Monday, January 19, 2009

PW's Starred Reviews

From this week's Publisher's Weekly:

Same Same by Marthe Jocelyn, illus. by Tom Slaughter. Tundra, $15.95 (24p) ISBN 978-0-88776-885-9
Jocelyn and Slaughter (previously paired for Eats) strikingly introduce the concept of classification. Slaughter's graphic cut-paper compositions command attention with their paint-box–bright colors. The first spread, for example, shows an apple, a blue-and-green planet Earth and a tambourine, against fields of yellow, black and red, respectively, for stop-sign-like impact. “Round things,” reads the caption. The next pages show the tambourine again, now with a guitar and a bird. This spread is captioned “things that make music.” Always carrying forward one of the three objects from the previous spread, Jocelyn delivers the vital lesson that everyday objects fall into many categories. The concept is clear and the delivery attractive; a book like this is an essential part of the very young child's library. Ages 2–5. (Jan.)

The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber, illus. by Adam Gustavson. Tricycle, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-58246-256-1
When his mother invites a Union Army corporal—“a Yankee Jew” named Myer Levy—to join the family for Passover, Jacob is aghast: they're proud Virginia Confederates, and only 24 hours have passed since Lee's surrender. But Mother has tradition on her side: as she reminds Jacob, the Haggadah commands Jews to welcome “all who are hungry... all who are in need” to their seder tables. With a cinematic flair and rich, realist oils, Gustavson (A Very Improbable Story) depicts how a d├ętente between North and South is forged—albeit tenuously—by the timeless values of faith, civility and chicken soup. Basing her writing on a historical incident, Weber makes an impressive debut. The fiercely held loyalties and enthusiasms of her 10-year-old narrator feel authentic, and her gift for dialogue—especially the Southern-Jewish inflections of Jacob's family—makes the pages fly. Above all, she deserves great credit for not forcing her characters to hug and learn in the final pages. “Well, that was something, wasn't it?” the mother says as the Yankee departs. Sensitively written and beautifully illustrated. Ages 7–9. (Mar.)

Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian. S&S/Atheneum, $17.99 (56p) ISBN 978-1-4169-7978-4
Florian's free-flowing, witty collection of poems and collages about dinosaurs is a giganotosaurus delight—perhaps his best work ever. The poems marry facts with a poet's eye for detail: the Brachiosaurus was “longer than a tennis court” and the Ankylosaurus says, “We like spikes and we like scutes/ (Bony plates we wear as suits).” Small experts will appreciate the “Glossarysaurus” at the end, but the heart of the book is in its humor, the spontaneity of both illustrations and poems, and Florian's slightly askew view of the Mesozoic creatures. A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton spews cutout images of things a T. rex might actually have eaten, along with a tumble of other things (newspaper clippings, a boot, a building), while the text ends with a great pun (“I find it terrific/ That it's T-rex-tinct”). The tiny (20-inch) Micropachycephalosaurus stares up at a huge display of his enormous name spelled out phonetically, in illuminated caps and as a rhombus. Art and text will encourage aspiring paleontologists and poets to parse these pages again and again. Ages 6–up. (Mar.)

Heartsinger by Karlijn Stoffels, trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson. Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-545-06929-8
At the “midday hour” on the same stormy day, two remarkable musicians are born in an unnamed land. Mee, the singer of dirges, can see inside a person's soul; Mitou, an accordion player, is the finest “merrymaker.” Dutch author Stoffels makes an impressive American debut as she adopts the mannered language of fairy tales. Hearing of Mee, Mitou feels certain that she is destined to meet him; as she travels to find him, Mee and Mitou each encounter individuals in need of their respective services. These characters' stories, cleverly interlinked, play on timeless themes of love, loss and rejuvenation, but fold in idiosyncratic elements: a queen gives birth between courses at a banquet (her neglected child is doomed to stare nonstop at her reflection: “Somebody has to look at me.... And if nobody will, then I'll do it myself”). Stoffels's prose can be overwrought (“The sight of the waves causes me pain. Even the roar of the ocean stabs my heart”), but her characters, especially the women, have a ferocity that belies the possibly precious tone, and readers who like love stories will savor the imaginative details. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)

Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers. HarperTeen/Amistad, $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-06-121477-6
Using both harsh realism and a dose of the fantastic, Myers (Game) introduces an inner-city teen in the jaws of a crisis: 17-year-old Lil J is holed up in an abandoned building, believed to have shot an undercover cop in a drug bust, while police officers assemble in the street below. As he searches for a way out, Lil J is stopped by Kelly, an eerily calm vagrant who invites him to “cop a squat and check yourself out on the tube.” Kelly's TV not only plays scenes from Lil J's life but projects what will happen if he sticks with his current plan: suicide. Shocked, Lil J considers Kelly's question, “If you could take back one thing you did... what would it be?” Aided by Kelly's TV, Lil J revisits pivotal moments and wrestles with his fate. As expected, Myers uses street-style lingo to cover Lil J's sorry history of drug use, jail time, irresponsible fatherhood and his own childhood grief. A didn't-see-that-coming ending wraps up the story on a note of well-earned hope and will leave readers with plenty to think about. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)

Congratulations to these authors!

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