MUSIC FOR THE END OF TIME

Soulful drawings in charcoal and pastel illustrate this poignant bright-spot-in-the-middle-of-war story. French composer Olivier Messiaen is taken in a dark truck to a German prison camp. He carries a small knapsack containing his own sheet music. One day, despondent, he knowingly risks death in order to walk outside and hear a nightingale. An officer catches him, but instead of shooting, offers him a tiny room in which to spend daily time composing. Inspired by the nightingale’s song, Olivier writes a quartet, which he performs along with three other imprisoned musicians. Five thousand prisoners gather to listen. “Like birdsong, it was wild, beautiful, and full of hope.” Peck uses yellow wonderfully, incorporating it with browns and greens to show both joy and despair. Her pictures carry a perfect balance of pain and possibility. Bryant gives no historical context except in her note. Readers may require WWII explanations. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8028-5229-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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A mighty portrait of poverty amid cruelty and optimism.

FREE LUNCH

Recounting his childhood experiences in sixth grade, Ogle’s memoir chronicles the punishing consequences of poverty and violence on himself and his family.

The start of middle school brings about unwanted changes in young Rex’s life. His old friendships devolve as his school friends join the football team and slowly edge him out. His new English teacher discriminates against him due to his dark skin (Rex is biracial, with a white absentee dad and a Mexican mom) and secondhand clothes, both too large and too small. Seemingly worse, his mom enrolls him in the school’s free-lunch program, much to his embarrassment. “Now everyone knows I’m nothing but trailer trash.” His painful home life proffers little sanctuary thanks to his mom, who swings from occasional caregiver to violent tyrant at the slightest provocation, and his white stepdad, an abusive racist whose aggression outrivals that of Rex’s mom. Balancing the persistent flashes of brutality, Ogle magnificently includes sprouts of hope, whether it’s the beginnings of a friendship with a “weird” schoolmate, joyful moments with his younger brother, or lessons of perseverance from Abuela. These slivers of relative levity counteract the toxic relationship between young Rex, a boy prone to heated outbursts and suppressed feelings, and his mother, a fully three-dimensional character who’s viciously thrashing against the burden of poverty. It’s a fine balance carried by the author’s outstanding, gracious writing and a clear eye for the penetrating truth.

A mighty portrait of poverty amid cruelty and optimism. (author’s note, author Q&A, discussion guide, writing guide, resources) (Memoir. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00360-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Norton Young Readers

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.

OIL

In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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