celebrating children's books loved by adult readers

Copyright 2005 Wendy E. Betts.
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For other Spring titles, see our books for Garden and Plant Lovers.

Vol. 13, No. 1; March 2005

Click on the book covers for more publisher's information or to order from Powell's Books.

New Books

Home illustrated by Jeannie Baker. Greenwillow, 2004 (0-06-623935-4) $15.99

Many of us think of home as the place we go to to shut out the world. But as this wordless book demonstrates, "home" also includes the world that's outside our window--and we can help to make it a more beautiful place. Similar in style to Baker's earlier Window, each two-page spread of this book shows a window in an urban home, looking out on a yard and neighborhood. It begins during a baby's earliest days, goes through her childhood, and ends with her and her own baby in the yard; events are marked by photos and other objects lying on the windowsill, as well as what we can see the girl doing inside and outside. But far more is going on than just a child growing up in a house: she is also growing up to love her yard, her plants and her neighborhood, which grows gradually more and more welcoming and appealing, because of the work she has helped put into it. Unusually realistic collage illustrations give an appropriately three-dimensional look to this exquisite, inspiring book. * (5 & up)

The Librarian of Basra written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Harcourt, 2005 (0-150205445-6) $16.00

Few book lovers could fail to be moved by this true story about an Iraqi librarian and her friends, who successfully rescued many of the precious books from the library of Basra just nine days before it was burnt to the ground. This is a very simple version for children, which inevitably discloses some of the uglier facts of war but focuses primarily on the librarian's mission, as she stuffs her home to the very brim with books. An author's note at the end reveals more facts than the short narrative supplies. Stylized, brightly outlined and colored illustrations maintain some distance from the violence while revealing the personal anguish and ultimate hope of Alia, the librarian. (5 & up)

Wild About Books by Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Marc Brown. Knopf, 2004 (0-375-82538-X) $16.95

When a librarian accidentally drives her bookmobile into the zoo, she quickly realizes that there's a whole new world of potential readers to entice! And soon Molly is filling all kinds of request, including more Chinese books for the pandas and even waterproof books for the otter, who never goes swimming without Harry Potter. As llamas read dramas while eating their llunches, Molly gently teaches the boa constrictor not to squeeze Cricktor too tight and the termites not to literally devour The Wizard of Oz. Filled with puns, allusions and all kinds of witty gags, this rhyming story is as much of a joy to read as a book with the title Wild About Books ought to be. Brown's folk-art inspired illustrations are exuberant and expressive; I particularly like the llamas, intently studying their dramas. (4 & up)


Babe, the Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith. illustrated by Maggie Kneen. Crown, 1985; Knopf, 2005 (0-375-82970-9) $16.95

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Babe in America (it was originally published in England as The Sheep-Pig in 1983), this is a lovely, reillustrated edition. Delicate black & white drawings capture the warmth of the story of the pig who's adopted by a sheepdog and fulfills his ambition to become a sheep herder too. With its memorable animal and human characters, tender relationships, and strong sense of place, this book definitely deserves its twenty years and many more. * (8 & up)

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. 1974; Knopf, 2004 (0-375-82987-3) $8.95 trade pb

A 30th Anniversary edition, with a readers guide and an introduction by the author from 1997. ( 12 & up)

The Gingerbread Rabbit by Randall Jarrell. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1964; HarperTrophy, 2003 (0-06-053302-1) $6.99 pb

When a mother makes a large gingerbread rabbit to surprise her daughter, they are both in for a surprise: the rabbit comes to life, discovers he was made to be eaten, and runs away into the nearby forest. The naive and tasty bunny is almost fooled into a wily fox's hole, but saved just in time by a real rabbit, who turns out to have the perfect home for a parentless bunny. (Yes, believe it or not, apparently rabbits can have fertility problems.) A whimsical adventure with a note of tenderness, just right for reading aloud. Williams' pen & ink drawings are full of character. (4-8)

I Am a Bunny by Ole Risom. Illustrated by Richard Scarry. Golden Books, 1963; 2004 (0-375-82778-1) $5.99 board

This pleasant story about a little boy bunny enjoying nature and the seasons is most notable for the atypical illustrations by popular artist Richard Scarry. Unlike the cartoony line drawings most of us know so well, these pictures have complex backgrounds, depth and texture, but the liveliness of the cheerful little bunny definitely strikes a familiar chord. (2-4)

Nurse Matilda: the Collected Tales by Christianna Brand. Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. Bloomsbury, 2005 (1-58234-670-4) $16.95

"Once upon a time there was a huge family of children and they were terribly, terribly naughty." With a beginning like that, you expect to settle in for a fun read. And indeed, it is.

