Books by Donna Jo Napoli

Released: Oct. 22, 2019

"A worthy cultural treasury with appeal to both the faithful and irreligious. (Religion. 8-12)"
Following her Treasury of Egyptian Mythology (2013) and Tales From the Arabian Nights (2016), Napoli brings her literary eye to a yet another ancient tradition. Read full book review >
HUNGER by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Feb. 13, 2018

"A worthy introduction to an important slice of history. (map, glossary, bibliography, timeline) (Historical fiction. 9-13)"
A family struggles to survive the Irish Potato Famine in 1846. Read full book review >
TAKE YOUR TIME by Eva Furrow
Released: April 11, 2017

"A journey of self-discovery in a unique environment. (Picture book. 3-7)"
A Galápagos tortoise learns that everyone has his or her own appropriate rhythm. Read full book review >
FISH GIRL by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: March 7, 2017

"A thought-provoking work that is not to be missed. (Graphic fantasy. 10-16)"
Napoli and Wiesner transport readers under the sea, introducing them to a modern-day heroine who longs to be part of their world. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 25, 2016

"A brilliant tapestry woven not of yarn but of stories, both fresh and faithful to its historical roots. (introduction, index, extensive source notes) (Folk tales. 10-14)"
Forty-five (compressed from the original 1,001) nights of interwoven stories map Scheherazade's courageous campaign to heal the heart of her murderous and disillusioned husband—and save her own life in the bargain. Read full book review >
DARK SHIMMER by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Sept. 8, 2015

"A new and interesting romp over a well-worn path through the forest of fairy tale. (author's note, bibliography) (Fantasy. 12-18)"
Everyone knows that stepmothers are evil, but rarely do we stop to wonder why. Read full book review >
HIDDEN by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Dec. 30, 2014

"Readers who enjoy the journey more than the destination will find much to appreciate in this rambling saga that is an inspired blend of ancient facts and myth. (glossary, postscript, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 12-16)"
The origin story of the first Norse female pirate is imagined in this leisurely paced companion to Hush: An Irish Princess Tale (2007).Read full book review >
HANDS & HEARTS by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: May 13, 2014

"A memorable excursion. (Picture book. 3-6)"
This mother-daughter beach outing features an added layer: Throughout the day, they use American Sign Language to communicate.

The child narrates their activities with delightfully descriptive simplicity: "Take my arms / and hold on tight / roll me in the sand / dip me in the sea." They dance and spin, splash in the waves, swim, build a sand castle and watch the sunset. Gentle pencil-and-watercolor paintings capture the scenes and will lead youngsters to imagine the feelings of a soft sea breeze and the sun on their faces. The warm golden light suffusing the images emphasizes the loving bond between the two. Looking deeper, children will notice hands embracing, fingers touching, hands and fingers shaping words. In addition, one word in each passage appears in red type. This word is then featured in a sidebar illustrating the sign. When done, readers will have learned how to sign 15 words. In her author's note, Napoli describes her work on sign languages and encourages the curious to do their own research. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 22, 2013

"Sumptuous of format, magisterial of content, stimulating for heart and mind both. (map, timeline, gallery of deities, postscript discussion of sources, bibliography, index) (Mythology. 11-14)"
Napoli (Treasury of Greek Mythology, 2011) again challenges readers to regard the old gods in new ways. Read full book review >
SKIN by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Aug. 6, 2013

"Like Sep's decisions, this story feels rushed. (Fiction. 14-17)"
Sixteen-year-old Sep (short for Giuseppina) wakes up on the first day of school to find that her lips are completely white. Read full book review >
A SINGLE PEARL by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: June 18, 2013

" A well-meaning tale is overwhelmed by an over-the-top attempt at inspiration. (Picture book. 4-7)"
A potentially charming tale about a perfect pearl that takes form from a simple grain of sand is laden with heavy-handed life lessons. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 11, 2011

"Superb versions for reading alone or for sharing with audiences large or small. (Mythology. 10-14)"
Oft-told tales retold with uncommon verve and outfitted with resplendent Art Deco-style portraits. Read full book review >
LIGHTS ON THE NILE by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Sept. 20, 2011

"Nevertheless, the story offers rich fare for those precocious younger readers who can't get enough; with luck they will accommodate any confusion and may move onto some of Napoli's more polished works, a little later on. (Historical fantasy. 8-11)"
Kepi's name means "tempest," and it suits, in this tale that purports to reveal the origins of fairies. Read full book review >
THE CROSSING by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: June 14, 2011

"Experience the wonder of Lewis and Clark's journey with the youngest expedition member. (Picture book. 4-8)"
Riding in a cradle board on his mother's back, Sacagawea's baby son Jean Baptiste provides a fresh perspective on Lewis and Clark's monumental westward journey from Fort Mandan, N.D., across the northwestern United States to the Pacific and back between 1805 and 1806. Read full book review >
THE WAGER by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: May 1, 2010

After suffering a reversal of fortune, a handsome young nobleman enters into a dangerous wager with the Devil, surrendering his beauty and possibly his very soul to win a magical purse in this retelling of an old Sicilian fairy tale. Known for his "generosity of spirit and purse," 19-year-old Don Giovanni becomes a reviled pauper after an earthquake and tsunami devastate Messina in 1169. Forced to beg from town to town, Don Giovanni's situation is desperate when the Devil cunningly offers him a magical purse if he does not wash himself, change his clothes, shave his beard or comb his hair for three years, three months and three days. Determined to keep the purse and save his soul, Don Giovanni suffers unbearable misery and derision as his physical being degenerates while his inner being transforms. While Napoli's interspersing of historical events and natural descriptions adds verisimilitude to the fairy tale, the graphic details of Don Giovanni's physical and psychic anguish stretch credulity. No hero ever deserved a happy ending or a bath more. (Fantasy. 13 & up)Read full book review >
MAMA MITI by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Jan. 5, 2010

Napoli adopts a folkloric narrative technique to showcase the life work of Wangari Maathai, whose seminal role in Kenya's reforestation earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. When, one after the other, women journey to Maathai to seek counsel about scarce food, disappearing firewood and ailing animals, she tells them, "Plant a tree….Thayu nyumba—peace, my people." Specific tree species and their utility are mentioned in the text and reiterated in a glossary. Nelson's pictures, a jaw-dropping union of African textiles collaged with oil paintings, brilliantly capture the villagers' clothing and the greening landscape. The richly modulated oils portray the dignified, intent gazes of Maathai and other Kenyans, and the illustrator's signature use of perspective suggests the everyday heroism of his subjects. In addition to incorporating the fabric collages (and some whimsy in his animal depictions), the artist newly focuses on landscape, with many double-page spreads depicting undulating fields, distant mountains and a white-hot sky. Deserving of a special place with Claire Nivola's Planting the Trees of Kenya (2008), this is, in a word, stunning. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
THE EARTH SHOOK by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Aug. 18, 2009

