WHEN AGNES CAWS,by Candace Fleming, with illustrations by Giselle Potter. (Atheneum, $16; grades K-2.) Fleming and Potter, who teamed up two years ago for the stellar Gabriella's Song, are back again with a funny fable about a gifted Victorian-era birdcaller named Agnes Peregrine, who journeys to the Himalayas in search of an elusive pink-headed duck. On her heels is evil poacher Colonel Pittsnap, who wants to stuff the duck for his mantle. It's a wonderfully quirky story that gives kids a lot to think about and laugh at.
TWO SUNS IN THE SKY,by Miriam Bat-Ami. (Front Street/Cricket Books, $15.95; young adult.) This historical novel centers on the friendship that develops between two teenagers during World War II: Fifteen-year-old Adam, who lives with his mother and younger sister in a refugee camp in upstate New York near Oswego after fleeing Yugoslavia; and Chris, 14, who is Catholic and lives with her antisemitic father in town. In alternating chapters, the two narrate the story of their unlikely relationship and how it is threatened by cultural differences, the stigma of the camp, and Adam's uncertain future. This moving story is based on a refugee shelter established in Oswego during the war.
BLACK CAT,by Christopher Myers. (Scholastic, $16.95; grades K-2.) Myers follows up his award-winning Harlem-he provided the illustrations, his poet-father the text-with this striking picture book about a spry inner-city cat searching for a home. Here, Myers is both artist and author, but his magnificent illustrations outshine his verse. Like Ezra Jack Keats, the late master illustrator, Myers uses paint and graphics to build color-drenched collages that capture both the beauty and squalor of urban landscapes that cats-and children-must navigate.
AT HER MAJESTY'S REQUEST: An African Princess in Victorian England,by Walter Dean Myers. (Scholastic Press, $15.95; grades 5-8.) This biography offers a view of Victorian England through the eyes of an African princess. Five-year-old Sarah, after surviving the massacre of her West African village by a rival tribe in 1850, was rescued by a British naval officer and brought to England as a gift for Queen Victoria. The Queen made the girl her ward, paying for her care and education both in England and Africa, and Sarah soon became a favorite of the royal family. Myers stumbled on this fascinating footnote to British history when he found Sarah's letters in a secondhand bookstore, and he uses them along with Queen Victoria's diary and newspapers of the day to masterfully piece together the girl's story.
THE ABSENTMINDED FELLOW,by Samuel Marshak, translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear, with illustrations by Marc Rosenthal. (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $16; grades K-2.) A beloved children's poet of Russia's Soviet era, Marshak first published this comic verse-the tale of a bumbler who can't quite make it out of London for a planned trip to Birmingham-more than 70 years ago. In the hands of Pevear, who has translated two of Marshak's other children's rhymes-Hail to Mail and The Pup Grew Up!-this screwball poem and its central character stand the test of time. Both the verse and Rosenthal's amusing illustrations are guaranteed to get young kids giggling.
NANUK: Lord of the Ice,by Brian Heinz, with paintings by Gregory Manchess. (Dial, $15.99; grades K-3.) Heinz, a veteran elementary school science teacher, has crafted a gripping story about a young hunter and a great polar bear on a collision course. Manchess' bold and timeless paintings of the frigid arctic wilderness and its inhabitants are bathed in a warm, sensuous light. Look for this book among next year's Caldecott honorees.
--Barbara Hiron and Blake Rodman
Vol. 11, Issue 2, Page 56