Lasting Connections of 2000

Book Links: Dec./Jan. 2000-2001 (v.10, no.3)

by Judy O'Malley

It seems fitting, or at least extremely gratifying, that my last official editorial duty at
Book Links is compiling the annual list of books we feel will have value, meaning, and applicability for teachers, librarians, parents, and-most important-young readers for years to come.

The past year heralded the fourth title in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series,
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as well as the third book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Long, complex, involving fantasy novels have made a definite impact in the past year-but so also have novels, picture books, and poetry collections that reveal the connections between generations and among individuals of seemingly disparate backgrounds and that voice hope that differences can be resolved. Clearly, variety has ruled among the many good reads of 2000, and we applaud the efforts of authors, illustrators, and publishers to feed the assorted interests and nurture children's passion for reading and gathering information. Marketing phenomena, like that surrounding the well-written Harry Potter series, bring long overdue attention to the quality and diversity in children's literature that crosses genres and spans varying interests; that quality and diversity is well represented by the books below.

Picture Books

Creech, Sharon.
Fishing in the Air. Illus. by Chris Raschka. 32p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-060-38111-1).

Preschool-Gr. 2. When a father and son set out together on a fishing trip, the young boy's first, they catch a bounty of memories shared, memories made, and new discoveries about themselves and each other. Graceful, elegant wordplay and imaginative visual imagery that expands the metaphors explore the delicate, durable bonds forged on just such a perfect day spent by a father and a son who both learn how to fish for the past and the future in the present.

Kessler, Cristina.
My Great-Grandmother's Gourd. Illus. by Walter Lyon Krudop. 32p. Orchard, $15.95 (0-531-33284-5).

Gr. 1-4. This story of intergenerational bonds also spotlights the need for balance between the rush to technological progress and the importance of honoring the wisdom of age and tradition. When an electrical pump is first introduced in a Sudanese village, a young girl is embarrassed by her grandmother's resistance to using the new machine. Feeling caught between her attraction to the new ways and loyalty to family and heritage, Fatima helps her grandmother with the ancient practice of preparing the family's baobab tree to catch the rainfall that will provide water for the community during long periods of drought. When the pump fails, the whole village gains respect for combining new and old ways. An author's note on the climate of the Sudan, in East Africa, which encouraged the use of the baobab tree as a "giant water gourd," and a brief glossary of Aramaic words enrich this story, which is based on an actual event.

Kurtz, Jane.
Faraway Home. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. 32p. Harcourt/Gulliver, $16 (0-15-200036-4).

K-Gr. 3. When a young girl's father needs to return to his home in Ethiopia to help her sick grandmother, she worries that she will miss him terribly. The father shares with her his memories of his childhood in Africa, helping to ease her fears of losing him and allowing her to understand that family is where "home" is, even if that is in two places, separated by a great distance.

Kurtz, Jane.
River Friendly, River Wild. Illus. by Neil Brennan. 32p. Simon & Schuster, $16 (0-689-82-49-6).

Gr. 1-up. The river that brings beauty to a quiet neighborhood in Grand Forks, North Dakota, becomes a raging menace that threatens, and actually destroys, the homes of many. A young girl's poems commemorate the pain, fears, loss, and, ultimately, rebuilding and healing that mark such natural disasters as floods.

Lasky, Kathryn.
Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker. Illus. by Nneka Bennett. 48p. Candlewick, $16.99 (0-7636-0253-1).

Gr. 1-4. Born the daughter of sharecroppers, orphaned as a child, and left a widow with a young daughter before she was 20, Sarah struggled to survive, and to maintain her pride and dignity as a black woman. When her strenuous work as a laundress caused her to lose her hair, she experimented with herbs and plants native to Africa to create compounds African American women could use to maintain the health and beauty of their distinctive type of hair. Madame C. J. Walker became the first black female millionaire, and this story presents not just her achievements but the courage, determination, and creativity that led to her success.

Miller, William.
The Piano. Illus. by Susan Keeter. 32p. Lee & Low, $15.95 (0-880000-98-9).

Preschool-Gr. 4. In the deeply segregated South of the early twentieth century, Tia is a young African American girl who loves music and longs to create beautiful sounds. Following the sound of a recording, she finds herself in an upper-class white neighborhood, where a young servant assumes she is looking for employment. To be near the music, she takes a job as a maid, and eventually forms a mutually rewarding friendship with the elderly white woman, who teaches her to play the piano.

