Recommended For Kids

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THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND, by Woody Guthrie, with illustrations by Kathy Jakobsen. (Little, Brown, $15.95; K-6.) Many kids' books are perfect for reading aloud. But that's not the case with this stunning picture-book version of Guthrie's most famous song. The words, of course, are dramatic and familiar, but the beauty here is in the detail of Jakobsen's illustrations, which beg to be pored over, one or two students at a time.

These folkish oil paintings--some reprinted over entire spreads, others five or six to a page--celebrate, as Guthrie's song does, the American landscape and people. Though the illustrations take their cue from the lyrics, they also feature Guthrie and the people and places that were important to him. There are the required scenes of California and "the New York Island," but Jakobsen also paints Mt. Rushmore and Mesa Verde, cornfields and forests, shrimp fishing and peach picking. We see Woody by the Columbia River, at the Grand Canyon, and with his first band in Pampa, Texas.

There are darker images, too: "dust clouds rolling," homeless people camped under a bridge, and garment workers on strike. Guthrie, after all, was a social activist and a strong supporter of workers and their unions. Many of the more than 1,000 songs he wrote touch on themes of injustice, poverty, and politics. Take the fifth verse of the title song: "In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people/By the relief office I seen my people/As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking/Is this land made for you and me?"

On the borders of many pages, Jakobsen has inserted in tiny lettering pithy quotes from Guthrie and his songs. There is also a short tribute to Guthrie by his friend and fellow singer Pete Seeger, as well as a biography that quickly covers the highlights of Guthrie's life and times--from his boyhood in Oklahoma to his days as a young itinerant musician to his later years in New York City.

This book is the perfect introduction to this legendary songwriter and crusader. But it's more than that. Jakobsen has taken an old familiar song and made it visually accessible to a new generation. These lyrics and paintings let children know that our land is their land, too.

--Blake Rodman

HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Mary Grandpré. (Scholastic Press, $16.95; young adult.) Rowling is a new British fantasy writer with the imagination, wit, and flair of Roald Dahl, Terry Pratchett, and Diana Wynne Jones. This, her debut novel, won the British National Book Award and has now been published here. It is the story of Harry Potter, orphaned son of famous and respected wizards killed by the evil sorcerer Voldemort. Harry miraculously survived the attack but bears a scar on his forehead resembling a bolt of lightning.

The book opens as Harry is delivered into the care of relatives, a day marked by owls swooping about in broad daylight, a downpour of shooting stars, and a cat intently studying a map. For the next 10 years, Harry lives in a cupboard under the stairs in the house of his beastly aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, and his dreadful cousin Dudley, who looks like "a pig in a wig." The family has kept Harry's magical past from him--it's a matter of shame to them--but on the eve of his 11th birthday, a letter arrives inviting him to enroll in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Soon, he is whisked away by the shambling but amiable giant Hagrid to collect an inheritance left by his parents at a goblin-run bank and to buy school supplies: a cauldron, a black robe, magic-potion ingredients, and a made-to-measure wand of phoenix feathers.

At the school, Harry learns charms, transfiguration, and broomstick riding--lessons that prove invaluable when he and three friends uncover the mystery behind a forbidden door. Their encounters with centaurs, a recalcitrant dragon, a troll, and a slathering three-headed dog named Fluffy all make for a beguiling and entertaining read. A sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is already a bestseller in England.

--Barbara Hiron

Vol. 10, Issue 3, Pages 55-56

Published in Print: November 1, 1998, as Recommended For Kids
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