. Lindiwe goes about looking for music
to fill her flute. Six different birds fill her flute with various
runs home and on the way plays her flute. It’s a celebration as
she’s joined by several people and the six birds. She is also
followed by a boy with his goats and the colorful medicine man,
who seems gratuitously inserted to make the picture more exotic.
the end, Lindiwe’s mother invites everybody to a feast where she
serves her special stew. There’s joyous singing and dancing, and
the sounds from Lindiwe’s flute fill the air. The pictures are
bold, bright, vibrant, and full of movement. The writing lends
itself to reading aloud to children, who will enjoy the sounds
of the different birds; the crowned crane’s "Mahem!," the hornbill’s
"Tock-tocki-tock!," the rainbird’s "Doo-doo-doo!," the hoopoe’s
"Hoop, hoop!," the paradise flycatcher’s "Whee-wheeo-wit-wit!,"
and the wood owl’s "Whoo-hu, whoo-hu-hu!" Despite the gratuitous
medicine man, the book is an interesting addition to the many
folktales published in the last couple of years.
The Emperor’s New Clothes. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by the author. ISBN 0-689-83068-8,
has created a stunning art piece that will be fondly remembered
by anyone who experiences the familiar tale of the emperor’s clothes
in this new setting. The festive colors and rich detail of each
page are magnificent, even if the emperor’s final appearance is
not. The author deftly incorporates many traditional symbols from
Chinese culture into the clothing, buildings, and surrounding
landscape of each page and includes a traditional silk screen
on one page that explains the significance of each of these symbols.
Demi’s sensitive portrayal of the Chinese people has also avoided
the stereotypical "Chinamen" caricature that has often accompanied
stories with similar settings.
the conclusion of the story, audiences will be enticed to read
the book again. They will want to open the large foldout pages
to admire the exquisite details and watch the vivid colors scamper
off the pages as quickly as the children with the dragon kite
or those surrounded by animals in the field. Children’s endless
fascination with hunting through pages of illustrations to spot
the tiniest details will also be rewarded. This edition is highly
recommended for anyone who loves a good picture book.
Rita Golden. Rice Is Life. New York: Henry Holt,
2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Yangsook Choi. ISBN 0-8050-5719-6, $15.95.
Walter Lyon. The Man Who Caught Fish. New York:
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by the author,
ISBN 0-374-34786-7, $16.00.
food is the main theme of two recently published picture books
for children. Rice Is Life provides a factual narrative
about planting, growing, and harvesting rice on the island of
Bali. But it is much more than this. A two-page introduction provides
some general background about the people of Bali and shows Bali’s
location within a map of Indonesia. Two separate texts comprise
this story of rice and its importance to the Balinese. One of
the texts is presented on the page outside the illustration. This
text is factual and details the drama of the stages of raising
rice: preparing the land, setting the plants, watering, tending
the plants, protecting the plants from pests, harvesting, and
offering thanks to Dewi Sri, who is the goddess of rice. The other
text, printed within the illustration, is a poetic interpretation
of each stage of growing rice.
three components provide three ways to introduce children to another
culture. First, the geographic location and general background
can be learned in the introduction. Second, the informational
text provides general knowledge about rice, using rich vocabulary
and detail. Third, the poetry expands the basic knowledge to illustrate
the impact of this life-sustaining food on the people. This excellent
book, with richness in both text and illustration, affords a vicarious
cultural experience that is available for any classroom. The author
and illustrator show great reverence for rice, as well as respect
and love for the people of Bali.
contrast, The Man Who Caught Fish is fiction, an original
story in folktale style. And, while the story does not deal with
facts and its setting is vague, it presents truths, specifically,
the truth of the consequences of arrogance and greed.
