Books for Young Readers: April 1, 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


By Jonah Winter

Illustrated by André Carrilho

Schwartz & Wade. $17.99, ages 4-9

Just in time for Opening Day -- and Passover -- comes this gorgeous tribute to the legendary left-handed pitcher who famously sat out a World Series game in observance of Yom Kippur. Starting with the cover, which holographically approximates a Koufax pitch from windup to release, the book captures the precise actions of baseball, the combination of patience and power that can lead to grand slams or shutouts. Winter uses Koufax's career low points -- the inconsistent pitches, the time he quit by throwing his uniform into the trash -- to heighten the drama as Koufax suddenly, mysteriously relaxes and tames his pitches into strikes in 1962. Beyond relaying Koufax's impressive stats, Winter conveys a sense of wonder for his achievements, not only with some choice quotes (Willie Stargell: "Hitting a Koufax fastball was like trying to drink coffee with a fork") but also through an unnamed narrator, a self-described Dodgers old-timer, who injects some Brooklyn-accented boosterism into the proceedings. André Carrilho's arresting illustrations bestow grandeur upon Koufax's career in deep Dodger blue, as well as golden browns and grays that recall period black-and-white footage, with sharp accents of red. Everything is heroically exaggerated, from the size of Koufax's generous nose and the seriousness of his "mug" to the arch of his back as he readies his pitch. As the narrator puts it, "What a thing of beauty that was."

-- Abby McGanney Nolan


A Story About Edna Lewis

By Robbin Gourley

Clarion. $16, ages 5-9

Warning! Do not read this book when hungry. A year's worth of food -- strawberry shortcake, dark amber honey, peach ice cream, garden-warm tomatoes, baby watermelons, skillet corn bread, butter beans, applesauce and nut-butter cookies -- flows across page after mouth-watering page in this paean to sunshine, soil and the earthly rewards of hard work. The author, a food writer and cookbook illustrator, takes as her subject the childhood of Edna Lewis, granddaughter of freed slaves, who went on to become the grande dame of Southern cooking, preserving in her books both the recipes and folkways of the region. The homage is almost incidental to the lyrical text, liberally sprinkled with garden lore and traditional rhymes: "Wake up, Jacon. Day's a-breaking./Fryin' pan's on and cornbread's bakin'." In this fictionalized account, Edna and her siblings scamper through lushly colored illustrations of gardens, fields and orchards -- picking and packing and occasionally snacking -- as the year wheels around from spring to high summer to fall. There are recipes at the back for some of the dishes mentioned in the text. Adult supervision is suggested and heavy cream recommended. Bon appétit and happy eating . . . er . . . reading!

-- Kristi Jemtegaard


By Shaun Tan

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $19.99, age 12 and up

Young brains fried by spring's standardized tests can find relief in this quirky collection from Shaun Tan, creator of the acclaimed graphic novel "The Arrival." These 15 illustrated stories and vignettes resist easy understanding but invite reflection. An alien exchange student finds wonder not in the typical "best places" but in bottle caps, candy wrappers and other "small things he discovered on the ground"; two bickering brothers journey to the edge of a map; and a girl carefully follows instructions to create her own pet from broken toys and appliances. Tan's mixed-media art, with its surreal landscapes, rescued turtles and decorated missiles, both illuminates the text and highlights the strange beauty of the ordinary.

You can even usher in National Poetry Month today with one of the pieces called "Distant Rain." In this found-and-lost poem, fragments of words and pictures accrue into a gigantic "poetry ball" that "floats gently/above suburban rooftops" until a sudden shower breaks it again into bits of "accidental verse" that "whisper something different" to each reader. Tan's words continue to "whisper" long after the book is finished. Like the mysterious creatures in "Stick Figures," his stories seem to "take all our questions and offer them straight back: Who are you? Why are you here? What do you want?" Questions not readily answered but important to ponder.

-- Mary Quattlebaum

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