CHILDREN'S BOOK REVIEWS
Index to Reviews on This Page
IN THE TALL, TALL GRASS
Henry Holt. $5.95. ISBN 0-8050-3941-4. (Ages 2-4).
In the tall grass, caterpillars crunch and munch, hummingbirdsdart and dip, as Fleming,
with astonishing skill, matches staccatochirps and cricks to echoing shapes and colors. It
looks simple. In fact, it's a virtuoso exercise in sound and graphics that, asthe very
young absorb it, serves as a first step to poetry anddesign.
WHO ATE IT?
Millbrook. ISBN 1-56294-842-3. $4.95. (Ages 2-3.)
This elegant and whimsical import is planned down to itsleast detail by a Japanese
designer aware of all aspects of theart of the beautiful book--from size to color to
rhythm. Foreach page, there's a question--like "Who age the grapes?"--andthen
you and the little friend on your lap will have to huntamong the animals patterned with
utmost sophistication--one moreon each page. For the child, it's a game; for the aware
adult,an aesthetic education.
THE RETURN OF FREDDY LEGRAND
(Ages 3 and up.)
"'Curses!'" cried Freddy LeGrand." So begins Agee'sdeadpan, ironic,
mock-heroic adventure as his swashbucklingaviator plummets to earth, his plane landing in
Sophie's andAlbert's barn. Freddy lives to try again to circumnavigate theglobe only to
crash again. But don't despair--who should comeflying out of the heavens in Freddy's
rehabed old plane! Ageewrites fast and funny in the vein of Ungerer, and the
seemingslapdash illustrations remind of George Price and the hey-day ofthe New Yorker.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE?
North South Books. $5.95. ISBN 1-55858-417-X. (Ages 2-4.)
My grandson, Max, and I have a game. With me, he can say "IDON'T LIKE broccoli,"
or whatever all he wants. But he's got tofollow it with "BUT I REALLY DO LIKE . . .
" What a great bookthis one is for Max. . . a real upper!. . . as the little boy
andthe little girl echo each other, one liking the cat, the otherliking the cat, one
liking fruit, the other liking fruit, and soon, till we get to LOVING mother, each riposte
illustratedsimply, boldly, with originality on colorfully texturedbackgrounds that play
their own music.
Marie H. Henry. Chronicle Books. $4.95. ISBN 0-8118-1169-7. (Ages 3-5).
"Zoe! Oscar! Jojo! DAisy! Max! Theo!" calls the little girls she rounds up,
one-by-one, her dawdling stuffed animals at bedtime. She manages, and probably you will
too, with this jolly, friendly going to sleep story that allows for happy role-playing.
Look closely, and you'll spot traces of the book's European origin.
I KNOW ABOUT PLANETS
Rand McNally. $2.50. ISBN 0-528-83734-6. (Ages 5-6).
The temperature on Pluto is -369 F; at the center of the Sun,27 million degrees
Fahrenheit. Mercury has no water and little air; Venus is dark, dry, rocky, dusty. Mars is
windy, covered withered dust. Facts that should fascinate anyone during their first learning
years, simply and ably illustrated, observed by three children, a dog, and a cat who cruise
the universe. An unassuming, inexpensive book that does its job ably. The companion volume,
I KNOW ABOUT MAPS (same author and illustrator, ISBN 0-528-83736-2)does its teaching work
with similar ease and attractiveness.
LITTLE BLUE AND LITTLE YELLOW
Mulberry. $4.95. ISBN 0-688-13285-5. (Ages 3-5).
Seemingly so simple--the story of the little blue dot whoplays with the little yellow
dot--Lionni's light-hearted tale is,in fact, a sophisticated jeux d'esprit. Not only does
it teach that blue and yellow make green, but the raggedy shapes, thefanciful and seemingly
accidental page design can free a child's imagination and liberate an adult from pedantry.
THE LITTLE SHEPHERD (The 23rd Psalm)
Bijou Le Tord.
Dell. $4.99. ISBN O-440-40961-6. (Ages 3-7).
Le Tord has turned the poetry of the King James version of the23rd Psalm into simple
language. Poetry is lost, but meaning may become more accessible. Her luminous watercolors,
as ever, are jewels, simple prayers in themselves that celebrate light, color, harmony, and
GLASSES--WHO NEEDS 'EM?
