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.
Where many picture book biographies give a few pages to a subject’s childhood and quickly skip to the more noteworthy adult years, Patrick McDonnell’s Me . . . Jane devotes itself to primatologist Jane Goodall’s youth. Through a powerful synthesis of simple text, artless paintings, and collaged regalia from Jane’s own hand, McDonnell demonstrates two kinds of inspiration: how childhood dreams can become real and how a book can help readers find their own. (4–7 years)
Patrick McDonnell: Children’s books certainly have a unique magic but are similar to comics in that they rely on a combination of words and pictures, and on getting to the essence of the story.
In the comic strip, I’m confined to the daily deadline and to using the same size space and medium (pen-and-ink) every day. With children’s books I have room to tell little complete stories that have a life of their own. It’s a luxury to be able to spend time creating and refining. I also have more freedom to play with and explore different art styles, formats, and new characters.
PM: Coincidentally, I also had a stuffed toy chimpanzee, Zippy (who, I’ve since learned, was based on a real chimpanzee). And yes, I still have him. I briefly considered including a photo of me as a small boy with Zippy for the back flap of the book, but it seemed a little too self-serving and corny.
PM: Like Jane, my life unfolded in a seemingly predestined way. From a very early age, I dreamed of being a cartoonist and children’s book author. For as long as I can remember I loved drawing, and spent many hours with paper and pencil.
PM:That’s a very interesting question. For me, important aspects of children’s books are that they can teach life lessons and inspire. And what better way is there to inspire a child than to have them learn that their beloved book is based on a real person?
Me… Jane came to me when I was rereading Dr. Goodall’s autobiography Reason for Hope. Jane Goodall exemplifies how one person can help change the world. I took one look at the photo of young Jane with Jubilee and knew her story was a real-life fairy tale.
PM: That photo is powerful. Similar in imagery to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, with the hand of God reaching to man, in van Lawick’s photo Jane is reaching out to the animal kingdom. It’s symbolic in many ways. Ending the book with this photo illustrates a truth of Jane Goodall’s life: her childhood dream came true.
The opening and closing of the book is a completed journey. I wanted to start the book with young Jane reaching out to receive a stuffed toy chimpanzee (a gift from her father, but I like to think it was from the hands of fate). In a way, that moment set her on her life’s path. The van Lawick photo closing the book with an adult Jane reaching out to the baby chimpanzee is as if her toy Jubilee came to life.
Four new picture books, including another biography of Jane Goodall for a slightly older audience, celebrate the natural world.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps is written and illustrated by a veteran picture book biographer, Jeanette Winter. While Me…Jane focuses on Goodall’s childhood, the focus of Winter’s spare, inviting text is on the primatologist’s work in Tanzania. Accompanied by Winter’s signature, stylized illustrations, this book gives an accurate, visually appealing account of Goodall's discoveries and her transition from observing chimpanzees to campaigning to save them. (5–8 years)
Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins is a well-organized and accessible overview of the status of some currently endangered species. Beginning with five that "coped so badly [with human changes] that they're not here anymore," Jenkins then groups others, such as tigers, Asian elephants, and partula snails, by the threats they face. Vicky White's pencil and oil paint illustrations fill the large pages with mostly black-and-white creatures; color is used sparingly and beautifully. (7–10 years)
George Ella Lyon’s All the Water in the World is a lyrical presentation of the water cycle. In her sweeping, digitally rendered art, Katherine Tillotson creates luxuriant ocean swirls and pelting streaks of rain, followed by "far away" scenes in beige and tan where "dry grasses rustle / dirt's just dust." Then it's back to "this wet wonder" that flows "through you and through me." It's a familiar subject but a vital one. (4–8 years)
Hatch! by Roxie Munro presents fascinating profiles of nine mostly familiar birds—owls, hummingbirds, penguins, and the like—in an engaging guessing-game format. Each bird gets a two-page spread: on one side, a close-up of eggs; and on the other, a series of clues about the producers of those eggs. Turn the page to find the answer as well as Munro's colorful, detailed illustrations of each bird's nesting habitats. An egg-shaped text box provides additional information, such as bird behaviors, reproduction, and feeding patterns. (5–8 years)
Early independent readers are in for a treat with this trio of engaging girl protagonists—an international lineup with settings ranging from contemporary Africa to Brooklyn to Seattle.
The latest entries in author Atinuke’s delightful Anna Hibiscus series put new readers smack-dab in the middle of Anna’s warm, sprawling modern African family, including her parents, twin baby brothers Double and Trouble, aunts and uncles, and many, many cousins. In Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus!, harmattan winds from the Sahara cover the land with dust, and Anna helps less fortunate neighbors obtain access to fresh water. In Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus!, Anna flies to snowy Canada to spend a month with her grandmother, whom she is meeting for the first time. Lauren Tobia’s detailed illustrations add depth and energy, showing Anna through all her ups and downs and providing new readers with needed visual support. (6–9 years)
In Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, eight-year-old Eleanor is devastated when beloved babysitter Bibi moves away to care for her aging father. It takes the sensitivity of new babysitter Natalie, some satisfying summer routines, a few friends, and Eleanor’s own resilience and growing maturity to move on. Short sentences spaced on the page like poetry keep the twenty-seven chapters very brief, perfect for emerging readers, and the line drawings add humor. (6–9 years)
—Martha V. Parravano
Summer is just around the corner, and with it come road trips! Four recent audiobooks for the middle-grade set will help fend off are-we-there-yet-itis.
