Books by J. Alison James

THE FAIRY TALE OF THE WORLD by Georg Büchner
Released: Nov. 1, 2010

Once there was a poor child who had no father or mother—they, like everyone in the world, had died. In search of heaven, the lonely boy traverses the cosmos, but all that symbolizes hope and possibility is found worthless and what seemed bright and beautiful reeks of despair. The Earth is an empty vessel, and the moon, sun and stars become metaphors for the desolation and disease of the universe. Based on a story found in Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck, Amann's bleak adaptation offers a conversation piece for sophisticated readers. Bhend's lyrical artwork, done in colored pencil and mixed media, with its soft colors and texture, is a welcome contrast to the blackness of space and story. While her style seems simple, her cerebral images aptly represent the child's complex, metaphysical journey and are appropriately ripe with symbols. It is she who leaves readers with the idea that peace and comfort may be possible; the barren, dark realm evoked by the words demands this mercy. This may be a good companion for those studying Büchner, but it's sure not for the usual picture-book audience. (Picture book. 12 & up)Read full book review >
SNOW LEOPARDS by Nicole Poppenhäger
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 2006

Brother and sister snow leopards Simi and Siri are born moments apart, but the male cub Simi is born small and weak. Determined to survive, Simi learns to keep up with his heartier sister and use his small size to his advantage. However, caught in an avalanche, Simi realizes that he's no match for nature's elements and is separated from his mother and sister; with luck and a human's help the siblings are reunited. Muted watercolor full-page illustrations playfully chronicle the cubs' development, separation and reunion, and the illustrations' fine details make this text suitable for close-up independent or one-on-one reading. Despite featuring a relatively simple and easy-to-follow storyline, this text, which is translated from French, is wordy and the language used lacks energy, especially in the supposedly tense moments of the siblings' separation. A dense one-page fact-based afterword provides details about snow leopards and reminds readers of the importance of protecting this endangered species. (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
THE DRUMS OF NOTO HANTO by J. Alison James
Released: Sept. 1, 1999

On Noto Hanto, which points "upward like a thumb into the Sea of Japan," a wealthy coastal village is under threat from a warlord seeking riches. They have little in the way of weapons, but they do have their drums—drums of all sizes, usually played at each change of season. The children provide the idea of using terrifying masks to make the warlord, Kenshin, and his men "melt" in fear. The samurai arrive by boat, spotting gruesome monsters on shore and hearing the overwhelming noise of the drums; frightened by the spectacle, they never disembark. The people of Noto Hanto have celebrated this 1576 victory annually in a mask-wearing, drum-beating ceremony. At first glance, the colorful illustrations have the precision of computer-generated art, but they are actually scenes composed of meticulous cut-paper designs. The dimension and texture of these complement James's sound-effects-laden text; the suspense builds with each beat as the villagers fight to save Noto Hanto, and readers are certain to have the pounding of drums in their ears by the story's conclusion. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
THE BLIND FAIRY by Brigitte Schär
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 1, 1998

A formulaic story of good against evil gets a surrealistic lift from the Dal°-esque artwork of Gukova. A blind fairy princess sits alone in a room atop a gloomy mountain overlooking a dying valley. Every day she waits for visitors who never come; she is a captive of evil dwarves who have tricked her into believing they are her servants. Longing to talk with the children of the valley the princess chases their laughter, ending up outside the castle walls where she meets an old woman who reveals the truth about the dwarves. As the fairy reclaims her magic powers, both she and the valley change forever, but literal-minded children may be perplexed. The blind fairy is only blind until she remembers who she is, and the ruthless dwarves seem a cruel stereotype. There isn't enough fancy to make this a fairy tale, nor is there enough flesh on the story to lift the characters beyond mere symbols. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
LITTLE POLAR BEAR AND THE BRAVE LITTLE HARE by Hans de Beer
ANIMALS
Released: Nov. 1, 1998

Little Polar Bear And The Brave Little Hare (32 pp.; $15.95; PLB $15.88; Nov. 1; 0-7358-1011-7; PLB 0- 7358-1012-5): Lars (Little Polar Bear, Take Me Home!, 1996, etc.) gains a new friend in his latest adventure. In his trademark pink, purple, and blue pastel-colored arctic landscape, Lars saves Hugo, a nervous hare, from a hole. As fast friends they race, get caught in a storm, snuggle up against one another for warmth, share a picnic, and find their way home, but not before Hugo gets to show his own courage by getting Lars out of a jam. Such teamwork and fond friendship will win readers' hearts while the falling snow and expressive faces will dazzle their eyes. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
GOOD-BYE, VIVI! by Antonie Schneider
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

