An amateurish James Bond–style shoot-’em-up that would leave even Ian Fleming running for cover.
Reb Barnett is your basic stuntman/art-history guy. It’s a good thing he’s had lots of training in Sherlock Holmes, Leonardo da Vinci, karate, and firearms, because he’s going to need all of it for the mission that fate has in store for him. In 1491, when Leonardo wasn’t inventing everything we now take for granted, he stumbled upon an alloy so strong and lightweight it was obvious that it would be used for nefarious international military affairs even before the New World was discovered. Naturally, Leonardo made a dagger out of it, hid it, and created a puzzle so complicated that only some future traveler with good in his heart would be able to find it. The pieces of the puzzle floated about for half a millennium, and little Reb’s parents were murdered for the myth. Big mistake. Little Reb—that suggests “rebel,” don’t you know—grows into Big Reb, who is empty of soul and cries a lot, but who also has kickass written all over him. Reb needs a female counterpart to make him complete—ah, here she comes—and now he is fully prepared to battle the insidious arms dealers who will use the alloy to create smart stealth bombs that can be dropped from space. Don’t ask how. West first hit the New York Times bestseller list in 1999 with First Person Plural, an account of his DID condition—multiple personalities. We seem to be experiencing a less interesting one this time around. Or maybe not: our simplistic story nevertheless required collaboration with someone named Seamus Slattery. It’s enough to make you wonder whether West—not his real name; and don’t feel sorry for him: Tom Cruise has already bought the story—isn’t being exploited.
This vibrant, thoughtful book from Katz (Over the Moon, 1997) continues her tribute to her adopted daughter, Lena, born in Guatemala. Lena is “seven. I am the color of cinnamon. Mom says she could eat me up”; she learns during a painting lesson that to get the color brown, she will have to “mix red, yellow, black, and white paints.” They go for a walk to observe the many shades of brown: they see Sonia, who is the color of creamy peanut butter; Isabella, who is chocolate brown; Lucy, both peachy and tan; Jo-Jin, the color of honey; Kyle, “like leaves in fall”; Mr. Pellegrino, the color of pizza crust, golden brown. Lena realizes that every shade is beautiful, then mixes her paints accordingly for portraits of her friends—“The colors of us!” Bold illustrations celebrate diversity with a child’s open-hearted sensibility and a mother’s love. (Picture book. 6-8)
Florian’s seventh collection of verse is also his most uneven; though the flair for clever rhyme that consistently lights up his other books, beginning with Monster Motel (1993), occasionally shows itself—“Hello, my name is Dracula/My clothing is all blackula./I drive a Cadillacula./I am a maniacula”—too many of the entries are routine limericks, putdowns, character portraits, rhymed lists that fall flat on the ear, or quick quips: “It’s hard to be anonymous/When you’re a hippopotamus.” Florian’s language and simple, thick-lined cartoons illustrations are equally ingenuous, and he sticks to tried-and-true subjects, from dinosaurs to school lunch, but the well of inspiration seems dry; revisit his hilarious Bing Bang Boing (1994) instead. (index) (Poetry. 8-10)