Human beings are so often vilified—justifiably—that it's refreshing to find a story that juxtaposes our species' finer qualities with its more monstrous ones. In this Persian-inspired tale (based on a 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran), Parisa desperately seeks the company of another human being when her village is destroyed. She knocks on door after door, but hostile animals now occupy any still-standing homes. Boar says, "Hands like grasping vines, you remind me of a hunter who threw spears at me. See these tusks? Run, or I'll gore a hole through you." Parisa contemplates her maligned hand, as a hunting scene hovers over Boar's head, petroglyph-like. From Bear to Snake, the animals shame her into masking her offending parts. Eventually, however, Parisa casts off her disguises to walk "as a human child under the sun," laughing, dancing and sharing with her now-benevolent animal friends. Swiatkowska's extraordinary artwork—textured oil paintings, decorative designs, splendid palette and artfully spare compositions—adds power and beauty to the poetic text that echoes Rumi. A gorgeous, discussion-provoking read-aloud. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
ALLIGATOR BAYOU by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: March 10, 2009

A haunting story based on a tragic historical event—the lynching of a group of Italian men in Tallulah, La., in 1899. Recently orphaned, 14-year-old Calogero has moved from Sicily to Louisiana to work with his father's friends in their produce business. Although the Sicilians are prospering, Calo learns that their social position is precarious. In a town strictly divided between black and white, Sicilians are considered neither, and furthermore, they carry undeserved reputations as cheats and murderers. The Sicilians' insistence on treating customers of all races with respect, their thrift—townsfolk complain that they take in money but do not spend it—and the fact they can't seem to keep their goats off other people's property combine to ignite a spark of unspeakable violence. All five members of Calo's new family are murdered. Only Calo escapes with his life. Napoli brings social issues into sharp focus but balances them with details about Calo's everyday life, creating an engaging story with many avenues to deep reflection on our country's treatment, past and present, of its immigrants. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)Read full book review >
READY TO DREAM by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Jan. 6, 2009

When Ally visits Australia, she takes her art supplies and draws. She meets Pauline, an indigenous artist who carefully considers each of Ally's pictures: crocodiles, kangaroos, koalas, lorikeets. Pauline leads Ally to understand the uniquely Aboriginal belief that art is a metaphysical process in which the essence of the subject is manifested in each painted image (i.e., a painting of a koala on eucalyptus bark curls just like the koala curls when sleeping). The authors (mother and daughter) and illustrator (noted Aboriginal artist) succeed in leading both the reader and Ally to understand the abstract concept. The brief text is mysterious but unembellished. Bancroft's paintings reflect both modernity and the spirit of her ancient tradition. Acrylic paintings are naïf in style; palette and line are bold while oversimplified figures are flat. Symbolic forms and patterns such as dots and circles within circles impart pleasing ornamentation and energy. Highly recommended for young painters who will be encouraged, like Ally, to test their artistic wings. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
THE SMILE by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Oct. 1, 2008

The lushly detailed life of a girl who grows up to pose for the Mona Lisa. Elisabetta savors her country home with its verdant gardens. She contentedly harvests olives and helps run the family's silkworm business. Because she's an aristocrat, she must betroth herself to a nobleman, but she hopes desperately for someone young and passionate rather than an old widower. On a visit to Florence, family acquaintance Leonardo da Vinci introduces her to Giuliano de' Medici, the youngest son of Florence's ruling family. In this city bursting with art and artists—Leonardo, Botticelli, a young Michelangelo—Betta and Giuliano connect instantly. After his father's death, Giuliano's older brother Piero claims the republic and runs it into the ground, resulting in their exile. Political strife and family deaths repeatedly postpone Betta's husband-seeking party, but although her engagement with Giuliano is secret, she never dreams the truth—that her father's betrothed her elsewhere. Through this deeply personal story, Napoli paints a magnificent and mournful portrait of the Italian Renaissance, both tragic and triumphant. (Historical fiction. YA)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2008

This rather lackluster tale of a pig's birthday party fails to emphasize multiplication as the subtitle would have readers believe. Four siblings hold a birthday party for their pet pig, each inviting two friends, one of whom brings his pet parrot, Pirate. While the presents are a disappointment, the games portion of the party looks promising to Corkscrew. As the kids determine how many groups to form for each different game, a multiplication problem summarizes how to manage the play. Badminton teams are pairs, so the children form six groups of two—but the pets keep getting in the way. After five failed games, the children finally stumble onto the solution, and choose a game for 14 rather than 12, including the pets in their play. Activity ideas and additional math problems extend the multiplication practice. Currey's watercolors charmingly illustrate the mayhem the two animals cause, but fail to emphasize the mathematics: Never do the pictures show the children divided according to the multiplication problem. A disappointing follow-up to The Wishing Club (2007). (Picture book. 6-10)Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2008

Napoli, known for her fairy-tale retellings, has reworked "The Three Little Pigs" into a tale of life on the African savanna. Mogo is the runt of his litter and always the last in line. His brothers tease Mogo, calling him "scaredy," but the cautious piggy knows many predators target the last one, so he pays close attention to every sound and smell. Mogo loves living with his family and being part of a much larger group of warthogs called a sounder. When his mother announces she is expecting another litter, it is time for Mogo and his brothers to live on their own, launching the familiar plot on its way. Mogo's first-person narration will keep young readers making the transition into chapter books on edge as he relates the joys and very real dangers of life on the savanna. His unlikely friendship with a young baboon and a group of Kipling-esque giraffes helps Mogo discover he has what it takes to survive—for now. Judge's simple black-and-white drawings sprinkled throughout enhance the text. (Fantasy. 7-10)Read full book review >
HUSH by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Oct. 1, 2007

