Monday, October 19, 2009

PW's Starred Reviews: 10/19/2009

-- Publishers Weekly, 10/19/2009

Picturebooks

The Mitten by Jim Aylesworth, illus. by Barbara McClintock. Scholastic Press, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-439-92544-0

Aylesworth and McClintock's (Our Abe Lincoln) retold folktale about a lost mitten opens sweetly, with a playful boy wearing the tomato-red hat, scarf and mittens his grandmother has knit for him. After a carefree sled ride, he returns home, gazing disconsolately at his mittenless hand. He gets a comforting hug and hot chocolate while, outside, a delighted squirrel crawls into the mitten. Soon a rabbit asks to share the warmth: “ 'Please!' begged the rabbit./ 'My toes are cold as ice!/ Your mitten looks so cozy,/ and warm toes would feel so nice!' ” The tale grows sillier as a fox, then a bear, repeat the rabbit's rhyme to humorous effect and persuade the mitten's occupants to let them in the tight space, massively distending the mitten (they soon discover its limits—with explosive results). McClintock adapts her 19th century–style pen-and-ink imagery to the slapstick, emphasizing the animals' gestures and facial features in a Currier & Ives winter wonderland. The lifelike animals recall Joel Chandler Harris's folktales, and the naturalism—which is an unlikely but inspired vehicle for comedy—is full of surprises. Ages 3–6. (Oct.)

John Brown: His Fight for Freedom by John Hendrix. Abrams, $18.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8109-3798-7

This unflinching biography by illustrator Hendrix (Abe Lincoln Crosses the Creek), his first as author, begins with a lucid summary of the antislavery movement, pre–Civil War politics and Brown's early activities in the underground railroad. With the massacre of proslavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek, Hendrix zooms in closer to reconstruct the abolitionist's transformation into an outlaw (“John's ruthless tactics spread fear into the hearts of the Border Ruffians and others, but also branded John a crazed madman”). The violent raid in Harper's Ferry, Va., leads to Brown's arrest and execution and is the climactic event of this compelling narrative. In an author's note, Hendrix opines why Brown should be admired as visionary, not villain (“Terrorists crave destruction and turmoil, and the seed of John's rebellion was compassion”). An aptly polarized palette of saturated amber and blue acrylic washes with pen and ink lends the folk hero's tale hyperbolic splendor (in one memorable spread Brown metamorphoses into a tornado). Hand-hewn, period-fashion fonts spell out Brown's pronouncements and biblical quotations, underlining his convictions. A strong introduction to Brown's controversial legacy. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

Fiction

Gateway by Sharon Shinn. Viking, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-670-01178-0

Daiyu was adopted as a baby from China by an American couple, and now as a teenager in St. Louis, a strangely attractive gem sends her into an alternate world where North America was colonized by Chinese settlers rather than Europeans. Daiyu is recruited by Ombri and Aurora, two “servants of the gods” who are also able to move between worlds, to help stop Chenglei, a dangerous traveler who has been elected prime minister of Shenglang (the alternate version of St. Louis and “arguably the most important city on the world called Jia”). But even as Daiyu becomes increasingly fascinated by Shenglang and attracted to Kalen, who assists Ombri and Aurora, she begins questioning everything: is the charming Chenglei truly evil? (“Were Aurora and Ombri simply interdimensional bounty hunters who had their own agenda?” she wonders. “How could she possibly know?”). Shinn's (General Winston's Daughter) fantasy finds the right balance between adventure and romance, while illuminating how seductive evil can be and that sometimes the best weapon one can possess is a skeptical mind. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-38252-0

Sophomore Jessie Sloan is having a bad year. Her two closest friends are turning punk and boy-crazed; one of them even pursues Jessie's longtime crush. To make matters worse, Jessie's beloved older brother will soon be leaving for college. Jessie feels adrift and spends her time sewing skirts and listening to audiobooks. Halpern's (Get Well Soon) story picks up pace when class nerd Dottie introduces Jessie to Dungeons and Dragons, which Jessie (to her surprise) actually enjoys, leading her to a new group of friends as well as a heartfelt, if a little clich├ęd, crush on a cute boy with his own nerdish tendencies. Jessie is a thoughtful, sympathetic narrator (“How is it that someone becomes a dork?... What makes some people like punk music and Denny's and other people like costumes and Dungeons and Dragons?”), and her fresh voice will reveal to readers just how independent and exceptional she is (even when Jessie can't see it herself). The relationships and dialogue ring true; readers navigating the stratified social structures of high school will relish an ending that celebrates true friendship. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)

Congratulations to these authors!

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