celebrating children's books loved by adult readers

Copyright 2003 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. 11, No. 3; April 2003


Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Garth Williams. Simon & Schuster, 1954; Golden Books, 2003 (0-307-10546-6) $8.99

It's Spring, and a bunny is looking for something very special: "A home for a bunny, a home of his own." Although the bunny asks other animals for advice, no home seems right for him--until he finds another bunny, who welcomes him in. Repetition, rhyme, and assonance combine in a rhythmic whole that gently bounces along, much as the bunny does. Williams' warmly realistic illustrations look better than ever in the new, larger "Big Little Golden Book" format.

Also now available as a "Big Little Golden Book": The Fuzzy Duckling Jane Werner Watson. Illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. Simon & Schuster, 1949; Golden 2003 (0-307-10325-0) $8.99

I Love You As Much... by Laura Krauss Melmed. Illustrated by Henri Sorenson. Lothrop, 1993 (0-688-11718-X) $14.00; HarperFestival, 2003 (0-06-008659-9) $11.99 board book gift set

Aimed for mother's day gifting, this is one children's book package that I think likely to hit its mark: new moms will be suckers for this pairing of a heart-shaped wooden frame with a now-classic board book about maternal love. The tender bedtime story is also clearly designed to tug at a mother's heartstrings, but will appeal to many children as well, using easy rhyme and simple metaphors to describe the love of animal mothers for their children: "Said the mother goat to her child, 'I love you as much as the mountain is steep'. Said the mother whale to her child, 'I love you as much as the ocean is deep.'" The book ends with a human mother holding an infant, saying, "Now sleep, child of mine, while the stars shine above--I love you as much as a mother can love." Soft-focused drawings attractively combine dreaminess with exquisite detail.

New Books

Dancing in My Nuddy-Pants by Louise Rennison. HarperCollins, 2003 (0-06-009746-9) $15.99

"Even further confessions of Georgia Nicholson": a follow-up to Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, On the Bright Side, I'm Not the Girlfriend of a Sex God and Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas.

Now (or Again) in Paperback

If I Should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan. Harcourt Brace, 1994 (0-15-238040-X) $16.95; 2003 (0-15-204679-8) $6.95 pb

Hilary, a young member of the "Aryan Warriors," a Neo-Nazi organization, lies in a coma after a motorcycle accident. Seemingly lifeless, her mind still works furiously, ceaselessly spewing a torrent of hate for her mother and for Jews, whom she blames for her father's death. Then she finds her consciousness slipping away--into the body of a girl called Chana, a Jewish girl who lived during the Holocaust, 50 years before. At first Hilary thinks her visions are a meaningless dream and refuses to accept their significance, but they keep coming. Inside Chana, Hilary experiences the fear, pain, loss and despair of the Jews in the Nazi ghettos and concentration camps, becoming one with her in her suffering until she can no longer tell where Chana's life ends and hers begins.

The inherent power of this story is somewhat marred by an ambitious narrative style that isn't completely successful. Hilary's tormented inner voice, half watered-down expletives and half confused flashbacks, does not give a convincing explanation of her anti-semitism. Chana's narrative works better, especially as it become the focal point of the novel: the recreation of the physical and emotional horrors of the Holocaust is vivid and soul-wrenching. (At one point, Chana realizes that the smell of Auschwitz is that of "human flesh, human hair and bones burning. I was drenched in it, choking with it, but I knew that in order for me to live, I had to breathe, I had to inhale this residue of someone else's life.")