Puffin. $4.99. ISBN 0-14-054484-4. (Ages 5 andup.)
Lane Smith has connected precisely with the anarchy of childhood. In an extraordinary
series of paintings easily mistaken for the work of Paul Klee, and a sassy dialogue,
Smith walks us through the fuzzily-focused world of the little boy whom the doctor attempts
to reconcile to the idea of specs. Ingeniously, the reader is made to squint to read
perhaps significant messages on the penultimate page. The kid's sister's glottis
is going to
THE TUB PEOPLE
Pam Conrad. Illustr. by Richard Egelski.
Harper Trophy. $4.95. ISBN 0-06-443306-4. (Ages 4 to 8.)
Happy ending notwithstanding, there's something indescribably poignant about those seven
little wooden bathtub dolls smiling so bravely on the windowsill, "their sides
barely touching." Conrad and Egelski take a page from Hans Christian Andersen's
as it were, with these stiff dolls fated to allthe terrors and vicissitudes of the flesh,
and at the same time spending their lives, it seems, in an effort to
communicate--tolove--as vitally, as warmly as though they, too, were flesh and blood. The
perfect combination of author illustrator may makethis a minor classic.
LI'L SIS AND UNCLE WILLIE
Gwen Everett, with paintings by William H. Johnson.
Hyperion. $4.95. ISBN 1-56282-593-3. (Ages 5-12.)
Sad eyed, barefoot, in a lovely blue dress, holding a flyswatter, and accompanied by her
doll in green buggy, "Li'l Sis,"gazes at us gazers. Sis is the six-year-old
narrator of the lifeof William H. Johnson's (1901-1970), a very great painter, indeed.
African-American born, Johnson removed to Paris, married Dane, and painted voluminously,
boldly, strikingly, withwhimsy, humor, sadness, and profound political dedication.
His portraits are warm or loving or. His color is loud, stunning, original. The variety of
his styles is remarkable. We're grateful for this introduction; and we want much more.
ALPHA AND THE DIRTY BABY
Farrar. $5.95. ISBN 0-374-40357. (Ages 4-6).
It's a topsy turvy world when the parents quarrel and Impstake over, unmaking the beds,
bringing in the garbage, rubbing fatonto the dishes because they're too clean. But Baby
Alpha knows which end 's up, and when real Mama and Papa return, the mad farceis over.
Cole's text and wild illustrations suggest deep psychological truth--a child's tumult when
THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD
Mulberry. $4.95. ISBN 0-688-14394-6. (Ages 5-8).
"In an old house in a yard full of poison ivy lived the worst person in the
world." the old fellow hates spring, he eats a lemonfor breakfast. But with the help
of an ugly creature names "Ugly,"he's redeemed--a good old duffer, a friend to
children. James Stevenson writes as fast, as easy as the wind. His sports a zippy, telling
cartoonist line that, with a single telling stroke, speaks volumes.
THINK OF AN EEL
Karen Wallace. Illustrator Mike Bostock.
Candlewick. $5.99. ISBN 1-56402-465-2 (Ages 4-9).
Early in the spring, south of Bermuda, millions of eel eggshatch. Millions of the babies,
the elvers, swim, for three yearsor more, to the fresh-water rivers of America and Europe
tilllater, again--one moonless night--they undertake the epic swimback, for months, to
that same weedy Sargasso of their origin, tospawn and to start the cycle again. One of the
great wonders ofour planet, lucidly told, beautifully illustrated. Candlewickbooks,
generally, are a class act.
FOLLOW THE RIVER
Sundance. No Price listed. ISBN 1-56801-802-9. (Ages 5-6).
Also, "Sundance Big Books". Sundance. No price listed. ISBN 1-56801-801-0.
Sundance Big Books Teacher's Guide: A Social Studies Book. ISBN1-56801-803-7.
The picture story of a river begins with a trickle high inthe glacier and winds its merry
way through thick forests, overfalls, past a mill, through a village and the big city,
into aharbor, and, finally, out to sea--all executed in soft coloredpencil and forceful
ink line. The "Big Book" version isaccompanied by an admirably useful guidebook
for teachers.Discussion in the "guide" ranges from the uses of literature
ingeneral, to strategies for familiarizing children with how booksactually work, to very
specific methods for "teaching" thisparticular picture-book. Good job!