Napoli takes the bare bones of a legend—Icelandic, tenth century this time—and clothes it in fire, flesh and blood. Melkorka is 15 and her sister Brigid eight when they are swept from their royal Irish parents and taken by a slave ship. When Brigid leaps overboard in a desperate move to escape, Mel—now called Aist, or stork, because she will not speak—focuses all her being on learning about the rough men who hold her. She learns from the other women—Irish, Norse, Baltic—and helps to care for other, terrified children. Her companions are sold, but fear of her unbroken silence keeps her until an Icelandic chieftain pays extravagantly. Readers, who know her every thought and wild feeling, will marvel at how she maintains that passionate muteness even as Hoskuld carries her, pregnant, to Iceland, through violence and storm. As always, Napoli is a spellbinding storyteller, her prose rich in details both tender and blood-soaked. From the texture of embroidery to the odor of sheep dung, her language is vivid, precise, cinematic. (Historical fiction. 12-15)Read full book review >
THE WISHING CLUB by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: July 1, 2007

Four children learn about fractions when they wish on a star and only get partial wish fulfillments. Four-year-old Petey and his two-year-old brother, Joey, make the first wishes on the star, asking for a dollar. Sally, eight, thinks they are both goofy, but the next morning Petey is a quarter richer. He wishes again, while Joey asks for a cookie. Petey receives another quarter and Joey gets half a cookie. At this point, Sally and her twin Samantha get in on the wishing. But each receives only an eighth of their wish. Putting their heads together, they determine that their ages are the key, and that if they all wish for the same thing, they can get one whole. And what a wish it is! Currey's watercolor illustrations capture the wonder and puzzlement in the children's faces as they ponder their wishing star. She visually presents the fractional parts, as well as the number of parts required to make a whole, and adds the fractional notation. The kids' clever way of testing their math will have teachers applauding, as will the amazing mind-stretching follow-up page, which gives readers some thought-provoking questions to further explore the concepts presented in the book. A clever concept done well. (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2007

Sylvia the "Sleuth for Hire" is up to her gumshoe tricks again in this third Sly mystery. As always, Sly only takes on cases that her cat, Taxi, would approve of, and her friends are her best (and only) customers. In the first case, Sly must discern why there is a cache of junk food in the bushes and uncover the reason behind her pesky neighbor Brian's fish-breath. In the second, Sly is hired by Kate to determine why Princess is sabotaging her cooking club by bringing all the wrong food. Jack hires her, in the third case, to uncover the mystery behind his disappearing oranges. Occasional line sketches embellish the text. Throughout the story, readers learn about some disagreeable health food, the danger of arsenic in seeds and food allergies. Once again, the cases lack tension making it mild reading for the chapter-book set and leaving the reader feeling as though the real mystery is human nature. Not so spicy but, as Sly puts it, these cases serve up some "food for thought." (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
FIRE IN THE HILLS by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Aug. 1, 2006

A powerful sequel to the superb Stones in Water (1997), this continues the story of Roberto, trying to get back home to Venice after wretched experiences at the hands of the Nazis. Now 14, he has made it back to Italy, only to find his homeland split in two: the republic aligned with the Allies, and the Fascist dictatorship headed by Mussolini and aligned with the Nazis. And as the people become more desperate, more and more join the partigiani. At first, his single-minded quest was to go home, but in a satisfying growth of character, he joins the partisans, and through his involvement, readers will see the horrors of war and the valiant sacrifices made by ordinary citizens. Though there is a bit much of retelling the first novel, thus breaking the spell of this entry, it's a strong, action-packed ode to the Italian resistance movement and, as such, a side of WWII that will fascinate readers. A good match with Barbara Harrison's Theo (1999). (Historical fiction. 12-15)Read full book review >
BOBBY THE BOLD by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: May 1, 2006

An ostracized ape earns acceptance by becoming—what else?—a hairdresser in this cheery mother-daughter collaboration. Bobby resembles a chimp but he's actually a bonobo, which make him different enough to be ignored by the rest of his simian zoo-mates. One night he escapes, boarding a bus that lets him off in front of the "Hair by Pierre" salon. Emerging with a Mohawk and a tube of gel, he returns to the zoo and becomes an instant celebrity, not only for his own dashing 'do, but for the various styles he bestows on all the chimps. Hoyt illustrates with slashing brushwork and fine-lined inking, capturing Bobby's unflagging energy as well as accurately rendering the hand signs he uses to communicate with a favored zoo keeper and other humans. Readers will have to comb library shelves to find a spirit as bold and irrepressible as this bonobo's—and the bow he takes on the back cover is well-deserved. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2006

Sly runs a detective agency called "Sleuth for Hire," but she only takes cases that her cat, Taxi, would care about. She is smart and serious and is kept in business by her friends. In Case #1, she is hired by her pal Jack, known for his sudden appearances, to figure out why there's always a flock of birds hanging out on the soccer field. After collecting a few clues, Sly discovers a custodial mishap. Case #2 deals with her friend's missing ballet slippers, disappearing swim fins and appearing baseball cleats. Sly is given to moments of self-doubt, jealousy and grumpiness, but ultimately her gumshoe skills pay off. In Case #3, the question is why Brian, her lively four-year-old neighbor, suddenly wants to be rolled by a rolling-pin, dangle from trees and take long soaks in the tub. In this trio of trifles there is not a nail-biting moment to be found, but Sly and her friends do deliver a pleasant read and some clues to the mysteries of friendship. (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
UGLY by Donna Jo Napoli
Kirkus Star
by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Lita Judge
Released: Jan. 1, 2006

Trust Napoli to work her usual alchemy and make a fabulous coming-of-age story from the bare outline of the reassuring ugly-duckling trope. Told in the first person from the time he's inside the egg, hatched by a Pacific black duck in Tasmania, the hero—and he is definitely a hero—rouses to the sound of his mother's voice. But she has to let him go, as the other ducks attack him and endanger Ugly's duckling siblings. He quickly learns that his instincts aren't quite duck-like, or goose-like, so he is constantly trying to fit into habits and habitats that aren't quite right. He makes friends with a wallaby, two geese, a wombat and a possum. Some of them come to violent ends, but Ugly learns from them what he is and isn't and how to cope. When Ugly finally discovers that he is a swan, and not at all ugly, readers will have learned a great deal about various Tasmanian wildlife. They will have giggled mightily at the silliness of baby ducks and how the actions of cats and people might look to a young male swan. Tucked into this wondrously spun tale so deftly that one might scarcely notice are beautiful lessons about finding oneself, about fitting in (or not), about the implacability of nature and weather and the importance of maternal advice. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 11, 2005

