Monday, September 28, 2009

PW's starred reviews

This week's PW starred reviews includes two books by authors speaking at the National Book Festival this past weekend, Lois Lowry and Sharon Creech. I'll post blogs about their presentations later this week (sneak peek: FABULOUS!).

From Publisher's Weekly -- 9/28/09

Picturebooks

January’s Sparrow by Patricia Polacco. Philomel, $22.99 (94p) ISBN 978-0-399-25077-4

Based on actual events, Polacco’s (In Our Mothers’ House) story is at once horrifying and heartening. It centers on the Crosswhite family, slaves who flee their Kentucky plantation after witnessing the merciless whipping of January, a slave caught while attempting escape. Led to believe that January died from his wounds, Sadie Crosswhite is heartbroken when she inadvertently leaves behind the wooden sparrow he carved for her. Writing in credible dialect, Polacco conveys the family’s fear and fortitude as they follow the North Star, “trackin’ through cornfields, climbin’ up bluffs, rollin’ through muck and mud.” They take refuge in Marshall, Mich., a sanctuary on the Underground Railroad, where they remain until slave chasers track them down. After a confrontation in which the town rallies behind them, the Crosswhites steal away for Canada, accompanied by January, who has shown up unexpectedly. Like Polacco’s prose, her dynamic and sometimes brutal pictures, rendered in pencils and markers, hold nothing back—be it the Crosswhites’ anguish and terror while under pursuit or their affection for each other and those who harbor them. An illuminating and trenchant account. Ages 8–up. (Oct.)

Crow Call by Lois Lowry, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-545-03035-9

A parent returning as a stranger after WWII could be a difficult situation, but in Newbery Medalist Lowry’s first picture book, drawn from her childhood, the reunion brings warmth and trust. Out on a fall hunting trip with her father, Lizzie is quiet with apprehension (“Daddy. Daddy. Saying it feels new”). Yet he respects her wishes, even when they’re quirky. When she longs for a plaid hunting shirt many sizes too big, he endorses her choice: “You know, Lizzie... You will never ever outgrow this shirt.” He orders three pieces of cherry pie (her favorite food) for breakfast. She’s worried about the idea of hunting; he gives her the crow call—“I’m pretty sure you can handle it”—and the crows gather like magic. To her relief, her father never fires his gun. Ibatoulline (The Scarecrow’s Dance) fittingly dedicates his artwork to Andrew Wyeth. The Pennsylvania countryside, in shades of gold and fawn, undulates behind Lizzie and her father, the quiet colors echoing the intimacy they share. It’s a loving representation of a relationship between parent and child, and an elegy to a less ironic era, while fully relevant for today’s military families. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)

Fiction

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech. HarperCollins/Cotler, $15.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-06-143095-4

As adept at writing fantasy as she is creating slice-of-life novels, Newbery Medalist Creech (Walk Two Moons) again works her magic, offering an offbeat tale set in a small village in the Swiss Alps. The narrator is an endearingly flawed angel, who has trouble with “peoples’ ” language (“I am supposed to be having all the words in all the languages, but I am not”) as well as uncertainty about his (or her) mission (“Do the other angels know what they are doing? Am I the only confused one?”). When discovered by an energetic and imaginative child named Zola, the angel finally finds something more meaningful to do than “floating and swishing” around the village (“Know and fix? How does Zola know these things?” thinks the angel). Working together, the two create small miracles, instilling compassion in villagers, bringing lonely people together and finding refuge for a group of orphan children hiding in the mountains. Uplifting and full of vibrant characters, this book shows that angels come in all shapes and sizes and can sometimes even be human. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

The Museum of Mary Child by Cassandra Golds. EDC/Kane Miller, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-935279-13-6

Gothic and wonderfully creepy, Golds’s (Clair-de-Lune) atmospheric story delights, offering meditations on the nature and power of love. Lonely Heloise wants only to be loved, but lives as if jailed in the house of her stern and sometimes cruel godmother. One day Heloise uncovers a beautiful doll, Maria, hidden under the floorboards of her room, and it is love at first sight. Heloise hides Maria from her godmother, whose personal Ten Commandments include forbidding play, “pretty clothes” and the possession of a doll, not to mention never uttering the word love (“We are all of us evil. And to love something evil is wicked,” she professes). Once Maria is discovered, Heloise finds out the horrible truth about the museum that adjoins her godmother’s cottage and is thrust down a strange and magical path that reveals how sheltered she has been (“Most people, she now knew, had heard music. Most people had seen pictures”). Readers will wonder throughout: who is Heloise really—or better, what is she? Aside from an occasional tendency toward sentimental prose, Golds’s novel is pure fun, filled with mystery and nearly impossible to put down. Ages 11–up. (Sept.)

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Cinco Puntos, $19.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-933693-58-3

“I don’t like remembering. Remembering makes me feel things. I don’t like feeling things,” writes Zach as a homework assignment from his therapist at the outset of this psychologically intense novel. Tracing 18-year-old Zach’s somewhat disjointed but utterly candid monologue during his stint at an institution, readers will feel his fear as he remembers the events leading to his hospitalization and meet his “monster,” the unnamed force that appears in his dreams. But breaking through the chaos of Zach’s internal worldare two remarkable individuals: his fatherly roommate, Rafael, and therapist, Adam, whose determination to make Zach whole again never falters. Zach’s progress advances in small steps, and there are plenty of setbacks. Fellow patients who have become his friends leave suddenly, and the sadness of other lost souls is nearly too much for Zach. However, the good that comes from his struggles far outweighs the dark moments. Offering insight into addiction, dysfunction and mental illness, particularly in the wake of traumatic events, Sáenz’s (He Forgot to Say Goodbye) artful rendition of the healing process will not soon be forgotten. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)


Congratulations to these authors!

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