Monday, February 8, 2010

PW's Starred Reviews 2/8/10

-- Publishers Weekly, 2/8/2010

Picture Books

Paris in the Spring with Picasso by Joan Yolleck, illus. by Marjorie Priceman. Random/S&W, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-375-83756-2

Debut author Yolleck introduces Gertrude Stein and her coterie—Picasso, Max Jacobs, Apollinaire (plus assorted girlfriends)—spicing her account with gossip and asides (“Pardonnez-moi, excuse me. I must interrupt for just a moment to tell you that these sketches are of Apollinaire and their friends Pablo and Fernande”). Apollinaire watches an acrobat and gets an idea for a poem, Max Jacob writes comic verse, Gertrude chats with Alice B. Toklas; the evening soirée that the narrative takes as its focus isn’t as important as the ordinary ways these extraordinary artists spend their days. The exuberant spreads by Priceman (How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A.), scratched and scrabbled in ink and splashed with scarlets, yellows, and blues, showcase the streets of Paris with thoroughly Gallic charm. In his studio, Picasso squeezes black oil paint onto his palette while, across town, Stein passes the hours before her party curled up in an armchair, reading. Intelligently written and illustrated with élan, it’s the next step up for Francophile children who have graduated from Babar and Madeline. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)

All Star!: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever by Jane Yolen, illus. by Jim Burke. Philomel, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-24661-6

How great does a baseball player have to be for his baseball card to sell for nearly $3 million? With emphatic prose and oil paintings that echo the perspectives and palettes of vintage photography and commercial art, Yolen and Burke amply prove that Wagner (1874–1955) did plenty to make that collectible worth every dollar. The treatment of Wagner’s hardscrabble early years—he left school in the sixth grade to work in Pennsylvania’s coal mines and used sandlot games to mold himself into a strong, fast, savvy player—is particularly masterful. What could have been a Bob Costas–like sports soap opera becomes an eloquently understated tribute to that archetypal American combination of stoicism, decency, drive, and sheer talent. Joining the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900, Wagner went on to set record after record; as Yolen notes, “he did it all without drugs or fancy training programs or million-dollar incentives—just for the pure love of the game.” (True to form, Wagner had his baseball card pulled from the market when he learned it was being sold in cigarette packs.) That’s reason enough to take kids out to this ballgame. Ages 6–8. (Mar.)

Fiction

A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home by Henry Cole. HarperCollins/Tegen, $16.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-170410-9

Fantasy and natural history blend comfortably in illustrator Cole’s (Jack’s Garden) first novel, as a Louisiana plantation—where wildlife artist John James Audubon and his young assistant, Joseph, stayed for several months in 1821—provides the setting for this story of a gentle, brave mouse’s search for a home. Persecuted by bad-tempered rats and on the run from a predatory house cat, Celeste is rescued by Joseph, who nurtures and confides in her, carrying her in his pocket while he and Audubon seek birds and plants to illustrate. The volume and cinematic quality of Cole’s naturalistic pencil drawings recall The Invention of Hugo Cabret; they pull readers into Celeste’s world, capturing her vulnerability, courage, and resourcefulness (an expert basket weaver, she constructs her own means of rescue when lost). Away from humans, Celeste converses freely with other animals; in Joseph’s presence, however, Celeste bears witness to the cruel (by contemporary standards) methods Audubon used to create his drawings, one of a few moments that might trouble more sensitive readers. Evocative illustrations, compelling characters, and thoughtful reflections on the nature of home combine to powerful effect. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray. Random, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-375-85843-7

British author Gray’s U.S. debut is both an unusual twist on the road trip trope and a touching story of teenage friendship. After their friend Ross is struck by a car and killed while riding his bike, Blake, Kenny, and Sim decide to honor his memory. After a few acts of petty revenge on people who had made Ross’s last few days tough, they decide to steal his ashes and take them to the Scottish namesake town of Ross. Along the way, they get thrown off a train, lose their money, meet and flirt with three attractive Scottish girls, and discover some often uncomfortable truths about each other and their relationship with Ross. Gray’s story could have ended up a collection of coming-of-age clichés, but instead is likely to defy readers’ expectations as the boys make their way north. Although there are action sequences featuring escapes from the police, stolen mopeds, and even a bungee jump, it’s the relationship among the boys—expressed as much through believable teen banter as through obvious and emotional revelatory moments—that drives the story. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)

Poems to Grow On

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman, illus. by Beckie Prange. Harcourt, $17 (40p) ISBN 978-0-618-71719-4

The team behind the Caldecott Honor–winning Song of the Water Boatman pays tribute to biologically successful species—from mollusks and lichens to dandelions and sharks—in poems that appear in order of each animal’s first appearance on earth (a striking, mazelike time line puts the billions of years into perspective). Sidman’s words are vivid and affectionate—about single-celled diatoms, she writes, “Curl of sea-/ green wave/ alive/ with invisible jewels/ almost/ too beautiful/ to eat,” and Prange’s expressive linocuts capture the character of each animal. Fascinating factual information appears on each page; the graceful integration of science and art results in a celebratory story of survival. Ages 6–9. (Apr.)

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer, illus. by Josée Masse. Dutton, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-525-47901-7

Singer uses “reverso” poems, a form of her creation, to show that there are two sides to every fairy tale (the poems can be read backward and forward). On each page, two poems appear, one an inversion of the other with minor changes in punctuation. In “In the Hood,” Little Red Riding Hood’s poem ends: “But a girl/ mustn’t dawdle./ After all, Grandma’s waiting,” while the wolf’s poem begins: “After all, Grandma’s waiting,/ mustn’t dawdle.../ But a girl!” Masse’s clever compositions play with symmetry (in “Longing for Beauty,” Beauty and the Beast appear as one being, split in half, her tresses echoing his fur), bringing this smart concept to its fullest effect. Ages 6–up. (Mar.)

Congratulations to these authors!

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