Lasting Connections of 2002

Book Links: December 2002/January 2003 (v.12, no.3)

by Laura Tillotson

In spite of elaborate organizational efforts, hundreds of children's books threatened to take over
Book Links' offices over the past year. In fact, I was recently informed that the dimensions of my office doorway no longer conform to the Chicago fire code. Picking just 30 books out of all of these titles for the 2002 Lasting Connections list was hard indeed. The books that follow stand out for their powerful storytelling, imaginative art, and engaging presentation of information. Many have strong classroom connections, and all will entertain readers and stretch their horizons. I heartily recommend them for the children in your lives.

Picture Books

Andrews-Goebel, Nancy.
The Pot That Juan Built. Illus. by David Diaz. 2002. 32p. Lee & Low, $16.95 (1-58430-038-8).

Gr. 1-5. Using the rhyme "The House That Jack Built" as a framework, this combination poetry-nonfiction title relates the fascinating story of the renowned Juan Quezada and the people of Mata Ortiz, Mexico, who create pots inspired by the ancient designs of Casas Grandes potters. Diaz's glowing illustrations evoke the warmth of the Mexican countryside, and the rhymes and informational text are authentic and engaging.

Grimes, Nikki.
Talkin' about Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. 2002. 48p. Orchard, $16.95 (0-439-35243-6).

Gr. 2-5. Based on fact but full of imagined details, this oral history consists of the voices of Bessie Coleman's friends, relatives, and associates and tells how she became the first licensed female aviator of African descent. Grimes' poetic and varied monologues relate the hardship and prejudice that Bessie overcame to realize her dream "to amount to something," and Lewis' rich watercolors bring her story to life.

Kalman, Maira.
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey. 2002. 40p. Putnam, $16.99 (0-399-23953-7).

Gr. 2-6. In 1931 in New York the Empire State Building was under construction, the Snickers bar was introduced, and the John J. Harvey fireboat was launched. Readers follow the Harvey from its salad days to its resurrection and firefighting role in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Kalman's stunning, spectacular illustrations capture the horror and immensity of the World Trade Center disaster but also manage to show how an ordinary group of people and their boat became heroes.

Karas, G. Brian.
Atlantic. 2002. 32p. Putnam, $15.99 (0-399-23632-5).

Preschool-Gr. 3. Combining history, geography, science, and poetry, and written in first person, this introduction to the Atlantic Ocean gives readers and listeners a wide-ranging impression of this body of water: "I rub shoulders with North America / and bump into Africa / I slosh around South America and crash into Europe." Karas' textured, playful art shows the ocean's depth and complexity but never loses its childlike appeal. A page of Atlantic Ocean facts is included.

Mahoney, Daniel J.
The Saturday Escape. 2002. 32p. Clarion, $14 (0-618-13326-7).

Preschool-Gr. 2. Three friends (a bear, a rabbit, and a mouse) blow off their Saturday chores and head for story hour at the library. But after the first story-about a boy who eats half of his sister's birthday cake-Jack starts feeling guilty about his messy room, Melden is remorseful for giving his little brothers his house-painting job, and Angie regrets skipping out on piano practice. Exuberant watercolors portray the three friends making good on their promises, and a second, private story hour rounds out this lively tale.

McMullan, Kate.
I Stink! Illus. by Jim McMullan. 2002. 40p. HarperCollins/Joanna Cotler, $15.95 (0-06-029848-0).

Preschool-Gr. 2. Move over, Thomas the Tank Engine. Here comes a garbage truck with an attitude: "You think I stink? Whooooo-whee! Do I ever!" Husband-and-wife team Kate and Jim McMullan follow a rambunctious garbage truck on its nightly rounds through New York City, which include an alphabetical inventory of trash and lots of sound effects. Bold, energetic art captures the truck's sheer power to take in, compact, and expel loads of trash.

Paye, Won-Ldy, and Margaret H. Lippert.
Head, Body, Legs: A Story from Liberia. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. 2002. 32p. Holt, $16.95 (0-8050-6570-9).

Preschool-Gr. 2. This whimsical creation story from Liberia follows Head as it hooks up with Arms, Body, and Legs, coming together to form a person. Perfect for reader's theater or as a humorous read-aloud, this dynamic retelling has an offbeat tone that meshes well with Paschkis' brilliant, contrasting colors.

Wallace, Nancy Elizabeth.
Pumpkin Day! 2002. 32p. Marshall Cavendish, $16.95 (0-7614- 5128-5).

