This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by four area teachers of children's literature. Today's are by Barbara A. St. John, a retired Bowling Green State University professor of children's literature.
Each January the American Library Association announces the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott awards. The Newbery, first awarded in 1922, honors the author of the best-written children's book. The Caldecott, first awarded in 1938, is given to the artist whose illustrations are judged the best in a children's book. While only one book can be the winner in each category, the selection committee may name as many honor books as it wishes. Here are reviews of the 2004 winners.
Author Winner: The Tale of Despereaux. Written by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. Candlewick Press. Ages 8-12. $17.99.
Despereaux Tilling is a most unlikely hero. He is, in fact, a mouse, and he loves the beautiful Princess Pea. Because he loves a human and has even spoken to her, the Mouse Council banishes Despereaux to the dungeon. There his adventures begin! A blind jail keeper, the angry rat Roscuro, the serving girl Miggery Sow, a red tablecloth, and some soup all play roles in Despereaux's adventure. And we must not forget Princess Pea, who is taken to the dungeon by the devious Roscuro and the foolish Mig. Her rescue by the valiant Despereaux makes him a hero in everyone's eyes.
Olive's Ocean. Written by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow. Ages 8-12. $15.99.
"Olive Barstow was dead. She had been hit by a car while riding her bicycle. Weeks ago. That was all Martha knew."
Then Olive's mother gives Martha a page torn from Olive's journal. And so begins a summer of self-discovery for Martha. Who is she? why did Olive want to know her? The summer spent at her grandmother's home on the Atlantic Ocean allows Martha to explore, to learn more about family relationships - relationships with peers and most importantly about herself. Martha Boyle is definitely a girl well worth knowing.
An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Written by Jim Murphy. Clarion. Ages 8-12. $17.
Building detail upon detail, Murphy creates a picture of Philadelphia circa 1793 as yellow fever sweeps the city. Devastated families, government at a standstill, controversial medical decisions and the work of the Free African Society are among the topics covered. The reader is drawn into the chaos and the fear of this time. As always, Murphy's work is thorough and interesting using diverse voices. There is an excellent list of sources.
Illustrator winner: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Written and Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Roaring Brook Press. Ages 5-10. $17.95.
In January, 1974, before the World Trade Center was quite completed, a daring French aerialist, Philippe Petit, stretched a wire between the two towers and spent about an hour walking, dancing, and doing tricks a quarter of a mile in the air. Gerstein captures Petit's joy and sense of freedom as well as the wonder of the audience below. While the towers no longer remain, Petit's feat will always be a part of New York's history. Gerstein's ink and oil illustrations capture Petit's joyous performance and the pleasure of his audience.
Ella Sarah Gets Dressed. Written and illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Harcourt. Ages 3-5. $16.
Ella Sarah knows exactly what she wants to wear. Family members suggest more subdued outfits, but Ella Sarah is determined to follow her own choices. Dressed in bright colors and bold prints (with her red hat!) she finds her outfit just right, and so do her friends. Little ones will applaud Ella Sarah's selections!
What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? Written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin. Ages 4-9. $15.
A great interactive book. Children are invited to decide how animals use various body parts. A turn of the page shows the entire animal and explains the use of the specific body part. Illustrations are done in cut paper collage. The text is followed with an index which shows each animal, discusses its habitat and unusual features.
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Written and illustrated by Mo Williams. Hyperion. Ages 3-6. $12.99.
As the driver leaves his bus, he encourages listeners to watch things for him. He adds, "Don't let the pigeon drive the bus."
The pigeon, however, sees himself as an excellent driver - capable of being in charge. He ends up having a temper tantrum. Then de decides he would rather drive an eighteen-wheeler. Great fun!