this tale, a stranger wanders the countryside with what seems
like a magical fishing pole. Each time he puts his pole in the
river, he pulls out a fish. He distributes these fish among the
nearby people with the words, "One person, one fish." When the
king sees this, he thinks he will surely get a whole basketful
of fish. After all, he is the king. But the king is offered only
one fish. The king tries a variety of methods to coerce the stranger
to change his practice, but to no avail. Finally, the king thinks
he can trick the stranger, but instead it becomes the king’s lot
to roam the land now as the wandering fisherman with the magic
pole, espousing the philosophy of one fish to one person. This
brings the tale to a satisfying conclusion, as the reader realizes
the result of the king’s unwillingness to accept his just portion
these books, fact and fiction both present the message of the
importance of food and the need to respect it.
of Nebraska at Omaha
Alex. Mama, Across the Sea. New York: Henry Holt,
2000. 32 pp. Illus. by the author. ISBN 0-8050-6161-4, $16.95.
desperately misses her mother, who had to leave their beautiful
Caribbean island in order to find work. After Cecile writes a
letter, decorated with shells and pink sand, she is greatly disappointed
that her mother will not be returning soon. But Cecile learns
later that her letters were not in vain.
book has much to recommend it. First, it captures the longing
felt by children who are separated from their parents. Second,
it explores the importance of literacy. Cecile and her mother
exchange letters. She reads a letter for her illiterate grandmother
and teaches her to write. She hears a folktale about a hungry
fisherman who is tricked by a mermaid into jumping in the sea.
Cecile relates to the frustrated fisherman as well; she too has
lost her father and now her mother to the sea. Third, Cecile is
a good model of perseverance.
must be commended for his dreamy, almost nostalgic illustrations
done in pastels; they work well with the text. This would be a
good book to share with any child; however, it should resonate
with those who may have experienced prolonged separation from
parents. Children too can see the power of all types of literacy
to effect change in one’s life.
Joy. The Good Luck Cat. San Diego: Harcourt, 2000.
32 pp. Illus. by Paul Lee. ISBN 0-15-232197-7, $16.00.
an acclaimed poet of Muskogee-Creek heritage, has made a stunning
debut as a picture book author with this compelling title. The
narrator is a girl who loves her cat, Woogie. Woogie is a rare
"good luck cat." She brings victory to Aunt Shelly at bingo, and
the little girl always finds things she loses when Woogie is around.
however, has run through eight of her nine lives, and now she
cannot be found. The narrator recalls the mishaps that cost her
other lives, such as falling asleep next to the car motor, fighting
with another cat over a bird, falling out of a tree onto her head,
getting tumbled in the dryer, and being left in the car trunk
when the family went to a powwow. When Woogie returns after four
days from her ninth escapade, the narrator realizes that she truly
is a good luck cat.
illustrations complement the text, as children see the bandage
on Woogie’s tail and pieces of her ear missing. A lost cat sign
that the narrator makes is delightfully ingenuous. Small details
reveal that this is a Native American family. Woogie purrs "as
if she has a drum near her heart." The powwow is an important
time in the family’s life. Cat lovers of all ages will also rejoice
in the author and illustrator’s vivid evocation of feline behavior.
do we find masters of other literary forms turning their attention
to picture books. We are indeed fortunate that Harjo has chosen
to devote her considerable talents to this medium.
Angela. Down the Winding Road. New York: DK Ink,
2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Shane W. Evans. ISBN 0-7894-2596-3, $15.95.
Dinah. Quinnie Blue. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.
32 pp. Illus. by James Ransome. ISBN 0-8050-4378-0, $16.95.
two titles tout the joys of intergenerational relationships. They
demonstrate the love flowing and nourishing when different generations
of two African-American families come together to share, to support,
and to appreciate. In Down the Winding Road, the Old Ones
wait, all seven of them lined up in a row. These aunts and uncles
of Daddy’s were old when they raised him, and now when the young
girl and her brother come to visit on the last day before school
starts, they are still there with hugs and memories and warm hands
to hold. The joys are simple, with the children listening to stories,
swimming in the lake, and taking a long walk with the Old Ones.