PETS: A COMPREHENSIVE HANDBOOK FOR KIDS
Frances N. Chrystie.
Revised and updated by Margery Facklam.
Little Brown. $7.95. ISBN 0-316-14281-6. (Ages 6 and up).
Dogs, cats, rabbits, finches, chipmunks, opossums, snakes,porcupines, goats, horses. . . .
you name it, and in thisliterate, accurate, well-organized book (with preface forparents),
you've got thorough, authoritative instruction on thehousing, care, and feeding of most
any pet you're ever likely tohave. Except geese! (Having once owned an ailing goose who
gota rectal temperature of 104, I'm sensitive to goose-welfare.PN)
Roald Dahl. Ill. Quentin Blake.
Puffin. $4.99. ISBN 0-14-037533-3. (Ages 5-7).
In rhyming, galloping tetrameter, Dahl spins out his ownirreverent classic folktales, from
"Cinderella," to "The ThreeLittle Pigs." Anne Sexton, Angela Carter,
and a host of adultwriters, world-wide, have done the same, so there's no reasonkids
shouldn't have their subversive fun--compounded by drawingsfrom the master of the fast and
funny line, Quentin Blake.
THE PEA PATCH JIG
Harper. $4.95. ISBN 0-06-443383-8. (Ages 4-6).
Dressed as a big green pea, Baby mouse dances the "Pea PatchJig" with the rest
of the mouse family to celebrate the light-hearted, mischief and happy high jinx the
cheerful little mice inhave performed in the garden they share with Farmer Clem. Hurdtells
a rapid, funny story, and illustrates it with glowingwatercolors in a jewel of a book
bound to make the 5-6-year-oldset guffaw with merriment.
THE DEAD BIRD
Margaret Wise Brown. Pictures by Remy Charlip.
HarperTrophy. ISBN 0-06-443326-9. $4.95. (Ages 4 to 8.)
Based on an incident from her own childhood, and originallypublished in 1938, Brown's
sadly happy meditation on death andlife, told equally in word and picture, is about as
close toperfection as a book can get. Four children find a bird, coldand dead, "with
no heart beating." They bury it, put ferns andflowers on the grave, sing a song. And
then, as live birds flyinto the sky, the children play again in the meadow.
Charlip'sevocative blue green yellow illustrations are, themselves,poetry.
TALES OF A GAMBLING GRANDMA
Dayal Kaur Khalsa.
Potter "Dragonfly." $5.99. ISBN 0-517-88262-0. (Ages 5-8.)
Like a "flowering mountain," grandma sat in her gardenchair, taking care of the
little Dayal Kaur Khalsa--we hear it;we see it. Grandma had come from Russia to Brooklyn,
where sheplayed the balalaika and married Louis the plumber. The author-artist tells and
paints the touching tale of friendship, of love,between herself and her grandma. Then, one
day, of course,Grandma dies. And we peek into the closet where Dayal is
hugging"grandma's great big dresses." An immensely sophisticatedartist, daring
in the use of color, enamored of our brightbeautiful world.
Audrey Osofsky. Ill. Ted Rand.
Holt "Owlet." $5.95. ISBN 0-8050-3546-X.
Buddy is the boy-narrator's golden retriever--his friend,his arms and legs, a
"Service Dog," for the narrator has musculardystrophy. After what amounts to
boot camp together, boy and thedog are a team. Buddy, we learn from text and illustration,
canopen doors, turn on the light, push elevator buttons, and carrybooks and bags--in
short, is indispensable, both as a helper andas a Buddy. The book teaches, of course, but
even more, it's amoving story told without hoopla, illustrated by one of thefinest
THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA
Hans Christian Andersen.
No translator listed [shameful! PN]. Ill. Dorothee Duntze.
North-South. $6.95. ISBN 1-55858-381-5. (Ages 6-9).
The point of reissuing the well-known tale is in theillustrations, of course. Duntze's
vision of this no-particular-time fairy tale land is soft-hued, decorative, romantic, a
hintart nouveau--and thus, a touch decadent, artistically. From themargins of the cover,
to end papers, to the stylized double-spreads, the book is a self-conscious study in
elegance. Avaluable aesthetic adventure for child or adult.