Preschool-Gr. 2. It's Pumpkin Day, and the rabbit family who appeared in Wallace's
Apples, Apples, Apples (Winslow, 2000) trek out to the farm to pick pumpkins, eat pumpkin treats, and carve jack-o-lanterns. Along with the bunny siblings, readers learn how to make pumpkin pancakes, how pumpkins grow, and even some corny pumpkin jokes. Wallace ingeniously works lots of interesting pumpkin facts into the story, and her cut-paper illustrations are enormously charming and clever.


Armstrong, Jennifer, and Nancy Butcher.
The Kindling. 2002. 224p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-06-008048-5).

Gr. 7-10. A deadly virus has swept the country, killing all the adults in this gripping science-fiction story, the first in the Fire-us trilogy. As far as they know, a small group of children, including Mommy, Teacher, and Hunter, are the only survivors. Set in Florida in 2007, this page-turning thriller explores the society the group has created out of the chaos of the "Fire-us," and the odyssey they embark on to Washington, D.C., to find the president.

Bruchac, Joseph.
The Winter People. 2002. 176p. Dial, $16.99 (0-8037-2694-5).

Gr. 6-10. In this excellent historical fiction title, Bruchac gives fresh insight into the complexities of the French and Indian War. Fourteen-year-old Saxso makes a daring attempt to rescue his mother and sisters after their capture during an English raid on their village, whose inhabitants are Catholic Abenakis and their French allies. Told in the first person, this suspenseful story is full of well-researched details about the village's mixture of European and Native traditions.

Clements, Andrew.
The Jacket. Illus. by McDavid Henderson. 2002. 96p. Simon & Schuster, $12.95 (0-689-82595-1).

Gr. 3-6. This thought-provoking novel explores the theme of contemporary racial and class prejudice for an upper-elementary audience. When Phil, a white sixth-grader, sees his brother's jacket being worn by an African American boy at school, Phil wrongly assumes that the boy stole the jacket. After realizing his mistake, Phil undergoes an uncomfortable awakening regarding unspoken segregation and prejudice in his school, his community, and his family.

Clinton, Cathryn.
A Stone in My Hand. 2002. 208p. Candlewick, $15.99 (0-7636-1388-6).

Gr. 6-up. Set in Gaza City in 1988-89 during Israeli military occupation and "not meant to be a comment on political situations in the Middle East today," according to the author's note, this heartbreaking story follows 11-year-old Palestinian Malaak and her family as they try to come to terms with the death of her father, a victim of an Islamic Jihad bus bombing. As Malaak waits in vain on the roof for her father to come home, her older brother Hamid becomes involved with a radical group. This memorable novel transports readers to the front lines, showing in excruciating detail the daily horrors that children living in war face.

Fine, Anne.
Up on Cloud Nine. 2002. 160p. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-73009-8).

Gr. 5-8. Stol is in the hospital again, this time due to a nasty fall from several stories up. Ian is Stol's best friend, and he and his mum are waiting for Stol to wake up. In this immensely entertaining novel told in flashback, Ian acquaints readers with his eccentric, irrepressible friend, who is by turns manically obsessed and full of joie de vivre but also tormented by dark moods. Fine's keen humor and sharp characterization make this British story of lasting friendship and quirky families a treat to read.

Martin, Ann M.
A Corner of the Universe. 2002. 208p. Scholastic, $15.95 (0-439-38880-5).

Gr. 5-8. It is the summer of 1960 in the small town of Millerton, and introspective, watchful Hattie finds out that her mentally ill uncle, whom she didn't know existed, is temporarily coming to live with her grandparents. In this exquisitely written coming-of-age story that is as much a joyful picture of friendship as it is a downright tear-jerker, Hattie is left to draw her own conclusions about the superbly portrayed Uncle Adam and her family's painful relationship with him.

McNamee, Graham.
Sparks. 2002. 128p. Random/Wendy Lamb, $15.95 (0-385-72977-4).

Gr. 3-5. Todd is making a trial move from Special Needs into a mainstream fifth-grade class, and this sympathetic portrait shows his attempts to adjust to the workload as well as the daily bullying he receives from some of his classmates. Todd faces believable problems, and his humorous first-person narration and a realistic supporting cast add to the story.

Pearsall, Shelley.
Trouble Don't Last. 2002. 256p. Knopf, $14.95 (0-375-81490-6).