An extremely gentle look at aging and death. When Grandmother moves into Molly and Will's house, she brings along Vivi, a lively canary who starts out as the glue in their relationship. Along with Grandmother, the children marvel at the bird's charm day after day until elderly Vivi passes away. Grandmother teaches the children how to cope, going through rituals and explaining that memories can keep loved ones alive. When Grandmother doesn't awake from her sleep one morning, Will and Molly face a bigger loss, but are somewhat consoled by a poignant surprise: Grandmother had left them a memory book full of pictures and stories of their shared moments with Vivi. Although the text (translated from the German) is a bit clunky, and the theme well-trodden, readers will find Granny's offering heartwarming, and the illustrations soft and inviting. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
RAINBOW FISH AND THE BIG BLUE WHALE by Marcus Pfister
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

Pfister's winking do-gooder returns; Rainbow Fish and his pals find their krill-eating grounds mooched upon by a huge blue whale. The whale appears to mean no harm, and when the "fish with the ragged fins" calls him a "wicked whale," his feelings are hurt. Accordingly, he menaces the school until Rainbow Fish enters into peace talks. Thereupon the scales are smoothed, the blowholes quieted, and the sea creatures return to a state of bliss: "It was a wonderful life." It's almost painfully formulaic, but some children will never get enough of Rainbow Fish, who has now been promoted to ambassador of peace of the pelagic domain. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
HOW LEO LEARNED TO BE KING by Marcus Pfister
ANIMALS
Released: March 15, 1998

A king is deposed, a lesson is learned, and a message is delivered, all in the pages of a quick-moving, intriguing tale of the jungle. Pfister's prose flows jauntily as he describes Leo, a pompous and pretty useless king of beasts. When a humble warthog complains about Leo's ceaseless roaring and is about to be smacked into the next kingdom, another beast intervenes, and Leo is banished as the extraneous member he is. Leo is stunned: "It has always been this way. Why should I change?" But he observes that everyone gets along fine without him, and further notices that he can be of help to others; after completing several acts of charity, he is welcomed back. Eschewing the trappings of crown and throne, Leo understands that it is a privilege to serve. The pages feature inviting colors of the savannah: rich greens and complex combinations of tans and browns. Pfister creates the animals in his trademark wet-on-wet technique, but when the facial expressions are crucial, he brings in details and puts the message in focus. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
THE GHOST IN THE CLASSROOM by Gerda Wagener
ANIMALS
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

From Wagener (A Mouse in the House!, 1995, etc.), a comic and unusual easy-to-read from Switzerland, about a girl who longs for a cat, and the supernatural creature that helps her get her wish. Tina's parents are adamant about the cat: ``Subject closed.'' A rude, ``rodent-sized'' ghost, Otto, in her lunchbox, who disrupts the classroom with his pranks, gains acceptance with Tina's good-natured teacher, but at home, the girl is blamed for the spirit's bad behavior. When Tina's father discovers in a book that cats chase away ghosts, her dream of a pet is realized at the animal shelter. The surprise is that Otto had planned exactly that result when he first showed up. Clever and fast-paced, the story is a nice change from most pet stories. Waas's illustrations are agreeably cartoonish when portraying the ghost in its incarnations; the more realistic scenes are filled with warmth and humor. (Fiction. 7-11) Read full book review >
MEREDITH, THE WITCH WHO WASN'T by Dorothea Lachner
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Meredith is a witch, but she avoids the usual witchy trappings and doesn't really like magic, so her spells suffer. When the head witch, Melusina Firebird, decertifies Meredith, the hapless witch knows she ought to be sad, but she's notshe's too busy with all of the things she can do with her time now that she doesn't have to study spells. ``The only magic she used was a kiss on her thumb when she accidentally hit it with the hammer.'' When Melusina drops in for a visit, tasting the cake Meredith made from scratch and relaxing in the handmade tree house, she is so impressed she recertifies a protesting Meredith. `` `Spells, bells,' Melusina Firebird scoffed. `Your magic is more powerful than mere enchantments.' '' It's a point delivered with a light touch, ably crafted and colored in Unzner's exuberant paintings. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
WAKE UP, SANTA CLAUS! by Marcus Pfister
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 16, 1996