This powerfully vivid story has the immediacy of Napoli's always-immaculate prose, coupled with a basis in family lore and urban history that make it irresistible. Nine-year-old Beniamino loves his mama, his family, his city of Napoli and all of its scents and sights. His mother puts him on a cargo ship to America without her, for reasons that he may not ever figure out, arming him with the parables of his Jewish and Napoletano heritage and a new pair of shoes. Renamed Dom Napoli at Ellis Island, he tells his first-person tale of survival, exploration and learning on the streets of lower Manhattan at the end of the 19th century. Careful and smart, Dom allies himself with a pair of boys, one under control of a vicious padrone, buying huge sandwiches and then reselling them, cut in parts, on Wall Street from a borrowed cart. From his first days sleeping in a barrel to teaching his widowed landlady to make his favorite foods, Dom's voice and presence make his life as real and as tangible as possible. History come to vibrant life for middle-grade readers and almost anyone whose ancestors came from foreign lands. (Historical fiction. 9-14)Read full book review >
PINK MAGIC by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Sept. 12, 2005

Nick and his toy rabbit, Pinky, are dejected because his sister Eva is getting a lot of mail for her birthday. He wants something great and pink to arrive in the mail just for him, never mind waiting for his birthday. Eva's wish on her birthday cake is for just that. The next day Mr. Moon, the mailman, pulls out a watermelon for Nick from his pouch; next, he delivers a flamingo; the day after, a passel of pigs. Even though Nick and Eva have fun with his pink surprises, playing in the kiddy pool with the flamingo and holding pig acrobatics, Nick is still disappointed because his mail isn't like Eva's from Uncle Bob that said, "I love you." But remember Pinky? One clever sister and a pink envelope bring smiles to everyone. Collage-and-acrylic illustrations create a layered and molded look for the round faces, mustachioed mailman and pink creatures, with page composition that accents the drollness. Receiving mail is a very big deal for this age group and versatile Napoli delivers an amusing story stamped with her whimsy that integrates a favorite toy, brother-sister bond and imaginative play—and it works like a charm. (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2005

Clear some shelf space: Young Cam Jansen has a new contemporary. Sylvia, a.k.a. "Sly," solves three local mysteries involving oddly behaved pets. She uses an uncontrived combination of sharp observation, careful reasoning, and the occasional flash of insight. Along with crafting believable "cases" for the youthful detective, the mother-and-son co-authors have some "Sly" fun here. They give their sleuth a cat named Taxi (who always comes when called), one friend named Melody, who plays the piano, and another named Jack, who is always jumping into sight. There's also a pesky four-year-old neighbor, Brian, with a distinctly slanted view of reality and a mysterious pet named "Wilson" that turns out to be a bucket full of . . . well, read and find out. Maione inks plenty of lighthearted illustrations, mostly neighborhood scenes, for this engaging series opener. (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
BOUND by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Nov. 1, 2004

A strong, finely crafted version of Cinderella based mostly on old Chinese tales but with a sprinkling of details from Grimm. Xing Xing lives in a cave with Stepmother and Stepsister during the Ming Dynasty. Stepmother leaves Xing Xing's feet alone, but binds Wei Ping's feet to attract suitors. Fetching water at the pond, Xing Xing meets a uniquely beautiful carp who (she comes to realize) embodies her late mother. A venture out into the world to sell unripe figs and seek a doctor for Wei Ping's infected feet emboldens Xing Xing. When Stepmother sneakily kills the carp, Xing Xing reaches her final point of mental independence. Recognizable Cinderella motifs like honoring parental spirits, Wei Ping's brutally chopped-off toes, and a cave-festival where a golden shoe gets left behind weave easily together with the fleshed-out solidity of Napoli's realism. There seem to be no good options for Xing Xing's future, since she's not only dowry-less but overeducated for a girl; however, the ending has spark, resonance, and a relievingly appealing prince. Deliberate and satisfying. (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
GRACIE by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: June 1, 2004

In her second sequel to Prince of the Pond (1992), Napoli remixes themes and characters from the first sequel, Jimmy, the Pickpocket of the Palace (1995). When bratty Princess Sally again steals that magic ring, then inadvertently brings the evil Hag back to life, Jimmy leaps off to a reunion with his human father, the Prince (again). This time the narrative spotlight falls on clumsy Gracie, who hops after Jimmy (again), and, following his example from earlier episodes, faces various hazards with unfrog-like audacity. Having proven that "fawgs," the Prince's hybrid amphibian offspring, don't have a patent on courage, Gracie retires to the pond, hooks up with Jimmy—who after a second stint as a human finally figures out that a frog on two legs is still a frog—and sees the Hag, transformed permanently into a toad, carried off in Sally's ungentle hands. Readers with the first two volumes fresh in their minds may grow impatient with Napoli's extensive recaps, not to mention Gracie's stubborn refusal, until the climax, to believe that Jimmy was ever transformed; Napoli (again) expertly exploits the possibilities for humor, suspense, and romance in this folktale spin-off, but she's just treading water. (Fiction. 10-12)Read full book review >
NORTH by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: May 1, 2004

Driven by a yearning he can't articulate but knows is essential to his very being, Alvin, a soft and unsophisticated 12-year-old African-American boy living in Washington, D.C., runs away from his caring but smothering mother and physically declining great grandmother. His goal is to follow in the footsteps of his hero Matthew Henson, a black explorer and co-discoverer of the North Pole, whose description of the "fierce beauty" of the frozen north has captured his imagination. Traveling by rail and later dog-sledge in the frigid cold, Alvin, who is dogged, resourceful, and has the rare capacity to find friends and create allies, makes it all the way to Canada's Bylot Island, high in the Arctic Circle. There he gains knowledge, maturity, and, ultimately, freedom of spirit, living, working, and learning traditional ways from Idlouk, a wise old half-Inuk hermit. It's an unlikely journey, but Napoli makes it a fascinating one, organically incorporating a wealth of detail about the Arctic and its human and non-human inhabitants. (Fiction. 9+)Read full book review >
HOTEL JUNGLE by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Feb. 1, 2004

A vacationing family ends up in the middle of an improbable adventure in a hotel run entirely by baboons. Receiving a postcard from their friends about their wonderful vacation, Susannah and Jimmy convince their parents to travel there as well. Unbeknownst to them, the staff and all of the guests of the posh hotel go on an unexpected luxury cruise, leaving the jungle inhabitants to run the show. The unsuspecting family is soon playing, grooming, eating, and sleeping like their jungle friends. Wildly colored illustrations of baboons in bell-hop uniforms and humans with baboon-inspired hairdos liven up this tale. Unfortunately, whimsy quickly dissolves into plain silliness as the implausibly naïve family spends their vacation following the lead of the local baboon population. Painfully absurd. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
BREATH by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Nov. 1, 2003