Gr. 5-10. A slave on a Kentucky plantation in 1859, 11-year-old Samuel almost inadvertently runs away with an old slave named Harrison in this thrilling and realistic portrayal of an Underground Railroad journey. There is no sentimentality here: Samuel is superstitious and scared, and the conductors range from self-serving to self-righteous. First-time novelist Pearsall, an Ohio historian, combines Samuel's gripping adventure story with excellent characterization and detailed research to create a marvelous piece of historical fiction.

Tolan, Stephanie S.
Surviving the Applewhites. 2002. 224p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-06-623602-9).

Gr. 5-9. The only organized, practical member of the extremely creative Applewhite family, 13-year-old E. D. is not pleased when Jake Semple, already twice expelled, is enrolled in her family's home school, the Creative Academy. For his part, Jake thinks that E. D.'s famous Broadway director father, her mystery-writing mother, and the rest of her artistic family are completely nuts, and he is determined to find a way to leave school. But when E. D.'s father takes over the community production of The Sound of Music, both Jake and E. D. unwittingly discover ways to use their talents, in Tolan's hilarious family portrait.

Woodson, Jacqueline.
Hush. 2002. 192p. Putnam, $15.99 (0-399-23114-5).

Gr. 5-9. Evie Thomas used to be known as Toswiah Green, until her father, a black policeman, testified against two white partners who killed an unarmed black boy. For their safety, Toswiah and her family have entered the witness protection program. The Greens live in a new city with new identities, and their past is ripped away from them. Woodson's immediate, emotional narrative shows Toswiah's upheaval as she tries to adjust-her anger, her isolation, and, ultimately, her hope for the future.

Yee, Paul.
Dead Man's Gold and Other Stories. Illus. by Harvey Chan. 2002. 112p. Groundwood, $14.95 (0-88899-475-3).

Gr. 6-up. Two best friends leave China for Gold Mountain in the New World to seek their fortunes. Overcome by greed, one murders the other but is cursed forever after. Upon arriving in Gold Mountain after her husband and discovering that he has taken a "local wife," First Wife withdraws from her new surroundings until she disappears altogether. This refreshing collection of ghost stories is inspired by those of early Chinese immigrants to North America, and Chan's spooky illustrations make a perfect accompaniment.


Mak, Kam.
My Chinatown: One Year in Poems. 2002. 32p. HarperCollins, $16.95 (0-06-029190-7).

Gr. 1-6. The narrator in this poetry collection is a homesick boy who has relocated to New York's Chinatown from Hong Kong. In these free-verse poems, he describes the marvels of Chinatown, which are reassuringly familiar to him-the spectacular kites, the tasty street food, even the shoe cobbler. It is not a romantic view, however: his mother works hard, and "Twelve hours every day / the needle on her sewing machine / gobbles up fabric." Paired with clear, crisp illustrations, these poems could inspire readers to write their own poetry about the places they live.

Smith, Charles R, Jr.
Perfect Harmony: A Musical Journey with the Boys Choir of Harlem. 2002. 32p. Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, $15.99 (0-7868-0758-X).

Gr. 3-7. Dynamic photographs of the Boys Choir of Harlem accompany these energetic poems celebrating music. Subjects covered include rhythm ("rhythm is the / clock / that keeps / vocal cords / on their feet") and harmony ("Tenor pitches words so nat-u-rally, / while alto floats in smooth and gracefully"). Clever text design helps heighten the drama of the free-form verses, and a glossary of musical terms rounds out the title.

Wong, Janet S.
You Have to Write. Illus. by Teresa Flavin. 2002. 32p. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $17 (0-689-83409-8).

Gr. 2-4. Writers young and old will relate to this entertaining, hands-on exploration of the writing process. In poetic text Wong expertly focuses on the nitty-gritty frustrations and insecurities that come with writing: "No one else can say / what you have seen / and heard / and felt." "Reach inside. / Write about the dark times." Flavin's cheerful illustrations feature four young writers and lots of paper flying everywhere.


Giblin, James Cross.
The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. 2002. 256p. Clarion, $21 (0-395-90371-8).

Gr. 7-up. In this fine biography, Giblin views Hitler's rise to power through the lens of Germany's history from World War I to the end of World War II and chronicles his early life as an itinerant artist, his years as a trench soldier in World War I, his career as a politician, and the path he took to becoming dictator. Marked by numerous black-and-white photos, the book ends with a chilling chapter entitled "Hitler Lives," in which Giblin describes neo-Nazi groups around the world. A glossary, source notes, and a bibliography are included.

