Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Harvest of Haunting Books (FAMILY magazine reviews)

During the Halloween season, when our culture symbolically steers us through both legitimate and imagined fears, we and our children prize stories that can help us laugh at our bugaboos and give us courage to face them.  This small collection of titles builds up bravery, and strengthens nerves, giving us the grit and guts to face a dread that makes us flinch in dismay.  Take two (or more) and stride forward in the morning!   

The Boo! Book by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer
illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli 
Atheneum, $17.99, Ages 4-8
            Although not many people know this, begins the story, “there are almost as many book ghosts as there are house ghosts.”  Book ghosts meddle with stories, turn them upside down, and scramble words. 
            What follows are descriptions of how to know if a book is haunted, what to do if you discover you’re reading a haunted book, when NOT to read a book that’s haunted, and what to do if you’re trapped in a haunted book.  Cast in blues -- to stage the more fanciful moments -- and greens for more realistic bedroom scenes, this story features many delight-filled imaginings.
            To accompany author Lachenmeyer’s sometimes spooky, and often reassuring text, artist Ceccoli creates appealing light blue, round-faced ghosts who ‘swim’ through a book’s pages. She uses a mix of techniques -- plasticine, digital photography, acrylics on paper and Photoshop – to take young readers through a collection of dream-like sequences: like a snowy night sky sprinkled with stardust, or a bubbling underwater world containing strange undersea creatures.             
            Lachenmeyer’s occasionally cryptic language is cheerfully hair-raising; the fantasy is buoyant and gleeful.   Also, the concluding caution; that a ghost becomes bored when a haunted book is left “unread for too long,” is a ready reminder that from time to time we all enjoy a haunting.

Boo to You! by Lois Ehlert  
Simon & Schuster, $7.99, Ages 3-7
            The mice and their friends are in a frenzy of preparation for a harvest party.  And while they don’t mind an occasional squirrel or raccoon, they have a plan for getting rid of “the creep” they “didn’t invite.”   As they create and decorate, night falls.  They put on masks, arranging to scare the cat who’s coming to crash their bash.
            Award winning author/illustrator Ehlert delights the youngest set and their adults with her hallmark collage illustrations to partner her energetic, rhythmic, rhyming text.  A variety of papers in earthy autumn colors, combine with photos of edible ingredients, plus twine and string to bewitch young readers.
            Gather fall materials and supplies to accompany this brief but peppy picture book, as young listeners will likely be eager to craft their own montage.   


Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books 
by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya
illustrated by Susan L. Roth
Dial, $16.99, Ages 6-9
            Although within the walls of the beautiful and famous Bibliotheca Alexandrina there has always been safety to read, think and whisper about freedom, people “were not free to speak or vote as they wished” outside in their daily lives. When Egypt’s young people began marching for freedom in January 2011, first in Cairo, and later of Alexandria, demanding the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, who had been Egypt’s president for thirty years, there were fears that protesters might be angry enough to hurt each other or their library.
            Separated from the shore of the Mediterranean Sea by only a wide highway, the spectacularly beautiful Alexandria Library symbolically represents the sun of knowledge shining on the world.  It was during eighteen days of protest, when marchers joined hands with Dr. Ismail Serageldin, the library director, to protect the glass building from harm, that the Egyptian people demonstrated not only their determination to create a better world by helping spread democratic ideals, they also safeguarded the space where stories are held and books are valued, participating in a ring of protection that brought people together.
            Using her “international palette of papers,” illustrator Roth’s distinctive collage style emphasizes the crowds, the clasped hands, the circles of power, the emblematic Egyptian flag, and even the granite blocks carved with letters or signs from five hundred different alphabets.  The vitality of the “will of the people” to prevent vandals from destroying and ransacking the house of treasures the library represents, is evidenced not only in the seamlessly combined spirited text and vigorous illustrations, but also confirmed by back matter which includes photos from actual events, pages of information about both the ancient and modern library, several paragraphs about the revolution itself, a few words in flowing Arabic script from protest signs (with pronunciations, and English translations), and drawn together with an important concluding author’s note.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

RAGS (Monday Poem)

by Judith Thurman

The night wind
rips a cloud sheet
into rags,

then rubs, rubs
the October moon
until it shines
like a brass doorknob.

from The Sky is Full of Song selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Dirk Zimmer, 1983, Harper & Row