Shane Evans’s illustrations show the Old Ones all lined up again
and waving as the youngsters leave. His full- and double-page
oil paintings are a perfect complement to Johnson’s elegant language.
Quinnie Blue, Dinah Johnson tells of young Quinnie, who
wonders what the childhood of her grandmother was like. It must
have been somewhat like hers; after all she is named for the grandmother:
Hattie Lottie Annie Quinnie Blue. The award-winning illustrator
James Ransome shows Grandmother Quinnie as a child in his paintings
as well as young Quinnie. A series of Quinnie’s questions throughout
the rhythmic text are accompanied by a vivid blue, a color repeated
in each painting. Ransome’s paintings, done on blue- and pink-stained
wood frames, bring the two Quinnies together at the end of the
story, portraying the special relationship between the young girl
and her grandmother.
titles are recommended as first purchases.
Jane. Faraway Home. San Diego: Harcourt, 2000. 32
pp. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. ISBN 0-15-200036-4, $16.00.
has written a poignant story that shows the connection between
the old home, Ethiopia, and the new one, America. It is the story
of a father who lives in America with his family but is still
closely connected to his home in Ethiopia. In a simple but touching
statement he says, "For me Ethiopia is never far away."
relationship between the father and his young daughter, Desta,
is warm and tender. He sings to her songs in his language. Beautifully
juxtaposed against the sounds of the father’s Ethiopia are the
sounds of Desta’s America in the wind chime on the front porch.
For the father, in his old home, "the wind whooshed cold as old
bones through the silver blue leaves of the eucalyptus trees outside
my home." For Desta, "The tree she hears at night drops white
blossoms on her bedroom windowsill, blossoms that look like snow."
author’s language is rich, bright, and sharp, and it brings to
life all the senses. For example, the father, talking about Ethiopia,
says, "hippos yawn from muddy pools and crocodiles arch their
backs above the river water. Shepherds pipe songs of longing in
the hills, and thousands of flamingos flap in a pink cloud over
the Great Rift Valley lakes. I wish you could see the pink cloud."
At the end Desta appreciates and understands the world of her
father better. Whereas at the beginning she is surprised to hear
he went to school barefoot, by the end she walks home from school
barefoot, "swinging her shoes, feeling the sun under her feet
where it has soaked into the ground." She is connected to her
father’s home; she wears the picture of her grandmother in a locket.
The author’s word pictures are complemented by the rich, beautiful,
bold, bright illustrations, which are guaranteed to make the young
reader and the adult keep turning the page.
Trish. One Boy from Kosovo. New York: HarperCollins,
2000. 32 pp. Illus. with photos by Cindy Karp. ISBN 0-688-17732-8,
is the true story of a 12-year-old Albanian boy, his brother,
sister, and parents facing the danger of living in a middle-size
city in Kosovo and their journey into exile because of the war.
Then we see their everyday life in the refugee camp of Brazda
in Macedonia. There is the ever-present dirt, crowding, and lines
for food, water, and everything a family needs to survive. The
mind of the boy takes in all of this, plus memories of home, family,
and friends; the comings and goings of new friends from the camp
to new countries; and the boredom and uncertainty of those left
Edi, the main person of this story, is luckier than most. The
camp has many children who were separated from their families
during the flight from Kosovo. There is the search to make families
whole again. The photos of Edi living the camp life make the situation
more directly understandable. We aren’t told numbers of exiles,
but the life of one boy. It could also be the story of many refugees
in many countries of the world that are in turmoil. For the reader,
current events are brought to life. However, this great strength—a
true story straight from today’s headlines made more understandable
by focusing on one small group of individuals—might be too much
for a young and sensitive child.