Green, Michelle Y.
A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson. 2002. 128p. Dial, $15.99 (0-8037-2661-9).

Gr. 4-7. This intriguing title has the look of a middle-grade novel but is actually a nonfiction biography of Mamie Johnson, one of three women to play professional baseball, as a pitcher for the Negro Leagues' Indianapolis Clowns in the 1950s. The foreword is written by Johnson herself and relates how she met Green (in the Negro Leagues Baseball Shop). The inspiring story of how Mamie overcame racial prejudice and chauvinism to play professionally follows in a lively first-person narrative and is sprinkled with period black-and-white photos.

Greenberg, Jan, and Sandra Jordan.
Action Jackson. Illus. by Robert Andrew Parker. 2002. 32p. Roaring Brook, $16.95 (0-7613-1682-5).

Gr. 2-6. The authors of the illuminating
Vincent van Gogh (Delacorte, 2001) turn their attention to another groundbreaking artist in this picture-book biography of Jackson Pollock. Through their spare description of Pollock's stop-and-start process in creating one painting, Lavender Mist, the authors convey his ideas about art. Parker's magnificently fluid illustrations show the artist's frenetic intensity as well as his reflective moments, and a reproduction of the actual painting appears within the narration. With source notes, a bibliography, and a spread for older readers about Pollock's life, this title reveals much about the creative process.

Jenkins, Steve.
Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution. 2002. 40p. Houghton, $16 (0-618-16476-6).

Gr. 3-7. Marked by Jenkins' striking cut-paper collage and a generous use of white space, this beautiful picture book introduces the theory of evolution in plain, accessible language. A section on the history of life starts things off, followed by an explanation of Darwin's theory. Particularly effective is the spread explaining the idea of survival of the fittest, illustrated by 2 frogs that survive out of a group of 10--one is a good jumper and the other possesses keen eyesight. A time line of the earth's history as a single 24-hour day finishes this excellent title, which also features a list for further reading.

Leedy, Loreen.
Follow the Money! 2002. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (0-8234-1587-2).

Gr. 1-3. Leedy adds to her titles on measurement, mapping, and math with this in-depth, day-in-the-life look at money, narrated by George the quarter. Calculations are written out for each transaction involving George, and coupons, garage sales, charitable donations, and weekly wages all play a part in the story. Full of verbal puns and asides, Leedy's clever approach and bright art make this title a natural for any unit on money or economics. Pages on the history of money, U.S. currency, and common money words appear at the back of the book.

Martin, Bill, Jr., and Michael Sampson.
I Pledge Allegiance. Illus. by Chris Raschka. 2002. 32p. Candlewick, $15.99 (0-7636-1648-6).

K-Gr. 4. This spirited explanation of the meaning behind the words of the Pledge of Allegiance combines a kid-friendly presentation with balanced information. The words of the pledge are broken up across the pages, and additional text provides context and definition. Raschka's appealing ink and torn-paper illustrations give life to the abstract language in the pledge without lessening the meaning, and the even-handed approach is right-on.

Smith, David J.
If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World's People. Illus. by Shelagh Armstrong. 2002. 32p. Kids Can, $15.95 (1-55074-779-7).

Gr. 3-7. In this eye-opening picture book featuring Armstrong's lush acrylics, Smith invites readers to imagine the world's population (which at the beginning of 2002 was 6 billion, 200 million) as a village of 100 people. He then presents a series of fascinating statistics on subjects ranging from food to literacy to electricity. Smith's ingenious approach gives meaning to often-hard-to-grasp statistics, and the opportunities for classroom use are numerous.

Stanley, Diane.
Saladin: Noble Prince of Islam. 2002. 48p. HarperCollins, $16.95 (0-688-17135-4).

Gr. 5-8. In this biography of Saladin, a twelfth-century Muslim sultan known for his generosity and fairness, Stanley provides Western readers with an alternative view of the Crusades, one that shows the Europeans as the bloodthirsty barbarians. Rich, tapestrylike paintings portray the key moments of Saladin's life, from the time he assumed the rule of Egypt and Syria to his battle with Richard the Lion-Hearted for control of the Holy Land. Besides serving as an illuminating exploration of a violent period in history, this attractive book gives readers context in studying the current situation in this conflict-ridden region.