Picture Books Celebrate the Fleet of Foot

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Sunday, May 11, 2008; Page BW08

JABBERWOCKY By Lewis Carroll | Reimagined and illustrated by Christopher Myers | Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, $15.99; ages 5-9

Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" contains plenty of nonsense words, but the poem's narrative -- a warning to beware a monster, followed by its slaying -- is clear enough. Christopher Myers, the son of writer Walter Dean Myers, cleverly contemporizes the battle by setting it on a playground basketball court. The beast "with eyes of flame" is a towering player with "claws that catch," all the better to handle the glowing-hot orb that is his basketball. Myers's colors are bold and bright, his defined figures springing from watercolor-wash backgrounds and the typeface of the words conveying a jagged urgency. The battle between the Jabberwock and his challenger, our "beamish boy," is abstract but fierce, as the boy leaps over the beast's huge, outstretched hands and scoots around his long legs. He wields his weapons -- an agile athleticism and a pair of sneakers (his "vorpal blade") -- very well.

-- Abby McGanney Nolan

FOOTWORK The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire By Roxane Orgill Illustrated by St├ęphane Jorisch | Candlewick, $17.99; ages 6-10

Footwork tells the story of the Astaire dancing team beginning when Adele was 7, Fred was 5, and they moved from Omaha to New York City for dance lessons. Roxane Orgill writes with sensitivity about the close bond between Fred and Adele, but she makes clear that Fred was the one who worked up the dance routines, insisted on practicing till perfect and worried about the floor, the music, the lighting and the dances so much that Adele called him Moaning Minnie. One day in 1932, she told Fred she was getting married and retiring from the stage. Fred soldiered on without her, of course, and his inventiveness and perfectionism were made for the movies: He had bigger stages to work with and could do the routine till he got it right. Orgill's lively words and St├ęphane Jorisch's illustrations, with their delicate inkwork, Art Deco stylings and ingenious mix of black-and-white and color, manage to get the Astaire magic right.

--A. M. N.

AT GLEASON'S GYM By Ted Lewin | Roaring Brook, $17.95; ages 4-8

Ted Lewin's latest book is a gorgeous tribute in deep, rich watercolors to the place where boxing legends such as Muhammad Ali and Jake La Motta once trained. Located "just a left hook away from the Brooklyn Bridge," Gleason's gym looks like a mixing bowl of the martial arts: "Kickboxers from Thailand, girl boxers, big, burly wrestlers." As Lewin puts it at the start, "It's everybody's gym." But it's also one particular boy's gym, as the book focuses on a 9-year-old named Sugar Boy, who opens the big steel door and proceeds to get ready for his next bout. Lewin delivers four knock-out, double-page scenes of boxers sparring, jumping rope and shadowboxing "with monsters in fun-house mirrors." You can practically smell the sweat and -- thanks to sound effects artfully graffiti'd on various pages -- hear the thump, thump of the heavy bags, the ratatatatatat of the speed bags and the buzz of the buzzer starting a round.

--A. M. N.

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