Monday, January 12, 2009

Publisher's Weekly Starred Reviews

This weeks Publisher's Weekly includes the following starred reviews. Congratulations!

The Snow Day by Komako Sakai. Scholastic/Levine, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-01321-5

Snow has been falling all night, and when a small rabbit awakens, he learns that kindergarten is closed, his mother can't go to the store, and his father's flight home has been canceled. “Mommy, we are all alone in the world,” he announces solemnly, and even though he's clearly safe and sound in an apartment with all the modern comforts, readers will understand his bittersweet feelings of isolation and solitude. Sakai (Emily's Balloon) takes a very different approach in these pages: focusing more on setting and mood than characterization, she turns each illustration into a vivid snapshot (Mommy on the phone with stranded Daddy, an outdoor hug before the dash back indoors). Against a palette of grays and muted colors, she uses the yellow of the rabbit's jacket or boots to focus the reader's gaze, and layers the paints to suggest the intimacy and coziness of the hearth, the eerie but irresistible starkness of a landscape transformed by snow. Ages 3–5. (Jan.)

Our Abe Lincoln by Jim Aylesworth, illus. by Barbara McClintock. Scholastic, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-439-92548-8

Proving once again that they are a match made in picture-book heaven, Aylesworth and McClintock (previously paired for The Gingerbread Man) turn out a biography of Lincoln virtually guaranteed to hook readers. Adapted from a song popular during Lincoln's presidential campaigns, its verses can be sung to the tune of “The Old Grey Mare,” and tell of iconic or seminal moments in Lincoln's life: “Smart Abe Lincoln read late by the firelight/ Late by the firelight/ Late by the firelight/ Smart Abe Lincoln read late by the firelight/ Many dark nights ago.” McClintock brings in the storytelling magic: she shows costumed children on one side of a curtain in a school auditorium, an eager audience waiting on the other. As usual, her attention to detail rewards those who look closely: one of the actors pokes her face out from beneath the curtain, adults get ready to tie the beard on the actor playing Abe, and the expression on the boy playing the raccoon is not to be missed. Endnotes amplify each verse with relevant facts. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells, illus. by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick, $16.99 (96p) ISBN 978-0-7636-3723-1

Inspired by a 200-word fragment written by one of Lincoln's sons, Wells (Mary on Horseback) introduces the legendary president through the perspectives of his youngest children, Willie and Tad. Nine years old when the book opens, in Springfield, Ill., Willie accompanies his father to Chicago, where, as Willie puts it, “spiffed-up men with soft hands” decide that Lincoln should run for president: “It's a derby race, and I've got a plow horse's chance,” Lincoln tells his son. The family vernacular will win readers quickly, as will Lincoln's readiness to indulge his boys and let them see him at work. Darkness enters gradually: on the train to Washington, Pinkerton agents whisk Lincoln off, in disguise (“a lot of shicoonery,” he tells the boys), to foil an assassination plot; the outbreak of war grieves Lincoln; and then the death of Willie in 1862 devastates Mary Lincoln. Wells ends as Lincoln and Tad return from a trip to Richmond, Va., at the close of the Civil War, and Lincoln orders the Union band to play “Dixie.” Rarely does a biography so robustly engage the audience's emotions. Final art, in color, not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)

Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior by Chris Bradford. Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4231-1871-8

Debut author Bradford comes out swinging in this fast-paced adventure set in medieval Japan, the first in the projected Young Samurai trilogy. Twelve-year-old Jack Fletcher has gained a reputation aboard a British merchant vessel as an agile rigging monkey. But after Japanese ninja murder the entire crew, including his father, Jack is left alone and injured to cope with strange customs and indecipherable language. When he shows his fortitude and cleverness, however, a powerful samurai adopts him and sends him to learn the ways of Japan's warrior class. Jack's story alone makes for a page-turner, but coupling it with intriguing bits of Japanese history and culture, Bradford produces an adventure novel to rank among the genre's best. The intricate and authentic descriptions of martial arts contests will hold readers spellbound. Just as potent for many readers, though, are the outright hatred and prejudice Jack faces as a gaijin, or foreigner, while he attempts to master an elaborate code of honor. This book earns the literary equivalent of a black belt. Ages 10–up. (Mar.)

Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song by Ashley Bryan, photos by Bill McGuinness. S&S/Atheneum, $18.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-4169-0541-7

Well-loved illustrator Bryan's pictures and recollections tell of his lifelong devotion to making and sharing art. His Antiguan-born parents sang, kept birds and sheltered orphans; they showed him how to resist convention and survive defeat. Drawing every day, as a soldier during WWII he kept his art supplies in his gas mask (“There would have been a tumble of materials if I were ever in need of that mask!” he says). Bryan honed his skills, overcame racism and discouragement, and thrived throughout 20th-century tumult. While the text forms a single narrative thread, the busy pages are laid out scrapbook-style on bright, overlapping rectangles of color, old family photos next to artwork next to call-outs of Bryan's words in large type. Bryan brought elements of African art to award-winning collages and woodcuts; on his own time, he made (and continues to make) other treasures. McGuinness's photos show the artist in many settings on the Maine island he now calls home. A book for parents and children to enjoy together, Bryan's triumphant story will inspire artists of every age. All ages. (Jan.)

Chasing Lincoln's Killer: The Search for John Wilkes Booth by James L. Swanson. Scholastic, $16.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-439-90354-7

The YA version of Swanson's bestselling Manhunt, this account of Lincoln's assassination and the 12-day search for his killer reads like a historical thriller, no matter that the narrative jumps among its locations and characters. As President Lincoln delivers victory speeches in April 1865, an enraged John Wilkes Booth vows death: “Now, by God, I'll put him through.” Every bit of dialogue is said to come from original sources, adding a chill to the already disturbing conspiracy that Swanson unfolds in detail as Booth persuades friends and sympathizers to join his plot and later, to give him shelter. The author gives even the well-known murder scene at Ford's Theatre enough dramatic flourish to make the subject seem fresh. While Lincoln lays dying, Booth's accomplices clumsily attempt to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward, and Booth talks his way past a guard meant to bar him from crossing a bridge into Maryland. In focusing on Booth, the author reveals the depth of divisions in the nation just after the war, the disorder within the government and the challenges ahead. Abundant period photographs and documents enhance the book's immediacy. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)

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