Books by Betsy James

LISTENING AT THE GATE by Betsy James
FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Released: March 1, 2006

This wondrous and mournful epic uses myth and song to carve the weight of the world. Lonely Kat, raised by a cruelly puritanical father, sings a man out of the sea without knowing the implications. The man is one of the Rigi, a people portrayed in Kat's culture as legend, but actually fully alive, resembling selkies, but more complex. Kat and Nall become the center of a war between desperate cultures, including the Rigi, the many land tribes and the repressed and brutal Leaguemen who control money and murder. Kat and Nall journey together to the Rigi and then to the Gate in the ocean, where everything on earth passes through as it comes into being. James's heavily romantic tale never romanticizes, burdening love and life with warmth but also doom. Stunning philosophical insights emerge while myths, songs, chants and hand slaps show groundedness and culture. James shatters certain key expectations yet remains profoundly archetypal—full of pain, beauty and heft. (glossaries, author's notes) (Fantasy. YA)Read full book review >
MY CHAIR by Betsy James
CHILDREN'S
Released: July 1, 2004

In this eloquent paean to chairs as much more than just places to sit, a multigenerational group of neighbors comes together on a broad urban lawn to perch on or around an array of folding chairs, overstuffed living room furniture, and everything in between, as children describe their chairs as toys, play environments, conveyances, imagination stretchers, and comfort objects. "My chair is squishy . . . It eats quarters and trucks and colored pencils and my arm and my leg and my brother and my bicycle." "My chair rocks." (It's a rocking chair.) "Mine rolls." (A wheelchair.) "When the world is too big, my chair is just right." Young viewers will pore over the actively posed figures and sometimes-surprising details in DePalma's increasingly populous scenes—and also wonder about the large wrapped package around which everyone is gathering. What is it? A bouncy baby chair, just right for the bouncy baby who puts in an appearance at the end. In a tradition stretching from Ruth Krauss's A Hole Is to Dig (1952) to Elizabeth Scanlon's A Sock Is a Pocket for Your Toes (p. 184), here's another "just right" invitation to see the uncommon possibilities in commonplace objects. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
FLASHLIGHT by Betsy James
BEDTIME BOOK
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

While staying overnight at Grandpa's, young Marie is scared once the lights are out: ``Mom and Dad are far away, in the bedroom down the hall.'' She is nervous on the fold-out couch in the living room. Grandpa hears her, and provides a flashlight. Marie experiments. She flicks it on and off, comparing the spotlight to the light of day. She finds that moths love her light, and feels she can protect her sleeping sister from the darkness and the unknown. Her confidence grows till she declares herself queen of the night world, but her fears return, and she must call Grandpa one more time before she whispers, ``Don't be scared, Tibby. I've got a flashlight.'' It is a very familiar scenario, although James (Mary Ann, 1994, etc.) adequately captures the different moods and deliberations of Marie as her self-confidence grows. Schuett has an impossible task: capturing on a static page the flickering of the flashlight and the looming shadows in the room. One inspired spread shows ``whining midges, bumbling June bugs'' clinging to a screen, but many scenes repeat Marie's wide-eyed fear and illumination of homely corners of the apartment. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
I HATE COMPANY by P.J. Petersen
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

Dan (I Hate Camping, 1991, etc.) puts up with long-term guests in the small apartment where he and his mother live: Mom's old friend Kay (a smoker—bleah!) and her irrepressible three- year-old son, Jimmy. Kay, reeling from a divorce, needs to crash there until she finds a job, which could take forever in this job market. Desperate to get his privacy back, Dan ``helps'' her job search and nearly blows it—but he inadvertently wins her the right job in the end. The young narrator's voice sounds authentic, but his take on the world just doesn't ring true: The toddler never seems as obnoxious nor the adults as obtuse as Dan claims. Instead we have a bland, predictable plot with mild conflicts, watered-down dangers, and pat resolutions—a pity, considering what serious family issues it touches (or only grazes). And it isn't even very funny—four or five chuckles at most. It's hard enough to get boys this age to read: This won't do the trick. (Fiction. 7-9) Read full book review >
MARY ANN by Betsy James
by Betsy James, illustrated by Betsy James
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 1994

When her best friend moves away, Amy feels bereft: ``I wish there were hundreds and hundreds of Mary Anns,'' she tells Daddy, imagining that it wouldn't matter, then, if one moved away. At that point, she's diverted by finding a praying mantis. She names it Mary Ann, keeps it in a terrarium, and faithfully gives it live food. As Mama has gently foretold, the insect dies after laying her eggs; but weeks later, while Amy and her parents are enjoying a reunion at her old friend's new house, the eggs hatch. The screen is off the terrarium, so when the family comes home their house is full of ``hundreds of Mary Anns.'' The friendship and the natural history lesson are worked seamlessly together in James's simple, direct text, which is ably complemented by sunny illustrations that nicely convey the warm relationships and add such intriguing details as how the screen was dislodged. A note offers sensible advice on keeping a mantis. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
DARK HEART by Betsy James
FANTASY
Released: June 1, 1992

Continuing the heavily allegorical saga begun in Long Night Dance (1989), James confronts independent-minded Kat, 17, with the tradition-bound society of her dead mother. Kat grew up among merchants like her father, who contemptuously treat their women as chattels. In the hill village where she now lives, boys carry spindles they will use as adult weavers (a craft forbidden to women), while girls make pots, abjuring any deviation from customary design; ribald taunts between the sexes are encouraged, and Kat endures suggestive teasing about her pending ritual initiation into womanhood. This involves a bear, which cruelly wounds her in an unsuccessful first trial; the rebellious Kat, deeply averse to the ritual's violence, is nearly suicidal by the time she tries again but manages to survive with her inner self intact. The language here is richly evocative, the images compelling—disturbingly so, since they convey the allure of sexual relationships founded on provocative behavior and male dominance, though clearly decrying them. Kat's tender memories of the first book's gentle Nall and her tempestuous but increasingly subtle interaction with the angry, blind weaver here hint at something more creative and constructive in her future; it remains to be seen whether James can go beyond anger to depict some kind of mature self-realization (or even love) in a third book. Her intrepid protagonist has earned it. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
HE WAKES ME by Betsy James
ANIMALS
Released: Aug. 1, 1991

In a poetic text resembling a series of haiku, the particular habits and grace of one slim, independent but affectionate cat are vividly evoked (``He goes under. He goes through. He goes everywhere that is too narrow for me''). In illustrations as spare and carefully honed as the words, Davie depicts a little girl and her yellow-dappled pet during a typical companionable day. A joyful, perceptively observed vignette. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >