November 01, 1998 2 min read

SAMUEL ADAMS: The Father of American Independence, by Dennis Brindell Fradin. (Clarion, $18; grades 6 and up.) History textbooks speak of Adams’ passionate advocacy for American independence, but this well-written and meticulously researched biography also paints him as an endearing champion of the common man, recounting his unambitious youth, his shabby clothes, and his love of intrigue. Excerpts from Adams’ copious writings are included.

JOHN WILLY AND FREDDY MCGEE, by Holly Meade. (Cavendish, $15.95; grades K-2.) The title characters, two guinea pigs, are bored with life until the day their cage door is left open. They scurry about the house, chased by a cat who seems more interested in the pursuit than a meal. Our heroes finally make it home unscathed. But have they learned their lesson? No way. Kindergartners, in particular, will enjoy Meade’s simple, action-packed narrative and colorful cut-paper and gouache illustrations.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY, by Jacqueline Woodson. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $15.99; young adult.) When Jeremiah, a black teenager from Brooklyn, enrolls at a Manhattan prep school, he meets Ellie, a white Jewish girl. Both come from troubled homes--Jeremiah’s parents are separated, and Ellie’s mother has twice abandoned her--and though their common bond leads to love, the bigotry that surrounds them leads to tragedy. Woodson has written a poignant novel starring two memorable teenagers.

ELIZABETI’S DOLL, by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, with illustrations by Christy Hale. (Lee & Low Books, $15.95; grades K-2.) This story about a young Tanzanian girl who adopts a large smooth rock as a baby doll after her mother gives birth is both charming and transporting. It offers young American children a glimpse of East African village life, so different from their own and yet somehow the same.

WALKS ALONE, by Brian Burks. (Harcourt Brace, $16; young adult.) It’s 1879, and the Warm Springs Apaches of New Mexico have been attacked by soldiers and decimated. Walks Alone has escaped with her brother, and now she has only her bravery and ingenuity to get them to Mexico, where she hopes to reunite with their people. This moving story spotlights a dark period in American history and the struggles of a courageous tribe.

THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER, by Gary Blackwood. (Dutton, $15.99; young adult.) Young Widge’s unscrupulous master orders him to steal the script of Hamlet from Shakespeare. Discovered backstage at the Globe Theater before he can make off with the play, he is adopted by the acting troupe and becomes a willing apprentice, only to see his loyalty to his new friends sorely tested when his vengeful master seeks retribution. Blackwood has crafted an exciting adventure and a fascinating introduction to Elizabethan England.

OLD JAKE’S SKIRTS, by C. Anne Scott, with illustrations by David Slonim. (Rising Moon, $15.95; grades 1-3.) Old Jake lives alone with his hound, Shoestring, in a run-down cabin on a hardscrabble plot of earth. His life is pretty dull until he finds a locked steamer trunk in the middle of the road. When Jake breaks it open, he discovers, to his great surprise, that it is filled with bright cotton calico skirts. Eventually, the owners of the trunk come to fetch it--but not before Jake’s life has been transformed by the contents. Slonim’s striking oil paintings are a perfect match for Scott’s amusing, bittersweet tale.

--Barbara Hiron and Blake Rodman