DORY STORY, by Jerry Pallotta, with illustrations by David Biedrzycki. (Talewinds, $15.95; grades K-1.) Against his parents’ orders, a young boy shoves the family dory off the beach and rows out to explore the calm, blue bay. Watching the sea life beneath his boat, he learns firsthand about the ocean’s food chain. He sees krill eating plankton, sand eels chowing on krill, mackerels devouring sand eels, and more. When orcas arrive on the scene, the boy becomes terrified, afraid that he, too, is about to become part of the food chain. “Help,” he cries. “Where’s my mommy?” This gripping little book, complete with surprise ending, teaches as it entertains. And Biedrzycki’s bright and bold paintings put us right there, in the middle of the bay, with the boy.
THE BASKET COUNTS, by Arnold Adoff, with illustrations by Michael Weaver. (Simon and Schuster, $17; grades 2 and up.) Adoff, one of the most prominent and prolific authors of poetry for young people, has assembled 28 poems under an odd theme: basketball. Yet this collection conveys with economy, insight, and precision the vast range of experiences and emotions the sport elicits from kids. From the sighing, soft clang of rusty chains on a playground hoop early on a Saturday morning to “the feel of the pebble rubber ball:/on fingers/on palm/on fingers palm again whole hand/hand/hand,” he captures the the game as it is played by girls and boys, short and tall, on playgrounds, backyards, driveways, gyms, and even “the hoop behind the bedroom door.”
A BOOK OF FLIES: Real or Otherwise, poems and text by Richard Michelson, with illustrations by Leonard Baskin. (Cavendish, $18.95; grades K-3.) Children will certainly chuckle at these silly poems and watercolors that play off the literal meanings in the names of 13 different flies—horsefly, firefly, dragonfly, and the like. But what makes this book a winner are the factual descriptions and true-to-life drawings that accompany each poem and painting. Michelson’s write-ups are clever, punchy, and filled with bizarre and disgusting little facts that kids won’t soon forget.
PHOEBE AND THE RIVER FLUTE, by M.C. Helldorfer, with illustrations by Paul Hess. (Doubleday, $15.95; grades K-2.) This imaginative story about a girl who cares for 100 rare and beautiful birds caged in a royal garden has the feel and intricate plotting of an old-world fairy tale. In addition to the young woman, Helldorfer’s cast of characters includes the usual suspects: a prince; his evil, power-hungry uncle; an illusive songbird; and a mysterious hunter. Though fairy tales usually conclude with the young girl giving herself—if she even has a choice—to the handsome prince, this one has a different, more apt ending. It’s an engrossing and thought-provoking story, made all the more enticing by Hess’ fanciful and wildly colorful paintings.
SKELLIG, by David Almond. (Delacorte Press, $15.95; grades 4-8.) Michael’s family has moved to a new house. While exploring the rickety old garage, the boy discovers a strange, sickly creature, something as angelic as human, as avian as angelic. Michael becomes convinced that this being’s fate is linked with that of his desperately ill infant sister. What follows is a strange, extraordinary, and wonderful exploration of the connection between truth and dreams, dreams and truth; between what we are, what we dream, what we believe, who we love, and what we become. A powerful story of coming to terms with love’s pain and vulnerability, Skellig also serves as a deeply moving introduction to the poetry and ideas of William Blake.
—Stephen Del Vecchio and Blake Hume Rodman