CLIFF HANGER

A disappointing effort from this well-respected pair. Headstrong young Axel defies his father and faces down an impending storm and a challenging climb up what appears to be a sheer rock face to rescue his stranded little dog. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the tension of the text is not well reflected in the illustrations, in which characters resemble plastic action figures, with smooth, molded, pink legs, hands forever frozen in a semi-cupped position, and feet eternally encased in painted-on shoes. Perhaps the lightning-lit images are meant to evoke the stop-frame staccato of a violent storm, but the bone-dry condition of the climb, the fine, fluffy fur of the dog, and their sun-soaked descent on Cathedral Wall would seem to contradict this. Unlikely, too, is the inaction of Axel’s father, Dag, the leader of the Teton Mountains Climbing School and presumably an expert on the pleasures and perils of climbing. Why would an experienced, responsible climber and loving father allow his son to ignore his safe, alternative plan to reach the dog? No explanatory matter is offered to describe or depict the climbing equipment and terminology that figure large in following the storyline, and the illustrations do not make them obvious. With this team and this title, the reader anticipates fine, high adventure and painterly interpretations of environment. Despite its lightweight treatment of what could have been a compelling story, dog-lovers, weather-watchers, and budding adventurers may appreciate this additional purchase. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-000260-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn.

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KNIGHT OWL

A young owl achieves his grand ambition.

Owl, an adorably earnest and gallant little owlet, dreams of being a knight. He imagines himself defeating dragons and winning favor far and wide through his brave exploits. When a record number of knights go missing, Owl applies to Knight School and is surprisingly accepted. He is much smaller than the other knights-in-training, struggles to wield weapons, and has “a habit of nodding off during the day.” Nevertheless, he graduates and is assigned to the Knight Night Watch. While patrolling the castle walls one night, a hungry dragon shows up and Owl must use his wits to avoid meeting a terrible end. The result is both humorous and heartwarming, offering an affirmation of courage and clear thinking no matter one’s size…and demonstrating the power of a midnight snack. The story never directly addresses the question of the missing knights, but it is hinted that they became the dragon’s fodder, leaving readers to question Owl’s decision to befriend the beast. Humor is supplied by the characters’ facial expressions and accented by the fact that Owl is the only animal in his order of big, burly human knights. Denise’s accomplished digital illustrations—many of which are full bleeds—often use a warm sepia palette that evokes a feeling of antiquity, and some spreads feature a pleasing play of chiaroscuro that creates suspense and drama.

A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-31062-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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PINK AND SAY

A white youth from Ohio, Sheldon Russell Curtis (Say), and a black youth from Georgia, Pinkus Aylee (Pink), meet as young soldiers with the Union army. Pink finds Say wounded in the leg after a battle and brings him home with him. Pink's mother, Moe Moe Bay, cares for the boys while Say recuperates, feeding and comforting them and banishing the war for a time. Whereas Pink is eager to go back and fight against "the sickness" that is slavery, Say is afraid to return to his unit. But when he sees Moe Moe Bay die at the hands of marauders, he understands the need to return. Pink and Say are captured by Confederate soldiers and brought to the notorious Andersonville prison camp. Say is released months later, ill and undernourished, but Pink is never released, and Polacco reports that he was hanged that very first day because he was black. Polacco (Babushka Baba Yaga, 1993, etc; My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, above) tells this story, which was passed down for generations in her family (Say was her great-great-grandfather), carefully and without melodrama so that it speaks for itself. The stunning illustrations — reminiscent of the German expressionist Egon Shiele in their use of color and form — are completely heartbreaking. A spectacular achievement. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4- 8)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1994

ISBN: 0-399-22671-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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