Books by Robert Van Nutt

Released: June 12, 2001

The ever-so-slight Cobtown series (The Monster in the Shadows, 2000, etc.) arrives at the Fourth of July, and baseball, without much energy behind it. As usual, the story comes from the diary of Lucky Hart, who at age ten in 1845 is the shortstop for her town's team. Cobtown's disappeared from the local maps (mouse damage) and been renamed Carbuncle. No one is happy, certainly not the baseball team, now the Carbuncle Skyrockets. On the Fourth, they will face the Ploomajiggy Unbeatables (P.U., it says on their uniforms) under the newly adopted rules of "base ball." The only way to get the town's name back is to find the original town marker, which no one remembers ever seeing. But they do find an old recipe for snickerdoodles (duly reproduced) and Aunt Heddy promises a batch of the cookies to whoever locates the marker. A bumptious goat and a pig figure prominently in both the town's restoration and the baseball game. The illustrations, which have the hard sheen and roundheaded geometry of computer images or bad cartoon art, perk up a bit in the small vignettes like the team rosters and the rule book. But there are long pages of handwritten text that will definitely challenge any reader. Earnest in its silliness, but ho-hum and way too much reading. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

Lucky Hart, ten, lives in the fictional 19th-century town of Cobtown, a village peopled with colorful characters. The story, told through Lucky's diary, tells the tale of the day the Adapulgus, a horrifying, bloodthirsty monster came to town. Captain Ragg, a slick con man, and his sidekick Short Tooth announce to the town that they have captured a fearsome beast that they will display to the town for the small fee of 25 cents per person in a tent erected for just that very purpose. The excitement in Cobtown builds all day until most of the townspeople, some considerably nervous, are sitting inside the tent listening to frightening noises emanating from behind the curtain. Just as Captain Ragg is about to introduce the beast, a commotion occurs backstage and Captain Ragg, feigning panic, tells the crowd that the beast has disappeared and is on the loose and urges everyone to run for their lives. The people flee in terror and Lucky takes refuge in her friend Fliberty Jibbert's shed. Unfortunately for Captain Ragg and Short Tooth, the two swindlers also decide to hide out at Fliberty's, where Lucky overhears the two crooks gloating about how they've fleeced the townsfolk. But ever resourceful and creative, Fliberty has a plan of his own—he performs his famous hand shadows, creates a terrifying shadow monster on the wall, and scares the bejeezus out of the two rapscallions. Thinking the monster is real, Ragg and Short Tooth flee in fright, leaving behind the bag of coins they've cheated from the gullible townspeople. The title page and the last page with the hand shadows on it are the most visually interesting and attractive pages, more interesting than the rest of the illustrations, which are overly slick and clearly owe a great deal to Disney animation. Lengthy text makes this a fun story that works as a read-aloud for younger children and which older children will enjoy reading themselves. (Picture book. 6-10)Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1998

A nostalgic look at an time gone by, this winsome Christmas tale is suffused with warmth and glad tidings. The diary of Lucky Hart tells of the miraculous events of Christmas, 1945, following some bleak days, when a lost blind man speaking a foreign language shows up in town, a curiously exhausted stray dog appears, and the pump organ is broken, which means that Lucky won't be able to sing the much anticipated "Cobtown Hymn." The blind man and his dog are reunited, and he plays the hymn on his musical bells. The Van Nutts, through Lucky's observations of the townspeople and their preparations for the holiday, skillfully evoke a sense of daily life during this period. Clippings of recipes, railroad tickets, and whimsical sketches from the diary's pages contribute to the sense of realism. The December 24th edition of The Cobtown Observer printed on the front and back inside covers provides engaging anecdotes with a period feel for readers to peruse. The illustrations depicting a quaint village and homespun entertainments—e.g., a skating party—breathe life into Cobtown and its inhabitants. A generous slice of Americana. (Picture book. 4-10) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

Ross (Shakespeare and Macbeth, 1994) takes a look at Charlotte Brontâ's life and how it influenced the writing of Jane Eyre, hoping to inspire readers to tackle that novel. Lovely full-color and black-and-white illustrations bring readers powerful images of both Charlotte's and Jane's lives, which contained many similar themes, e.g., Jane Eyre's cruel experiences at Lowood School reflect Charlotte's unhappiness at the Cowan Bridge Clergy Daughters' School. In addition to the parallels between Charlotte and her fictional creation, Ross focuses on how the writer developed her craft: She read widely, indulged in ``scriblomania,'' wrote make-believe fantasies lifting herself ``out of the small world of Haworth,'' and studied with Monsieur Constantin Heger in Brussels. Ross also discusses Jane Eyre, and why it was unique when it was published (it was neither Gothic horror nor a tale of domestic manners). The insert in which that is disclosed and other inserts—on fatal diseases, Victorian England, etc.—are interesting, but also interfere with the flow of the story. Still, this is a creative approach to biography, certain to encourage readers to take longer looks at Charlotte Brontâ's novels and her life. (chronology, further reading) (Nonfiction. 8-11) Read full book review >
THE GIFT OF A TRAVELER by Wendy Matthews
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A bright debut—Matthews shows a rare command of the story-within-a-story format. In a contemporary setting, seven-year-old Christine is drafted to help her great-grandmother trim the Christmas tree. The appearance of a special ornament launches the old woman into a tale of her childhood in turn-of-the-century Romania. There, lost in the snow on a freezing Christmas Eve, she stumbles upon a traveler and his tame wolf. He helps her home and is invited in for a meal and shelter for the night. After leaving her a gift for the family tree, he vanishes. Van Nutt's illustrations serve as folkloric decorations for a warm and brilliant tale, like a Yuletide fire stoked with memories of lost Christmases. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 20, 1994

"Van Nutt's wild paintings, breathless compositions that bring an alien landscape to life, give a welcome sense of humor to this moral tale. (Folklore/Picture book. All ages)"
A three-year drought is upon the land. The merchant Yue heads south to sell his goods. Read full book review >