Polacco, Patricia.
The Butterfly. 48p. Philomel, $16.99 (0-399-23170-6).

Preschool-Gr. 2. Monique, a young girl in Nazi-occupied Paris, discovers a pale, frightened child in her bedroom one night, and later discovers that Monique's mother has been hiding a Jewish family in the basement. Monique and Sevrine become close friends, sharing secrets and treasures from the outside world, such as a colorful butterfly, that Monique saves to brighten her friend's seclusion. Eventually, Sevrine is discovered by a neighbor and must be spirited away to another hiding place. This tender story of friendship, based on the experiences of the author-illustrator's relatives, gives a child's perspective on the acts of courage, sacrifice, and love made by ordinary French citizens during World War II.

Seeber, Dorothea P.
A Pup Just for Me/A Boy Just for Me. Illus. by Ed Young. 20p. Philomel, $16.99 (0-399-13403-9).

Preschool-Gr. 2. The simple turnabout story in this book can be read from front to back or back to front: front to back, it tells of Roddy, a small boy for whom a puppy is the only acceptable pet. From back to front, it shares the woes of the dog Jet, whose previous owners have mistreated or ignored him, leaving him pining for the company of a small boy. The arresting colors and elemental shapes of the art propel the tale to the satisfying meeting in the middle of the book.

Sis, Peter.
Madlenka. 46p. Farrar, $17 (0-374-39969-7).

Preschool-Gr. 3. Madlenka lives on a cosmopolitan New York City block, where she is well known by shopkeepers and neighbors. When her first tooth is about to fall out, the young girl stops by each of her friends' places of business to share the news. As is typical of New York-and many large cities-Madlenka's neighbors are originally from many different parts of the world. Through clever dye cuts and borders brimming with informative tidbits and images, the reader shares with Madlenka the richness of a multicultural community, all of whose members are delighted by her news.

Wong, Janet S.
The Trip Back Home. Illus. by Bo Jia. 32p. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-200784-9).

Preschool-Gr. 7. Poetic text describes a young girl's journey with her mother to Korea, where her mother was born and raised. The pair's greeting by the family, and the day-to-day rhythms of life in a rural village, to which the young girl quickly becomes acclimated, offer many details about the culture, but the information is intrinsic to the family story, never seeming tacked on or intrusive. The art and text also weave together seamlessly, sharing a gentle, soft focus.


Krull, Kathleen.
Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought). Illus by Kathryn Hewitt. 96p. Harcourt, $20 (0-15-200807-1).

Gr. 2-6. In the fine tradition of this author-illustrator team's series on the lives of extraordinary individuals, the 19 profiles in this volume spotlight fascinating females from a wide range of cultures and eras. Biographies of colorful and well-known historical figures such as Cleopatra and Harriet Tubman, as well as those of lesser-known women, such as Nzingha, a West African queen who resisted the inroads of slave traders, and Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan leader who championed the rights of native Indians, pan the wide swaths of careers and accomplishments and zoom in for close-ups of the humanizing facts and intimate details of these women's lives. A brief but well-selected bibliography allows readers to delve deeper into the subjects' lives and times.

Laufer, Peter.
Made in Mexico. Illus. by Susan L. Roth. 32p. Nathional Geographic, $16.95 (0-7922-7118-1).

K-Gr. 4. The small Mexican village of Paracho is the surprising source of handmade guitars, prized by many classical musicians, as well as by local mariachi guitar players. The story of the crafting of these instruments is traced in text that reveals much about the culture and economy of the region and is depicted in vibrantly colored collages constructed with papers (many of which were made in Mexico), ribbons, strings, photographs, fabrics, confetti from Mexican festivals, and even wood shavings from the crafting of the guitars. The beautifully constructed guitars reveal the craftsmanship and the resourcefulness that have made Paracho a thriving community dedicated to the love of music.

Seymour, Simon.
Out of Sight: Pictures of Hidden Worlds. 48p. North-South/SeaStar, $15.95 (1-56717-011-6).