This fascinating Pied Piper bypasses the villain rehabilitation or feminist perspective common to most modern retellings; instead, it solidly grounds the tale in the 13th-century town of Hameln. Chronically ill, Salz can't help on the farm, so he studies with the priest as if preparing for the church. With his beloved Großmutter, he's also a member of the town's coven of Christian, God-fearing witches. Though no one expects him to live to adulthood, Salz dreams of a cure, perhaps brought from distant lands by a traveling piper. In spring, a devastating stock blight is followed by strangely selective plague, as the townsfolk fall ill with a terrifying, diseased madness. Is it caused by rats, or sin, or witchcraft? Salz, searching for logical answers and moral consistency, wants to help, but without drawing attention to his own suspicious (relative) health. A compelling mystery (explained scientifically in the author's postscript) and fully realized characters bring life to the legend. Move over, Browning. (Fiction. 12+)Read full book review >
THE GREAT GOD PAN by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: May 13, 2003

When readers first meet Pan, the nature god, he is perfectly happy with his half-god, half-goat nature, enjoying bodily pleasures but unhampered by the complications of love. This changes when he meets Iphigenia, bastard daughter of Helen of Troy. Thus does Napoli splice together two strands of Greek myth to craft a lovely musing on the nature of love. Iphigenia responds to Pan with a respect that causes him to question love, truth, family, fate, and ultimately godhood. As Pan quests through Greece after his own version of truth, the narrative effortlessly braids in other stories from myth to comment on his inner transformation. Pan tells his own story in the present tense, using heightened language that places readers in the otherworld of myth, the lush and varying landscapes embodying Pan's own inner state and frequently pulsing with erotic tension. As the tale moves on to Iphigenia's sacrifice at Aulis, the tension ratchets up almost unbearably, and Pan's newly gained understanding provides an elegant and tragic solution. (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
THREE DAYS by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

Eleven-year-old Jackie is enjoying mightily her father-daughter trip to Italy—until her father suffers a heart attack while driving back to their hotel one evening. As if this is not terrifying enough, when a pair of men pull over to help (she thinks), they instead kidnap her and take her to their house in the Calabrian countryside—but why? Once there, Jackie meets Claudia, a kind but mysteriously sad woman who seems to want her to be happy there. Napoli's (Albert, p. 263, etc.) choice of a first-person, present-tense narration is particularly effective here; it isolates the reader in Jackie's reality just as much as Jackie herself is isolated without recourse in a place where she cannot even understand the language. She emerges as a perfectly ordinary child who wants nothing more than to return home to her mother, but whose desperate need for any security at all within her bizarre circumstances causes her to cling to the only thing that is familiar now, her captors. Jackie's situation is highly compelling, but the narrative motor that drives it is just as highly contrived: it turns out that Claudia has recently lost her own daughter, and the two men, her father and brother, have decided to kidnap Jackie as a replacement. While perhaps emotionally convincing within the terms of the story, it nevertheless strains credulity to the limit in every other way. Still, if readers are sufficiently grabbed by Jackie's ingenuous voice and her remarkable predicament, they may be willing to forgive the contrivance for the experience. (Fiction. 9-12)Read full book review >
HOW HUNGRY ARE YOU? by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

Animals plan to go on a picnic in this math concept book that just misses. Rabbit and Frog plan a picnic. They are bringing 12 sandwiches. "Does that sound like enough for two of us?" "Hmmm. Okay," replies the frog. The critical problem lies with the uninspired language of the text and Walrod's (The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza, 1999, etc.) quirky, cheerful cut-paper collages lack of visual support required for the math concepts. Napoli (Albert, p. 263, etc.) adds another participant and then the friends need to divide 12 by 3. Again the art shows 12 cookies in rows of threes—but the sandwiches are nowhere to be seen. A crow joins the group bringing the total to 4. She brings a case of 12 pudding packs. " . . . three rice puddings each," says the rabbit, yet absolutely no reinforcement from the illustration—just a square white box with the label "12 puddings." Add twin turtles, which bring along 12 sticks of gum. The rabbit says 2 of everything for each of us though the facing page shows the turtles holding the sticks of gum in groups of 3. Confusing? You bet. There's also a continuity problem: when an additional 6 participants are added, there are 12 slices of watermelon to share. Turn the page and the watermelon is whole again. The lack of clarity continues to the end when a 13th picnicker arrives with no food to add; three pages are now taken up with dithering of how to divide the food, then everything is divided in half to have enough. The text states that there will be 11 halves left over, neglecting to show or explain how the frog arrived at that conclusion. A miscalculation through and through. (Picture book. 5-7)Read full book review >
ALBERT by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: April 1, 2001

A young recluse makes an unusual connection to the outside world in Napoli's (Beast, 2000, etc.) first picture book. Albert lives in his apartment, protected from the world by the bars on his window. Every day he listens to the sounds outside—to laughter and other good noises and to arguing and other bad noises—and sticks his hand out the window, but every day he draws it back and stays inside. One day while his arm is outstretched, two cardinals build a nest in it, forcing the good-hearted Albert to remain with his hand out the window for weeks as they raise their family. He sleeps standing up and, by peeping insistently, gets the cardinals to bring him food (blackberries and beetles, which he eventually comes to enjoy). Through the unwitting intervention of the cardinals, he learns that the world, despite its bad noises, holds wondrous possibilities. LaMarche's (The Raft, 2000, etc.) colored-pencil illustrations portray Albert as something of an aesthete, with a high forehead and little intellectual spectacles, and views vary from close-up images of Albert's quizzical face to long views of the apartment building with Albert's small hand protruding from the bars. It is an unabashedly unlikely story, whose message is somewhat unsubtly hammered home when it is left to Albert to convince a reluctant fledgling to leave the nest. The deadpan prose and warmly humorous illustrations combine to keep the reader's disbelief suspended (just barely), crafting a sweetly reassuring book about taking chances. This fits nicely with Tohby Riddle's The Singing Hat (p. 187). (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2001

