Monday, February 16, 2009

PW's Children's Book Reviews

Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, 2/16/2009

Picture Books

Sneaky Weasel by Hannah Shaw. Knopf, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-375-95625-6
When the eponymous “nasty, measly” antihero of Shaw's authorial debut invites everyone to a party “to boast about his incredible castle, fast car and huge swimming pool,” he discovers that he has made an offer that is very easy to refuse. Shocked when his previous crimes and pranks are thrown in his face by his victims (he doused Hedgehog with fleas and allowed Shrew to believe he was going to be fed to Weasel's cat), Weasel makes amends and—eventually—learns something about apologizing (“After a while he began to mumble, 'I'm so... so important! No... I'm su... super sneaky?' ”) What keeps the story from turning sappy are Shaw's considerable talents. Her gangly ink drawings are amplified with funny visual asides (such as endpapers featuring nasty and nice weasel-themed advertisements), while the quirky typography imbues the narration with a dry lilt (one can almost hear Judi Dench reading it aloud). And it helps that Weasel, whose haughty and sneering demeanor brings to mind Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, is also truly clueless—readers can savor both his callousness and comeuppance. Ages 4–7. (Feb.)

Eleanor, Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport, illus. by Gary Kelley. Disney-Hyperion $16.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-7868-5141-6
Rappaport's spare text and Kelley's handsome paintings, evocative of WPA murals, reclaim the legendary first lady's story for the younger set, revealing the person behind the icon. Writing in clipped, one-or-two-sentence paragraphs that have the feel of blank verse, Rappaport is vivid and frank about Eleanor's unhappy childhood and overbearing mother-in-law (“Sara told Eleanor what clothes to buy and what food to serve.... She even chose their furniture”), although she demurs when it comes to the Roosevelts' own marital problems. Each spread is anchored by a quote from Eleanor herself, set in large type to convey her voice, growing sense of confidence and moral conviction (the opening endpapers read, “Do something every day that scares you,” setting a powerful tone from the outset). Kelley's muted palette conveys the gravity of the times and provides a striking visual counterpoint to his dramatic, strongly geometric compositions. Even if readers have little sense of history, they will close the book understanding that it was America's great fortune to have Eleanor's life coincide with some of its darkest hours. Ages 5–8. (Feb.)

Bird, Butterfly, Eel by James Prosek. S&S, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-689-86829-0
Jewellike colors, skilled draftsmanship and intelligent composition bring readers right into the world of a trio of migrating animals. In a series of watercolors set in New England, Prosek (A Good Day's Fishing) enlivens his exploration of the life cycles of a barn swallow, a monarch butterfly and an American eel by introducing a sleek black cat into the spreads. She tips her nose up to the low-flying Butterfly, watches Bird as she feeds her nestlings and sits at the edge of Eel's pond (when they've gone south, she lies on an artist's table and sulks). Double-page spreads split horizontally into three panels to convey simultaneous action, and the aerial and underwater views add excitement. Prosek's lean text instructs simply: “[Eel] is eating insects and small fish and storing up energy for her long swimming journey ahead.” The few moments where he does allow himself poetic license stand out by contrast (“Eel's young, small as toothpicks and clear as glass, swim up the creek to the pond”). Even very young readers with an interest in the natural world will relish Prosek's intimate portraits. Ages 6–10. (Feb.)

Congratualtions to these authors!

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