Wake Up, Santa Claus! ($15.95; PLB $15.88; Sept. 16, 1996; 32 pp.; 1-55858-605-9; PLB 1-55858-606-7): Santa oversleeps, can't find his boots, forgets to shovel the walkway, feed the reindeer, bag the presents. Then comes the big clue: Santa's sleigh runners are cracked and rusted. A bad dream is what we have here, and Santa wakes to his alarm clock and finds everything shipshape. Despite Santa's frantic behavior, readers will soon be able to predict that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and may guess that there's a misunderstanding somewhere. This is best served to Pfister's many fans, who won't see the framed picture of Rainbow Fish on the wall as a not-so-subtle piece of cross-promotion. (Picture book. 3-7) Read full book review >
WAKE UP, GRIZZLY! by Wolfgang Bittner
ANIMALS
Released: June 1, 1996

In this beguiling work, a human father and son enjoy a flight of fancy, imagining themselves as bears. Toby wakes to what he thinks is the loud growl of a bear in the house and discovers it's only his father snoring. His father goes along with the idea, however, declaring himself Big Grizzly and naming his son Little Grizzly. They go into their dark den under the quilt, where they eat ``Gummy Bears'' for breakfast and fend off would-be predators. Rosemffet strikes gold by depicting Toby and his father as bears while they are under the quilt, giving readers a window into Toby's imagination. This special moment of togetherness between parent and child is convincingly captured in both text and art. Mom has a nice role, too. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
THE ANGEL AND THE CHILD by Dominique Falda
CHILDREN'S
Released: Dec. 1, 1995

An unusual meditation on a brief series of events concerning a small angel on earth. The angel plays the concertina, plants a tree, meets a child, and gives the child a gift. While he does so, readers consider, among other things, the distinctions and affiliations between the presumed experience of an angel and that of a child, the meaning of the varied objects found in a pocket, and the nature of birdsong. The book requires readers to start to think about each spread as a separate chapter with its own questions and observations. With cartoon angels on color-washed backgrounds full of enlightening details, the book may not be profound, but it touches upon some of the fascinations and curiosities of angels that remain of enduring interest to young and old alike. Unusual and thought-provoking. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
RAINBOW FISH TO THE RESCUE! by Marcus Pfister
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

A sequel to Rainbow Fish (1992), this morality tale begins when Rainbow Fish and his new friends, all ensconced in flashing scales, won't let a striped fish without a flashing scale play with them. When a shark threatens the outsider, the other fish (with the Rainbow Fish in the lead) repent, rescue it, and invite it to join in their game. The green-blue-purple illustrations have a luminous, underwater feel, and the fishwith colorful, sparkling scales, puffy lips, and big, expressive eyeslook quite sympathetic. This simple book, short and sweet, will be a hit with preschool students of ethics as well as fans of the first glittering book. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
NIGHT FLIGHT by Dominique Falda
BEDTIME BOOK
Released: Dec. 15, 1994

Sitting with his two companions, a cat and a bird, little Julian contemplates reaching a rabbit in the moon. The inventive Julian builds a ladder that is too short, and a flying machine that doesn't work. He finally comes up with the idea of a flying ship held up with balloons, but this, too, ultimately fails. Julian plummets to Earth and passes out. He awakens to soft hands cradling his head and—next thing we know—Julian is in love. Even a child's imagination can't make sense of the characters that newcomer Falda conjures. And the message is equally obscure: Does Julian fail in his quest? Does he come to his senses? Does falling in love nullify all other pursuits? None of these possibilities is satisfying. A journey into mediocrity. (Fiction/Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
MIA THE BEACH CAT by Wolfram Hänel
ANIMALS
Released: Dec. 1, 1994

Maggie is spending her holiday with her parents and her stuffed tiger at the sea, but her parents' idea of a good time is relaxing for hours in the sun, and her tiger is not really made for water sports. Maggie is left to her own devices. For a while she occupies herself making sand castles and collecting shells, but she is lonely. Then one day Maggie finds Mia the cat, who becomes her summer playmate. Every morning, without fail, she is there on the beach when Maggie arrives. But one day Mia is nowhere to be found. Maggie frantically searches for her friend, and it occurs to her that Mia must be near the fishing boats. Sure enough Mia has stowed away on one of the boats and is now returning to the dock on its prow. Mia sees Maggie and excitedly jumps towards her. She lands in the water, but they fish her out. On Maggie's last day of vacation, she smuggles Mia into her parents' car. Maggie's mother asks innocently about the cat as Maggie and her father share a secret wink and Mia purrs her contentment. An appealing story for young animal lovers from HÑnel (Lila's Little Dinosaur, p. 1530). (Fiction. 7-9) Read full book review >
PENGUIN PETE AND LITTLE TIM by Marcus Pfister
ANIMALS
Released: Dec. 1, 1994