John, Jr., ed. Daddy Poems. Honesdale, Pa.: Boyds
Mills Press, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Robert Casilla. Introduction
by Jim Trelease. ISBN 1-56397-735-4, $15.95.
delightful children’s book is a colorful collection of poems about
fathers. A variety of ethnic groups is represented as fathers
of many different cultures spend quality time with their children.
fathers have not been recognized enough for all the good things
they do for their families, books such as Daddy Poems are
extremely important. In today’s society, much emphasis is placed
on the absent father or a father who is estranged and distant
from his children. Fathers who are actively involved with their
children may appear extraordinary. Yet the fathers who appear
here are regular men who give so much to their children during
the early years and beyond into adulthood. Even divorced fathers
are portrayed as concerned and involved with their children.
activities illustrated in this book include piggyback rides, writing
poetry, shaving, hugging, dancing, looking at the evening stars,
playing baseball, eating dinner, giving baths, and reading stories.
There is a great variety of poems by different writers. John Micklos,
Jr., Nikki Grimes, Donald Graves, and Janet Wong are some of the
many poets who are represented in this book.
Poems is valuable for both home and school. It can be used
as a tool to bring the images and reputations of fathers up to
where they should be. Male and fatherhood involvement groups would
benefit from sharing this book with their participants. It is
refreshing to see a bright side to life as fathers play essential
roles in raising their children.
(Md.) Job Corps
William. The Piano. New York: Lee & Low, 2000.
32 pp. Illus. by Susan Keeter. Includes CD. ISBN 1-880000-98-9,
Tia loves music, she wanders the streets of her hot, dry town
all summer, listening for the wonderful sounds that take her away
to imaginary places filled with castles, mountains, and deep new
snow. One day when she wanders into the white section of town,
she is drawn to a house where she hears music. She takes a job
there as a maid just so she can hear more of the music.
Hartwell, the old woman who hires Tia, listens to a record player
and allows Tia to run her fingers along the keys of her piano,
the biggest piano Tia has ever seen, with black wood that shines
brighter than a new pair of Sunday shoes. With fingers grown stiff
with age, Miss Hartwell teaches Tia notes, a simple scale. Tia
helps her employer by bathing her hands in warm, salted water.
On another day, when Tia’s hands are stiff from hard work, Miss
Hartwell returns the favor, and the music lessons continue. Miss
Hartwell goes along with Tia as the music takes them to places
filled with castles, mountains, and deep new snow.
Keeter’s illustrations are adeptly executed in rich oils, and
a music CD is included with the book. The Piano is an inspiring
story of a young African-American girl and an older white woman
who form a bond and a friendship through their mutual love of
music. It is a friendship that transcends age and race. A first
selection for any collection.
Walter Dean. The Blues of Flats Brown. New York:
Holiday House, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Nina Laden. ISBN 0-8234-1480-9,
Brown is a laid-back, blues-playing junkyard dog that lives in
Mound Bayou, Mississippi. While he sings and strums his guitar,
Caleb, his best friend and fellow mutt, backs him on the bones.
A. J. Grubbs is their abusive owner, who wants to turn them into
fighting dogs. After Caleb, who is older and suffers from arthritis,
is forced to fight, he and Flats decide to run away.
arrive in Shanty Town and begin playing such tunes as "The Bent
Tail Blues" and "The Freaky Flea Blues" in a black club called
the Curly-Que. Just as Flats and Caleb get comfortable, along
comes Grubbs to reclaim them. The two dogs escape again to Memphis,
Tennessee, where they decide that making records is better and
perhaps safer than playing in the streets. They sell lots of records,
but it isn’t long before Grubbs is on their trail again. As Flats
prepares to leave town, Caleb decides he is too old and tired
to continue running and opts to stay behind. Eventually Flats
ends up in New York City, where he meets the king of the country
blues, Blind Buddy Doyle. Flats continues to find success playing
tunes most familiar to his heart: "the waterfront sounds of Mound
Bayou" as well as the "lonely sounds of a freight train and the
hot sounds of the Curly-Que." No matter where Flats goes, Grubbs
manages to find him. An interesting turn of events occurs when
Flats sings a song that’s close to Grubbs’s heart.
does a terrific job of creating atmosphere with his lyrical, bluesy
narrative. The book’s last page and inside back cover feature
lyrics to the song "The New York City Blues." Nina Laden’s delightful
illustrations eloquently capture the mood and settings with her
smoky pastel colorings. The Blues of Flats Brown features
colorful, adventurous characters and great blues songs and images
that will certainly entertain young readers.
