IN ENGLISH, OF COURSE

A plucky small girl in a new classroom manages to tell a story in English, even though it isn’t quite the one she intended. It’s 1955: Josephine’s teacher asks each student to tell a bit about themselves and where they are from. She listens carefully to Ling-Li and to Juan, but although she understands a lot of English, she’s not sure she has all the words she needs. When she tells the class she is from Napoli, Italia, her teacher asks if she lived on a farm, and she replies, “I go to farm one time.” From this single visit, with coaching from her teacher, Josephine reconstructs being kicked by a cow, and the cow pushed by a pig, into a river, and her getting them both out of the water. Josephine’s inventive dialogue captures the sound of a person searching for the shape of the right English word, and her success spurs her to go home to ask her parents how to say “Roman ruins” and “architectural engineers”—in English, of course. Ziborova’s (Crispin the Turtle, not reviewed) exuberant cut-paper and mixed-media collages are a fine foil for the text: Josephine’s elegant male teacher wears pinstripes; pictures and sketches of Naples float over architectural diagrams, and the cow and the pig have comically exaggerated features. Josephine herself wears a ’50s schoolgirl suit and a beret, and her quicksilver expressions might remind one of the illimitable Eloise. An author’s postscript relates Josephine’s story to the author’s own life as a child in Little Italy in the Bronx, but any child will respond to the joy of Josephine’s storytelling. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-940112-07-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Gingerbread House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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