celebrating children's books loved by adult readers

Copyright 2002 Wendy E. Betts. Reproduction for personal and non-commercial use is permitted only if this copyright notice is retained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission. Mail with comments or questions.

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Vol. 10, No. 6; December 12, 2002

Take Note: books of special interest to children's book enthusiasts

HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics. HarperCollins, 2002 (0-06-008094-9) $24.99

Twelve classic and popular HarperCollins picture books are collected in this monster volume, including Harold and the Purple Crayon, A Baby Sister for Frances, Leo the Late Bloomer, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and, of course, Goodnight Moon. Unlike many such collections, this one retains the original layout for each book; although this does sometimes result in extra white-space, which inevitably changes the look of the book somewhat, it's still vastly preferable to having the text and pictures rearranged or edited. At $25, this is a very economical, albeit heavy, way to create a durable picture book library. (All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to First Book, a nonprofit organization that gives children's books to low-income families. For more information, see

Inside the Secret Garden: a Treasury of Crafts, Recipes, and Activities by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson. Illustrated by Mary Collier. HarperCollins, 2002 (0-06-027922-2) $24.99

There's something counter-intuitive about an activity book based on The Secret Garden; as even this book's authors acknowledge, Frances Hodgson Burnett's characters were really too busy actually gardening to care much about pressing flowers or making windchimes. Still, enthusiastic readers will enjoy this chance to understand the everyday lives of the characters somewhat better, by eating what they ate and seeing some of what they saw. Besides recipes and crafts, the attractively designed book includes a short biography of Burnett, a time line of her life shown in context with historical events, descriptions of typical places, and a glossary of unfamiliar words used in the story.

Zathura written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin, 2002 (0-618-25396-3) $18.00

A sequel to the Caldecott Medal book Jumanji, this time featuring an outer space board game-turned-real.

Reprints: Reviews

Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher. 1991; HarperTempest, 2002 (0-06-050783-7) $6.99 pb

Aside from one story which first appeared in the anthology Connections, this is a collection of original stories with an interesting link: although complete in themselves, each one revisits a character from one of Crutcher's sports novels--and often not a character you'd expect to revisit. For example, Willie Weaver, the protagonist of The Crazy Horse Electric Game gets only minor mention by the narrator of "Telephone Man," a slow-witted, racist teen who is unexpectedly faced with the falsity of stereotypes.

The main characters in these stories are all boys, mostly athletes, trying to find courage as they deal with turning points in their lives. One boy is forced to try to forgive someone who grievously injured him; another boy struggles to hold onto his sense of right and wrong despite pressure from his friends and the power of his own prejudices. These stories pack quite a punch, and although the collection as a whole suffers a bit from redundancy of phrases and jokes, and I was irked by the fact that every female athlete mentioned winds up giving up her sport for the sake of her social life, I found that, as always, Crutcher not only makes reading about sports appealing to people who don't like them, but also make us understand why people do.

Reprints: News

The Children of Green Knowe; Treasure of Green Knowe; The River at Green Knowe; A Stranger at Green Knowe; An Enemy at Green Knowe by Lucy Boston. Illustrated by Peter Boston. 1955; 1958; 1959; 1961; 1964; Harcourt, 2002 (0-15-202462-X; 0-15-202595-2; 0-15-202613-4; 0-15-202583-9; 0-15-202475-1) $17.00 ea.

These five genre-defying classics aren't connected by recurring characters as much as by a place: a warm, friendly castle of a house whose inhabitants--both living and dead--are equally warm and friendly. These reprints include the original pen & ink illustrations but have new covers by Brett Helquist, probably best known as the illustrator of "A Series of Unfortunate Events." His sharp-faced characters would not have been my choice for these gentle, life-affirming stories, but the atmospheric depictions of Green Knowe amidst moonlit skies, towering woods and swirling water do contribute an air of mystery and drama.