Jerdine. Big Jabe. New York: Lothrop, Lee &
Shepard, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Kadir Nelson. ISBN 0-688-13662-1,
years, tall tales and stories of Mike Fink, Paul Bunyan, and John
Henry have delighted readers of all ages as well as those who
listen to stories. This original tall tale by Nolen has the power
to take a place right beside these tales.
Jabe is found in a basket floating in the river, and like Moses,
he becomes a leader and a giant among the Plenty Plantation slaves
with his gigantic deeds. Also, like Harriet Tubman, who became
known among slaves as Moses due to her brave rescue of over 300
slaves from servitude, Big Jabe manages to spirit slaves magically
to freedom just at the right moment.
book reads as if one is listening to a storyteller’s voice rise
and fall in a musical rhythm that weaves a believable tale. Listeners
and readers are swept along by the action and almost want to cheer
this gentle giant who takes his friends to the North Star. Supported
by wonderful illustrations by Kadir Nelson, this book will be
truly enjoyed by all ages.
Elementary School, _Clifton Park, N.Y.
Sheldon. The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba.
Honesdale, Pa.: Boyds Mills Press, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Neil
Waldman. ISBN 1-56397-816-4, $15.95.
book is a retelling of the tale "A Palace of Bird Beaks," by Howard
Schwartz and Barbara Rush, in their book The Diamond Tree.
King Solomon, the wisest man in the world, gets together with
the Queen of Sheba, who is considered to be the wisest woman of
the world. Together they learn a valuable lesson about the beauty
of living creatures and their contributions to nature and the
the Queen of Sheba visits King Solomon with extravagant gifts,
she asks him to share his knowledge and to do things that would
seem impossible to an ordinary person. When she asks him to build
a palace of birds’ beaks, he feels he must keep his promise and
fulfill her wishes. The birds all report to him except for the
hoopoe bird. The hoopoe negotiates a deal with King Solomon that
if he can’t answer three questions, the hoopoes will give up their
he answers the questions correctly, King Solomon realizes the
tremendous destruction he would cause by taking an essential part
of a bird’s body for his own selfish needs. The Queen of Sheba
agrees with him. Not only are all the birds allowed to keep their
beaks, the hoopoe is also rewarded with a crown of golden feathers.
King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba learn from the hoopoe that
the world and all its creatures are meant to last forever. They
also learn that beaks are used for both feeding a baby and for
fighting off enemies and that tears are drops of water that don’t
rise from the ground or fall from the sky.
vivid and colorful illustrations and enlightening text, this story
demonstrates that living things and nature are special gifts.
If we learn to appreciate all living creatures, we will live in
a better world. The ideas of caring for living creatures and respecting
wise people are emphasized. This book is an enriching addition
to any personal or professional library collection.
(Md.) Job Corps
Felix. Mami Amor’s Little Stories. Long Beach, N.Y.:
LIBROS; Encouraging Cultural Literacy, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by
Eren Star Padilla; Spanish edition available. ISBN 0-9675413-2-8,
Felix. My Two Lights. Long Beach, N.Y.: LIBROS;
Encouraging Cultural Literacy, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Eren Star
Padilla; Spanish edition available. ISBN 0-9675413-0-1, $16.00.
