Tuesday, February 23, 2010

But Wait! There's More!

In addition to the books discussed in the other two posts today, I have also read:

from the Picture Book list--Bark Park, by Karen Gray Ruelle; Big Bad Bunny, by Franny Billingsley; and What Bluebirds Do, by Pamela Kirby.

from the Juvenile Book list--Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson; and Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith.

Bark Park, by Karen Gray Ruelle--This picture book is reminiscent of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss. However, the text and illustrations do not have the whimsical, fanciful lilt of Seuss. The text is instead funny by its very real characterizations of different types of dogs ("Hot dog, dot dog, in the park." is accompanied by an illustration of a Dachshund and a Dalmatian walking on a path toward a dog park.). The illustrations are almost, but not quite, child-like. Ms Ruelle has created a book appealing to children which will make adults smile, as well.

Big Bad Bunny, by Franny Billingsley--Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, the story opens like a horror show. "Big Bad Bunny has long sharp claws. Scritch! Scritch! Scritch! But over in the Mouse House, everything is quiet. It's naptime, and Mama Mouse tucks her babies into bed." You just know BBB is on his way to the Mouse House to wreak destruction. Then you turn the page. You notice BBB is wearing yellow pants with pink polka-dots and what appear to be fuzzy slippers. Huh? Keep turning the pages. Back at the Mouse House... "But wait! Where is Baby Boo-Boo? Mama Mouse races into the forest." Grown-ups know what is coming, as do some of the more perceptive children readers. Do you?

What Bluebirds Do, by Pamela Kirby--This picture book is a departure from the other picture books I've reviewed, as it is non-fiction. It is not the only non-fiction on the list, but it is the first here on this blog! A photo-essay in book form, this is the story of how a family of bluebirds came to make their home in Ms Kirby's yard. The photos are beautiful and the text is clear and concise. My children were enthralled with the tale of the bluebirds, and the most memorable moment for them was learning how bluebirds clean out their nests. Be prepared for a happy chorus of "Ewww!" from your young listeners and readers. As the hatchlings learn to fly, we got the sense that we, too, were on the brink of something marvelous.

Moving along to the Juvenile list:

Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson--One tends to forget that slavery in the United States was not isolated to the 19th century South. The year is 1776. Isabel and her sister, Ruth, are slaves in Manhattan, sold there from Rhode Island when the nephew of their former owner disregards his aunt's will to have the girls set free upon her death. Purchased by the Locktons, Loyalist supporters who play at being Patriots in order to keep their own fortunes afloat, the girls are mightily abused. While running errands one day, Isabel is approached by another slave with an offer of assistance if she will spy on the Locktons and report to the Patriot leaders. She is unwilling at first to risk anything for fear of losing what precious little she has, but events conspire to force her decision. Driven by her own dreams of freedom, she aids the Patriots, only to discover that not all of them dream of freedom for her and her fellow slaves. Her loyalties become divided and she finds herself caught in the maelstrom that becomes the American Revolution--completely against her will and for no personal benefit whatsoever. The book ends with a cliffhanger and a promise of another volume to follow.

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith--I was disappointed in this novel. Ida Mae Jones is a girl living in Louisiana as the world is on the brink of the Second World War. She is the product of a black mother and father, although her father's heritage has given her skin so light, she could pass for white. Her father taught her to fly his crop-dusting airplane when she was much younger, and her grandfather takes her to Tuskeegee to test for her license, since they heard the administration there will give licenses to coloreds.
But when we climbed out of that plane, Mr. Anderson looked at me and said, "You can fly, no doubt about it. But no woman's gonna get a license out of me. Go home, Miss Jones. You've failed."
Now Ida Mae's dream is to save enough to go to the colored-owned Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago, where they teach both men and women. Working as a maid for a local family, her savings is growing slowly. After the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor is announced, her brother leaves medical school to join the Army so he can be a medic to colored units fighting overseas. Ida Mae can't stand to stay home and do nothing, so as soon as she hears about the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), she determines to sign up. There are two problems with her plan. One, she has no license (thanks a lot, Mr. Anderson); and, two, she's colored. With the help of her friend, Jolene, Ida Mae determines to "pass" for the first time in her life. She succeeds in getting into the WASP training program.

My problem with the book is that Ms Smith builds the tension of Ida Mae's fear of being discovered as a colored woman, but never takes that tension anywhere. There is no defining moment, no real climax to the story which will make her choose. Even at the end, when she writes a letter revealing her secret to a white man who had shown interest in her, she doesn't seem to have a whole lot of emotion riding on his response. Real life doesn't always call for us to define ourselves in a momentous way, but a good author WILL ask that of his or her characters. I don't believe Ms Smith asked that of Ida Mae.

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