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MAMA DOES THE MAMBO

“After Papa died, Mama stopped dancing.” With these opening words, Leiner sets the context, but not the mood of her story. The place is Havana, Cuba, and a girl—Sofia—longs to see her mother fill her life with dance again. Once she danced everywhere, while doing the laundry and sweeping the courtyard and preparing food, but most wonderfully with Papa during the evening and especially at Carnival. They would step out to the merengue, the tango, the rumba, the chachacha, and their favorite, the mambo. The time has come for Mama to put on those dancing shoes again, say her neighbors to Sofia, and word goes out. Men come to court her, but none has what it takes to move her feet, let alone her heart—except Eduardo. He’s a good man, but unfortunately, he has two left feet, and really awkward left feet at that: the rhythm doesn’t flow, and toes get crunched. (This is okay, though, for Eduardo is a genius at that other passion—food.) So when Mama agrees to go to Carnival with Eduardo, the two of them sway gently to the music, both feet firmly on the ground. And when the mambo rings the night air, it is Sofia that Mama motions to come join her in dance. Rodriguez’s illustrations, with their soft pastels and sharp black linework, have the transporting power of old postage stamps, getting the atmosphere of Havana just right, as Leiner gently works the chords of familial love, conveying the sense of continuity that does the heart such good. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7868-0646-X

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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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 19, 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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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