Two Lights is a magical story in which a Puerto Rican boy
is taught the importance of cultural understanding. His "teacher,"
a woman whose name means Mrs. Light, sings "Verde Luz," transfixing
the child. He softens to her lessons about the power of music,
the Spanish language, and the Puerto Rican homeland. The boy sails
on her words to their ancestral home; then he summons forth the
magical visit at will. He gathers many gifts—music, Spanish, the
Puerto Rican homeland, a significant connection with an elder,
and the journey of learning the power of who he really is.
the past as a living heritage, the boy develops empathy for immigrants
who have been displaced. The homeland comes to life for them through
song, the Spanish language, and community. This book encourages
the cultural literacy of all children.
Amor’s Little Stories is also breathtaking. The heart of a
Puerto Rican child, who serves as the storyteller, is revealed
through historical events. The journey of Mami Amor, a needleworker
who lived in Puerto Rico in the 1940s and then Chicago, brings
this experience of hardship into focus. This immigrant story about
displacement and survival, as well as exploitation and despair,
is a courageous narrative.
will learn about the ancestry that has shaped others and themselves.
The threads on the needlework belong to people we know or places
we have been, shaping our cultural identity. This big book is
like the beautiful needlework it describes. Stitched into the
pages are images of mountain views and more. Also stitched in
is the realism of the machine world that disrupted the Puerto
human capacities can develop through these complementary books
(in which instructional prompts are provided). They elicit understanding
of important issues involving dislocation/alienation and resiliency/hope
of growing minorities in the United States.
of South Florida
Carol Antoinette. Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story.
Morton Grove, Ill.: Albert Whitman, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Shawn
Costello Brownell. ISBN 0-8075-5234-8, $14.95.
story accurately depicts the confusion and insecurity of a young
girl as she struggles to understand her adoption from China and
acquires a growing awareness of the differences between her adoptive
Caucasian family’s physical traits and her Chinese features. Elizabeth’s
"mommy near" poignantly and patiently explains the adoption process
while reassuring Elizabeth and validating her feelings toward
compassionate, competent illustrations avoid the stereotypical
images of Asian features and effectively blend the adoptive parents’
actions with those of Elizabeth and her sister, creating naturalness
in their relationships. The mood, however, is more somber than
uplifting. While the nature of an adopted person’s issues regarding
family and looking different can be indistinct and confusing to
a young child, the predominantly brownish tone to the book is
recurring "adopt me" verse evokes one from a popular picture book
about a young woman and her newborn son, Love You Forever,
by Robert Munsch. The similarity gives Peacock’s verse a copycat
feel and, unfortunately, it doesn’t flow as well as Munsch’s.
Mommy Far, Mommy Near, however, adds to children’s literature
a new version of the universal story of a mother’s love for her
child and fills a need for adopted children, especially those
adopted cross-culturally. Internationally adopted children can
identify with Elizabeth and, hopefully, the "mommy near" role
can help some parents address their own children’s concerns about
Amada Irma. My Very Own Room: Mi propio cuartito.
San Francisco: Children’s Book Press, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Maya
Cristina González. ISBN 0-89239-164-2, $15.95.
story presents many aspects of Mexican-American culture in a lighthearted
way. This book has enormous potential for being an instrumental
tool for cross-cultural class discussions. Many students are unfamiliar
with the idea of sharing a bedroom with five other siblings. However,
for many Latino and other immigrant families, large family size
and extended family households necessitate the sharing of rooms
and beds. Students would be able to respond to issues such as
large multigenerational families, modest circumstances, and the
need for personal space from siblings.
book is illustrated with extremely vibrant colors and warm facial
expressions. The integration of both Spanish and English text
into the illustrations is very well done. Offering students both
language versions on opposite pages will aid in complete comprehension
of all aspects of the story. Younger readers can listen to the
story out loud, in both languages, while enjoying the illustrations.
Older students will be able to test their comprehension of the
Spanish story, with the security of the English version. The opposite
would be true for children fluent in Spanish, learning English.
relevant themes are shown in this book, such as the importance
of family, the joys of reading, and the need for self-identity
and personal space. Teachers of almost all grade levels will find
this book an asset to cultural lessons and second language comprehension.
of the Holy Names, _Albany, N.Y.
