TO THE BIG TOP

Early 20th century, early morning, a train-whistle blows: The circus is coming to town. Two boys light out for the railyard, intent on being part of the action. They pick up odd jobs here and there, get a nickel here, and there they get—gadzooks—a ticket to the Big Top. When it comes time to parlay their nickels into something good—popcorn maybe, or a candied apple—Esbaum turns the story into a morality play, with one boy the straw dog of crass immaturity and the other a knight in righteous armor, and the clumsiness of the point-making steals the story’s thunder. Fortunately, boys are a forgiving lot and the day is saved by what boys are also good at: trickery and getting on with it. It is Gordon who lights up the event, bringing prime elements of the story forward, dressed in electric color, and painting the background in a haze; the illustrations’ almost-can-taste-it, dreamlike quality takes readers to Back Then, when midway and sideshow were the real deal. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 10, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-39934-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2008

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OTIS

From the Otis series

Continuing to find inspiration in the work of Virginia Lee Burton, Munro Leaf and other illustrators of the past, Long (The Little Engine That Could, 2005) offers an aw-shucks friendship tale that features a small but hardworking tractor (“putt puff puttedy chuff”) with a Little Toot–style face and a big-eared young descendant of Ferdinand the bull who gets stuck in deep, gooey mud. After the big new yellow tractor, crowds of overalls-clad locals and a red fire engine all fail to pull her out, the little tractor (who had been left behind the barn to rust after the arrival of the new tractor) comes putt-puff-puttedy-chuff-ing down the hill to entice his terrified bovine buddy successfully back to dry ground. Short on internal logic but long on creamy scenes of calf and tractor either gamboling energetically with a gaggle of McCloskey-like geese through neutral-toned fields or resting peacefully in the shade of a gnarled tree (apple, not cork), the episode will certainly draw nostalgic adults. Considering the author’s track record and influences, it may find a welcome from younger audiences too. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-399-25248-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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JOE LOUIS, MY CHAMPION

One of the watershed moments in African-American history—the defeat of James Braddock at the hands of Joe Louis—is here given an earnest picture-book treatment. Despite his lack of athletic ability, Sammy wants desperately to be a great boxer, like his hero, getting boxing lessons from his friend Ernie in exchange for help with schoolwork. However hard he tries, though, Sammy just can’t box, and his father comforts him, reminding him that he doesn’t need to box: Joe Louis has shown him that he “can be the champion at anything [he] want[s].” The high point of this offering is the big fight itself, everyone crowded around the radio in Mister Jake’s general store, the imagined fight scenes played out in soft-edged sepia frames. The main story, however, is so bent on providing Sammy and the reader with object lessons that all subtlety is lost, as Mister Jake, Sammy’s father, and even Ernie hammer home the message. Both text and oil-on-canvas-paper illustrations go for the obvious angle, making the effort as a whole worthy, but just a little too heavy-handed. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-58430-161-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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