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In this issue

For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.

Hail to the chiefs

This year Presidents’ Day is Monday, February 16, and with it come these new books about our first president, our new president, and two amazing First Ladies.

Big George: How a Shy Boy Became President Washington by Anne Rockwell gives a whole new perspective on the father of our country. Readers first meet George as a young boy, then follow along as he overcomes his timidity (and learns to control his temper) to become a powerful general and great leader. Matt Phelan’s approachable illustrations show the person behind the legend. (6–9 years) For more in-depth information, nonfiction master Russell Freedman takes a close look at Washington’s crucial role fighting the Revolutionary War in Washington at Valley Forge. Maps, drawings, and artwork reproductions help vividly reenact that tumultuous time in our early history. (10–12 years)

History was made on January 20 when our first African American president was sworn in. Adapted from Chicago Tribune journalist David Mendell’s book for adults, Obama: A Promise of Change touches on the president’s early life (it doesn’t sound like Barry was as shy as the young Washington) then focuses on his years as a community organizer, his time at Harvard Law, and his meteoric rise in politics. There are lots of quotes throughout, and kids will come away with a real sense of their new president: his personality, challenges, hard work, and success. (8–12 years)

Readers get to know “Barack’s rock” in a companion volume, Michelle Obama: Meet the First Lady by David Bergen Brophy. The book spotlights Michelle’s close-knit, working-class family and the First Lady’s staunch work ethic, in addition to her unwavering dedication to her husband and daughters. (8–12 years)

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Women must get into politics and stay in.” In Eleanor, Quiet No More, Doreen Rappaport turns to the First Lady’s own words to help tell the story of her life. Portraits by Gary Kelley reflect Mrs. Roosevelt’s beauty, grace, thoughtfulness, and commitment to the cause of human rights. (6–9 years)  

—Elissa Gershowitz

Five questions for Betty Carter

Horn Book reviewer, longtime librarian and professor, avid history buff, and grandmother, Betty Carter is our go-to person for questions about history, biography, and the needs of new readers. In honor of the bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, we asked Betty to compile a list of the very best biographies of the sixteenth president, and you can find that on our website. I also thought it would be a great time to ask this old friend and experienced reviewer what she looks for in a biography written for young people.

1. Why do you think Lincoln has become our most-biographed presidential subject?

Lincoln is the embodiment of the American dream, a man who used ambition, intelligence, and hard work to move from the Kentucky dirt of a log cabin to the White House. He defined our country’s ideals with eloquence. He preserved them with grace and humility.

2. What makes a good biography of Lincoln for young readers?

Lincoln’s own taste gives me pause here, for he credits Parson Weems’s The Life of Washington (that’s the one with the apocryphal cherry tree story!) as a book that shaped his dreams. But that kind of hero building is not what I look for. My favorites are those that give us a glimpse of the man who created the myth, those that somehow let a flesh-and-blood person come down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and enter our lives. There’s an exhibit at the Library of Congress that displays the simple, everyday contents of Lincoln’s pockets the day he was killed. Terrific books reveal that same sense of one human in the sweep of history.

3. Could you name a couple of favorites?

Russell Freedman’s Lincoln: A Photobiography is not only the best Lincoln biography for young people but one of the best books I’ve ever read. Its simple and powerful prose reflects Lincoln’s own mastery of language. For younger kids, Amy L. Cohn and Suzy Schmidt’s Abraham Lincoln introduces a great man through the eyes of someone who clearly loves him as one can only love a real person. And George Sullivan’s Picturing Lincoln gives an unusual lens through which to view the sixteenth president: the photographs taken of him, including a series of doctored images — nineteenth-century Photoshop — that produced memorable, if questionable images.

4. How do preschoolers distinguish between storybooks and books about "real" people or subjects?

I don’t think they do, which gives adults a chance to start asking them to become critical readers and thinkers. I would like for children to question what they read, to approach any work with a skepticism that asks: does this make sense? Is it verifiable? How can I find out? What do I think? Is there something I can add?

5. We seem to be undergoing a mini-Renaissance of picture book biography. Who would you like to see a book about?

I honestly don’t care who the subject is as long as the work provides an opportunity for kids to see something in a life that may be different from theirs, either in point of view, or time period, or way of thinking.  

—Roger Sutton

African American heroes

Who better to celebrate Black History Month with than Ashley Bryan, a three-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and, just last month, named the winner of the 2009 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal? Accompanied by lots of photographs and first-class reproductions of his paintings, Words to My Life’s Song introduces this artist to children with engaging intimacy. (9–12 years)  

Rosa Parks was not the first Montgomery bus rider to refuse to give up her seat. In Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose relates the story of a fifteen-year-old high school student who was arrested in March of 1955 for refusing to “move back with the rest of the colored.” Hoose interviewed Claudette Colvin extensively for this book, giving it first-person appeal. (10–14 years)

While the fiery W. E. B. might be less well known than his more diplomatic rival Booker T., Tonya Bolden’s spirited biography of the African American activist brings the man to life in all his cantankerous brilliance. W. E. B. Du Bois is in the Up Close series, a line of first-rate biographies of twentieth-century movers and shakers from Viking Children’s Books. (10–14 years)

Fiction provides us with heroes, too, and Helen Hemphill’s Prometheus Jones (“I was born on the day Mr. Lincoln made his Proclamation, and I’ve been free since my first breath”) makes an unlikely but memorable one. In The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones, Prometheus heads out of Texas on a cattle drive, dogged by racist pursuers determined to hang the thirteen-year-old as a horse thief. Not a chance. (9–12 years)

—Roger Sutton

Love stories

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here are a few books that remind us that love is about more than flowers and chocolate hearts.