Virginia Walton. The Warlord’s Puzzle. Gretna, La.:
Pelican Publishing Co., 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Nicolas Debon.
ISBN 1-56554-495-1, $14.95.
delightful folktale concerns the origin of the tangram puzzle.
The geometric shapes, which we often take for granted, were once
the subject of a great controversy and a fateful contest. The
author tells a story about a fierce and cruel warlord who ruled
over China. When an artist brings him a beautiful blue tile, the
warlord is happy, but only for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the
artist accidentally drops the tile and breaks it into several
pieces. While the king is considering torture, jail, or death
for the artist, the artist convinces him to hold a contest and
invite the person who can put it together to move into the castle.
of scholars and people of all professions line up by the king’s
palace to try the puzzle. However, they are totally confused and
unsuccessful. Only a poor fisherman and his son who can no longer
fish that day because of the crowds taking up their space save
the artist’s life and solve the problem. The young son sees the
pieces on the floor and plays with them like a toy or a puzzle.
As the warlord, artist, and scholars are arguing, the boy quietly
plays his game and puts the pieces back together. The shapes are
joined into what is known today as a tangram.
young boy is able to give back to his father and his teachers
who have taught him basic shapes. By solving this puzzle, he and
his father are given great wealth and are able to live in the
palace with the warlord. They have also saved the artist’s life
by rejoining the pieces of the beautiful tile. From being a young
peasant, the boy can now be instrumental in helping the family
live in a more comfortable lifestyle.
illustrations beautifully capture the mood of this legend. The
reader gains an appreciation for the relationships of geometric
shapes and the challenge of solving puzzles with them. The reader
also gains insight into the idea that sometimes the most humble,
modest, and hardworking people are those who are able to achieve
success. Because they were not chasing after wealth, the boy and
his father were able to win the contest and achieve more than
enough to satisfy their needs.
(Md.) Job Corps
Souci, Robert D. The Secret of the Stones. New York:
Penguin Putnam/ Phyllis Fogelman Books, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by
James Ransome. ISBN 0-8037-1640-0, $16.99.
folktale is based on several sources, including an African-American
folktale from Arkansas and a Bantu legend. The story, which is
filled with suspense, surprise, charms, and spells, begins when
Clara and John, a loving and hardworking couple who are also childless,
stumble on two white stones while cultivating cotton and tending
a vegetable patch. Clara later decides to use the stones to sharpen
her knives. The next day they head to work and return home to
find that someone has swept their cabin and porch, ironed their
clothes, drawn water from the creek, and performed other chores.
several occasions they rush home to try to discover who is cleaning
their house and doing the yard work. After this occurs for a period
of time, the puzzled couple is approached by a neighbor, Aunt
Easter, who "could work charms" and "had prophesyin’ dreams."
She informs them that there’s a spell connected to the stones
involving two orphan children. Aunt Easter gives the couple a
remedy for breaking the spell, which leads them to confront a
menacing and sinister conjure man. Clara and John follow Aunt
Easter’s directions; however, the conjure man begins to suspect
something. The subsequent turn of events is both fun and suspenseful.
Once the spell is broken, John and Clara realize a dream come
Secret of the Stones is a heartwarming story about love and
courage with all the right ingredients for a winning tale. Award-winning
author San Souci is no stranger to folklore adaptations. He wrote
Fa Mulan, a retelling of a Chinese legend that was the
basis for the Disney film Mulan. Ransome’s striking oil
paintings vividly complement this folktale. Readers young and
old will be held spellbound by this captivating narrative.
