Saturday, March 25, 2006

Book Review Roundup

Elizabeth Ward reviews poetry and non-fiction in this week's "For Young Readers" in the Washington Post. Ward begins her column with an indictment of the American Academy of Poets:
  • "The American Academy of Poets obviously didn't consult children when it decided in 1996 that poetry deserved the kiss of death as much as black history or crime prevention and gave it its own official month. The result has been a decade of Aprils reinforcing the idea of poetry as broccoli: You'd like it if you'd only try it, kids, and besides, it's good for you! But what is 'it'?"

This is an interesting point, one that has been made many times about Black History Month. On the one hand, creating a month for an issue marginalizes whatever that issue is. On the other hand, sometimes a given issue doesn't get enough attention (say, poetry in 1995) and creating a month helps to bring it attention. I'm still torn. I will say, that I had no idea there was a Crime Prevention month.

In any case, Ward reviews the following titles this month:

  • Langston Hughes, edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrations by Benny Andrews. Twenty six poems, with some "less famous efforts...equally piercing."
  • Langston Hughes: American Poet, by Alice Walker. (1974 biography recently reiussued, "ages 7-10")
  • Scranimals, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrations by Peter Sis. Prelutsky at his "playful, sparkling best ."
  • The Beauty of the Beast: Poems From the Animal Kingdom, edited by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Meilo So. "Little jewels of poems by more than 200 animal-loving word wizards, including Basho, Milton, Ted Hughes and Randall Jarrell. " This one is on my "to buy" list. I've an animal-crazy preschooler at home and he'd love this one.

On to non-fiction. Ward reviews:


Amanda Craig reviews two new action-adventure novels in the Times.

Anthony Horowitz has a new one, Evil Star. One of his "Power of Five" series, Evil Star's hero is Matt Freeman, " is blessed (or cursed) with precognition. "

Craig finds Horowitz to be in prime form. She writes, "The climax, involving a double-agent, some Tintin-inspired Incas, the mysterious pictures of the Nazca Desert and fancy satellite technology, is hair-raising, spine-tingling, satanic stuff. Horowitz is an absolute master of narrative suspense, knowing just how to balance his imagination between horror and satire, cruelty and kindness."

Craig also reviews action novels for younger kids: Jimmy Coates by Joe Craig. I have to quote the following paragraph, because Amanda Craig neatly sums up the appeal of the Jimmy Coates series in just a few sentences:

  • "Both Jimmy Coates: Killer and Jimmy Coates: Target are cracking adventures with enough ideas to make them more than just page-turners. Jimmy’s love for his family and best friend battle his instructions to kill the “democratic terrorist” Viggo. He is a wonderful creation with which it is easy to identify and sympathise. As in all super-hero tales, you half fear, half long for the extraordinary powers that guide our protagonist along labyrinthine corridors or show him how to duel with a kebab stick, even if using them draws him further away from normality into a manic or psychopathic state that is brilliantly described."