House, road, grassy cliff, sea — and a town spread out “this way and that.” This is the world as a young narrator sees it in Joanne Schwartz’s quietly spectacular picture book, Town Is by the Sea (Groundwood, ages 4-7). Sydney Smith illustrates the small, concrete moments of a summer day with poetic clarity: an open window, a man going down the road on a bicycle, the sun on wooden floorboards. In the opening pages a boy explains that his father — seen waving as he strides off to work — works in the coal mines that run deep under the sea. (In Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where the book is set, men once worked these undersea mines; typically their sons followed in their footsteps.) As the boy plays with a friend, sunlight glints on the waves with bright intensity, contrasting with the soft, deep darkness where the boy’s father tunnels through coal.When the boy’s father arrives home, tired and dusty, he has a smile and a hug for his son, who falls asleep listening to the waves, knowing that “One day, it will be my turn.” This is a perfect, poignant depiction of family life in a time that may be long past but here seems completely in the present.
— Kathie Meizner
Packed with compelling images and ideas, Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism (Henry Holt, ages 12 and up) explains how two remarkable people documented the Spanish Civil War for the rest of the world to see. Eighty years on, the Spanish conflict stands as a daunting historical episode to explain, but co-authors Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos skillfully set the scene in a way to draw in young readers. They lay out the ideological clashes, the international forces, the civilian disruption, and the active presence of Orwell, Hemingway and other writers. At the heart of the book are the charismatic Capa and Taro, who had left their native countries (he from Hungary, she from Germany to avoid persecution, both anti-authoritarian and Jewish). They met in Paris and together changed their names in search of better opportunities. Using archival photos and pertinent anecdotes, the authors pay tribute to the pair’s ability “to put on the armor of bravery and to leave yourself open to feel, to connect, with whomever or whatever you see.” Taro was killed in 1937 during a battle in Spain, and Capa by a landmine in 1954 in Indochina. “Eyes of the World” will help a new generation appreciate the couple’s restless tenacity.
— Abby McGanney Nolan
First-time author Catherine Alene sensitively explores a teen’s struggle with an eating disorder in her taut novel in verse, The Sky Between You and Me (Sourcebooks, age 14 and up). To be able to sit leaner and lighter in the saddle, 16-year-old Raesha, a talented rodeo rider, decides to lose a few pounds, and then a few more. She snacks on ice-cube popsicles and revels in her control over her appetite, but soon she is fully gripped by a “disease that devours/Bodies.” Alene, a recovering anorexic, skillfully conveys Raesha’s increasing withdrawal from worried friends and her fixation on counting calories and exercising. But this is much more than a problem novel. Raesha’s Western world is beautifully evoked, from the “Breathed blue” of the sky to the camaraderie between the girl and her horse and dog. Intriguing subplots involve plans for the local rodeo and a new girl with a tragic secret. Raesha begins therapy, but her progress is believably slow. She must grapple with her grief over her mother’s recent death and let go of her desire for perfection. Readers will cheer Raesha’s first steps toward health as she learns to ditch her “best smile” for a more authentic way of being in the world.
— Mary Quattlebaum