Three Books, Three Worlds

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


By Liz Garton Scanlon

Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane. $17.99, ages 2-5

On the cover of this meticulously designed picture book, a boy and girl stand on the cusp of discovery, backs to the reader, eyes on the horizon. And how appropriate! To children, "all the world" is who they know, what they see and where they are. Liz Garton's gentle daylight-to-moonrise text reflects and respects this child-centric version of the universe even as it lulls young listeners with rhythms as gentle as waves. "Tree, trunk, branch, crown/Climbing up and sitting down/Morning sun becomes noon-blue/All the world is old and new." Against the backdrop of this almost ethereal text, Marla Frazee creates a story about a family that begins the day alone at the beach and ends it playing music with friends, reading together and snuggling into bed. In between, there are plenty of side trips (farmers market, park, cafe) to enjoy and plenty of collateral characters to follow from scene to scene. The illustrations echo the rhythm of the verse, alternating between sweeping double-page panoramas and vignettes that mimic the motion of the words. The final sequence subtly shifts the rhyme scheme, slowing the rhythm as the day winds down: "Everything you hear, smell, see/All the world is everything/Everything is you and me/Hope and peace and love and trust/All the world is all of us." Dawn to dusk; from me to us. Perfect.

-- Kristi Jemtegaard


The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Carolrhoda. $17.95, ages 7-11

Starting with its punchy title and arresting cover portrait, "Bad News for Outlaws" is a great introduction to a little-known lawman who did more than his share of Wild West wrangling. Settling in Arkansas in the 1860s, Bass Reeves was the rare deputy U.S. marshal to have been born a slave. He quickly became feared by criminals whose warrants he was assigned and respected by others for his integrity and his arrest record. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's picture-book biography seamlessly blends moral uplift (he used his gun only when he was forced to), entertaining anecdotes (he used disguises to catch fleeing criminals), an appealing design (the paper looks like weathered 19th-century parchment) and spare but spirited language. From the first line -- "Jim Webb's luck was running muddy when Bass Reeves rode into town" -- Nelson has fun with Old West wording as she tells of Reeves's clever ploys. The same exuberance and skill are evident in the striking paintings by R. Gregory Christie. Subtly stylized, featuring gorgeous colors, they capture big skies and rugged landscapes as well as the way Reeves honorably navigated a rough-and-tumble world.

-- Abby McGanney Nolan


A Pals in Peril Tale

By M.T. Anderson

Illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

Beach Lane. $16.99, ages 9-14

Prime the funny bone and pump up the adrenaline! Jasper Dash is back in this third book of the Pals in Peril series. This time the plucky, pith-helmeted lad and his "chums," Katie and Lily, must cross the "bleak and blasted border of New Jersey" into -- gasp! -- Delaware, a forbidding land of jungles, dinosaurs, giant squids, tourists and spies. Armed only with their wits and Jasper's wacky inventions, the trio must find and free a secret monastery, the only known model of which, fashioned from cardboard and plastic spoons, has been sold to a shady museum director. And on it goes in this hilarious send-up of boys' adventure series, horror stories, travel guides and give-it-your-best-shot sports novels, complete with footnotes and authorial asides. A master of comic timing and the finessed phrase, M.T. Anderson can build suspense and believably portray tween dynamics as well as spoof and tickle. (His acclaimed YA novels include the dystopian "Feed" and the two-volume slave narrative "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation.") This ingeniously loony tale of three loyal friends, the mysterious Blue Hen state and a "white van . . . filled with wickedness" may be just the antidote to long school days when reading matter seems dull and dutiful.

-- Mary Quattlebaum

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