Books by Barbara Helen Berger

THUNDER BUNNY by Barbara Helen Berger
ANIMALS
Released: Feb. 1, 2007

Thunder Bunny, the youngest bunny in the bunch, came "out of the blue," as her own granny states, and is the color of the sky on a clear spring day. Different from her brown siblings, she begins to search for answers to her uniqueness, finally concluding, "I came from the sky." With a "jump on the wind," she is carried through a thunderstorm up to the sun and moon, returning back to the meadow not "only a bunny now . . . a sun and moon bunny, / clear and true out of the blue." Thunder Bunny has physically changed with a glorious yellow halo on her chest, signifying . . . what? Berger leaves a very open-ended situation in this bizarre, esoteric story, which provides an inexplicable and unsatisfying conclusion to a common theme of sporting self-confidence and self-esteem in spite of being different. Berger's beautifully soft pastels on torn and cut paper add a pleasing aesthetic quality, but on the whole, the reader is left as baffled as the bunnies with mama exclaiming, "Oh, my." (Picture book. 4-6) Read full book review >
ALL THE WAY TO LHASA by Barbara Helen Berger
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

In a simple retelling of a Tibetan parable, two travelers journey across Tibet to Lhasa: one in haste on horseback and the other slowly plodding on foot accompanied by his yak. On the way, each traveler asks an old woman, "How far is it to Lhasa?"—and each time the old woman replies, "Very far." The rider is told that he'll never make it before night and the boy on foot is assured that he will reach Lhasa by nightfall, and he does, whereas the rider on horseback falls and fails. Berger's (Angels on a Pin, 2000, etc.) familiar dreamlike style and characters are a likely pairing in creating a mystical atmosphere. The striking maroon borders frame and contrast the heavenly setting, echoing the color of the old woman's robe. Double-spread acrylic, colored pencil, and gouache clouds, rushing torrents of water, and snow-covered mountains fill up and spill out from one page to the next. The landscape, the architecture, and inclusion of the flowers, prayer flags, stones with carved prayers, and Chupa (the traditional coat worn by the traveler on horseback) define place and culture. With otherwise such attention to detail, it is curious that the old woman is clothed in a manner (shawl over the shoulder) usually exclusive to ordained monks and male teachers, not lay people. Faintly reminiscent of the Tortoise and the Hare fable, the lack of interaction among the participants creates a sense of remoteness that is less than compelling, though it does reinforce the theme of a personal quest. Quietly inspiring. (Picture book/folktale. 4-8)Read full book review >
A LOT OF OTTERS by Barbara Helen Berger
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 22, 1997

The title may give the impression that this is a counting book; instead, Berger (The Jewel Heart, 1994, etc.) presents an exquisitely composed and tender fantasy, melding text and pictures so well that one could not exist without the other. She calibrates the pacing of this picture book perfectly: The first page shows a toddler walking with a book; the baby climbs into a box at the title page; at the opening of the real story, the child begins reading the book, about ``Mother Moon'' looking for her child, her ``moonlet.'' What the child sees on the picture-book page is the scene readers see; from there, the events are nonstop: The toddler drops the book, and an otter spots it from underwater. That otter reads the book aloud to a group of otters treading water, including one who floats on her back with her baby lying upon her like a fuzzy teddy bear. The moon-mother's tears fall into the sea, turning into stars—a folktale element that allows for lovely compositions as the otters dive for the stars. Mother and moonlet—who turns out to be the toddler—are reunited. Themes of independence, separation, and reunion are all given play in a book in which sweet otters act like children and look like expertly drafted, favorite stuffed animals, floating and dozing off at the end. (Picture book. 2-6) Read full book review >
THE JEWEL HEART by Barbara Helen Berger
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 15, 1994

The story of a violinist named Gemino, who has a jewel heart but no voice, and a dancer named Pavelle. One day, Gemino disappears, and Pavelle follows the shadows (a beautifully rendered collection of animals drawn in eerie blue tones) to where Gemino has fallen and hit his head. He is in tatters because a wood rat ``nibbled his hair, nibbled his clothes, and took his jewel heart.'' The shadows bring Pavelle spider's thread, a thistle thorn, some dandelion down, and one brown seed, so that Pavelle can put Gemino back together again. She stitches a suit of shadows, gives him the seed for a new heart, and he comes back to life and begins to play for her once again. She dances, and Gemino's seed heart bursts into a flower—finer, in Pavelle's mind, than any jewel. This classic ballet scenario is a beautiful story, although the jewel moral at the end is clunky, and—whether intentionally or not—the narcissism and imperiousness of ballet dancers comes through loud and clear. Gemino and Pavelle are a bit saccharine and unoriginal, but Berger's (Gwinna, 1990, etc.) illustrations have a dreamlike quality that works perfectly with the tone set by the text. Magical if sentimental. (Fiction/Picture book. 3-8) Read full book review >
BROTHERS OF THE WIND by Barbara Helen Berger
Released: July 1, 1981

This is one of Yolen's frail, fluttery tales that asks readers to marvel at an escapist miracle. When a foal is born with wings, the sheik who owns it calls it "Allah's jest" and orders the young slave Lateef, "the tender one," to dump it in the desert. Instead, Lateef, who thinks the foal might be "Allah's test," takes it across the desert to the city of Akbor. . . where the Caliph, he discovers, lies dying from an unfulfilled dream of riding a winged horse. So Lateef and his "little brother" the foal move into the stable, and when the foal has grown enough to be mounted, slave, caliph, and mount go flying off to dwell as brothers somewhere that Yolen's last words refer to as "the palace of the winds." Trite and anemic. Read full book review >