Compelling historical fiction explores the Byzantine rules governing the social order of 16th-century Venice. Fourteen-year-old Donata, a younger daughter of one of Venice's wealthiest noble families, has been raised to expect little; according to the complex conventions of her society, only the oldest daughter of the family can expect to marry and leave the household. And to leave the household is what Donata desperately wants. Intelligent and curious, she chafes at the rules that dictate that she remain uneducated and never have the freedom to explore her city. In the tradition of spunky heroines before her, she devises a scheme that will allow her to sneak out of the house disguised as a poor boy and wander Venice, where she meets, befriends, and inevitably falls in love with Noè, a Jewish copyist. At the same time, she successfully petitions her father to sit in on her brothers' tutoring sessions and thus begins a formal education. Napoli resists the easy anachronism; spunky though Donata is, she remains committed to her family and her society, seeking a solution to her unhappiness that, although somewhat unconventional, nevertheless remains essentially true to her culture and its restrictions. The first-person, present-tense narration allows the reader to encounter Venice along with Donata, from the stately palazzos to the streets populated by beggars and to the Ghetto beyond. Fascinating tidbits of information about Venice's society, politics, history, and economy find their way painlessly into the narrative. While readers will be rightly skeptical at Donata's speedy mastery of not only written Venetian but Latin as well, they will nevertheless find themselves absorbed in her story and the snapshot of her city that it provides. (Fiction. 10-15)Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

The prolific Napoli (Daughter of Venice, above, etc.) teams up with newcomer Kane for a humorous pet story about a small black-and-white dog, Rocky, trying to fit into a new family with two "little monsters" (very spoiled children) and five confident cats. The cats tease Rocky, steal his toys, food, and blanket, and make his life generally miserable. When the unruly children decide to dress the cats in baby clothes and use (or abuse) them as dolls, Rocky barks bravely at the little monsters, alerting their mother to rescue the cats. The grateful cats, in a rapid reversal, accept Rocky into their kitty coalition, and he adopts a few feline behaviors while remaining "the only cat who barks." Petrosino's (Rabbit Stew, 1999) illustrations employ a cartoon style and citrus shades, with full-page spreads showing cats and kids in action and lots of humorous, smaller illustrations framed by irregular backgrounds in soft peach. The five cats (mean mother Misha, curly-haired Cappuccino, longhaired Crystal Kitty, tiny Cally, and blue-eyed, blue-haired Latte) possess a variety of colors, shapes, and personalities, and shy little Rocky has a rascally charm of his own. (Picture books. 3-7)Read full book review >
BEAST by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Nov. 1, 2000

The writer who so intensely re-imagined Rapunzel in Zel (1996) and the Sirens in Sirena (1998) provides a sensual and brilliant imagining of the backstory of the Beast in this exotic tale. Orasmyn is a 17-year-old Persian prince, beloved of his parents, secure, even self-satisfied, with his studies and his rose gardens. But he makes a fatal error in judgment and angers a pari, a fairy, who curses him to take the form of a lion, to be freed only if a woman loves him. Orasmyn's awakening to his new form is both terrible and funny, but the danger is real—his father has called a lion hunt and the prince must flee the world he knows. First he travels to India, learning his new life while trying to retain his humanity in prayer and in language. When he realizes ("I am Lion," he repeats) that no pride will accept him, he travels to France, hides himself in an abandoned castle, and sketches his demands in the dirt when Belle's father steals the rose. How he prepares the castle for her, how they reach first a truce, then understanding, and then devotion, is built up with a rich accretion of concrete detail, sound and scents described precisely. There are few metaphors for adolescence, and for the mastery of desire by the self, as deep as that of the Beast, and Napoli rings dark changes on those with the sure hand of a sorceress. Compelling, relentless, erotic. (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
CRAZY JACK by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Oct. 1, 1999

Napoli (with Richard Tchen, Spinners, p. 887, etc.) continues to retell familiar tales in this gripping novel about Jack and the events surrounding the beanstalk. Jack has a fine life, planning to follow his loving father in farming, and hoping to marry Flora, the girl next door, in a not- too-distant someday. When a drought dries up his father's aspirations, the man goes off, and is said to have ascended into the clouds. Years later, Jack, tormented by nightmares, has lost everything, including Flora, who believes him to be mad; his mother sends him to market with the family cow, and the fateful trade that launches the old fairy tale is made. Napoli's earthy variations on the traditional story make the magic more satisfying, for everything Jack steals at the giant's home in the clouds is altered when he gets it home, e.g., the hen doesn't lay golden eggs, but an unlimited number of real eggs, while the pot of gold turns into a bottomless source of stones, ideal for building a dream house to tempt Flora back. The world Napoli creates is at once well- known and strange, as if she is telling the truth, at last, about the story's origins, and pointing the way to its later exaggerations. Her locale is one where magic works, but not too well, and where dark and psychologically truthful lives give meaning to the events of a childhood tale. (Fiction. 12-14) Read full book review >
SIRENA by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

Sirena and her sisters are hybrids (half-human, half-fish), or mermaids, yearning for the touch and love of men, who will thereby bring them immortality. When ships pass on their way to battle in Troy, the mermaid sisters lure the warriors with their songs. Sirena soon realizes that their calls lead many men to their deaths (there is no fresh water for the men, or they drown, etc.); this knowledge so devastates her that she banishes herself to life alone, and without songs, on the island of Lemnos. To her lonely home comes Philoctetes, abandoned by his shipmates after he was bitten by a serpent. Sirena is drawn to him, but afraid for him at the same time'she does not want him to suffer the same fate as the men before him. Slowly, Napoli unfurls a glorious story of love, as Sirena reaches immortality while understanding the consequences of her love and exploring brand new feelings such as desertion, desperation, and jealousy. The sensual narrative celebrates land and sea with stinging detail—from Sirena's intense love and physical longing to her quiet, clever island survival with Philoctetes. Fans of Greek mythology will enjoy several tales of gods, warriors, and nymphs woven throughout, but it's the timeless, entrancing love story—the heartache, the triumph, and the bittersweet ending—that grabs the heartstrings. (Fiction. 12-15) Read full book review >
CHANGING TUNES by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: June 1, 1998

A ten-year-old girl confronts the reality of her parents' divorce in this bittersweet novel from Napoli (For the Love of Venice, p. 584, etc.). In the wake of her parents' recent separation, Eileen is prepared for her father's things to be gone, but is stunned to discover the piano missing as well. This is just the latest change: With her mother working full-time, Eileen arrives home after school to an empty house, and sees her father only every other weekend. In spite of the riot of anger and sadness within her, Eileen just can't bring herself to tell her best friend, Stephanie, that her parents have split up. The only thing that seems to be the same, the one constant in Eileen's chaotic experience, is her piano practice sessions, which now take place in the auditorium after school. During these sessions, Eileen befriends the kindly janitor, Mr. Poole, who tells Eileen that even though his family was poor, he enjoyed playing the piano—and the one song he knew—when he was a kid. Eileen realizes that she can't control the family she was born into. Eventually, she starts to work out the anger and pain she feels toward her parents, and finally shares the truth with an extremely sympathetic Stephanie. Although the structure of the novel, shifting between piano practice and the rest of Eileen's life, seems a bit inelegant and contrived, Napoli succeeds in creating a reassuringly bewildered character in Eileen. (Fiction. 10- 12) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1998