Antonio. The Composition. Toronto: Groundwood/Douglas
& McIntyre, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Alfonso Ruano. ISBN 0-88899-390-0,
acclaimed Chilean author’s short story about the dilemma of a
young boy in a brutal dictatorship has appeared in various publications
in Spanish and English, most recently in A Walk in My World:
International Short Stories about Youth (Anne Mazer, ed.;
Persea Books, 1998). This picture book version has been edited
for readers third grade and up. The translator and editor have
removed explicit language and specific information about the country
where the story takes place.
enjoys playing soccer but is disappointed when his parents can
only afford an inexpensive imitation ball. While he is playing
with his friends one afternoon, police arrest his friend Daniel’s
father for speaking out against the dictatorship. That night Pedro
learns that his own parents are against the dictatorship and that
they listen to clandestine radio programs at night. The next day,
a military official comes to class and announces a mandatory essay
contest with an award for the best essay. The topic: "What my
family does at night." Pedro wants to win a real soccer ball,
but too many of his friends’ fathers have been arrested lately,
and he doesn’t know what to write.
without the explicit words, the story has many realistic and earthy
details that make it of special interest to boys. While the problems
Pedro faces are unfamiliar to most children in the United States,
the appealing story and well-rendered illustrations make this
book an excellent starting point for a discussion of human rights
and of the way children have been used in many countries to inform
on parents. Because of its origins as an adult/young adult story,
this title is also an excellent choice for teenagers and adults
who are learning to read in English.
Stephanie. Mama Elizabeti. New York: Lee & Low,
2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Christy Hale. ISBN 1-58430-002-7, $15.95.
has teamed up again with Hale to create a follow-up to the 1998
Elizabeti’s Doll. In Mama Elizabeti, the author focuses
on the responsibilities of motherhood, continuing a biographical
story of a young girl whom she met while a Peace Corps volunteer
no longer plays mother with her rock. She has the duty to take
care of her brother. Unlike her rock doll, Elizabeti’s brother
is not cooperative or docile. He pulls her hair, dumps her rice,
soils her clean laundry, and spills her water container. She discovers
that babysitting can even be dangerous when she loses track of
her brother. This story, like the previous one, is engaging. Many
of the situations of the first book are parallel to those of the
second book, which enables teachers to elaborate on family values
in rural East African communities.
illustrations provide an excellent view of rural Tanzania and
the work of young and old women, such as carrying water and cooking.
The soft, earthy tones of the illustrations provide a sense of
peace and tranquillity. The illustrations also give insights into
the settings of daily life such as the well and marketplace. The
two books together provide a good example of informal education
for girls in rural Tanzania. However, this book, in contrast to
the previous one, is more realistic of current life in Tanzania.
Thus, it receives a higher recommendation.
Carole Boston. The Sound That Jazz Makes. New York:
Walker, 2000. 32 pp. Illus. by Eric Velásquez. ISBN 0-8027-8720-7,
is a vital part of African-American and American culture, with
a history all its own. The Sound That Jazz Makes takes
us on an illustrated and historical journey through pivotal moments
in the African-American experience. Weatherford clearly demonstrates
the continuing influence of jazz, the basis of all African-American
music, including gospel, rap, and R&B, in a rhythmic, poetic
influences on jazz date back to Africa amid the sounds of the
drums and kalimba. The journey carries us aboard the slave ships
and on the "field where slaves turned the soil, and chanted of
freedom while they toiled." The poetry describes farmers who pluck
their banjos, cakewalkers who strut to a ragtime beat, and the
"Delta blues man whose guitar whines, who howls of heartbreak
and hard times."
the way we also meet Louis Armstrong aboard the steamboat Dixie
Queen. There are vivid portraits and lyrical references to
Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holliday.
The Harlem nightclub is captured as well as the famous Apollo
Theater. The important influence of jazz has even reached today’s
hip-hop and rap artists. The lyrics are as colorful as Velásquez’s
richly textured illustrations, which seem to leap off the page.
Each double-page spread showcases a collage of people, places,
and events. The rousing gospel section features a joyful hand-clapping
choir along with interior and exterior scenes of the church. The
cover illustration, which reflects the combined images of how
music evolved, is stunning. The Sound That Jazz Makes is