Books by Cornelius Van Wright

BOOKS AND BRICKS by Sindiwe Magona
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 1, 2017

"Written to express the power of claiming an ownership of one's education and the bonds of community, the narrative fails to live up to what it teaches by reducing and erasing when more hard work and commitment were needed. (glossary, maps, bio of Nelson Mandela) (Fiction. 9-12)"
In this fictionalized story of community organizing and uplift, nonwhite South African families band together to make their community school a place where students feel safe, cared for, and encouraged to awaken their dreams. Read full book review >
BUCKY AND STU VS. THE MIKANIKAL MAN by Cornelius  Van Wright
CHILDREN'S
Released: July 28, 2015

"Young superhero wannabes will be shouting 'Wonk 'em!' in no time. (Picture book. 4-8)"
Saving the planet's easy when your rivals are only powered by imagination. Can these heroes handle a real nemesis? Read full book review >
WHEN AN ALIEN MEETS A SWAMP MONSTER by Cornelius  Van Wright
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 20, 2014

"Total laugh-out-loud joy. (Picture book. 3-7)"
First impressions based on wild speculation and leaps of imagination can be misleading, but fun and friendship can result. Read full book review >
NOBODY ASKED THE PEA by John Warren Stewig
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 15, 2013

"Not for young children, but good fun for middle-grade fans of fractured fairy tales as well as highly useful in classrooms. (Picture book. 8-12)"
An extraordinarily arch and campy version of "The Princess and the Pea" is told from multiple points of view. Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2012

"Kudos for the effort, but a more illuminating text and more suitable illustrations would have made this a much better title. (author's note, photographs) (Picture book/biography. 3-7)"
Florence Mills, dancer and singer, was the sweetheart of the Harlem Renaissance. Read full book review >
PRINCESS GRACE by Mary Hoffman
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2008

Grace longs to be chosen to be a princess in the town parade. While gathering ideas for a costume, she realizes that princesses in the familiar stories don't really do much of anything except look pretty. Her teacher introduces Grace and her classmates to stories of some interesting princesses from all over the world. They hear about Amina of Nigeria, Pin-Yang of China and many others. Everyone wants to participate now. When the parade takes place, Grace is a Gambian princess in Kente cloth, and there are princesses from many varied cultures, including one in the familiar pink, floaty dress. Grace is a charming, engaging character who approaches challenges with enthusiasm. She is able to rethink traditional limits and provoke change. Hoffman provides gentle lessons in a non-threatening, entertaining manner. The illustrations are bright, detailed and dynamic, vividly depicting both of Grace's worlds, the real and the imaginary. The current illustrators wisely maintain the characters' facial features and personalities from the original works, without compromising their own, unique style. Just right. (Picture book. 5-10)Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Nov. 1, 2006

Sticking closely to historical records and current scholarship, Pringle follows up Dog of Discovery: A Newfoundland's Adventures with Lewis and Clark (2002) with this handsome tribute to Clark's near-lifelong companion and slave. Carefully noting where details are scant or absent, he traces York's early years, significant role in the expedition that is "still considered the greatest in United States history," and later unhappy experiences. Nearly always easily identifiable as the tallest figure in sight, York can be followed from childhood to maturity in the grand watercolor illustrations as he grows up with Clark, takes an active role in providing food for the expedition and coping with emergencies, clowns with laughing Arikara children and strikes a final heroic pose at the end. Rich in eye-opening observations—Pringle notes, for instance, that when the expedition took a vote, both York and Sacagawea participated—this study joins Rhoda Blumberg's York's Adventures with Lewis and Clark (2004) atop the teetering stack of Lewis and Clark titles. (Picture book/nonfiction. 8-11)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2005

These one-page sketches of 13 Jewish-American figures attempt to serve as an introduction to the one "defining moment" that shaped their lives or professions. Using information taken from books, articles, personal accounts, diaries, journals and interviews, Rappaport recreates, with some drama and undocumented dialogue, momentary accomplishments or significant episodes. While some of her portrayals work well to capture the nuance of the influential event, others are not as obvious. For example, she tells clearly of Asser Levy's fight against anti-Semitism in colonial New Amsterdam, Ernestine Rose's participation in the suffrage movement and Jacob W. Davis's invention of the use of copper rivets on miners' pants leading to the famous Levi Strauss jeans. But at the same time it's not obvious as to what Houdini or photographer Solomon Nunes Carvalho's defining moments really are. Even the last description for Steven Spielberg is a bit muddled, ending with his foremost deed of establishing the "Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation." While many of these figures deserve a broader approach than these snippets, this collection may at least spark some interest for further reading. (sources, bibliography, Web sites) (Nonfiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

