Brown (A Voice from the Wilderness, 2001, etc.) continues his series of picture-book biographies of lesser-known figures with a tale of the life of Saint Columcille, the sixth-century prince and monk better known by the Latin form of his name, Columba. In Ireland in Columcille’s time, “Reading and writing were like magic, and the people who knew their secrets as rare as wizards. Columcille became one of them.” When a former teacher, Finnian, would not permit him to copy a book of psalms, he did so in secret. The high king Diarmait ruled that the copy, too, belonged to Finnian and a fierce battle erupted. Though Columcille got his book back, he was devastated at the bloodshed, and took a leather boat to Iona, off the coast of Scotland. The monastery he founded there, and its scriptorium, dispatched books “like small boats on a dark and wild sea.” Reading as magical and books as worthy of being fought over are lovely lessons laid out in this powerful story. Brown’s usual tender watercolors take on a darker hue. Double-paged, wordless spreads of the battle and of the sea add to the depth of the images, as do lucid step-by-step pictures of the making of a manuscript book and the building of a coracle (leather boat). An alphabet of exquisite Irish uncial letters and an author’s note add to the richness. This works on many levels to delight and to inspire: as a stirring read-aloud, as a saint’s biography, and as a beautiful picture book. (bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7613-1534-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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Absolutely wonderful in every way.


A long-forgotten chapter in New York City history is brilliantly illuminated.

In mid-19th-century New York, horses and horse-drawn vehicles were the only means of transportation, and the din created by wheels as they rumbled on the cobblestones was deafening. The congestion at intersections threatened the lives of drivers and pedestrians alike. Many solutions were bandied about, but nothing was ever done. Enter Alfred Ely Beach, an admirer of “newfangled notions.” Working in secret, he created an underground train powered by an enormous fan in a pneumatic tube. He built a tunnel lined with brick and concrete and a sumptuously decorated waiting room for passenger comfort. It brought a curious public rushing to use it and became a great though short-lived success, ending when the corrupt politician Boss Tweed used his influence to kill the whole project. Here is science, history, suspense, secrecy, and skulduggery in action. Corey’s narrative is brisk, chatty, and highly descriptive, vividly presenting all the salient facts and making the events accessible and fascinating to modern readers. The incredibly inventive multimedia illustrations match the text perfectly and add detail, dimension, and pizazz. Located on the inside of the book jacket is a step-by-step guide to the creative process behind these remarkable illustrations.

Absolutely wonderful in every way. (author’s note, bibliography, Web resources) (Informational picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-375-87071-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Strong rhythms and occasional full or partial rhymes give this account of P.T. Barnum’s 1884 elephant parade across the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge an incantatory tone. Catching a whiff of public concern about the new bridge’s sturdiness, Barnum seizes the moment: “’I will stage an event / that will calm every fear, erase every worry, / about that remarkable bridge. / My display will amuse, inform / and astound some. / Or else my name isn’t Barnum!’” Using a rich palette of glowing golds and browns, Roca imbues the pachyderms with a calm solidity, sending them ambling past equally solid-looking buildings and over a truly monumental bridge—which soars over a striped Big Top tent in the final scene. A stately rendition of the episode, less exuberant, but also less fictionalized, than Phil Bildner’s Twenty-One Elephants (2004), illustrated by LeUyen Pham. (author’s note, resource list) (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-44887-X

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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