Saturday, March 11, 2006

Saturday's Sunday Reviews

There's much in today's New York Times on children's books.

First, alternative teen books are recommended in "What's a Girl to Read?" by Justine Henning. Twenty books are featured in the web version of the article (12 in the print) from Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson) to Flipped (Wendelin Van Draanen).

Emily Jenkins recommends two "charmingly illustrated stories that will appeal to any child who loves to dress up" as antidote to the endless parade of officially-sanctioned "princess" books. Jenkins finds humor and fashion in:

  • Fancy Nancy, by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser ("The message here is welcome — fanciness (unlike physical beauty) is available to anyone with a can-do spirit")
  • The Bora-Bora Dress, by Carole Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Catherine Stock ("'Lindsay never ever ever' wears a dress, but her fabulous Aunt Fiona is having an 'end-of-the-summer, snazzy, ritzy dress-up party' in an enormous hedge maze with moonlight dancing on the beach, and Mama (chic, even in her bathrobe) says a dress is de rigueur.")

Jessica Bruderfrom reviews Megan McCarthy's Aliens are Coming! The True Account of the 1938 "War of the Worlds" Radio Broadcast. Bruderfrom writes, "Meghan McCarthy recounts the epic prank in her new picture book, Aliens Are Coming! Alternating between her own narration and excerpts from the original broadcast, she deftly switches from scenes of actual events, illustrated in black-and-white acrylics, to full-color spreads of imagined Martian mayhem." Sounds like a great non-fiction title.

Lawrence Downes recommends two new books about Benjamin Franklin for children. Downes explains that, "Franklin's image seems to have become more inconsequential and comic than those of the other founding fathers" and these two new titles attempt to convey Franklin's true importance and genius to the younger set. Downes reviews,

  • A Dangerous Engine: Benjamin Franklin, From Scientist to Diplomat, by Joan Dash, illustrated by Dusan Petricic ("Any author would have trouble cramming Franklin's long and overstuffed life into a single volume. Dash does so with the briskness of an impassioned teacher who has little patience for classroom goof-offs. There is no condescension here — you kids will have to pay attention as you work your way through the science parts, the Revolutionary War parts, and especially the French-diplomacy-and-intrigue parts. But the rewards will be great.")
  • Now and Then: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, by Gene Barretta ("It does not bother with its subject's life and times. It has enough to do simply presenting — with charming illustrations — the innovations, oddities and civilizational necessities that kept fizzing and popping from Franklin's restless brain.")

Finally, in the New York Times, Julie Just recommends children's books for "Bookshelf."


My favorite reviewer of children's books, Elizabeth Ward of the Washington Post, takes on Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. In her review, she expresses doubt about the book's message.

Ward writes, "What, exactly, are they meant to take away from this tale, with its hammer blows of random brutality, its weirdly malevolent adults (Pellegrina is by no means the only one) and its endless moralizing about love? The last is particularly baffling. What child needs to be reminded to love? Why, in any case, demonize a child's natural self-involvement, which is all that's 'wrong' with Edward?"

I've really been struggling with this issue myself. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a beautifully written novel. DiCamillo's prose is sparse and elegant and Bagram Ibatoulline's illustrations are gorgeous. But, there is something cruel, something unfair to Edward (who, after all, is only a china rabbit) in the story. Thanks to Ward for saying it!