The brothers Grimm, tr. Elizabeth D. Crawford. Ill. LisbethZwerger.
North-South. $5.95. ISBN 1-55858-430-7. (Ages 6-10).
Forget that the Grimm brothers' "Little Red Riding Hood" hasbeen often told. The
point of this particular, scrupulouslytranslated version is the extraordinary artistry
Lisbeth Zwerger,Europe's foremost illustrator, whose watercolors are virtuosoperformances
of perspective, evocation, draftsmanship. Thecottage, the furnishings, the marvelously
individualistic peopleand animals make this a volume that can actually shape a
JUNE 29, 1999
Clarion. $5.95. ISBN 0-395-72767-7. (Ages 6-10).
May 11, 1999, Holly Evans, doing her classroom scienceexperiment, launches vegetable
seedlings into the sky. The rest ofWiesner's bunyanesque scifi story and paintings is
wonderfullysensational hocus pokus, in the vein of his Caldecott-winningTuesday (1992).
You'll end up with magnifying glass, reading someof the tiny clues scattered in odd
corners in this entertainment,derivative of Van Allsburg, but merrier.
GOOD WOOD BEAR
Bijou le Tord.
Dell Yearling. $4.99. ISBN 0-440-40974-8. (Ages 5-8.)
The universe of Bijou le Tord is orderly, benign, andbeautiful. Goose goes walking, finds
a bird's nest with tinyspotted eggs, takes it to bear, and bear builds a wooden birdhouse
as goose watches. Every step of the project is laid out inle Tord's beautifully fine line,
as bear explains and builds. And in the background, a neat, ordered workshop such as
makescraft a joy. And, finally--for goose, for the child on your lap--bear sketches a
precise plan for constructing the very samehouse.
BASEBALL SAVED US
Written by Ken Mochizuki. Ill. Dom Lee.
Lee & Low Books. $5.95. ISBN 1-880000-19-9. (Ages 6-11.)
The narrator remembers World War II, when he, a smallAmerican boy of Japanese ancestry, he
was uprooted, "relocated,"with family, friends, relatives, in a desert camp.
Asclaustrophobic tempers frayed, the smart parents initiatedbaseball in the camp. And on
the diamond, the young hero proveshimself--both here, now, as well as later, in the face
of bigotryat home again. The unembellished narrative is powerful andtouching. The
illustrations, suffused often in an antique goldenhaze, play the themes of time and
THE DAY THE GOOSE GOT LOOSE
Reeve Lindbergh, ill. Steven Kellog.
Dial Books for YoungReaders. Puffin. $4.99. ISBN 0-14-055337-1.
"The day the goose got loose," chaos reigns. And chaos isthe natural element for
the illustrator, Steven Kellog. Give himhens flapping, ram raging, horses bolting, bull
charging, andhe's in heaven. Father and mother aren't much help in thebarnyard emergency,
but little brother and grandmother have theirnotions, and the child narrator dreams a
surprising climax. Therhyming tetrameter gallops the verse at rapid pace for the exuberant
Edited by Caroline Clayton and Jason Page
Written by Claire Wattsand Robert Nicholson.
Thomson Learning "Info Adventure" series. No price listed. ISBN 1-56847-316-8. (Ages
Tarzan of the Apes--and other feral children, Indiana Jones,James Bond--super spy, BATMAN
VS SUPERMAN POW, biblical David,Aeneas, Boadicea--this is a loud, vulgar, blowzy,
grosslyillustrated, superficial, wonderfully patched together kid-grabberof a book,
irresistible, crude, and full of "did you know THAT's!"--in the spirit of the
old Ripley "Believe it or Not." Part of amarvelous series.
PEBOAN AND SEEGWUN
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $4.95. ISBN 0-374-45750-6. (Ages 7 and up)
Told with commendable directness and simplicity, illustratedwith high skill and with
cultural and historical honesty, as wellas with great beauty, this old Ojibwa riddle tale,
is just suchthat a seven year old may solve it. But the detailed, engrossing,and immensely
romantic illustrations should keep young and oldcaptivated for a long magical time.
GARDENING WIZARDRY FOR KIDS
L. Patricia Kite. Ill. by Yvette Santiago Banek.
Barron's. $14.95. (Ages 7-11).
