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.

All reviews by Wendy Betts unless otherwise noted. For info and archives, see To subscribe, send email to

Vol. 11, No. 5; July 2003

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


The Black Stallion and Flame; The Black Stallion Challenged!; The Island Stallion; The Island Stallion's Fury; The Island Stallion Races by Walter Farley. 1960; 1964; 1948; 1951; 1955; Random House, 2003 (0-679-82020-5; 0-394-84371-1; 0-394-84376-2; 0-394-84373-8; 0-394-84375-4) $5.99 pb

Five stories in the Black Stallion series focusing on Flame, the wild red stallion.

Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. 1949; Little Golden Books, 2003 (0-307-02141-6) $2.99

This nostalgic favorite still has considerable appeal today. Two kittens, Hush and Brush, have "buckets and buckets and buckets and buckets of color to splash around with." As they try to mix some green paint, they find themselves mixing just about every other color instead--but that's fine too, because all the colors can paint wonderful things. Wise Brown's text dips into rhyme to describe what each color can do, giving the book a delicate rhythm and a touch of poetic sensibility. The illustrations seem a bit dim and faded by today's bright standards, but the kittens are as jolly and jaunty as ever.

The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks. Illustrated by William Geldart. Doubleday, 1988; Delacorte, 2003 (0-385-73076-4) $15.95

In this fast-paced modern fairy tale, a lonely woman's wish for a child is granted by a insubordinate young fairy, incurring the dangerous wrath of the power-mad Fairy Queen.

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. Illustrated by Brock Cole. 1980; HarperTrophy, 2003 (0-380-60012-9) $5.99 pb

In the book which began a series, a boy named Omri discovers he can use an abandoned cupboard to bring plastic dolls to life, a power which comes with joy, unexpected pain, and more responsibility than he could ever have imagined. A carefully imagined and realized fantasy.

Also available: I, Houdini by Lynne Reid Banks. Illustrated by Terry Riley. J.M. Dent, 1978; Delacorte, 2003 (0-385-73075-6) $15.95

Julian's Glorious Summer; Julian, Secret Agent; Julian, Dream Doctor by Ann Cameron. Illustrated by Dora Leder; Diane Allison; Ann Strugnell. Random House, 1987;1988; 1990; 2003 (0-396-89117-1; 0-394-81949-7; 0-679-80524-9) $4.50 each pb

More about "the stories Julian Tells."

Mike Mulligan and More written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton. Houghton Mifflin, 2002 (0-618-25627-X) $20.00

A handsome, good quality collection of four of Burton's most popular books: Mike Mulligan an His Steam Shovel, The Little House, Katy and the Big Snow and Maybelle the Cable Car.

The Secret of the Mansion (Trixie Belden #1) by Julie Campbell. Illustrated by Mary Stevens. Golden Books, 1948; Random House, 2003 (0-375-82412-X) $6.99 pb

The Red Trailer Mystery (Trixie Belden #2) by Julie Campbell. Illustrated by Mary Stevens. Golden Books, 1950; Random House, 2003 (0-375-82411-1) $6.99 pb

Reprints of the very first Trixie Belden books, with new covers but the original illustrations.

New Books

Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French. HarperCollins, 2003 (0-06-008652-1) $15.99

This winner of the Australia Book of the Year Award was originally published in 1999, but its publication in the United States could not be more timely. How do we know, it asks, when our government is right? And what can we do if we know it's wrong?

The story within a story begins with a game played by friends as they wait for the bus. When Anna begins to tell a surprisingly plausible running story about a little girl named Heidi, who was Hitler's secret daughter, her friend Mark finds himself increasingly engrossed and disturbed by the tale. How could Heidi not know about the terrible things her father was doing, he wonders. How could she not somehow stop it? And what about genocides and injustices occurring now--why is no one stopping them? Mark turns to different people--parents, teachers--with his questions, but no one really has any answers. In fact, most of them don't even seem to want the questions to be asked.

Sad and disturbing, this book paints a short but vivid portrait of what life might have been for a little girl in Nazi Germany, and another short but vivid portrait of a boy struggling against ignorance and indifference today. I was disappointed at the way the book mostly drops Mark's story, to me the more important of the two, to concentrate on ending Heidi's, although many readers will enjoy the satisfaction of a resolution that suggests "the truth" about Heidi. And perhaps, like Mark's parents, the author did not really know what answers to give him.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins, 2003 (0-06-0011236-6) $16.99

Whenever I mention to a fellow Pratchett fan that he's now publishing Discworld books for children, the response is generally something like, "And those would be different from his other books, how?" It's a good question. The Discworld books have often had some of the best qualities of good children's literature: strong plots, humor, memorable characters, and struggles between good and evil which underscore the value of simple decency. There may be no need at all to specifically aim them at children--except inasmuch as they're then eligible for the Carnegie Medal.

