Books by Paul Lee

BIOGRAPHY
Released: Jan. 1, 2003

A sizable dose of imagination seeks to illuminate the life of Phillis Wheatley, the 18th-century slave poet, but reveals more about the author than the subject. Lasky (Porkenstein, 2002, etc.) opens the story in the hold of the slaver Phillis and then follows Wheatley's life and career as she is purchased by the Wheatleys of Boston, learns to speak, read, and write English, and begins to write and then publish her own poems. Throughout, the author imputes thoughts and feelings—"Boston was the strangest sight Phillis had ever seen"—without substantiation and even introduces dialogue which, without documentation, can only be assumed to be invented—" ‘What will you call her?' John Wheatley asked his wife." Perhaps most poignantly, Phillis is presented as treasuring a memory of her mother making an offering to the morning sun; however, even in the poem to which Lasky refers for this image, it does not appear in Wheatley's own writing. Poignant indeed, but the only person the reader can be certain of treasuring this vision is Lasky herself. Lee's (Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way, 2001, etc.) acrylics glow with color, as if themselves lit by candlelight, effectively enhancing the sentimental mood of the narrative. The representations of Wheatley are clearly based on the only known portrait of the poet, the frontispiece of her volume of published poetry; a certain lack of expression in the illustrations, however, gives her an air of inscrutability. There is not a whiff of a bibliography, not even to refer readers to Wheatley's poetry, which is widely available in print and electronic formats. An author's note describes in lofty terms her motivations behind bringing Wheatley's story to a picture-book audience: "To be voiceless is to be dehumanized. . . . Phillis's first liberation came when she learned to read and write and discovered her own voice as a poet." It is a pity that Lasky chooses to impose her own feelings and voice upon this woman whose voice she purports to celebrate. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)Read full book review >
HANK AARON by Peter Golenbock
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2001

The veteran sportswriter, whom readers will remember from his affecting story of Jackie Robinson and PeeWee Reese (Teammates, 1990), takes the real-life tale of baseball slugger Hank Aaron and fashions it into a fable of hope, endurance, and faith. Aaron's father wished him the joy of baseball, and his mother wanted him to make a difference in the world. A childhood of grinding poverty included both schoolwork and baseball, and by the time he was 16, a local team wanted him and the color line had been broken in the majors. Aaron joined the Milwaukee Braves in 1954 as a powerful home-run hitter. When he began to close in on Babe Ruth's record of 714 homers, he also began to get nasty letters. Two of the most powerful illustrations in Lee's muscular acrylics are of Aaron standing before a wall of ugly hate mail and swinging in front of a looming image of the Babe. The art is made in the sunny, saturated colors of baseball cards, and the one of Aaron at full extension tossing the bat away as he heads for first is as pretty a piece of baseball art as can be imagined. Aaron did break Ruth's record, he did receive an outpouring of support, and his mom was there in 1974 when he hit #715. Pair this for the perfect spring story hour with Lesa Cline-Ransome's Satchel Paige (not reviewed) and Elisha Cooper's Ballpark (1998). (Picture book/biography. 6-9)Read full book review >
THE GOOD LUCK CAT by Harjo
by Harjo, illustrated by Paul Lee
ANIMALS
Released: April 1, 2000

Poet Harjo's first children's book is a highdrama tale of a cat with more than nine lives. The narrator, an adolescent Native American girl, has a cat named Woogie. Woogie is all soft fur and electricgreen eyes, and she confers a bit of good luck on all those who give her a stroking. She is also capable of her share of mischief and accidents and close calls, eight of which the narrator tells in the story, each caught in the direst moment by Lee in expressive, highly polished illustrations that project the burnished colors of late autumn. The incidents are both comical and slightly scary: Woogie falls asleep under the hood of the car by the warm engine and then is rudely awakened, or falls out of a tree and lands on her head rather than her feet, or gets chased by her cousin's dog. But eight lives are now spent and when Woogie goes missing, the girl is badly worried. Woogie does return, minus half an ear, so she must be a good luck cat indeed to have returned at all. Anyone who has loved a cat will find plenty to identify with here, and those who haven't had the pleasure will get a sense of what they are missing in terms of affection and missed heartbeats. (Picture book. 4-6)Read full book review >
ARMISTAD RISING by Veronica Chambers
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 1998

If oceans could talk and shores could speak, according to Chambers, they would tell a story of Joseph CinquÇ and his freedom fight aboard the Spanish slave ship Amistad. This gripping, fictionalized picture-book account outlines a shameful slice of American history that some children will know from the recent film. In the days when owning slaves was legal but the stealing and trafficking of human cargo was not, a band of African prisoners were herded onto the Amistad. Despite all attempts to break their spirit and render them chattel, a struggle on the high seas ensued, and the leader, CinquÇ, overtook his captors. Complications landed the Africans in a Connecticut prison, sparking an international incident; the early American justice system did not fail the "Black Prince" and his fellow freedom fighters. The hero's journey is told in straightforward narration, bracketed by exalted musings about freedom. In Lee's first picture book, the strong lines and chiseled faces against dark backgrounds transmit the emotional trajectory of the story, taking it from the pages of history to a near-mythic tragedy. The hopeful outcome is succinctly communicated by the closing page's illustration of empty, open shackles. (Picture book. 8-11) Read full book review >