Over 300 gardening projects of variable degrees of excitement,ranging from setting an
onion in a glass of water and watching itbloom, to putting snails in a jar and watching
them mate. Projectexplanations are clear. Historical, cultural, even
mythological,background is briskly rendered for each plant, and the invitinglayout and
brightness of this spiral-bound book could make itirresistible for children in class, or
home on a rainy day.
SPACE: LOOKING INSIDE CROSS-SECTIONS
Moira Butterfield. Ill. Nick Lipscombe and Gary Biggin.
Dorling Kindersley. $5.95. ISBN 1-56458-0. (Ages 6-12).
Each double spread features an irresistible, colored,comprehensible cross-section of
spacecraft, ranging from Apollo LMto the Hubble Telescope, as well as a small
corner-insert with"technical data," and a clear rendering of astronaut space
suits. And, yes, there's a fascinating corner illustration aboutastronauts going to the
bathroom--discretely headed "spacewashing."
Carol Ann Moorhead. Ill. Kay Herndon and Gail Kohler Opsahl.
Roberts Rinehart and the Denver Museum of Natural History. $7.95. ISBN 1-879373-51-3.
IF you're a horse-crazy kid, you just cannot live anotherday without this marvelous
book--a collection of stories,activities, trading cards, pop-u's and pop-out's, with lucid
texton horse history and evolution, horse foods, horse harems, horsebody language. . . you
name it--my mind boggles. And, just incase, there's all the information you need about the
DEATH IS HARD TO LIVE WITH
Janet Bode. Laurel Leaf. $4.99. ISBN 0-440-21929-9. (Ages 8and up.)
"With a drug overdose there's a white foamy material aroundthe mouth." "If
we embrace life, we must embrace death." Indianteenagers attempt suicide at four
times the rate of other teenagers. ". . . I'm crying. I know I'm not going to see him
whenI wake up." Bode's book may be just the prescription, a rag-tagcollection of
alternatingly poignant, brave, or simplystraightforwardly factual explorations of the
death that enters,for sure, the life of each of us, and every teen-ager as well. Bode's
book may help, for just a moment.
BOODIL MY DOG
Henry Holt (Owlet Book). $5.95. ISBN 0-8050-3940-6.
Seemingly simple, the story of Boodil, the bullterrier, isactually complexly ironic. What
the reader perceives as Boodil'slumpish dithering, dawdling, obstinacy, stubbornness, and
generalidiosyncracy is perceived by the child-narrator as charming,playful, delightful,
and original. So we have a masterfulchildren's book--humorously painted with exceeding
verve, tolddeadpan, and introducing young readers into the tricks andconventions of
Raymond Bial. Sandpiper (Houghton). $5.95. ISBN 0-395-72021-4.
The Amish "aren't as 'plain' as they appear to be, and theyare not without their
difficulties," writes the author. Butfirst, with clear and artfully evocative
photographs and anaccessible and highly informative text, Bial takes us to thedignified,
ordered, yet often complex world of the frugal, god-fearing, communally focused Amish, who
have rejected much ofmodern technology and who shape their lives with a coherency andfocus
that can appear attractive in our dissonant land. Bial'stelling, yet economical,
exposition is in keeping with hisfascinating subject.
Damian Kelleher, written by Richard Stoneman.
Thomson Learning("a Two-Can Book"). ISBN 1-56847-318-4, no price.
Taking a lead from the National Enquirer and the generoussalmagundi children's magazines
of our grandparents, the big,blowsy, loud, glossy, vulgar series "Info
Adventure" series, ofwhich this volume is typical should warm the heart
cockles--whatever those are--of any child or childish adult. Everyfeature is a marvelously
sensationalistic and sometimes reliablemine of information. For samplers, the blowup of
the face of ahornet would scare Batman, and the accompanying color photo of abeekeeper
whose face is covered with thousands of bees is worthyof the old Ripley. I love it; so
will any other real kid. Buy the whole series.
Ph.D. A Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State
University, Dr. Neumeyer is highly recognized in children's literature and has authored
many books and magazine columns. Neumeyer also contributes occasional articles and
children's book reviews to "The Los Angeles Times" and "The New York
Times". His most recent book is the children's version of "The Annontated