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March 2009

Book Reviews

Spring Into Books

Spring brings sunny days, National Women's History Month and books featuring Mother Nature and brave girls.

By Mary Quattlebaum


babies/toddlers


book coverWhere Is Catkin?
by Janet Lord, illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Peachtree, 2010, $16.95
Sisters Janet Lord and Julie Paschkis team up to vibrant effect in this charming seek-and-find adventure. Little ones will have a great time looking, along with Catkin, for the creature--cricket, frog, mouse, snake and bird--in each double-page spread and listening for, and making, its sound. In a delightful surprise ending, the tawny cat's young owner hears a faint "meow" and searches the lush landscape for her errant pet, thus giving youngsters yet another chance to look for the expressive animals. The minimal but engaging text and bright patterns make this a go-to book for tots.


ages 3 - 6


book coverStagecoach Sal
by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Carson Ellis. Disney Hyperion, 2009, $16.99
Frontier gal Sal loves two things--singing and riding on her father's stagecoach. When Pa gets hurt, Sal takes over the mail coach, only to meet up with a "notorious no-good highwayman" by the name of Poetic Pete. The nefarious rhymester is no match for silver-tongued Sal, though, who chooses song as her weapon of choice. Inspired by a true story, this folksy tale, rife with playful metaphors, is perfect for a family read-aloud, and the sepia-toned illustrations add to the Wild West ambiance. Verses from "Polly Wolly Doodle" and "She'll be Comin' ‘Round the Mountain" are provided on each double-page spread, enabling kids to sing along with spunky Sal. An added bonus: the intriguing author's note about Delia Haskett Rawson, whose work as a 19 th century mail carrier inspired this book.


ages 7 - 10


book coverLanie
by Jane Kurtz. American Girl, 2010, $6.95
Lanie prefers the great outdoors to her family's indoor lifestyle. No one wants to go camping or to observe and record the natural world. To make matters worse, Lanie's best friend has moved to an Indonesian rain forest to help her scientist dad. The fourth-grader yearns for an exotic wildlife adventure, but she's stuck in boring Cambridge, Mass., with her pesky sister and some caterpillars. Then, outdoorsy Aunt Hannah arrives for the summer, and Lanie learns about the wonders in her own backyard. The family dynamics ring true in this gently humorous chapter book, as does Lanie's curiosity about insects, plants and animals. The book serves not only to introduce the latest doll in the American Girl lineup, but also to highlight the company's partnership with the National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There program (nwf.org/BeOutThere). Noting the increase in childhood obesity, attention deficit disorders and depression in recent years, the initiative documents the benefits of outdoor play and encourages kids to get outside for at least an hour a day.


book coverThe Daring Miss Quimby
by Suzanne George Whitaker, illustrated by Catherine Stock. Holiday House, 2009, $16.95
In a flashy purple flight suit, Harriet Quimby made history in the early 1900s as the first woman to earn her pilot's license and the first to cross the English Channel by plane. This lively picture-book biography not only resurrects a little-remembered pioneer, but also recreates the dangers and thrills of flight in its nascent stage. According to author Suzanne George Whitaker, Harriet helped pave the way for other daring women of the skies, including pilots Amelia Earhart, Bessie Coleman and Anne Lindbergh and astronaut Sally Ride. Catherine Stock's pictures beautifully convey Harriet's laughing, colorful spirit. Readers curious about aviation history will appreciate the timeline, suggested websites, bibliography and author's note with information on the innovations in plane safety spurred by Harriet's tragic death.


ages 11 and up


book coverAbigail Adams
by Kem Knapp Sawyer. DK, 2009, $14.99
Washington author Kem Knapp Sawyer adds another fascinating life story to her list of acclaimed biographies for young people. This time she brings the courageous, resourceful Abigail Adams out from the shadow of husband John Adams, illustrious Founding Father and second president of the United States. As a strong-minded New England girl, Abigail relished political and philosophical chats with the lawyer friend of her sister's suitor and so began one of this country's great love stories. Sawyer takes readers through the early years of the Adams's marriage, revealing both the condition of women in the late 18th century and the colonists' growing dissatisfaction with England. Then, with John forging a new nation and away for years, Abigail ran their farm, raised the children, helped with the war effort and wrote letters reminding her husband to "remember the ladies" when developing new laws. Sidebars, factoids and period paintings and illustrations add visual pizzazz to this fine work of nonfiction.


book coverHazel
by Julie Hearn. Atheneum/Simon and Schuster, 2009, $17.99
Hazel is a stand-alone novel, but its red-haired protagonist is none other than the daughter of the animal-loving heroine of Ivy (2008). Irritated by her mother's singular focus on stray dogs and lonely after her adored father's breakdown, Hazel dabbles in England's suffragist movement and, as punishment, is shipped off to her paternal grandparents in Jamaica. Author Julie Hearn captures the look and feel of the heat-heavy island in the early 1900s and the fraught dynamics between the white owners of a sugar-cane plantation and their former black slaves, now hired employees. As a character, Hazel becomes increasingly more complex and interesting as the novel progresses. She puzzles out a family secret and grows to appreciate her mother's integrity and self-possession--and to own these traits in herself at the end. Compelling historical fiction.


Mary Quattlebaum is a mother and the author most recently of Sparks Fly High, a colonial American folktale, and Jackson Jones and the Curse of the Outlaw Rose, a humorous chapter book. Contact Mary through maryquattlebaum.com, which has information on her 15 award-winning children's books, school presentations and writing workshops.