Percy, 17, is spending the summer in Venice with his engineer father, his artist mother, and his endearing brother, Christopher, 6. Percy misses the sailing and soccer he left behind in Massachusetts until he meets Graziella, who sells him gelato and offers him other things to think about. Napoli (Stones in Water, 1997, etc.) expertly weaves a number of strands: the Venetians' love and loathing for the tourists who keep the city alive; the delicate and ever-threatened ecological balance of the lagoon; the darkness of violence planned with the purest of motives. The city's radiance is captured in small, stunning moments: fireworks over the water on a festival night; a dark alley doorway that opens into a palace with cherubs on the ceiling; the taste of new olive oil. A wild summer storm and two small boys lost in it, the suggestion of a first sexual encounter, and the odd exhilaration of new places and experiences drive the story, even as Percy tries to find his place as an American in Graziella's deeply Venetian life. All the while, Napoli never lets the message about the city's fragile existence overwhelm the story or the delicacy of the romance. (Fiction. 12-15) Read full book review >
STONES IN WATER by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

From Napoli (Trouble on the Tracks, p. 144, etc.), a powerful novel set in a vividly realized wartime milieu. Roberto, a Venetian boy who is about to graduate from middle school, is so eager to attend a rare American movie that he makes a worrisome bargain with a boy who is always in trouble. On top of this small sin, he attends the movie with a Jewish boy, Samuele, an unwise idea when restrictions and dangers are multiplying. German soldiers enter the theater and capture all the boys; at first, Roberto can't make sense of what is happening to him. Transported to desolate regions, the boys are forced into labor building a tarmac; food is scarce, the climate is life-threatening, and survival seems remote. Now called Enzo, Samuele, who has a deeper understanding of the situation and who constantly watches for a chance to defy his captors, tells Roberto stories that become crucial to his sanity and lend a semblance of humanity to their desperate situation. When Roberto escapes, the book becomes a memorable survival story: He learns not to speak and give away his nationality, puzzles out the changing borders and alliances of the war, eats slugs in snow-covered streams to survive, and battles wild animals. Finally, by participating in the partigiano, who sabotage the war and work to hide endangered Jews, Roberto goes from victim to hero, seizing control of his life for a noble cause. Riveting. (Fiction. 12-14)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1997

Zach is constantly embarrassed by the antics of his younger sister, Eve, a child whom most adults find charming. But when Eve shows off once too often, the siblings—traveling alone in Australia—end up in a confrontation with a pair of bird- smugglers. The thieves throw them off a train in the middle of the outback; Zach and Eve need to survive their ordeal and stop the smugglers, too. Napoli (On Guard, 1996, etc.) works hard in the first half of the book to present Eve as a trial to Zach, and succeeds a little too well: Eve's behavior is so improvident that it's hard to believe she's been released from adult supervision, and Zach remains a commentator, without a personality of his own. By the time the children are battling giant lizards and scorpions in the desert, readers may have lost interest, and exciting action scenes can't quite bolster the ending, in which Zach and Eve learn to get along, the crooks are foiled, the bird is freed, and the children are heroes. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
ON GUARD by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Jan. 1, 1997

Having overcome his fear of drowning in When the Water Closes Over My Head (1994), Mikey advances further down the road of self-discovery when he witnesses a fencing demonstration and catches the fever. It's perfect: He can indulge his interest in weapons while truthfully assuring his parents that it's a sport, and not fighting. Meanwhile, he shores up his battered, middle-child's self-esteem and creates a class report on the history of swords that he hope will win the Olympic medal his fourth-grade teacher hands out every week. To his delight, Mikey has an aptitude to match his enthusiasm, and what he learns in his first few classes about balance, strategy, sensitivity, and sportsmanship pays immediate dividends—not just on the practice floor, but in a series of more conventional situations into which Napoli places him: dealing with a bully, nurturing a new friendship, and holding his own in his busy, good-natured family. The author writes authoritatively of this unusual martial art, and lays on lessons with a light hand. (Fiction. 9-11)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Napoli (Zel, p. 691, etc.) turns from folklore to the Bible for inspiration, and crafts a brutal, challenging tale. Living with her widower father, Miriam roams the countryside, sings from the treetops, and acts in other ways inappropriate for the women of Magdala. She suffers seizures (probably epileptic ones) and, believing she is possessed, keeps them a secret, so that she will not become an outcast. She is drawn to Abraham, son of a servant, who is almost completely paralyzed and therefore mistakenly thought to be an idiot; in exchange for her friendship, he teaches her to read, using songs from the Torah. Their feelings deepen into love; Abraham dies knowing that Miriam carries their son. Later, in a shocking scene, Miriam is raped, suffers another seizure, and miscarries. In her subsequent travels away from and then back to Magdala for a certain famous meeting, Miriam prays, sings, and meditates, trying to make sense of her life and future. As is true of the protagonists in Napoli's The Magic Circle (1993) and Zel, Miriam's trials make her a tragic figure but also strengthen her, freeing her from the physical and intellectual restraints imposed on those of her sex. The novel may not easily find an audience: Its length, stiff prose ("The yellow jasmine winds through the trees behind us in such profusion you think they are [sic] the sun itself"), and deliberate pace will prevent many readers from appreciating the intelligence with which Napoli develops her themes and characters. (Fiction. 12+)Read full book review >
ZEL by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

A passionate, painful elaboration of the story of Rapunzel, from the author who did the same for Hansel and Gretel in The Magic Circle (1993). Here again, the "witch" is the tragic figure: A woman unable to bear children but unable to exist without a child sells her soul for an eldritch power over all plants, bullies her terrified neighbors into giving up their newborn daughter, and spirits her away to a remote Swiss farm. Lovingly nurtured, Zel grows into a joyful, creative child, wholeheartedly devoted to the only mother she knows until she meets Konrad on a rare visit to town. Brutally torn between love and need, the witch imprisons Zel, and watches in anguish as the child's sanity begins to slip away with the seasons. Writing in present tense, using three alternating points of view, Napoli (Jimmy, The Pickpocket of the Palace, 1995, etc.) makes each incident immediate, each character's needs and longings sharply felt. She adheres closely to the traditional plot and, to a story already abrim with symbol and metaphor, she adds even more. This rich, complex reading may require an adult's sensibility and level of experience to absorb fully, but it powerfully renders the tale's inherent terror and tragedy. (Folklore. 12+)Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1995

