V O L U M E 2 , N U M B E R 5 • M A Y 2 0 0 9
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.
New Zealander Margaret Mahy has written everything from metaphorically rich fantasy (The Changeover) to gritty YA fiction (Memory) to riotously funny picture books (The Great White Man-Eating Shark). A former librarian, she’s also a storyteller whose repertoire includes an extended tongue-twister involving a baby in a bubble and lots and lots of trouble (not to mention rebels and pebbles — and slingshots). Bubble Trouble is now a picture book with effervescent illustrations by Polly Dunbar and a starred review in the May/June Horn Book.
1. How did you come to write this tongue-twister thriller?
It is sometimes hard to say exactly where the idea for a story comes from, but in this case it was almost certainly the mere sound of the words. And having coupled bubble with trouble, one had to think of the sort of mischief that might be caused by a rebellious bubble.
2. The line that defeats me every time is “how wicked treble Abel tripled trouble with his pebble.” What’s the hardest tongue twister you know?
The hardest one I know is probably “The Leith Police dismisseth us!” but it isn’t a particularly flamboyant tongue twister, is it? Just hard to say quickly . . .
3. Did you get in hot water a lot as a child? Have you ever used a slingshot?
I got into trouble at school and sometimes at home for talking a lot; I was a very chatty child. I longed to use a slingshot but was discouraged from doing so. Nevertheless, the time came when I learned how to make slingshots of my own, and then I was probably a bit of a risk to those around me.
4. You write both laugh-out-loud picture books and deeply cosmic novels. What do you think they have in common?
Language, of course, is one of the things they have in common — even if the language varies according to the story that is being told. Also, I think mystery underlies humor in a way that is not commonly acknowledged. Sometimes a joke with words can direct one’s perception into unexpected fields . . . fields that have to do with the mystery of the human condition.
5. As a parent, grandparent, and librarian, what do you look for in a book to read aloud?
Ideally, I look for a story I will enjoy myself. My theory is that the listening child will see that I am enjoying the story, and this will blend into the child’s own pleasure. Reading the story and hearing it become a shared and sometimes intimate experience . . . something that emphasizes the richness of words and event.
—Martha V. Parravano
Animal characters are mainstays in picture books, where they can be featured as stand-ins for children or making cameo appearances. Here are a few of our current favorites.
Flip, Flap, Fly! introduces preschoolers to springtime animal babies taking their first thrilling steps toward independence. A baby bird flies, a baby fish swims, a baby snake wiggles, and so on. Their mothers are encouraging but keep their distance, allowing each little one to proceed at its own pace. Finally a human child appears on the scene, toddling down a hill to announce to his mom, “Babies everywhere!” Phyllis Root’s bouncy rhythmic text and David Walker’s cheery, light-filled illustrations feature babies overjoyed to be doing their thing. (2–5 years)
In Béatrice Boutignon’s Not All Animals Are Blue: A Big Book of Little Differences, each spread contains five sentences and an illustration of five animals; young viewers need to figure out which sentence refers to which animal. The book will challenge and intrigue preschoolers, and the softly colored animals possess just the right amount of detail and quirky personality. (3–5 years)
Just How Long Can a Long String Be?! asks Little Ant. Bird says it depends: “Will it pull down a shade? / Will it turn on a light? / Will it fly in the sky holding on to a kite?” As Bird demonstrates the uses for string, Little Ant’s giant ball of yarn shrinks. Little Ant happily concludes that “a string’s just as long as I need it to be” — in this case, just long enough to make a tiny swing for a tiny ant. Keith Baker’s illustrations are as lithe and fanciful as the rhyming text. (3–5 years)
In Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger’s seventh Tacky the penguin adventure, Tacky Goes to Camp, the lovable slob attends summer camp alongside Goodly, Neatly, and the rest of the perfect and perfectly behaved penguin crew. Tacky proves the unlikely hero once again, as a hungry polar bear finds he’s no match for a s’more-covered penguin in a sugar coma. (4–8 years)
—Jennifer M. Brabander
Observance of the Darwin bicentenary continues with Rosalyn Schanzer’s What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World, a lively comic-strip treatment of the scientist’s voyage on the Beagle that includes a lucid summary of the process of natural selection. Alice B. McGinty’s Darwin; with Glimpses from His Private Journals & Letters, is a more traditionally formatted picture book, with both the nineteenth-century setting and the glorious riot of flora and fauna Darwin discovered handsomely brought to life in Mary Azarian’s woodblock illustrations. (both 8–12 years)
Steve Jenkins takes readers to a place Darwin never saw but surely would be fascinated with, Davy Jones’ Locker. In Down Down Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea, Jenkins uses colored-paper collage to explore the way life changes from the surface of the ocean to its greatest depths, introducing a host of creatures from the great white shark to the giant tube worm. Dan Yaccarino profiles a famous explorer of these same environs in his picture book biography The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, paying homage to the popular scientist in a series of almost dreamlike paintings that evoke all the allure of the sea. (both 6–9 years)
And kids can follow one of their own into intrepid discovery with Jason Chin’s Redwoods, in which an ordinary boy, riding the subway and reading a book, finds himself climbing the giant denizens of a redwood forest, effortlessly picking up facts about the unique ecosystem along the way. Readers who enjoy the TV show Lost will especially appreciate the metafictional tricks of the story and the paintings of a giant-scaled landscape. (8–12 years)
Having trouble getting your middle-grade boy excited about reading? These novels contain the right stuff — humor and/or adventure — to capture his attention.
