THE LAST CASTAWAYS

Although pushed into retirement by old age, Grandfather and his constant canine companion Roo quickly find themselves thrust back into action onboard the ominously named Unsinkable, in search of the mythical King Cod. Written as a series of short letters to his gender-neutral grandchild and as the Unsinkable’s ship log, Grandfather again finds himself suffering from a bout of bad luck compounded by Roo and her finicky ways, which seem to change with the wind. It isn’t long before the Unsinkable gives the lie to its name and the adventurers find themselves in the titular bind. Black-and-white illustrations are sprinkled throughout, with short quirky annotations from Grandfather that add even more humor and depth to this zany adventure. Packed with silly hijinks and fantastical creatures, this last of the Lasts (The Last Cowboys, 2008, etc.), with its endearing duo of grandfather and Roo, delivers fun for readers new to chapter books. (Fiction. 6-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56145-439-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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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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THE SINGING SNOWBEAR

Grigg complements her first story for children with soft-edged, cool-hued watercolors that powerfully evoke the white-bound north. This tale of the polar Snowbear opens with a call to adventure, the summons of the mythic hero. This is a song of such haunting beauty that the young bear must follow it to its source, and so he does, leaving his mother and setting off across the ice floes. “Maybe I can make those sounds and fill myself with songs,” he tells his mother, to which she lovingly growls in a guardian-at-the-gate manner, “Bears don’t sing.” The hero cycle, as Joseph Campbell delineated it, is followed nearly exactly, from the lyrical opening and through the unfolding of Snowbear’s journey. Snowbear struggles through challenges, as his path is wracked with not only loneliness and uncertainty, but also with very real physical and emotional pain. When he finally finds the singer, a whale, it is trapped in ice from which Snowbear must rescue him. Readers will be primed for something special; delivered, instead, is a ditty of a whale mother’s song in which the two new friends begin to harmonize. This awakens all the Arctic to a stomping, swaying response that lasts until dawn, but isn’t captured on the page; the expected sense of triumph in the hero’s return never emerges. After giving themselves up to a story with such glorious underpinnings, readers will be disappointed by the ending. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-395-94223-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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