On this particular snowy day, Penguin Pete (Penguin Pete, not reviewed) takes his son, Tim, out for a walk. They have a snowball fight, go sledding, and slide down long slopes together. Suddenly, Tim loses his father in the snow. He is found by a seal who invites him for a swim. Tim knows that he must remain in one place when he is lost so that Pete can locate him, but he mischievously disobeys. Eventually his father finds Tim and they happily make their way home. The unclear message in this book may mislead the young reader. Tim's blatant disregard for an important rule doesn't even merit a lecture from Pete, and Tim leaves the incident none the wiser. The adorable illustrations are the only appealing thing about this dull, confused penguin tale. (Fiction/Picture book. 3-5) Read full book review >
LILA'S LITTLE DINOSAUR by Wolfram Hänel
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 15, 1994

The little dinosaur follows Lila home from the Museum of Natural History, where Lila had been explaining to her father all about the different dinosaurs. She tells him to wait for her in the museum, but the incorrigible creature sneaks out anyway. Lila rescues him from the street, brings him to her house, feeds him, and puts him to bed. In the morning, however, the dinosaur is gone, and Lila thinks she dreamt the whole thing. She sadly gets ready for school, only somewhat soothed when her parents offer to buy her a dog or a cat. Then her father drops her off at school, and as he pulls away in the car, who should she see in the back seat but her colorful friend? Who needs a pet dog, thinks Lila, when you have a pet dinosaur? This easy reader has all the qualities necessary for success: a clever little heroine, dinosaur lore, and an adorable rainbow-colored baby dinosaur that only children can see. And it doesn't lose anything in the translation. (Fiction. 7-9) Read full book review >
THE MOON MAN by Gerda Marie Scheidl
by Gerda Marie Scheidl, translated by J. Alison James, illustrated by Wilkon
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 15, 1994

An engaging fantasy about a cheery, moon-faced figure that slips from a picture little Marion has drawn and hung above her bed and goes out into the night. Although a cat points out that ``Only the real moon can shine,'' burglars try to use the Moon Man for a light; thinking he's the real moon, a fisherman takes him home; at the zoo, he uses his paper-thin fingers to unlock cages; and a giraffe sets him on a mountain where he meets the real moon and is burnished with star dust so that when he goes back to Marion's picture he has a gentle glow. These adventures, developed with a childlike logic, are gracefully recounted in James's excellent translation. Wilk¢n sets the action in a lush and lovely dream world; his smiling, pink-cheeked Moon Man is charming. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
THE RETURN OF RINALDO, THE SLY FOX by Ursel Scheffler
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

A crafty malefactor (Rinaldo, the Sly Fox, 1992) once again tricks his way through several funny chapters. First seen truly and deservedly bound with rope, he persuades a hare to free him, then springs his unwitting ``accomplice'' from jail and hides out in his cell. After a sleazy sojourn with a couple of gas-pumping raccoons for whom he drums up trade, and working a double deal on a field of rocks, he's royally conned in turn by a gorgeous cat- -but manages to leave his old antagonist Bruno (a duck detective) holding the bag. Gider's lighthearted, cartoon-style illustrations extend the idea that the clever fox's tricks are no more than an entertaining game. Good light reading. (Young reader. 5-9) Read full book review >
RUNA by J. Alison James
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 17, 1993

Just before Runa arrives at her Swedish grandfather (``Morfar's'') home, she survives two life-threatening accidents- -a traffic mishap back in the US and a freak fall from the boat on the way to Gotland; once there, there's another in the old church tower, plus the unnerving discovery that, over the centuries, several girls in her family (including Morfar's sister) died accidentally on their 13th birthdays—on Midsummer's Day, as Runa's will be in a few days. Runa's fear that she'll be the next victim is intensified by visions of her Viking ancestors, revealing the terrible outcome of a mother's failure to return her child's love—a cruel sacrifice doomed to reenactment unless Runa can break the chain. The fantasy element here is unusually imaginative, drawing on the myths of Baldur and Iphigenia as well as Judeo-Christian tradition to explore the idea of sacrifice (or the scapegoat) and mounting to a startling climax. Meanwhile, James creates several likable, realistic characters, including Runa's two young Swedish friends and three adults. Breaking genre tradition, Runa confides in them all, to different degrees; unfortunately, their supportive responses are unevenly realized—nice, normal folk, their anxious sympathy and concerned advice sit uneasily with the heroism Runa summons to face the terror of what may be her impending death. Easy blends of fantasy and reality are rare—Susan Cooper and E. Nesbit come to mind. This isn't in their league; still, it's a vivid and compelling tale. (Fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >
LORETTA AND THE LITTLE FAIRY by Gerda Marie Scheidl
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 15, 1993

