Book Reviews, November '99

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Author: Paul, Ann Whitford. Illustrator: Michael Steimagle
Title: All By Herself
Publisher: Browndeer, 1999 ISBN 0152014772. Hardcover.
Grades 3 and up
There are fourteen poems in this picture book, each one celebrating the life of a girl who made a difference, usually in their adult lives. Amelia Earhart, Mary Jane McLeod, Violet Sheehy, Rachel Carson, Sacajawea, Ida Lewis, Harriet Hanson, Wilma Rudolph, Wanda Gag, Kate Shelley, Pocahontas, Maria Mitchell, Golda Mabovitch (Meir), and Frances Ward. Most of them went on to become famous but the book concentrates on a moment of strength in each female's early life. The last few pages tell how the world came to know each one.
Add it to your biography and history booklists.

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Author/Illustrator: Howard, Arthur
Title: When I Was Five
Publisher: Harcourt, 1999 ISBN 0152020993. Hardcover, Paperback.
Grades Prek and up
There's something rather sweet about this little book. We get to meet Jeremy, a rumpled kid wearing big glasses. He speaks directly to us, telling about his ambition (actually his list of ambitions) when he was five and his secret hiding place and his good friend Max, among other things.
Now that he is six, some things have changed but some things never do, like good friends.
The illustrations are funny and suit the text very well. There's an exuberance and joy in the book which is catching and the point is well taken.
If you're looking for books about self concept and growing up, this is a good one.

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Author: Paulsen, Gary
Title: Alida's Song
Publisher; Delacorte, 1999 ISBN0 038532586X. Hardcover.
Grades 5-8
Rating: 3 stars

You may have met Alida before this brief novel. She's the grandmother in The Cookcamp (Orchard, 1991 ISBN 0531085279). The summer the narrator spent with her in that lumber camp was as necessary for his well-being as it was fun for him, the small child of neglectful and drunken parents.
In Alida's Song, that grandmother rescues him again. She's not working in the cookcamp now but is housekeeper and cook for two bachelor farmers (just like in LakeWoebegone). She writes asking her grandson to join her. He will, she says, be able to help with the farming.
Gunar and Olaf do well by the boy as does his grandmother, of course. It's hard work and they toil from early morning to late evening, pausing only to eat enormous and frequent meals. They do believe in fun, however, and the two men prepare a feast for the boy's grandmother complete with fiddle and spoon music afterward. She teaches the boy to dance, to trust and to love again.
In all, the book is tender and quite wonderful. The knowledge that the work is largely autobiographical lets us feel grateful that the man whose work we so admire today had such nourishment, at least for a summer.

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Author: Harris, Robie
Illustrator: Emberley, Michael
Title: It's So Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families
Publisher: Candlewick, 199. ISBN 0763600512. Library Binding.
Robie Harris and Michael Emberley have given us another gift. Their first collaboration gave us one of the best books on sex for kids ten and up, It's Perfectly Normal (Candlewick, 1994 ISBN 1564021998). Now they've turned their attention to the younger set, probably from five to nine years old. It's So Amazing has that same combination of warmth, humor and solid facts that the first one did. Like the first, it pulls no punches and it's most likely something parents will want to read together with their child with plenty of conversation along the way. Besides the fascinating details about the items in the subtitle, the book tells kids what they need to know but not an overload about AIDS, abortion, and birth control. Cartoon characters of the embarrassed bee and the curious bird offer reactions to the information on the page, no doubt echoing the reactions of many of the kids (and adults) who will read it. After sharing the book, and making it clear that you are on tap for further discussion and information, leave the book where it can serve as a reference as the child wants to know more. It is amazing!

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