Book Reviews:'Bubble Trouble' by Margaret Mahy, Illustrated by Polly Dunbar; 'My Life in Pink and Green' by Lisa Greenwald; 'Three Children at Civil War Battle for Vicksburg' by Andrea Warren

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


By Margaret Mahy

Illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Clarion. $16, ages 3-7

Playing fast and loose with the laws of gravity -- both earthly and emotional -- Margaret Mahy mixes acrobatic language and tongue-tangling rhymes to create her latest lighter-than-air offering. Like her gleefully inflated "Down the Back of the Chair," this new romp -- about a tot who finds himself bobbing aloft in a baby-size bubble -- is a launchpad for laughter. As his sister, his mother and a host of others chase the runaway around town, roller-coaster syllables and mischievous meters topple one over the other in a "wibble-wobble" way. Each page introduces a new player: Chrysta Gribble, who "groveled on the gravel"; Tybal "and his jolly mother Sybil"; feeble Mrs. Threeble "in a muddle with her needle"; the Copple couple, who "came cavorting at the double"; as well as kindly Canon Dapple, who quite sensibly states the obvious: "The problem we must grapple with is bringing Baby down." Enter treble singer Abel, a naughty choirboy whose slingshot almost brings the whole adventure to a disastrous end: "Upon my honor, there's a baby who's a goner!" Polly Dunbar's illustrations, a cozy patchwork of ginghams, checks and chintzes enclosed in scribbly black pencil outlines and topped by outrageously expressive cartoon faces, are the perfect accompaniment for this freewheeling frolic.

-- Kristi Jemtegaard


By Lisa Greenwald

Amulet. $16.95, ages 10-14

"Pretty" equaled "good" (and often passive) in fairy tales of old. Then the women's movement gave birth to a new girl hero: spunky, smart, chock-full of inner beauty. She scorned cute clothes, makeup and the color pink. That stuff belonged to pretty girls, recast as the new nasty stepsisters in tween and teen fiction of recent times. These mean, ditzy beauties fight tooth-and-pink-polished-nail to bring the noble protagonist down.

Well, step aside, stereotypes. Here comes Lucy Desberg. Pretty and empowered, she fuses female dichotomies in one 12-year-old package. And she takes on her family's failing business, the fate of the planet and her flaky activist mom to boot.

Living with her mother and grandmother, the owner of a struggling small-town pharmacy, Lucy knows about tight budgets and (her mother's) broken dreams. But when she discovers a delinquent mortgage notice, Lucy realizes she must "do more than just wish and hope" for better times. She needs a "real plan of action," which involves a green-business grant, earth-friendly beauty products and the science-geek brother of her best friend. Author Lisa Greenwald keeps Lucy's actions local and realistic in this playful, thought-provoking novel of girl power. To all those tweens with Candy Floss lip gloss and tangerine flip-flops, to those kids recycling, cleaning parks, making Save-the-Earth signs, Lucy is one of your own.

-- Mary Quattlebaum


Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg

By Andrea Warren

Farrar Straus Giroux. $21.95, ages 10 and up

As Union and Confederate soldiers shattered the small-town peace of Gettysburg in early July 1863, thousands of their counterparts were ending the protracted campaign for Vicksburg, a Mississippi port city that Lincoln called "the key" to victory. Although her subtitle refers to three children, author Andrea Warren offers a wide-ranging account of the tactics, terrain and geography as well as the experience of Vicksburg's residents -- many women, children and slaves among them -- who endured the 47-day siege. The children Warren highlights came from privilege on either side: a boy and girl from well-off Vicksburg families and Frederick Grant, who turned 13 as his father, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, led the Union attack. All three have passed down dramatic stories, from the cave-dwelling, shell-dodging and food-rationing forced upon the natives to the battles that Frederick sought out until he was shot in the leg. He continued to accompany his father, "riding at full speed in the face of . . . the enemy's batteries," according to one observer. Warren doesn't skimp on the deprivation, disease and destruction felt all around, but neither does she ignore a child's excitement. Living in the caves reminded one boy of the "Arabian Nights" until the reality of continual assault hit home.

-- Abby McGanney Nolan

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