This is my first encounter with the Nurse Matilda series, all three of which are included in this volume: Nurse Matilda (1964), Nurse Matilda Goes to Town (1967) and Nurse Matilda Goes to Hospital (1974). In all the books, Nurse Matilda arrives to take care of the terribly naughty and unbelievably numerous Brown children, and with the power of a magical black stick teaches them some lessons they won't soon forget. (Although they always have forgotten them when the next book begins.)

I've read that Nurse Matilda is extremely popular in England; I suspect the reason that it doesn't seem to have crossed over to the U.S. is that the children characters aren't really personified; indeed, they're barely named. Only the Baby--as distinguished from the Tiny Baby, which is too small to be naughty and consequently too dull to be mentioned much--has a distinct personality. Although it's funny how the author makes up new names almost every time she mentions the children--truly, they are an enormous family--the lack of specific characters to empathize with is a drawback. But if you like a good, over-the-top, naughty children story, look no further. (6 & up)

The Unicorn Treasury edited by Bruce Coville. Doubleday, 1988; Magic Carpet, 2004 (0-15-205216-X) $5.95 pb

An anthology with a largely serious tone, alternating stories and poems about unicorns, by writers such as Patricia C. Wrede, Jane Yolen, Megan Lindholm and Nicholas Stuart Gray. (8 & up)

Now, or Again, in Paperback

No More Water in the Tub! written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold. Dial, 0-8-37-1581-1); Puffin, 202 (0-14-56430-6) $6.99 pb

Arguably even better than the first book, this sequel to No Jumping on the Bed is another hilarious adventure in a friendly apartment building. "Leave the faucet on another minute, then no more water in the tub!" mom instructs, but Walter and his little brother William don't listen and next thing they know, William is sailing in his bathtub on a waterfall that crashes through the whole building, floor by floor, taking the neighbors swimming with him! The tone is dryly comic, as neighbor Mabel rides the waves on a table, Uncle Nash sits in the trash, and little Dottie cheerfully sails her potty. The story is told in prose, but the cumulative rhyme as each new neighbor is added to the watery mess keeps it fun and easy to read. Colored pencil and watercolor illustrations are a perfect match for the story, getting more filled with silly detail in each spread. And as in the first book, there is a fantastic surprise in store at the end. * (3 & up)

Dorp Dead by Julia Cunningham. 1965; Knopf, 2002 (0-375-82255-0) $14.95; Laurel-Leaf, 2004 (0-440-41941-7) $5.50 pb

Unique when it first appeared, this poetic, heavily symbolic and genre-defying story no longer has the power to shock it once had, but is still chilling and effective. Eleven-year-old Gilly, all alone since the death of his grandmother, gladly leaves the poverty, noise and confusion of an orphanage for a life of strict routine with the village ladder maker. But he soon discovers he has traded a large part of himself for comfort and security--and that taking any steps out of rigid pattern outlined for him will have a terrifying price. Reprinted for the first time in almost ten years, this edition includes an afterward by Betsy Hearne, Professor of Children's Literature at the University of Illinois, which discusses the symbolic meanings of the story and its importance in the history of children's literature. (12 & up)

The Worry Web Site by Jacqueline Wilson. Delacorte, 2003 (0-385-73083-7) $14.95; 2005 (0-440-41929-8) $4.99 pb

In interconnected stories, seven classmates confess their problems on a "worry web site" and find some resolutions with the help of an understanding and slightly offbeat teacher. This fast-paced batch of short, first-person narratives reads a bit like a lighter version of Anne Fine's Step By Wicked Step, but rarely rises above superficiality. One oddly harsh note is struck by a story--written not by Wilson, but by a twelve-year-old girl as part of a "worry website" contest--in which the worry is that the child's father is beating her mother; it stands out painfully against the generally lighthearted tone of the rest of the book (8-12)

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