Thirteen distinguished American Indians, from Tisquantum and Sacajawea to Wilma Mankiller and Sherman Alexie, are profiled here. In three or four brief paragraphs, Rappaport (No More!, p. 49, etc.) imagines a vivid scene for the reader ("Osceola fell backward. His rifle fell to the ground. He clutched his shoulder. It felt like burning") and introduces the person and their achievements in a few sentences. Her prose is straightforward and precise—though it occasionally becomes halting, as she avoids clauses and compound sentences. The text, on one-third of each spread, is accompanied by a bright, attractive watercolor illustration that helps set the scene. Birth and death dates, Indian and English names, and tribe are given at the head of each spread. Useful endmatter includes a pronunciation guide, separate lists of research sources and suggested books, and Web sites for young readers (with works by Native authors marked), as well as notes from the author and illustrators on their research process. Rappaport gives examples of the type of works she looked at in order to imagine or recreate her scenes. Her coverage of each person is so brief that this won't be useful for reports, but it might be used as a browser by students, or for teachers to introduce a unit. (Nonfiction. 6-10) Read full book review >
SNOW IN JERUSALEM by Deborah da Costa
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

In an innocuous, basically uninteresting story, two boys who are citizens of Jerusalem, an Israeli-Arab and an Israeli-Jew, discover that they've been caring for the same cat in their respective neighborhoods. As they quarrel over ownership, suddenly snow begins to fall. Realizing that they must both take care of the cat, they follow her through the streets until they discover that she has delivered four kittens, a miracle like the snow, they decide. Once again they begin to fight over who will take them home until the cat demonstrates that she loves them both. So, they divide the kittens and let the mother continue to travel between them. A map of the city on the title page will help readers understand the sections of the Old City and show what boundaries the boys crossed in the cat chase. Full-bleed watercolor illustrations really convey the mood and places of the ancient city, as well as the human beings—and cats. Jerusalem in not as clean as shown in the art, nor is the over-abundance of felines shown. But in a high-minded and good-hearted story, even these literal facts may be overlooked. Development, human and feline, is nicely characterized. (author's note, glossary) (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
DANCE Y’ALL by Bettye Stroud
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

Jack Henry is excited that his kinfolk are coming to celebrate the harvest, but he's seen a coach-whip snake in the barn, where he and his cousin will be spending the night to make room for the company. He's heard that a whip snake can beat a person with its tail, but he doesn't want anyone to think he's a scaredy-cat and he makes no mention of his fear. Throughout the evening, the snake is on his mind, causing him such uneasiness he eats little of the scrumptious dinner and doesn't join the dancing festivities afterward. In the middle of the night, a clap of thunder and the sight of his cousin walking off the edge of the hayloft awaken Jack Henry. He scrambles for a blanket from the mule's stall and manages to wake his cousin, then runs for help. When Grandpa Buddy comes to check, Jack Henry blurts out his fear of the snake. "You ever hear of anyone beaten to death by a snake?" asks Grandpa Buddy and tells him it's just a tale. As he takes the blanket back to the stall, Jack Henry sees the snake and starts to run, but decides to take a stand and threatens the snake with a hoe. With that, the snake turns tail, disappears through a hole, and Jack Henry stops up the hole with a croaker sack. Having confronted his fear, he shouts, "Dance y'all!" just like his Grandpa Buddy did earlier in the evening, dancing a little jig in the barn. Watercolor illustration in shades of gold and blue is a consistent palette throughout the story, making the night scenes as bright as the day. The snake is a golden color and, although he has a threatening stance in one of the pictures, the color does not further enhance the fear. Jack Henry and his cousin appear to be eight-year-olds and the story is vaguely set in a past of long skirts and horse-drawn carriages. The African-American family and farm scenes are realistic and handsome although many of the pictures seem static. A quiet story useful for children dealing with fear. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: April 1, 2001

Josh Gibson was sometimes known as the Babe Ruth of the Negro Leagues. Of course, in some circles, Babe Ruth was known as the Josh Gibson of the Major Leagues. And therein lies the heart of the matter. Although they might have played against each other during barnstorming games, they could never play together in the same league. Here a fictitious elderly man relates to his grandson his boyhood memories of one particularly exciting series of games early in Gibson's career, when his appearance at the plate led to the cheers "Thunder's coming." Some of these games took place at Yankee Stadium, and grandfather was there with his father. The book begins with a brief explanation of the segregated leagues, a description of Gibson's abilities, and an account of the series between the Homestead Grays and the New York Lincoln Giants, before focusing on grandfather's recounting of the final game. The "memories" of the game are nicely detailed as the excitement builds and Gibson performs a feat never accomplished before or since. He hit a homerun completely out of Yankee Stadium. (Naturally, this is an unrecognized accomplishment, as it did not happen during a regulation major-league game.) The softly colored illustrations nicely accompany the text. One arresting illustration captures the fans' reactions as Pop nervously twists his cap as he awaits Gibson's turn at bat. The mixture of factual material and fictional memories is not always successful. Too much of Gibson's life is left for the author's notes and may be missed by young readers. Buried in these notes is the especially poignant fact that Gibson died of a stroke at the early age of 35, only a few months before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line in 1947. Gibson had always hoped and believed it would happen and did not live to see it. In the end we have a charming vignette of a figure who has been neglected in baseball lore for children, when we could have had a powerful, moving story. Still, it's a start. (Picture book. 7-10)Read full book review >
JINGLE DANCER by Cynthia Leitich Smith
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 30, 2000

