Education

For Kids

February 01, 1999 4 min read
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In a gray city under gray skies, a boy and his dog spot a snowflake, and then a second and a third. “It’s snowing,” the boy announces. But his grandfather and passersby tell him that it’s nothing to get excited about, that what’s falling will soon melt. Even the radio and television say “no snow.”

Still, the snow keeps coming. And as adults trudge home to escape it, the boy and his dog run out to play. With the streets empty, characters from Mother Goose emerge from a bookstore to join him. In the end, the boy and his dog are all alone in the soft snow. Shulevitz’s illustrations are colorful and uncomplicated, yet each adds subtle detail to the spare text. Several, for example, poke fun at the skeptical adults. In fact, adults don’t fare very well here at all. But then, this is a book for children, an unsentimental story about the pure joy of childhood.

--Blake Rodman

,

Nathan, a quiet lad of 14 and the son of a country parson, dreams of pirates. During Greek lessons at his brutal 17th-century British boarding school, he imagines himself at sea, in a sword fight on the wooden deck of a 40-gun ship.

Meanwhile, Tamo White, the son of a real pirate (now deceased), sits in a fourth-row seat behind Nathan. The two have never spoken--Nathan’s too awed by his classmate to even strike up a conversation--but they begin their own swashbuckling adventure when Nathan learns of his father’s death and is expelled from the school for unpaid tuition. Tamo, it turns out, has been looking for an excuse to quit school, and the pirate’s son persuades Nathan and his younger sister, Maud, to run away aboard The Tenderness, a ship captained by Tamo’s guardian and bound for Madagascar, his homeland.

Though Captain Sheller is amiable enough, the children soon discover that he consorts with pirates and has dark plans for his three passengers. Once the ship reaches Madagascar, the boys manage to escape, though without Maud, who is locked in the captain’s cabin. In a hilarious scene, timid Maud makes a break, too, grabbing her knitting needles, tucking a pistol into her waistband, and shinnying down a rope to join the boys.

Together, they steal a boat and reach the friendly coastal village of Zaotralana. Here, and throughout the novel, McCaughrean, winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal, paints enchanting pictures with words: “On the trees hung breadfruit, figs, and bananas, and melons lay about like cannonballs in the aftermath of a battle. Zaotralana was peopled by exquisite, graceful women, Biblical and surreally tall with their slender earthenware vessels balanced on the heads; Zaotralana, with its glistening rice paddies and groves of rosewood, had seen nothing but peace since the world’s beginning, or so it seemed to Nathan and Maud.”

In Zaotralana, the youngsters’ characters change in dramatic and often amusing ways. Maud, for instance, sheds her constricting clothing for a loose “lambasa” robe, learns the native language, and, at one point, enthusiastically joins in a native ritual for the dead. But just as the children’s lives are settling down, a band of pirates arrives, and rumors circulate about a hidden treasure. The action moves swiftly to a glorious finale as the youngsters and pirates race to outwit and destroy one another.

--Barbara Hiron

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The story here is winning but hardly remarkable; the title characters meet and help each other out of tight spots up around the North Pole. What’s special about this book and the others in the popular Little Polar Bear series are the warmth and detail of de Beer’s illustrations.

,

This brief but fascinating look at the history of polar exploration covers both the heroes and many eccentric characters who risked their lives searching for the North Pole and an Arctic passage to Asia. The stark and dramatic oil paintings, in vivid whites and blues, capture this most inhospitable of landscapes.

,

Newbery award-winner Hesse and comic book artist extraordinaire Muth pool their talents for this exquisite picture book about a young girl impatiently waiting for an approaching thunderstorm to bring relief to a sweltering city. When the storm finally breaks, the girl and her friends throw on swimming suits and dance in the streets. The animated watercolors and vibrant narrative make this the perfect read-aloud.

,

Long-nosed bats, tiny bumblebee bats, ferocious-looking vampire bats, and nectar-drinking bats with superlong tongues are just a few of the species featured in this book, which brims with information and photographs of these fascinating, misunderstood creatures.

,

Wrongly accused of theft, Stanley is sent to a boys’ correctional camp in the Texas desert run by a psychopathic warden. As part of their punishment, the boys dig holes each day in the dry ground. Stanley, however, realizes that the holes are part of a scheme by the warden, and he sets out to uncover the mystery--at his peril.

won the National Book Award for young people’s literature.

,

Every day after school, Ben stops at the local bakery to watch Harry, a master cake decorator, work wonders with buttercream icing and marzipan, caramel and coconut. But when the bakery is sold, the new owners let Harry go, telling him they want “fast, not different.” In his forced retirement, Harry becomes a couch potato--until the day Ben shows up for help on a tricky art project. Wishinsky’s punchy wordplay and Zimmermann’s lively watercolors touch gently on the subject of rejection, but the overarching message is one of resilience and the good things that can happen when someone believes in you.

--Barbara Hiron and Blake Rodman


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