At any rate, there's never a sense in this book of Pratchett holding back for the sake of the children. It does have a child heroine, an exceptionally strongminded, conscientious and intelligent young witch-in-the-making named Tiffany. And the plot is a classic children's book plot: Tiffany is on a quest to rescue her kidnapped brother from an evil fairy queen, while on a more internal level, processing the loss of her grandmother. But everything else is pure Pratchett, particularly the "wee free men" of the title, a bunch of stealin', fightin', drinking "pictsies" whose motto is "Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willna be fooled again!" As in his adult books, hilarity and insightful satire amiably coexist.

Also available: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins, 2001; 2003 (0-06-001235-8) $6.99 pb

The 2001 Carnegie Medal winner.

Now (or Again) in Paperback

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger. Simon & Schuster, 1999 (0-689-82134-4) $16.95; Pulse, 2001 (0-689-84154-X) $8 trade pb

Wittlinger's Lombardo's Law (reviewed volume 3, number 6d) was most memorable for lightly exploring a stereotype-defying teenage experience. Hard Love again looks at areas of teenage life which are generally either ignored or exploited by the mainstream, this time with far more depth and power.

"I am immune to emotion," John writes at the beginning of his story. He's had to be, since his parents' divorce left him with a father who won't talk to him and a mother who shies away from even accidentally touching him. But John's not as immune as he thinks he is; his need to communicate comes out, albeit inadvertently, in his zine Bananafish, and he connects to others through their zines--especially Marisol, a self-proclaimed "Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love," whose writing makes him feel like "I'm looking down through layer after layer of her, until I'm looking more deeply inside this person I don't even know than I've ever looked inside myself."

After John tracks Marisol down--and manages to convince her that he's not looking for a girlfriend--their friendship quickly becomes something important to both of them; she is perhaps as lonely and suspicious of human contact as he is. But as John's protective shell against emotion begins to crack, he discovers that he wants more from Marisol than he realized... more than she will ever be able to give him.

Through John's narrative, and the writing of the other zine creators he encounters--appropriately designed with distinctive fonts and graphics--Hard Love authentically captures the feel of the personal zine and the honesty, intelligence and unwitting innocence of the young people who write them. The characters are just as familiar and believable: John, who thinks he only writes his zine to be funny and is almost aghast when people find it poignant; Marisol, whose passionate belief in honesty doesn't stop her from being very conscious of her ranking on the "exotic scale" and her role as a lesbian; Diana Tree, author of the zine No Regrets, whom Marisol writes off as "a granola-head," but who has learned a lot about surviving pain. But the best thing about Hard Love is that it never treats zine writing as the latest sexy topic; like its subject, it feels sincere, touching, intelligent and hopeful.

Tyler on Prime Time by Steve Atinsky. Delacorte, 2002 (0-385-72917-0) $14.95; Dell Yearling, 2003 (0-440-41803-8) $4.99 pb

On a visit to his television writer uncle, twelve-year-old Tyler tries to fulfill his dream of getting a part on a sit-com, despite his overprotective mother and the disapproval of his controlling father. A sympathetic main character and plenty of insider detail about the acting process and the sit-com world make this an enjoyable read.

Growing a Reader: Children's Books for Children

Matthew A.B.C. written and illustrated by Peter Catalanotto. Atheneum, 2002 (0-689-84582-0) $14.95

All 25 children in Mrs. Tuttle's class are named Matthew, yet she has no trouble telling them apart: from Matthew A. who is extremely affectionate, to Matthew F. who has a cat on his face, to Matthew L. who leaks (yeech!) to Matthew Y who only yodels, all of the boys are distinct personalities. When a new kid arrives, Mrs. Tuttle is happy to see he is exactly what her class needed: a boy named Matthew, covered in zippers.

Brightly colored watercolors illustrate this very friendly, very goofy classroom, giving it a satisfying consistency: volunteering Matthew V. always has his hand up, and Matthew C's cowlick spells out different messages throughout. And Mrs. Tuttle is never seen without Matthew A. clinging to her waist--except on the back cover, where the principal takes over so she can use the bathroom. This combination of sweetness and silliness is irresistible. (3-8)

Why the Banana Split by Rick Walton. Illustrated by Jimmy Holder. Gibbs Smith, 1998 (0-87905-853-6) $15.95

The arrival of an enormous dinosaur is cue for everyone--and everything--in town to flee: the basketball players go travelling, the frogs hop a train (which makes tracks) and of course, the bananas split! But when it turns out that toothy Rex is actually a fruit-eater, everyone is glad to return--except for the poor bananas. This is great fun for beginning word-lovers, with frenetic illustrations that find the funniest potential in every silly pun: the knives cut and run, leaving chopped vegetables in their wake, the boots take a vigorous hike and the jump ropes form into panic-stricken faces as they skip town. (4-8)

Back to the Notes from the Windowsill Home Page.