The differences between Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgwood seemed insurmountable; in particular, Emma believed fervently in God while Charles had serious doubts. But as Deborah Heiligman shows us in Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, the couple relied on compromise and communication to make their marriage work. This engaging dual biography humanizes the great naturalist, portraying him as a husband and father as well as a scientist. (12 years and up)

What’s love without poetry? In Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing, Gary Soto writes short and honest poems about the highs and lows of high school love. Easily browsable, the collection is divided into two parts; the first half are poems told from girls’ perspectives, while the second half lets us hear from the boys. Anyone who’s ever waited anxiously for a phone call, had an unrequited crush, or awaited a first kiss will be able to relate. (12 years and up)

Edited by Betsy Franco, Falling Hard includes poems written by teenagers of various backgrounds and sexual orientations. From funny to sad, light to serious, short (“I am / the flour / to your tortilla, / baby”) to long, the poems address the complexities of love and lust. Mature teens — the book doesn’t shy away from adult topics or language — will appreciate the frankness of the poetry. (14 years and up)

In Sherri L. Smith’s Flygirl, Ida has a secret — she’s “passing” as white in order to fulfill her dream of joining the WASP — the Women Airforce Service Pilots. This WWII novel has serious themes, but also adventure and romance, as Ida finds herself attracted to Walt, her handsome flight instructor. (12 years and up)  

For vampire love-story fans, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Eternal features newly risen “eternal” (read vampire), Miranda, and her fallen guardian angel, Zachary. When the beautiful Zachary awakens the vestiges of Miranda’s humanity, together they raise a full-scale supernatural battle against the increasingly unstable Dracula. Eternal is not for the squeamish, but fans of the author’s delectably demonic Tantalize will lap it up. (14 years and up)  

—Rachel Smith

Baby animals

Celebrate the promise of spring with these baby animal picture books featuring, respectively, a sweet little panda, an irresistible young pup, two darling polar bear cubs, and (surprise!) hordes of cute baby spiders.

In Renata Liwska’s Little Panda, young Bao Bao naps in a tree while his mother goes in search of food. He wakes to find a threatening tiger below. How will Bao Bao escape, when the only thing he’s good at is falling out of trees? A clever, humorous conclusion and Liwska’s serene but amusing pencil illustrations keep this tale of danger evaded gentle enough for the youngest listeners. (3–5 years)

Little puppy Igvillu, a cairn terrier, has big dreams: to be a sled dog. Then she discovers that sled dogs are large and loud, rough and tough — everything she isn’t. Watching a movie in which a girl and her small dog follow a yellow brick road, Igvillu falls asleep and has a new dream, about a more glamorous occupation. Vladyana Krykorka’s colorful illustrations capture the tiny pup’s outsize personality in Michael Kusugak’s The Littlest Sled Dog. (5-8 years)

Ice Bears, a nonfiction picture book by Brenda Z. Guiberson, follows a pair of polar bear cubs in their first year of life. While the detail-filled story of growth and survival doesn’t directly discuss the effects of global warming on the Arctic, this is the book’s underlying theme, revealed in a note at the back. Ilya Spirin’s realistic illustrations are expressive and convey both the power and appeal of the young bears. (5–8 years)  

Sandra Markle hones young readers’ scientific skills with her emphasis on observation in Sneaky, Spinning Baby Spiders. Guiding readers through the basics of spider reproduction and growth, she creates an exemplary interaction of text and photos. In the detailed, close-up photos, baby spiders of a variety of species manage to look downright adorable, whether crowded together on the back of an adult or flying in the breeze. (5–8 years)

—Jennifer M. Brabander

From the Editor

Last month the American Library Association announced its raft of award-winners: the Newbery, Caldecott, Wilder, King . . . it’s a long list. We’ve posted the winners on the Horn Book website, along with our reviews, and among the approximately fifty winners and Honor Books (runners-up) there is something for pretty much everybody. The House in the Night, winner of the Caldecott Medal, is a gorgeous bedtime book. The Graveyard Book, winner of the Newbery, is a page-turner and, I’m told, prime read-aloud material. Sibert (nonfiction) winner We Are the Ship will score with baseball fans both young and old, and Are You Ready to Play Outside?, winner of the Geisel Award for easy readers, makes learning to read a walk in the park. Take a stroll over to our site and look for yourself.  

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

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