A BIG CHEESE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar,by Candace Fleming, with illustrations by S.D. Schindler. (DK Ink, $16.95; grades K-3.) When the citizens of Cheshire, Massachusetts, famous for its cheddar cheese, hear that President Thomas Jefferson is serving a rival-town's inferior product, they declare war: The townsfolk produce a four-foot-high, 1,235-pound wheel of cheddar, which they then laboriously deliver to the White House for New Year's Day 1802. Fleming, author of the wonderfully quirky Gabriella's Song, dishes up an amusing piece of Americana as well as some interesting tidbits on cheese preparation. According to the author, the cheddar was enjoyed by White House guests for several years. "One source," she writes, "says the big cheese lasted until a presidential reception in 1805, where it was served with hot punch and cake."
SECTOR 7,by David Weisner. (Clarion, $16; grades K-2.),by Jack Gantos. (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $16; grades 4-6.) This dreamy book, about a boy who gets swept away by a friendly cloud during a visit to the Empire State building, is not one for reading aloud—there are no words—but kids will love poring over Weisner’s fanciful illustrations and piecing together the narrative for themselves. Eventually the boy winds up in Sector 7, a cloud factory in the sky, where he creates some mischief to great effect back on earth.
JACK ON THE TRACKS: Four Seasons of Fifth Grade,by Jack Gantos. (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $16; grades 4-6.) In this latest installment of The Jack Henry Books—a semi-autobiographical series that follows our hapless hero through Candide-like adventures—Jack moves to Miami with his family. It's a perfect opportunity for a new beginning, thinks Jack. This time he'll actually follow his father's advice on how not to be a fluff ball. But we all know where good intentions lead. Jack is soon caught up in a series of misadventures so bizarre and grotesque that they must be real: from water-skiing down a muddy canal on a splintery board pulled by an old Chevrolet Impala on Halloween to his inadvertent role in the tragic demise of a series of doomed cats: Miss Kitty I, Miss Kitty II, and Miss Kitty III. Though not for the faint of heart or stomach, Jack's story is about as real, and as sidesplittingly funny, as it gets.
DAVE AT NIGHT,by Gail Carson Levine. (HarperCollins, $15.95; grades 4-6.) ,by John Coy, with illustrations by Leslie Jean-Bart. (Lee and Low, $16.95; grades K-2.) After Dave’s father dies, orphaning him at age 11, his surviving relatives are too impoverished and too sickly to take him in. So he leaves the crowded tenements of New York’s Lower East Side for the dour halls of the Hebrew Home for Boys, or “HHB.” While Dave finds true friendship and loyalty among his fellow “elevens”—who form a band of buddies that look out for each other at the “Hell Hole for Brats”—in the evenings he escapes into neighboring Harlem. There he explores the Harlem Renaissance in the company of Solly, a self-described “gonif” (con man) who makes the rounds of rent parties telling fortunes and listening to jazz. He meets new friends in Harlem who help him turn the tables on the orphanage’s evil superintendent and find a home where he least expects it.
STRONG TO THE HOOP,by John Coy, with illustrations by Leslie Jean-Bart. (Lee and Low, $16.95; grades K-2.)A young boy who has always watched from the sidelines of the neighborhood basketball court gets his chance to mix it up with the big kids when a player on his older brother's team twists an ankle. Although he has a hard time keeping up at first—he is taunted and pushed around by the kids on the other team—the boy plays well and shoots the winning hoop. The story is tense and the language hip, but what really scores are Jean-Bart's superb illustrations—photo and scratch board collages—which capture the action against a grim inner-city landscape.
—Blake Hume Rodman and Stephen Del Vecchio
Vol. 11, Issue 6, Page 58