K-Gr. 6. Amazing photomicrographs of objects too small to be seen with the unaided eye are sometimes colored or enhanced by computer to reveal intricate patterns and complex images. Seymour clearly explains both the processes used to capture these tiny or hidden entities-some in our own bodies, some in the world around us-and the structures the photography allows us to understand better.

Stanley, Diane.
Michelangelo. 48p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-688-15085-3).

Gr. 2-up. With factual and emotional honesty, Stanley traces the life and work of a remarkably gifted and personally difficult artist, who created such enduring masterpieces as the Pietà, David, and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo's life and work are seen against the vast canvas of the Renaissance in Italy, and especially in Florence. Stanley's paintings are true to the style of the Renaissance masters, and visually enrich young readers' understanding of this complex period and the remarkable artist it produced and nurtured.

Winnick, Judd.
Pedro and Me. 187p. Holt, paper, $15 (0-8050-6403-6).

Gr. 7-up. Winnick is a cartoonist who became nationally known as a cast member of the MTV show
The Real World. He combined his art and his experiences on that show to create this story of the life, work, and, ultimately, the death of his friend and roommate during the San Francisco segment of
The Real World, AIDS educator Pedro Zamora. The author is frank about his initial fears and misgivings about living with an HIV-positive gay man, and equally open about the admiration and friendship that developed between the roommates. But this is more than a tribute or a celebrity memoir. Winnick, who took up Zamora's zeal for lecturing to young people about AIDS after his friend's death, imparts a great deal of information about how the disease is contracted, how teens can protect themselves, and what the prospects are for someone who is HIV-positive. The accessible tone and graphic style of the book make it as appealing as it is affecting and informative.


Almond, David.
Kit's Wilderness. 229p. Delacorte, $15.95 (0-385-32665-3).

Gr. 4-up. Set in the bleak terrain of a former mining town, this haunting story weaves together the threads of a young boy's concern for his recently widowed grandfather, who seems to be slipping away from the world, and his feelings of kinship with John Askew, a desperate loner, who, like Kit, sees the ghosts of children long ago lost to the now-closed mine. Through Askew's art and Kit's storytelling, as well as the courage they share with Ally, a budding actress, they are able to communicate with the dead children and express the beauty and poignancy of their brief lives. In this tale that allows readers to explore the boundaries between the natural and supernatural worlds, stories of the past and future mingle in a vivid locale.

Brooks, Martha.
Being with Henry. 215p. DK Ink, $17.95 (0-7894-2588-2 ).

Gr. 6-up. A young boy, suddenly homeless, and hurt by the rejection of the mother for whom he'd cared for years, finds a place to live, and ultimately friendship and caring, with an elderly man who has lost his wife. Laker's dim earliest memories start to emerge in his journal, till coincidence brings him to the place where those memories were formed and the woman who knows the story of his and his mother's abuse at the hands of Laker's biological father. Themes of family, loyalty, freedom, and trust are at heart of this tale of intergenerational love and respect.

Coman, Carolyn.
Many Stones. 160p. Front Street, $15.95 (0-885920-55-3).

Gr. 7-12. Her sister Laura's murder during a violent crime in South Africa, where Laura was working as a human rights activist, has shattered Berry's already broken family and left her feeling empty, isolated, and without substance or direction. When her father encourages Berry to accompany him to South Africa for a ceremony commemorating Laura's life and work, she struggles to understand and forgive-her father, her sister's murderers, and herself. This emotionally complex story probes the process of healing on the personal, family, community, and political levels.

Frank, E.R.
Life Is Funny. 263p. DK Ink, $17.95 (0-7894-2634-X).

Gr. 7-12. In language that is real and immediate to the urban teen experience, this novel charts the struggles, interconnections, and coming-of-age of 11 Brooklyn teens. Many of the characters are coping with abuse, anger, and difficult family problems, but the voices are always distinct, so that the characters remain individuals, not just poster kids for their problems. The novel is complexly structured, with overlapping relationships, but the resilient personality of Gingerbread is a strong thread creating a bright, hopeful pattern through many of these interwoven plotlines.

Gantos, Jack.
Joey Pigza Loses Control. 208p. Farrar, $16 (0-374-39989-1).

