PANKRATION

THE ULTIMATE GAME

Australian Blacklock debuts with a gory, rough-hewn tale set in ancient Greece and Italy. Sent from Athens to escape the plague, young Nicasylus is taken by pirates and sold into slavery; he escapes, makes his way to Olympia, and witnesses the vicious Pankration, a no-rules fight that lasts until all but one competitor is too broken up to continue. The author splits the story between Nic and his giant friend Gellius—a sailor who survives the pirate attack—who undergoes the requisite nine months of training and purification required to compete in the games, and is beaten to a pulp but crowned victor when Nic fingers his opponent as the pirate captain. There are some who may enjoy following Nic’s blood-and-vomit-splashed trail to Olympia, but neither of the protagonists sees much beyond the climactic bout, even though Blacklock prepares readers for a visit to the ancient games. The rarely used setting, tailor-made for historical fiction book reports, may spark some interest. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8075-6323-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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FIDDLIN' SAM

In a family memoir of the most affecting kind, readers are invited to a long-ago time in the Ozark Mountains and the story of a musician who owned “the clothes on his back and a fine old lionhead fiddle.” Fiddlin’ Sam is the inheritor of the peripatetic, minstrel’s life of his father, who taught Sam his art, saying, “This ain’t a gift, Son. It’s a loan. You gotta pass the music along.” Sam accepts the food that appreciative people give him, but politely refuses their offer of a bed. When a rattler bites him, Sam fears he has failed his calling; the music will die with him. In the feverish time that follows, someone takes care of him, a young man whom Sam hopes will take up the gift and carry it along—but the boy has other plans. In the years that follow, Sam meets another young man on the road who reminds him of the first one, and, indeed, is his son. Their path together lasts long enough for Sam to pass along his gift and its joys and burdens before he dies. An endpiece dedication allows readers to glimpse aspects of the story that are based in truth. A rhythmic refrain underscores the emotions of the story, and even acts as the vehicle of the ascension of Sam’s soul at death. Gerig’s watercolors deliver the scenic beauty of the region and carry their own version of a familial tribute. (Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1999

ISBN: 0-87358-742-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Rising Moon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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SNOW BEAR

In this sweetly sentimental story set in the frozen twilight of an Arctic spring, George (Morning, Noon, and Night, p. 699, etc.) tells of an Inuit girl who goes out to hunt. Bessie Nivyek sets out with her big brother, Vincent, to hunt for food; in a twist out of McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal, Bessie bumps into a young bear, and they frolic: climbing, sliding, somersaulting, and cuddling. Vincent spies the tracks of his little sister and follows, wary of the mother bear; the mother bear is just as wary of Vincent. Out of the water rears danger to both the child and cub—a huge male polar bear. The mother bear warns her cub; it runs away, as does Bessie. Brother and sister head back home, “to eat, go to school, and learn the wisdom of the Arctic like Eskimo children do.” The brief text is lyrical and the illustrations are striking, with an impressively varied palette of white, in blue, green, yellow, and gold. Children who note that Vincent goes home empty-handed will wonder why he didn’t hunt any of the polar bears that were within range. While children will enjoy this romantic view of Bessie and the bear, those seeking a more realistic representation of life in this harsh environment will be unsatisfied. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7868-0456-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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