Recommended For Kids

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MOUSE, LOOK OUT!, by Judy Waite, with illustrations by Norma Burgin. (Dutton, $15.99; grades K-2.) The plot line of this outstanding picture book is straightforward: A stunning black cat pursues a field mouse through the garden and rooms of an abandoned country cottage, only to be run off in the end by a vigilant dog. Waite's finely tuned verse--she writes here in rhyme--is both playful and ominous as she describes the life-and-death chase. What makes this book a keeper, though, are Burgin's exquisite naturalistic paintings. The colors, shadows, and intricate details in each illustration add an air of mystery and foreboding. The garden is overgrown, with leafy vines spilling over the walls. And scattered about the house are the discarded belongings of its long-gone occupants: old shoes, broken china, rusted pots and pans. The wallpaper is peeling and the banister collapsing; dead leaves and old newspapers blow about the rooms. Someone had begun to pack--half-filled boxes sit in corners--but the task was never finished.

Kids will find Waite's narrative gripping--What's going to happen to the mouse?--but they will also wonder about the people who lived here and what happened to them. Why did they leave the place in such a state? Was something chasing them?

Discerning readers will spot on each page the bright spooky eyes of an owl--peering through the ivy, from under the stairs, out of a cupboard--watching the chase. The owl is not mentioned in the text. But thanks to Burgin, it is part of the story, a scary presence hidden in the shadows. On the last spread of the book, inside the back cover, Burgin shows the dog bounding after the cat, chasing it from the garden. The owl is there, too, wings spread, flying back toward the cottage--and the mouse. Both the text and all these visual elements combine to make this a first-rate suspense story for a primary-grade audience.

--Blake Rodman

BEHIND THE MASK: The Life of Queen Elizabeth I, by Jane Resh Thomas. (Clarion Books, $19; young adult.) Thanks to Hollywood, one of England's most famous monarchs is enjoying something of a renaissance in this country. But Elizabeth, the recent award-winning film about the 16th-century queen, has blurred fact and fiction and touched on only a part of her life. With this book, Thomas gives teenagers what they didn't get on screen: a full portrait of the queen from her pitiful childhood through her tumultuous reign.

Elizabeth, of course, was the child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. In the book's early chapters, Thomas demonstrates how her infancy was ravaged by
the political turmoil that her father touched off when he defied the pope to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Boleyn. At the age of three months, Elizabeth was sent to live with a retinue of servants in her own palace. By the time she was six, her mother had been beheaded and her father had
married yet another woman, Jane Seymour. Still, because her father valued education, Elizabeth suffered no lack of tutors, taking lessons in sewing, dancing, manners, horseback riding, mathematics, geography, astronomy, history, and the principles of architecture.

After her unsettled childhood, Elizabeth's political survival skills were put to the test at age 14, when Henry died. Elizabeth's half-brother, Edward, first took the throne, then Mary, her half-sister. A deeply suspicious woman, Mary had Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower of London for several months, a terrifying experience that scarred Elizabeth forever.

Elizabeth finally claimed her crown in 1558 at the age of 25. The new queen, Thomas makes clear, was a strong-willed woman. She loved extravagant clothing and jewels, and though she regarded marriage as an "inconsiderate folly," she delighted in flirting with suitors. Thomas' portrait of Elizabeth also shows her as something of a pioneering feminist--she was determined
to maintain power and defy those who thought no woman should hold the crown. Her 44-year-reign was marked by religious strife, political conflict with Europe and Scotland, and repeated attempts on her life, but Elizabeth fended off all threats. A politically shrewd ruler, she had no compunction about disposing of her enemies--including Mary Queen of Scots--in bloody fashion.

Before her death, Elizabeth proclaimed that she had fulfilled her commitment to her people: "There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care for my sub-jects, and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety, than myself." Thomas, it seems, would agree. "The 16th century has never been known for Mary Stuart, or even King Henry VIII. It is primarily the accomplishments of the great Elizabeth Tudor. . . that we remember." Reading this well-researched and entertaining account, students who know Elizabeth only through the movies will understand why.

--Barbara Hiron

Vol. 10, Issue 6, Page 54

Published in Print: March 1, 1999, as Recommended For Kids
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