Jump, Jive and Sail

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


By Marc Rosenthal

Harper. $16.99. Ages 4-7


A smiling monkey, improbably but cozily tucked into bed, bobs peacefully adrift on a vast sweep of blue sea while an ocean liner steams away over the edge of the horizon. It's enough to make you wonder and worry. But do not fear -- all is well! This is no ordinary ape, this is Archie, uber-survivor. His boat-bed fetches up on an island shore inhabited by a lion (dangerous!) and coconuts (delicious!). He builds himself a dandy shelter (comfortable!) and a bed that is also a breakfast table (clever!). He makes friends with an "inquisitive ibis" (Clarice), and even the tiger (Beatrice) comes to love him: "His sweater reminds her of her cubs." Still, any adventure would be mighty dull without the addition of "rough and smelly pirates," and right on cue, they show up on the shore to capture Beatrice! "What to do?!! It seems hopeless." Survival, however, is not Archie's only skill. He is also a terrific organizer. Soon, every non-piratical inhabitant of the island is busily enmeshed in retaliatory schemes, and "Sploosh," "Splat," "Hooray!" the odiferous villains flee. If the present-tense narrative, the faux hand-lettered text and the can-do community of all-too-human animals are highly reminiscent of a certain elephant kingdom of long-ago fame, it doesn't dim the fun one bit. Archie's antics are all his own, and the world he builds is as congenial and clever as the contraptions he dreams up.

-- Kristi Jemtegaard


His Fight for Freedom

By John Hendrix

Abrams. $18.95. Ages 8-12

On some pages in this picture-book biography of John Brown, the famous abolitionist resembles a tall-tale hero, a la Paul Bunyan, six times the height of his sheep. But sometimes he seems like the Old Testament God, as he points his powerful hand with righteous anger. Brown proclaims, "I will raise a storm in this country that will not be stayed so long as there is a slave on its soil," and a few pages later he's pictured as "a great fuming tornado," sweeping "across the plains to fight for Kansas." Set alongside such dramatic and impressively rendered illustrations, John Hendrix's text is agreeably lucid, clearly explaining the tenor and terms of Brown's turbulent era. Hendrix notes that, even before he attacked Harpers Ferry in what's now West Virginia, Brown was considered both "a crazed madman" and "a folk hero." Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass called him an ally, but Douglass didn't believe in Brown's Harpers Ferry plan and its recipe for martyrdom. In his author's note, Hendrix offers his reasons for focusing on this controversial figure: "The goals of his crusade were . . . freedom for all who were persecuted." The ensuing discussions of Brown's ends and means will be well worth having.

-- Abby McGanney Nolan


The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Band in the World

By Marilyn Nelson

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Dial. $21.99. Ages 10 and up

Come midnight a bevy of "old hocked instruments" tune up in an empty New Orleans pawnshop. Through 20 poems in this note-perfect picture book, various horns and wind instruments describe their "glory years" with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all-female, integrated band that toured the United States and parts of Europe in the 1940s. Marilyn Nelson, who received a Newbery Honor for "Carver: A Life in Poems," weaves vivid details of the times -- World War II, Victory Gardens, the Jim Crow South -- into verses that sometimes swing with the women's big-band sound ("It Don't Mean a Thing") or go soft and sad as a jazz chanteuse ("The Song Is You"). These instruments fairly burst with pride in their Sweethearts' skills. A sassy trumpet recalls how it "blasted the rafters," a horn remembers "hep-cat audacity," and a tenor sax reflects on a musical "prayer for peace." Five-time Caldecott Honor-winner Jerry Pinkney does a brilliant job of visually representing this era. His watercolors sweep across double-page spreads of marching soldiers, segregated water fountains and jubilant Armistice crowds but also spotlight jitterbugging teens and a Sweetheart tending her sax reed. "Hearken to the story behind each song," advise the trombones. Thanks to Nelson and Pinkney, we now better know an important story of American music and the brave, talented women who created it.

-- Mary Quattlebaum


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