New Book Reviews

Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Newsletter, Spring '99, page 2, by Carol Hurst and Rebecca Otis.

The Escape of Marvin the Ape

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by Caralyn and Mark Buehner (Puffin, 1999 ISBN 0140565035. Paperback. Hardcover. Grades Pre-School - 2)

Newly reissued in paperback is this delightful book for the very young. The story is not unique but its treatment is. Marvin escapes from the zoo while his keeper is cleaning the cage. From then on zoo personnel and police search for the ape but children see him everywhere. Although the story is simple, there are mind-expanding touches as when we see Marvin at the movies, his eyes like those of the humans who surround him in the dark are glued to the screen as he devours his popcorn. The accompanying text states, "The movie mesmerized Marvin."

The book connects particularly well with Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (Putnam, 1994. ISBN 0399224459. Library Binding. Board edition.).

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Come On, Rain!

by Karen Hesse with illustrations by Jon J. Muth. (Scholastic, 1999 ISBN 0590331256 Grades PreK - 3. Library Binding.)

Most picture books that deal with drought and rain are set in the country with farmers waiting for the end to the thirst. Come on, Rain! is set in the city where our narrator, Tessie, a young African American child, lives with her mother. While Tessie watches the sky for signs of cooling rain, her mother tries to nurse some thirsty plants to life in their small garden. Eventually, Tessie sees rain clouds in the distance and starts getting ready. She gets her friend to come over wearing a bathing suit and, even though her mother has first refused to let her do the same, Tessie is allowed to don hers too. Other friends arrive just in time for the first cooling drops of rain. The noise of celebration by the kids draws their mothers to the balconies and, by unspoken mutual consent, they throw off shoes and stockings and run out into the rain to join the kids. The kids are overjoyed and the celebration continues with gusto.

The illustrations in this fine picture book are beautifully done. They throw off heat and greatly enhance the fine text. Hesse's language use is wonderful with just the right amount of simile. This is a welcome addition to any weather unit.

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The House Gobbaleen

by Lloyd Alexander. Illustrated by Diane Goode (Puffin, 1999 ISBN 0140565043. Paperback. Hardcover. Grades 2 - 4.)

Nobody tells a story like Lloyd Alexander. His humor is at times sly and other times broad but it always brings a chuckle. The House Gobbaleen is one of his most successful short stories. Tooley lives with a very smart cat, Gladsake, who, fortunately for Tooley, can talk and think very well indeed. Tooley spends most of his time complaining about his luck. Although Gladsake tries to tell him that he is responsible for his own luck, Tooley is determined to entice one of the "friendly folk" to bring him luck. To this end, Tooley sets out daily feasts on his doorstep until, one day, a little man named Hooks appears, dressed in a bright green coat. Convinced that he now has good luck arriving, Tooley invites him in although Gladsake warns of its folly and even Hooks declares, "Once in, never out and once out, never back."

Hooks loses no time in getting Tooley to wait on him hand and foot in a manner that will remind readers of Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. Soon Tooley is exhausted as is his food supply. Gladsake then concocts a plan to get rid of the freeloader. By the time Hooks flees in fright, most readers and listeners will be laughing aloud.

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Sons of Liberty

by Adele Griffin (Hyperion, 1999 ISBN 0786813008. Paperback. Hardcover. Grades 6 - 9.)

Don't let the title fool you, this is not a historical novel although it does involve a revolution. Rock Kindle knows a lot about the American Revolution and he identifies with many of its heroes and their values of loyalty and bravery. Rock's relationship with his older brother, Cliff, and their mutual best friend, Lisa, are real and full of the usual understandings and misunderstandings. It's his parents that pose the threat to Rock's well-being. His father is a militaristic bully, often rousing his sons in the middle of the night to perform some arduous task that could have been done better in daylight. He cares nothing for the scholastic efforts of either son, exhausting the boys at night being his means of subverting it.

Rock's mother has sunk into an isolated, depressed life which is also encouraged by her husband who wants to be in control of everything and everybody. Lisa's life is also fraught with danger as she lives with an abusive stepfather. Eventually the boys help her to escape although it's hard to think of life on the streets as a haven for anyone. Afterwards, Cliff begins to plot their escape from their own home and Rock's value system is put to the test as he decides whether or not to betray his father.

This is a tense book dealing with dysfunctional families with good characterization and believable plot.

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An Acquaintance with Darkness

by Ann Rinaldi (Harcourt, 1999 ISBN 0152021973. Hardcover. Paperback. Grades 5 - 9.)

Rinaldi is one of the most prolific authors of young adult historical fiction. Always her work is carefully researched and she usually succeeds in making us feel the reality of her time and place. An Acquaintance with Darkness is set in Washington, D. C. around the time of Lincoln's assassination. We see it through the eyes of fourteen-year-old Emily who lives, at the beginning of the story, next door to the Surratt family. Indeed Anne Surratt is her best friend and Johnny Surratt might turn out to be a suitor for Emily. Several of the Surratts are friendly with John Wilkes Booth and therein lies one link to the assassination.

Another link comes through the person of Emily's Uncle Valentine who becomes Emily's guardian after her mother's death. The luxurious sanctuary he offers her is offset by the fact that he is a physician and teacher of anatomy and might be dealing with body snatching for educational purposes. One of his best friends is Dr. Mudd, the man who set Booth's leg after the assassination and was later imprisoned for it.

With these major events swirling around, Rinaldi manages to give us full blown characters in Emily and Valentine especially while giving us yet another context in which to view the time and its events.

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