Beguiling art props up a profile that reads like a school report.


A quick life of the great fantasist is given wings by allusive painted illustrations.

Aimed at children who know The Hobbit but aren’t quite up to tackling it on their own, the narrative takes “Ronald” from birth in South Africa through transplantation to England, experiences in World War I and postwar life up to the publication of Lord of the Rings. The selection of detail isn’t particularly discriminating. Intriguing information such as the famous anecdote about how the first line of The Hobbit popped into his head out of nowhere or notes about Gandalf’s origin and a relative’s farm called “Bag’s End” is interspersed with eye-glazing references to childhood changes of address or the formation of the Tolkien Society. The art provides a more studied route into the author’s imagination and achievements. Prettily rendered in soft lines and muted colors, it’s framed as a winding board game decorated with thematic words, depictions of elves and dragons, views of the author and his family at various ages, simple codes and highlighted scenes, all capped by facing portraits of Tolkien (“I am in fact a hobbit in all but size”) and Bilbo Baggins.

Beguiling art props up a profile that reads like a school report.   (timeline, bibliography, notes) (Picture book/biography. 7-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8234-1951-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2011

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            The legions of fans who over the years have enjoyed dePaola’s autobiographical picture books will welcome this longer gathering of reminiscences.  Writing in an authentically childlike voice, he describes watching the new house his father was building go up despite a succession of disasters, from a brush fire to the hurricane of 1938.  Meanwhile, he also introduces family, friends, and neighbors, adds Nana Fall River to his already well-known Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, remembers his first day of school (“ ‘ When do we learn to read?’  I asked.  ‘Oh, we don’t learn how to read in kindergarten.  We learn to read next year, in first grade.’  ‘Fine,’ I said.  ‘I’ll be back next year.’  And I walked right out of school.”), recalls holidays, and explains his indignation when the plot of Disney’s “Snow White” doesn’t match the story he knows.  Generously illustrated with vignettes and larger scenes, this cheery, well-knit narrative proves that an old dog can learn new tricks, and learn them surpassingly well.  (Autobiography.  7-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23246-X

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1999

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A ho-hum outing next to James Rumford’s first-class Traveling Man (2001).


A first-person précis of the journeys taken by the Muslim world’s greatest traveler.

Originally published in Arabic, Sharafeddine’s recast tale takes the 14th-century Ibn Battuta on a long, looping course from his home in Tangier to India, then on to China and back for visits to Grenada and Mali. Aside from the occasional storm or hyena attack, however, “his” narrative is a wearying recitation of place names hooked to vague details—“Cairo impressed me with its mosques and hospitals”—and repeated mentions of visits to local “theologians and legal scholars.” Furthermore, dates in the narrative are taken from the Christian calendar only, and the prose is sometimes inexpertly phrased: “I hired a camel to continue my journey”; “After ten years, he made me the ambassador of India in China.” The illustrations, done in a style reminiscent of Persian miniatures, feature large-eyed figures in period dress and evocative glimpses of grand architecture. These scenes are, however, integrated into maps that are so stylized that it’s seldom possible to get a clear picture of where the lands and cities are. The abrupt ending leaves readers who want to know more about Ibn Battuta to their own devices.

A ho-hum outing next to James Rumford’s first-class Traveling Man (2001). (Picture book/biography. 7-9)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55498-480-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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