A pleasant, if unexceptional, story about a lonely little girl who meets a fairy just her size. Though she can't do ``real magic'' until she grows up, ``Fairy'' is often invisible. Hoping to help her grow up, Loretta takes the fairy to school to learn to read and then home to bake a cake; but it's helping Loretta make friends with despised Karen next door that wins the fairy her coveted adulthood. The story is a bit simplistic—but truly childlike. It may not even occur to readers that the fairy could be an imaginary friend; and they're sure to be drawn to the easily read chapters by the entrancing pen and watercolor illustrations, where a fairy-tale world glimmers elusively in the background of each appealingly detailed scene. (Fiction/Young reader. 5-8) Read full book review >
NIKI'S LITTLE DONKEY by Coby Hol
by Coby Hol, illustrated by Coby Hol, translated by J. Alison James
ANIMALS
Released: April 1, 1993

Her father (``Baba'') says they won't be able to keep the donkey's new baby; when he's old enough, he must be sold. Still, Niki's grandmother suggests that Niki might earn the money to buy him. Niki gives up play to ``work like a grownup,'' finding odd jobs in the marketplace or at her uncle's cafÇ; fortunately, when she offers Baba the proceeds, he accepts. The simple story makes a good showcase for Greek island life, represented in Niki's tasks and the economic necessity that makes them valuable. Hol's torn-paper collages, creatively incorporating other materials like newsprint and fabric, capture the village scene in a subtle array of lovely, light hues nicely set off by a soft blue sky that, surprisingly, evokes the dazzled eye's response to the brighter colors. A warmhearted story with a felicitous translation and attractive format. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
RINALDO, THE SLY FOX by Ursel Scheffler
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

In the crime spree that is this easy chapter book's focus, the eponymous villain is part rogue, part gentleman-bandit, part duty- shirking Tom Sawyer. Rinaldo doesn't miss a trick: nestling into hotel life long enough to steal a valuable necklace from a feckless hen before ducking the bill; getting the owner of a glitzy car to participate in its theft; tricking an army of animals into planting a crop of corn for him. But for dissecting the criminal mind, none is better than Bruno, the Duck Detective; and when the two old enemies finally face, readers will be in a fine fettle trying to determine just who won. In the never-ending struggle between good and evil, perhaps it doesn't matter. Those just mastering reading will light into this funny adventure, which pays homage to the clichÇs of the suspense genre as easily as it parodies them. Fortunately for moralists, Gider's vivid watercolors take the sting out of Rinaldo's mischief; in these scenes, he seems a benign smirker who, though doing no one any good, is not really doing them any harm, either. (Fiction. 7-9) Read full book review >
SING FOR A GENTLE RAIN by J. Alison James
Released: Oct. 30, 1990

A half-Indian teen-ager who lives with his grandfather while his singer mother is perpetually on tour is summoned backward into time by the powerful ritual song of an Anasazi girl, Spring Rain, whose grandfather believes she is destined to bear a son who will become their people's leader. For weeks, James has been visited by an elusive dream centering on a haunting song. He sets out on a solitary camping trip, sleeps on a lonely mesa, and awakes 700 years earlier during the drought that may have caused the mysterious disappearance of the flourishing Anasazi culture. He knows enough about these people to recognize them; haltingly, he and Spring Rain begin to communicate and share their languages, though most of her people are more wary of this stranger. This beautifully imagined story is well grounded in what is known of the ancient peoples of the Southwest and in the believable characterization of a bright boy, at odds with his own time, whose circumstances open him to a rich experience that grows out of his complex heritage. James's ancient village is a believable mixture of what is known and what might have been; she handles the transitions in time with poetic grace and develops the delicate love story with touches of realistic detail that make it more poignantly plausible. A historical note sorting out fact from conjecture would have been a helpful addition; still, a well-wrought, entertaining novel. Read full book review >