The Forgotten Helper by Lorrie Moore. Illustrated by T Lewis. 1987; Dell Yearling, 2002 (0-440-41680-9) $4.99 pb

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Emma Gelders Sterne and Barbara Lindsay. Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. 1962; Golden Books, 2002 (0-307-10432-X) $19.95

A courtly yet moving retelling of the King Arthur legend, minus the sexual elements (although not the violence). This edition is probably best remembered for its handsome illustrations, striking color plates which evoke various styles of medieval art.

The Little House written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton. 1942; Houghton Mifflin, 2002 (0-395-25938-X) $5.95 pb

The sixtieth anniversary of the Caldecott Medal winner.

Midnight is a Place by Joan Aiken. 1974; Houghton Mifflin, 2002 (0-618-19625-0) $5.95 pb

Dark, Dickensian tale of wicked guardians, wretched orphans and deadly child labor, bolder and richer than The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

New Books: Reviews

Museum ABC by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Little, Brown, 2002 (0-316-07170-6) $16.95

This imaginative and exquisite alphabet book starts with the most basic of alphabet text, "A is for Apple," and shows that there are many different, beautiful ways to portray an apple: in a woodcut by Roy Lichtenstein, an oil painting by Paul Cezanne, a watercolor by Brian Connelly, and a greek painting on terracotta, for example. Each spread includes four beautifully reproduced details from artwork of varying cultures and periods; opposite the illustrations, a simple alphabet phrase is on an palate-clearing white background. It's simultaneously an art lesson, a history lesson and a great visual pleasure; I keep being entranced by "S is for Star," which shows stars brightly glowing in four thoroughly different ways, and by "E is for Eggs," which are variously in a nest, on a plate, cracked on the floor, and hatching out strange small children.

New Books: News

Lost in the Labyrinth by Patrice Kindl. Houghton Mifflin, 2002 (0-618-16684-X) $16.00

A graceful, melancholy retelling of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, told from the point of view of King Minos' daughter Xenodice. By the author of Owl in Love.

The Other Side of Dawn by John Marsden. Houghton Mifflin, 2002 (0-618-07028-1) $16.00

The seventh and final book in Marsden's series about a group of Australian teenagers fighting against a terrorist invasion.

Now (or Again) in Paperback

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman. HarperTempest, 2001 (0-06-447213-2) $6.95 pb

An almost unbearably intense and touching story about a boy trapped in a body so thoroughly dysfunctional, no one, not even his own parents, has any idea he is actually a thinking person.

Growing a Reader: Children's Books for Children

The Difference Between Babies and Cookies by Mary Hanson. Illustrated by Debbie Tilley. Harcourt, 2002 (0-15-202406-9) $16.00

It can be strange getting used to a new sibling--especially when what your mom tells you about babies turns out to be. . . all wet. As the narrator of this book discovers, although mom says babies are "as sweet as cookies," you shouldn't dip them in milk; they may be as cuddly as puppies, but they drool more; and even though baby's cheeks may be as rosy as apples, "you can't give your sister to your teacher." Action-filled pen & ink and watercolor drawings show the narrator gradually starting to have more and more fun with her sister, until she finally concludes, "I'm just glad I'm here to help take care of our baby. She shouldn't grow up thinking she's a cookie." This is silly, non-didactic fun, and the lighthearted drawings make the impetuous toddler and adorably chubby, smiling baby deliciously familiar.

Everything Old is New Again: new editions of books widely available

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Illustrated by Michael Foreman. 1908; Harcourt, 2002 (0-15-216807-9) $24.00

This large, unabridged hardcover of the classic animal story is an excellent choice for a read-aloud edition, sized for easy sharing and to accommodate numerous watercolor illustrations. From small sepia details, to two-page color spreads, to text printed against a beautiful background of falling snow, this is a lavishly illustrated book, with barely a page of plain text. Foreman's light, intimate style, which uses natural colors and shows lots of action, mostly saves it from the ornate, formal feel of so many handsomely illustrated classics.

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