A contemporary Native American girl follows in her grandmother's footsteps (literally and figuratively), dancing the traditional jingle dance at the powwow. Jenna, a member of the Creek Nation in Oklahoma, dreams of dancing the jingle dance with the women of her tribe and is delighted when her grandmother tells her that she can dance with the other girls at the next powwow. But there is one problem—there won't be enough time to order the materials to make the four rows of jingles that are attached to the dress. If Jenna wants to hear the tink, tink, tink sound that the tin jingles make, she'll have to figure out a way to get the jingles on her own. Fortunately, Jenna is resourceful and knows just what to do. She visits great-aunt Sis, her friend Mrs. Scott, and cousin Elizabeth and borrows a row of jingles from each of them. (Jenna can only borrow one row of jingles apiece—otherwise each dress will lose its "voice.") While the problem of finding the jingles on her own doesn't seem challenging enough for the approbation Jenna receives at the end of the story for her resourcefulness, children will enjoy watching her figure out the solution to her problem. The watercolor illustrations clearly and realistically depict what is happening in the story. The layout of the book is straightforward—mostly double-page spreads that extend all the way to the edges of the paper. Jenna lives in what looks like a nice suburban house, the others seem solidly middle-class, and cousin Elizabeth is a lawyer. The author is deliberately showing us, it would seem, that all Native Americans are not poor or live on rundown reservations. A useful portrayal of an important cultural event in a Creek girl's year. (author's note, glossary) (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
JEWELS by Belinda Rochelle
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 1998

African-American heritage and history is personally lauded in a summer of stories told to Lea Mae by her great-grandmother Lea Mae, or 'Ma dear, for whom she is named. From her rocking chair on the front porch, 'Ma dear spins generational tales stretching back to slavery, when her ancestor was helped along the Underground Railroad by Harriet Tubman. Additional anecdotes hopscotch in time, to include the birth of Lea Mae's grandmother in a room without electricity, the adventures of her great-great-great-grandfather in the Civil War, and her own 'Ma dear's early days in New York City, surrounded by such musical luminaries as Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Pop Henry approaches a tone of preaching when he imparts the secret of life to Lea Mae, which is not to be bitter in the face of racism. This rosy memory piece paints a fond picture of intergenerational affection, cozily augmented with dappled watercolors; it's a sustaining, family-centered milieu, lovingly reflected in the misty-eyed, dreamy expressions on Lea Mae's and her relatives' faces. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

Tate (Front Porch Stories at the One Room School, 1992, etc.) celebrates African-American storytelling and small-town life in a collection of seven funny, folksy tales spun around proverbs, e.g., ``Big Things Come in Small Packages,'' and ``Slow and Steady Wins the Race.'' Exaggerated characters—ranging from a fish-finding basset hound and Bron Kitis, the Hand Fish King of Nutbrush County, Missouri, to Taneshia and Sudsey in their high-flying search for a boyfriend—have a folkloric, larger-than-life appeal. These misadventures leapfrog from setting to setting, voice to voice, zig-zagging their way through timeless homespun truisms and zany situational comedies; from a comic cautionary tale to a preposterous precept, the balance is topsy-turvy as Tate switches from human to animal story, and skit to spoof, in modernizing each proverb. The result is not seamless when read in one sitting, but the author maintains a storyteller's pace and penchant for exaggeration until the tales humorously blur the lines between what is fable and what is true. (b&w illustrations, notes, not seen) (Short stories. 8-12) Read full book review >
A HOUSE BY THE RIVER by William Miller
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 1997

Miller (The Knee-High Man, 1996) finds metaphors in the smooth shell of an egg, in a storm, and in the family bonds with those who have passed away to tell the story of the house that shelters Belinda and her mother from the forces outside their door. The river is rising and Belinda finds herself wishing, once again, for a clean, dry house like the homes of her classmates, closer to school, away from the elements. As the weather worsens, she greets her mother, who reassures her that the house will see them through the storm. As they watch and wait, Belinda's mother tells her about her father, and the dismal state of the house when they first moved in. The storm does pass, and Belinda is grateful for her home—and that's all. The narrative is made of reminiscences and descriptions of the storm's phases; Belinda and her mother happen to be African-Americans, but race is never a factor in the story. Luminous illustrations track the storm's progress and make Belinda's snug surroundings—leaky roof and all—glow. A quiet book—though not one to hand to children in the flood-wracked Midwest—with an unassuming, but sturdy, message. (Picture book. 6-9) Read full book review >