In this sequel to the charming Prince of the Pond (1992), Jimmy, frog-son of the frog prince, must save the pond from the evil Hag, who is working on a spell to dry it up so she can find her lost magic ring. In the process, Jimmy finds himself turned into a human boy, a condition not at all to his liking. He is put to work in the palace, alternately aided and hindered by the tempestuous princess Sally. There he meets the fascinating prince; he is sympathetic, seems to know an awful lot about frogs, and may know something about Jimmy's missing father. Told in the first person by Jimmy, this enchanting story has a gentle, offbeat humor, much of which stems from Jimmy's retention of froggy characteristics while he is a boy. It also lends the proceedings an ineffable sweetness perfectly complemented by Schachner's b&w illustrations. With enough action, suspense, and humor for younger readers, this successful successor is certain to satisfy old fans and win new friends for the frog prince and his brood. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
SHARK SHOCK by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

Adam is back with a new fear and a different band of talking freckles. In Soccer Shock (1991), Adam used his unique ability to hear his freckles conversing to help him play soccer. Now he wants them to warn him if there are sharks in the water at the Jersey beach where he is spending the summer with his parents and sisters. The only problem is that his freckle pals, Gilbert and Frankie, have stopped talking—at least, Adam can't hear them anymore. Adam figures that if he can sensitize his ears he can talk with them, but he isn't about to get nearly hit by lightning, like he did the first time. Adam tries everything he can think of, from static shocks to putting hair conditioner in his ears, but he only succeeds when he nearly electrocutes himself while playing a video game under a sprinkler. Then his freckles start talking with a vengeance, only they aren't Gilbert and Frankie but the hostile female beauty marks on his shoulder. They are no help at all when it comes to sharks. They trick Adam whenever they can. When a blind boy, Seth, hears Adam conversing with the recalcitrant beauty marks, he and Adam strike up a conversation and become friends. Seth helps Adam tame his spots and overcome his fear of the water, and Adam gives Seth the understanding he needs to accept his blindness. A weird, meandering tale. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1994

By a gifted author (whose first three children's books range from Soccer Shock, 1991, to a hilarious frog-prince takeoff— Prince of the Pond, 1992—to the splendidly dark, intricately structured The Magic Circle, 1993), a genial family story that, in its forthright good humor and succinct handling of real issues, recalls Betsy Byars. Mikey, nine, hasn't learned to swim; his natural reluctance to go under water is exacerbated by a history of failure, embarrassment, and an insensitive teacher who literally throws children in. Meanwhile, Napoli portrays the kind of family every child should have: parents who know how to lay down the law cheerfully; four energetic, curious kids whose bickering is just one facet of their mutual affection. In addition to his phobia, the otherwise plucky Mikey is fascinated with weapons, to his mother's consternation (there's a delightful sequence involving rubber bands he gleans around the house and fashions into a slingshot, only to have a younger sib dismember it to sort the bands by color). In the end, with the help of some non-interfering advice from Mamma and Grandma, Mikey faces down his fear. The connection Napoli makes between this and with his preoccupation with guns and knives is almost too direct, but- -since Mikey's family is one where such things are explicitly discussed—it's in a believable context. A funny, easily read story that boys and girls alike should take to like ducks to water. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
THE MAGIC CIRCLE by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: June 1, 1993

The author of The Prince in the Pond (1992) leaps from that comic take on "The Frog Prince" to a dark, deeply thoughtful novel whose gifted, driven, and wholly sympathetic protagonist is Hansel and Gretel's witch. The hunchback known as "Ugly One" is a midwife who becomes a healer when she learns to draw, with a blessed object, a magic circle that cannot be invaded by the devil's minions; from safely within it, she can command them to leave their victims. But the demons eventually trick her with a ring she hopes to give her beloved daughter, now of an age to marry. Now the sorceress who has commanded devils becomes a witch subject to their demands; still, with great care, she avoids the potent temptation to devour a child, which would complete her damnation. Hansel and Gretel's arrival, in the novel's last pages, is a cruel test; with extraordinary artistry, Napoli shapes a conclusion in which the witch finds redemption by collaborating with a clever Gretel, who senses the meaning of her fiery death. Writing in a beautifully honed first-person present and summoning splendid imagery well grounded in folklore, psychology, and the natural world, Napoli delves into the mind and heart of a fascinating figure embodying Faust and Marguerite in one—a nurturer and lover of true beauty whose inner being is never truly corrupted by the dangerous knowledge she dares to exert on others' behalf. Richly poetic yet accessible and immediate; pungent and wise; mesmerizing. Splendid jacket by the Dillons. (Fiction. 11+)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

Poor Jade (or Jade-to-be, since "de fawg pin" has yet to name her): she's faced with a big, beautiful frog—such legs!—and he doesn't seem to have the foggiest notion about what to do with his tongue, or how to leap or avoid danger. She even has to teach him to mate, and then he insists on personally raising at least 50 of his hundreds of children. Still, though he never masters r's, l's and s's (hence "Pin" for "Prince"), he leaves his aristocratic mark on the pond world, as a hag-bewitched prince should. He also leaves Jade with the 50 tads when a passing princess accidentally plants a kiss on his proboscis. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the pond, another change is rung on the frog prince; this time, readers' sympathies will be with the frog's first wife, left with 50 upwardly mobile children. Nicely complemented by Schachner's charmingly whimsical (and anatomically informed) drawings, a book with an astonishing amount of in-depth natural history cleverly enmeshed in its endearing, screwball charm. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
SOCCER SHOCK by Donna Jo Napoli
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

Brainy Adam wants desperately to make the fifth-grade soccer team but doesn't have much chance until star player Grayson offers lessons in exchange for math tutoring—and, more importantly, Adam discovers that a lightning bolt's near miss has left him with the ability to hear the freckles on his knees talking, so that he has an efficient early-warning system on the playing field. The freckles really steal the show here, whether they're telling Adam that the ball's coming his way or the swing's about to break, or just commenting aimlessly on the gum under desks. Despite having to cope with classmate Kim's aggressive pursuit, Adam is feeling fine—until he temporarily skins off Gilbert, his best freckle, and has to face the soccer tryouts without his secret weapon. A well-written story with an affectionate, tolerant cast, a little elementary math and soccer instruction, and a funny premise. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 10-13)Read full book review >