The Dreamer, Pam Muñoz Ryan’s lyrical telling of Pablo Neruda’s childhood, begs to be read aloud. Tony Chiroldes’s voicing of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor book is pitch-perfect: smooth and soothing when the child poet dreams, harsh when he interacts with his overbearing father. Chiroldes’s authentic pronunciations set the story firmly in Chile, and his melodic narration makes up for missing Peter Sís’s luminous illustrations that adorn the book. (8–12 years)
Rita Williams-Garcia’s Scott O’Dell and Newbery Honor–winning novel One Crazy Summer follows three young sisters through a life-changing summer in 1968 Oakland, California. The sisters come to know their estranged mother, become involved in street-level politics, and begin to think of themselves as “black” instead of “colored.” Narrator Sisi Aisha Johnson conveys protagonist Delphine’s strength and vulnerability as she learns to stand up for herself and her sisters. (9–12 years)
In Rosemary Wells’s time-travel mystery On The Blue Comet, Oscar’s father sells the house—and their beloved model train set—to the bank during the Great Depression. Oscar witnesses a bank robbery while visiting his trains, and finds himself somehow transported onto one of them: The Blue Comet, bound for California ten years in the future. Malcom Hillgartner’s performance captures Oscar’s sense of adventure; cliffhanger chapter endings and vivid scene-setting create a radio serial feel. (10 years and up)
Summer listening—like summer reading—is the perfect opportunity to escape to other realms like the magic-saturated world of Jonathan Stroud’s The Ring of Solomon. This prequel to Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy places the cheeky djinni in 950 BCE Jerusalem as an unlikely ally to a girl who intends, suicidally, to steal King Solomon’s magical ring. Narrator Simon Jones gives a riveting, hilarious portrayal of Bartimaeus, incorporating the series’ trademark footnotes without a hitch. (10 years and up)
A deceptively lighthearted romp through Europe, a search for a murderer, and the pain of addiction and recovery: three new novels for older teens present young protagonists making big decisions. And a short story collection from Aidan Chambers explores the consequences of all kinds of choices.
In Maureen Johnson’s The Last Little Blue Envelope, Ginny receives an email from an English guy who’s found her late aunt’s letter (which was stolen in the preceding 13 Little Blue Envelopes). Ginny returns to England to retrieve the thirteenth envelope and embarks on another multi-city European scavenger hunt. The setting is vivid, the situations hilariously absurd, and the characters dynamic, authentic, and funny. New readers and old fans will find much to like in this celebration of embracing the unexpected. (14 years and up)
Jasper Jones (by Craig Silvey) shows up at Charlie’s window and takes him to the scene of a murder. Though Jasper is the town outcast, Charlie believes he’s innocent and helps him hide the body until they can find the murderer and bring him to justice. The 1960s Australian setting is perfectly realized, with issues of race and class roiling beneath the surface. Secrets are revealed and the characters are forced to make difficult choices in a satisfying conclusion to this coming-of-age tale. (14 years and up)
Narrator Maddie in Blake Nelson’s Recovery Road is sixteen, full of anger, and in rehab when she meets Stewart. They instantly connect, but circumstances keep them apart. As Maddie rebuilds her life and goes on to college, Stewart backslides to drugs and life on the street. Readers will root for the two in their individual battles, and as a couple. Though Stewart’s relapse is heartbreaking, it gives readers a realistic ending to this story of recovery and first love. (14 years and up)
The Kissing Game by Aidan Chambers is a collection of sixteen short stories that shake up our expectations of the matter of adolescence and of the short fiction genre. Several examples of flash (really short) fiction demonstrate Chambers’s gift for revealing the significance between pauses in flat-seeming dialogue. In a broad sweep of topics—from gender to sexuality, power, materialism, and more—he writes with subtlety, brio, and respect for the intelligence of his young readers. (14 years and up)
Our Boston Globe–Horn Book committee (Jennifer Brabander, Robin Brenner, and Dean Schneider) is just a month away from announcing the winners of the 2011 awards given for excellence in picture books, fiction and poetry, and nonfiction. The winners will be presented with their awards at a ceremony at Simmons College on the evening of Friday, September 30th, and I hope they will be able to join us the following day in a reprise of last year’s very successful Horn Book at Simmons colloquium.
You can see highlights from the 2010 colloquium on our website, and we are now offering early-bird registration for those interested in attending this fall’s event, co-sponsored by the Horn Book and the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons. I can’t tell you yet what the theme of the day will be as it depends on what choices the judges make, and, hard as I might try, their lips are still sealed. But I do know that last year’s colloquium (which includes a ticket to the Friday night ceremony) sold out very quickly, so take a chance!
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