Perfect for fans of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, James Roy’s Max Quigley: Technically Not a Bully is a totally boy-centered novel. Despite his browbeating ways, Max is, by his own account, not a bully. When he’s forced to spend his weekends with Nerdstrom, one of his victims and the “cryingest-looking person” Max knows, reformation and personal growth transpire. The humor of the first-person narration is accompanied and driven home by deadpan cartoons by the author. (7–10 years)
For another comedy fix, Michael Simmons’s Alien Feast: Chronicles of the First Invasion, Book One, the first of a projected series, is a perfect summer read. After William’s oppressive stepparents are eaten by aliens, the only things preventing him from realizing his dream of becoming a famous violin player are the flesh-eating creatures. Adventure and hilarity entertain readers as William teams up with his uncle and a classmate for a perilous mission packed full of thrilling battles and exciting plot reversals. (7–10 years)
Also set up as the first installment of a series, Toby Alone, by Timothée de Fombelle, is an adventure story with sophisticated political and environmental undertones. Toby comes to the rescue when a society of miniature people is taken over by a villain and Toby’s own eccentric scientist dad is sentenced to death. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers craving a sequel — which is sure to provide another dose of danger and excitement. (9–12 years)
In Rosanne Parry’s debut coming-of-age novel, Heart of a Shepherd, Ignatius (nicknamed Brother) shows courage and strength of character when his brothers are away and his father is sent to serve in Iraq. Forced to run the family ranch with his grandparents, Brother experiences a tumultuous year of hard labor, worry, and self-reflection punctuated by trouble (a snake, a fire) and anchored by hope. (9–12 years)
Everything old is new again. This spring, young adult authors add a twist (or two, or twenty) to some very familiar stories.
In Julie Berry’s The Amaranth Enchantment, orphaned Lucinda works for her keep in her aunt and uncle’s goldsmith shop . . . until the mysterious Amaranth witch entrusts her with a precious gem, and the slippery thief Peter steals it. The adventure that follows — involving magic, alternate worlds, and of course a handsome prince — becomes a more action-packed “Cinderella” involving thievery, deception, a jailbreak, and a midnight pursuit. (10–13 years)
Alex Flinn’s A Kiss in Time re-imagines “Sleeping Beauty” if the heroine slept right up to the twenty-first century. Though Jack, a Florida teen visiting Europe on an educational trip, isn’t exactly the hero the ill-fated Princess Talia dreamt of before pricking her finger 300-odd years ago, she convinces him to take her back to America. There the clash of cultures provides a hilarious backdrop to the developing romance. Chivalry, it seems, isn’t dead — it just has to be awakened. (12 years and up)
In The Heights, novelist Brian James transposes Emily Brontë’s classic doomed romance to modern-day San Francisco. All the angst of the original remains as Henry (read: Heathcliff), a Mexican American orphan adopted by Catherine Earnshaw’s father, confronts prejudice from within Catherine’s affluent white community and internalizes that hatred. The two teens alternate narrative duties as their obsession with each other leads them closer and closer to destruction. (12 years and up)
Sam Llewellyn’s Lyonesse: The Well Between the Worlds takes Arthurian lore to a place you’ve never seen before. In a world where monsters are abominations, twelve-year-old Idris works as a monstergroom, trapping monsters from a watery otherworld. When Idris finds a sword in a stone and pulls it free, he sets in motion a very familiar destiny. With dreamlike prose and characters who follow a classic trajectory from childhood ordinariness to epic heroism, Llewellyn kicks off an intriguing series. (10–13 years)
—Claire E. Gross
It’s supposed to hit ninety degrees here today, so it seems like a good time to tell you about our new booklist for summer reading. Chosen from the books reviewed since last summer, the sixty-some titles are united in one purpose: reading for the fun of it. For example, Orangutan Tongs, Jon Agee’s collection of tongue twisters, is perfect for a beach-blanket challenge or an icebreaker at a barbecue, Hannah’s Winter by Kieran Meehan is the most diverting piece of escapism I’ve read this year, and if there’s anyone left who hasn’t read Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, you only have until September 1st before the sequel comes out.
The inclusion of Ed Briant’s picture book Don’t Look Now! reminds me of an old summer favorite for the grownups — Daphne Du Maurier’s creepy collection of short stories by the same name (sans exclamation point), whose title tale became a sizzling, scary (and scandalous) movie with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Read it and rent it.
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