Gr. 4-7. In this follow-up to
Joey Pigza Swallowed a Key (Farrar, 1999), Joey, who has been doing well on the medication that controls his ADHD, and has made real strides in getting along in school, plans to spend the summer with his father, who shares many of Joey's biochemical and emotional problems. Joey's desire to forge a relationship with his father, despite his own anxiety about his father's desire to turn him into a "normal" child (by exploiting Joey's pitching arm in softball games and insisting that Joey's medication is not necessary, but only a crutch) results in Joey's return to mood swings and feeling as though he is out of control. Like the first novel about Joey, this book presents a view of adults who are far from perfect or even sure about how to proceed and uses humor to describe Joey's situation from the inside, with an emotional honesty that helps the reader get a compassionate understanding of associative disorders.

Lowry, Lois.
Gathering Blue. 224p. Houghton, $15 (0-618-06681-9). Gr. 5-up. Set in a future distopia (like the one in Lowry's
The Giver) that emerges after great destruction on planet Earth, this story offers real hope that creativity will triumph over order and control. Kira, whose mother apparently died from an illness affecting only her, is threatened with death because she was born with a deformed leg and her society sees no purpose for those who can't do hard labor and bear healthy children. Kira is saved because, like her mother, she is able to dye threads and mend the robe of the Singer, the oral historian who holds a quasi-religious role in the annual harvest-time Gathering celebration. Through this work Kira discovers that she has real talent for creating new and beautiful patterns. In this allegory of the importance of beauty and imagination, possession of a lost plant from which blue dye can be obtained becomes Kira's key to discovering the dark secrets of her society, including the doom that her temporarily privileged status as the threader will bring her. Acknowledging her gifts gives Kira the strength and courage to make choices about her life and the future.

Kessler, Cristina.
No Condition Is Permanent. 183p. Philomel, $17.99 (0-399-23486-1).

Gr. 7-12. When 13-year-old Jodie's single mother moves them to Sierra Leone for her fieldwork as an anthropologist, Jodie resists having to move yet again, and worse, having to learn a new language and adjust to a new culture. When she becomes friends with Khadi, she learns that true friendship means respect and understanding for different ways, no matter how alien. Universal themes of mother-daughter relationships, friendship, and adolescent struggles to find one's own path give context to this authentic portrayal of life in a small African village and the coexistence of new ways with traditional practices. The controversial issue of female genital cutting is clearly examined through both Jodie's horrified perspective and her mother's seasoned understandings of the people and the need for education to bring gradual change.

Williams, Lori Aurelia.
When Kambia Elaine Flew in from Neptune. 246p. Simon & Schuster, $17 (0-689-82468-8).

Gr. 7-12. Lyrical, graceful language unfolds a story of poverty and family struggles, but, most of all, a tale of the power of the love between a mother and her daughter to build strength and resilience. Depending on the strength and power of those loving relationships, Shayla, a young, budding writer, finds within herself the determination and courage to help a troubled friend who is being sexually abused.

Wittlinger, Ellen.
What's in a Name. 146p. Simon & Schuster, $16 (0-689-82551-X).

Gr. 6-up. In a coastal town in Massachusetts, a debate over changing the name of the community in order to increase land values becomes a divisive issue separating residents along economic boundaries. The intertwining stories of 10 high-school seniors voice concerns about identity, pressure to conform, and the need fit in on one's own terms and be appreciated for one's true self.


Light-Gathering Poems. Edited by Liz Rosenberg. 146p. Holt, $15.95 (0-8050-6223-8).

Gr. 6-up. This inclusive collection of works from such classic poets as Christina Rossetti, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Rumi, as well as more contemporary voices for young readers, such as Gary Soto and Rosenberg herself, is united by the focus on hope. The possibilities inherent in living are the source of the light that shines through all of the poems in this anthology, which speaks deeply to teens' idealism and need to believe in the power of love and faith.

It's a Woman's World: A Century of Women's Voices in Poetry. Edited by Neil Philip. 96p. Dutton, $17 (0-525-46328-3).

Gr. 5-up. This collection of poems by and about women spans a century of change and includes diverse voices. The poems range from poignant to heartrending to quirky, and include the works of such signal poets of the past century as Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sandra Cisneros. Arranged in broad groupings that express passages in women's lives (such as love and marriage, raising a family, and finding personal power) or that reflect events of the time (such as wars and the losses they bring), the poems do not feel forced into neat order, but display the breadth of women's roles, moods, and cultures.

Judy O'Malley is the former editor of
Book Links.