Publisher's Weekly starred reviews for 10/5/09
Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World by Marilyn Nelson, illus. by Jerry Pinkney Dial, $21.99 (80p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3187-5
A Newbery Honor author (Carver: A Life in Poems) and Caldecott Honor artist (Noah’s Ark) execute a masterful duet in this tribute to an integrated female band that toured the U.S. between the late 1930s and mid-1940s. In 20 poems titled after swing tunes, Nelson writes in the voices of the Sweethearts’ instruments, now gathered in a New Orleans pawnshop. Connecting music to greater human truths (some dark, some triumphant), the verse strikes nostalgic yet celebratory notes, underscoring how the band’s music delivered joy and hope during an era plagued by war and racism (“The jitterbug was one way people forgot/ the rapidly spreading prairie fires of war./ Man, the house would bounce when her licks were hot!/ We gave those people what they were dancing for”). Rendered in graphite, color pencil, watercolor and collage, Pinkney’s luminous, multilayered paintings superimpose snippets of musical notation on images of the musicians and audiences in full swing. Balancing these rousing scenarios are less uplifting but no less striking signs of the times: segregated sinks in a washroom, soldiers marching off to war. On all fronts, a resonant performance. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)
The Doom Machine by Mark Teague Scholastic/Blue Sky, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-545-15142-9
Picture book author/illustrator Teague (Dear Mrs. LaRue) has produced a madcap, heavily illustrated tale chockfull of malevolent aliens and superscience as well as a fair share of silliness. The year is 1956 and young Jack Creedle is a good-natured juvenile delinquent who can work wonders with engines, while his disreputable Uncle Bud may just be the world’s greatest inventor. Equally brilliant are Isadora and her straitlaced mother, Dr. Shumway (“A lady scientist!” remarks the mayor of Jack’s town after the Shumways are stranded there. “That’s something you don’t see every day”). When alien skreeps, led by Commander Xaafuun (who hates “ooman bings”), invade in search of Bud’s most recent invention, Jack and Isadora are caught up in a rollicking interstellar adventure, replete with a crew of space pirates, a deposed princess, a wide variety of monsters and a pugnacious rooster named Milo (“Growing up had made the chicken mean. He was a typical Creedle in that way”). Borrowing wildly from pulp fiction, bad movies and even Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Teague has a wonderful time with this occasionally disjointed but endlessly inventive first novel. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)
A Pop-Up Book of Nursery Rhymes by Matthew Reinhart LittleSimon, $26.99 (12p) ISBN 978-1-4169-1825-7
The small format of Reinhart’s latest pop-up book belies the number of classic nursery rhymes he packs inside. A pop-up Humpty Dumpty falls from a red brick wall (and begins to crack up) as his spread opens, while smaller flaps to the side open to reveal the garden of “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” as well as a cake marked with a “B” for “Pat-a-Cake.” Additional spreads feature three rhymes each; in perhaps the most dramatic pop-up, a more cute-than-scary “Itsy Bitsy Spider” rides on a wave of water gushing from a towering waterspout. Ingenious details abound—the thoughtfulness put into every movement is evident. Ages 3–up. (Sept.)
Congratulations to these authors!