Eugene Weekly : Books : 4.19.07

A Basketful of Goodies
Children’s books provide hours of delight

If you didn’t give or receive a tasty, beautifully printed book or two during the various recent holidays, it’s time to discover some goodies. You can find most of these books in the J-for-juvenile section of the library (once I return them … ), but they’re well worth some gift money as well.

First, I want to highlight local author Deborah Hopkinson. Hopkinson, who lives and works in Corvallis, produces a staggering number of children’s picture books while maintaining a more-than-full-time job and a family. Plus, she’s smart and into making history accessible and interesting. Her 2006 Skyboys: How They Built the Empire State Building, illustrated by James Ransom, won our state’s Mock Caldecott earlier this year. And her newest book Sweet Land of Liberty, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins and released a few weeks ago, fits in perfectly with this time of year: Through the story of a white man who fought racism, the book commemorates Marion Anderson’s 1939 Easter Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial. (For older readers, Russell Freedman’s multiple award-winning The Voice That Challenged a Nation delves more deeply into Anderson’s life and career.)

On a bunny theme, Antoinette Portis’ slyly brilliant Not a Box should be a read-aloud gem for parents of kids anywhere from three to seven years old. The main character, a cleverly deadpan rabbit, is sitting in what an adult thinks is a cardboard box. How very, very wrong adults can be when it comes to children’s imaginations! The charming, Ramona-like main character who narrates Jenny Offill’s marvelous 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore (for ages 4-8), adroitly illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, would no doubt agree. And Janet Wong’s The Dumpster Diver (also for ages 4-8), illustrated by David Roberts with verve and textual dexterity, provides an amusing look at the world of repurposed stuff and how kids working in community can use their creativity to change adult behavior.

On to books for middle readers. The Sibert award goes to nonfiction (“informational”) books of high quality, and two of this year’s honor books mix graphic elements with text in smart ways. Siena Cherson Siegel’s To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel will appeal to young dancers; the book combines Mark Siegel’s pastel, flowing graphics with Siena Siegel’s references to years of ballet history amidst her own tale of dreams and ballet realities.The charming Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, written by Sy Montgomery with eye-popping photos by Nic Bishop, not only tells of the search for the mysterious animal but also reinforces the idea that science is a community process. Be warned: Your kid may immediately want to visit the tree kangaroos at the Oregon Zoo.

In fiction, the Newbery Medal winner, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, contains a traditional Newbery arc: dead mother, precocious children, running away, dust storms, etc. But at least the dog doesn’t … oh, never mind. Read the tender, solidly constructed book for yourself. Lighter recent reads for this age level include Portland author Karen Karbo’s Minerva Clark series and Rick Riordan’s excitement-filled Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, with a new one, The Titan’s Curse, due out in May. Finally, two of this year’s Batchelder award books (for translation) work well for young readers: Silvana De Mari’s touching and utterly delightful The Last Dragon, translated from the Italian by Shaun White, and Jean-Claude Mourlevat’s haunting The Pull of the Ocean, based on Perrault’s Tom Thumb and translated from the French by Y. Maudet. And, of course, check out the books that library staff people have faced out. With all of those options, young readers should be full up until publishing’s Big Day, when you-know-who hits stores in mid-July …       


BOOK NOTES: Gary Geddes discusses Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things, 4 pm 4/19, Gumwood Room, EMU, UO. Poets Tom Madden (Lessons for Custer) and George Estreich (Textbook Illustration of the Human Body) read, 5 pm 4/21, Tsunami Books. S.A.S.S. hosts the 7th Annual Poetry of Survival Reading, 4 pm 4/22, Tsunami Books. Curtis Sittenfield reads from Man of My Dreams, 7 pm 4/25, UO Bookstore.