For Kids

February 01, 1998 4 min read

GABRIELLA’S SONG, by Candace Fleming, with illustrations by Giselle Potter. (Atheneum, $16; grades K-4.) Melody is infectious. You get a tune in your head, it moves to your lips, and before you know it the person in the next room has taken it up. Such is the case in Gabriella’s Song, a story about a girl, a melody, and the city of Venice. On her way home from the market one morning, Gabriella takes in all the sounds of the city: the street venders singing of their wares, the rhythm of tethered boats thumping the canal walls, the ting-a-ling-ling of church bells, the distant voice of her mother calling. In her mind, she blends the sounds into a song. Gabriella hums the song to herself as she waits in a bakery to buy a cannoli. Taken with the melody, the baker whistles a few bars as he works. And so it goes. Before long, a gondolier is playing the notes on his accordion. “The music wafted and weaved on the breeze,” finally finding its way to the window of the brilliant composer Giuseppe Del Pietro. Giuseppe, as it turns out, is suffering from a bad case of composers’ block; he simply cannot “find the music” for his new symphony, soon to be performed in the city’s famed Piazza San Marco. Gabriella’s melody is the inspiration he needs, and it becomes the theme for his symphony, which the entire city turns out to hear. To his credit, Giuseppe acknowledges his debt. “Weeks ago, I was inspired by a simple song I heard outside my window,” he tells the crowd. “To whoever was singing, I now say grazie.” Fleming has written a charming tribute to the power of music, and Venice—with its history, winding canals, and colorful people—is the perfect setting. Her graceful narrative and Potter’s exquisite, folkish watercolors make this book a delight.

—Blake Rodman

CHARLES A. LINDBERGH: A Human Hero, by James Cross Giblin. (Clarion Books, $20; grade 6 and up.) It has been 70 years since Charles Lindbergh made his historic solo flight across the Atlantic, and Giblin, an acclaimed children’s writer, has marked the anniversary with a fine biography that will introduce a new generation to this controversial American hero. Lindbergh was an only child, shy and gangly, who spent his youth bouncing between Little Falls, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C., where his father was a congressman. He was an indifferent student, preferring to tinker with his motorcycle and the family’s Model T Ford, which he was driving by age 11. But soon his interest shifted to airplanes. After only eight hours of flying time, he purchased a plane and barnstormed the South and Midwest before joining the Army Air Services Training School. In 1926, after graduation, he helped set up and fly the first airmail delivery service between St. Louis and Chicago, surviving a number of hair-raising misadventures. Giblin describes all this in careful detail, but the book really takes off with its depiction of Lindbergh’s entry into the competition for the $25,000 Orteig Prize, to be awarded the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. Giblin describes Lindbergh’s preparations, his setbacks, and the grueling flight itself with the drama and intensity of a thriller. The aviator’s success and the ensuing publicity changed his life forever, making him an international hero. When his infant son was kidnapped and murdered, the nation watched in horror. But his trips to Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and his isolationist views and speeches during World War II turned public opinion against him. Following the war, he wrote several books and became a consultant to the commercial airline industry. Giblin presents a balanced and accessible portrait of Lindbergh that includes many telling anecdotes and fascinating details that will appeal to young readers. Black-and-white photographs from the period illustrate the text.

—Barbara Hiron

GOLD RUSH WOMEN, by Claire Rudolf Murphy and Jane Haigh. (Alaska Northwest Books, $16.95; grade 5 and up.) This is an unusual history of the Gold Rush in the Yukon and Alaska presented through the experiences of intrepid women who risked their lives in search of adventure and riches. Their stories—with sidebars, maps, and black-and-white photographs—provide an exciting picture of the gritty times.

CIRCLE OF MAGIC: Sandry’s Book,by Tamora Pierce. (Scholastic, $15.95; young adult.) Four young outcasts who possess unusual powers are rescued by the mysterious Niko and brought to Winding Circle, a temple community. There they are trained to control their unique skills and in the process discover that magic can be a dangerous gift. This is the first volume of a new fantasy series.

MAILING MAY, by Michael Tunnell, with illustrations by Ted Rand. (Greenwillow, $16; grades K-4.) In 1914, 5-year-old Charlotte May Pierstorff was mailed from Grangeville, Idaho, to her grandmother’s house in Lewiston on the other side of the mountains. She traveled by rail in the mail car with her mother’s cousin Leonard, a postal clerk on the train. The postage was an affordable 53 cents, considerably less than the regular train fare. Although Tunnell has fictionalized May’s story, he insists in an author’s note that the central events are true. Rand’s winning watercolors bring the period to life.

—Barbara Hiron and Blake Rodman