Chana's story, describing in bitter detail her efforts to keep both her body and spirit alive, builds in power until finally the war is over and she has survived--in part, as her intuitive grandmother tells her, because Hilary's spirit was with her. "She was the brave Chana, the strong Chana, the Chana who could cry and mourn so many deaths, so much destruction, so that you wouldn't have to. . . Your shvester, your other self, kept your soul alive." In a deeply moving ending, the separate spirits of the two girls talk to each other for the first time--only now Chana is the old woman she is in Hilary's time, another patient in the hospital. By sharing her experiences with Hilary she has saved her life, just as Hilary's presence saved hers in the past. And now, she tells Hilary, it is her turn to share what she knows with others, to be a witness: "I reached out to you. I touched you. I screamed, and you heard. . . In hearing me, in understanding me, you have given my past new meaning. It will change the meaning of your past as well, and someday your life as an angry child who has turned her hate to love will change still another life."

Lombardo's Law by Ellen Wittlinger. Houghton Mifflin, 1993; 2003 (0-618-31108-4) $5.95 pb

It's common in romance novels for a girl to fall in love with a lonely outsider or misunderstood rebel--but how often is that outsider two years younger and three inches shorter than she is? This slight but appealing romance tackles a perspective rarely seen in young adult novels, but familiar in real life: Justine, a bright, lonely fifteen-year-old, discovers that friendship and love aren't always found in the obvious places--and that "fitting in" is no match for true compatibility. Anyone who's ever felt like an outsider will enjoy Justine's confused attraction to Mike, her wise-cracking but sensitive thirteen-year-old neighbor, although the "popular kids are so dumb" tone gets snotty at times, and Justine is sometimes so wishy-washy, the plot seems forced into melodrama just to extricate her from uncomfortable situations.

Growing a Reader: Children's Books for Children

Cousin Ruth's Tooth by Amy MacDonald. Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Houghton Mifflin, 1996 (0-395-71253-X) $14.95; 2003 (0-618-31099-1) $5.95 pb

This follow-up to Rachel Fister's Blister is equally funny in its own right, a side-splitting story about the Fister's frantic search for Cousin Ruth's missing tooth. The rhyme scheme isn't quite as faultless as that of the first book, but the sophisticated use of unexpected words and phrases is delightful. (4-8/4-8)

Passover Magic by Roni Schotter. Illustrated by Marylin Hafner. Little, Brown, 1995 (0-316-77468-5) $14.95; 2003 (0-318-77928-8) $6.95 pb

This companion to Hanukkah! (reviewed volume 1, number 53) tells a sweet story about a Passover Seder enlivened by the magic of Uncle Harry, a weekend magician who, naturally, is the perfect person to hide the afikomen. But Uncle Harry's tricks aren't the real magic of Passover: thoughts of hope, freedom and family are. Hafner's pen & ink and watercolor illustrations nicely capture the bustle of a large family gathering, giving each person an individual character. (4-8)

See You Soon Moon by Donna Conrad. Illustrated by Don Carter. Knopf, 2001 (0-440-41773-2) $6.99 pb

A vivid and endearing first-person narrative gives a special flavor to this story. About to begin a trip to grandma's house, a little boy says goodbye to many of his favorite things, including the moon--only to discover, to his delight, that the moon makes the entire trip along with him. His poetic, yet down-to-earth, observations capture the quiet thrills of a nighttime journey, making this a wonderfully soothing bedtime book. Boldly tactile illustrations sometimes seem a bit crude, with a moon that seems to be made of cream cheese and characters that sport bright red, very round noses and eyes that cast shadows, but the evening landscape's cool greens and blues match the mood of the story well. (2-5)

Spring Cleaning by Else Holmelund Minarik. Illustrated by David T. Wenzel. HarperCollins, 2003 (0-694-01696-9) $5.99 board book

This "Maurice Sendak's Little Bear" book has nothing to do with Sendak any more and not a whole lot to do with the original Little Bear either, but it's a satisfying small story. The bear family is doing spring cleaning, which leaves Little Bear and Father Bear aghast at the notion of throwing out some old favorite items. But Mother Bear insists they don't need them anymore--until she spies a book she used to love. The story ends on a pastoral note, with the entire Bear family peacefully settling down under a tree to enjoy their old possessions: "there would be plenty of time to clean tomorrow." A short, sweet read. (2-4)

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