A compelling story about those willing to risk “[a] lash for each letter.” (author’s note, further reading) (Picture book....

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LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

A slave mother and her daughter learn to read in spite of the great danger inherent in their enterprise.

Rosa’s mother awakens her at night to walk to a “pit school,” a hole dug in the ground and covered over where slaves gather to learn their ABC’s. Their teacher is a fellow slave who had been taught to read. The patrollers make their journey perilous. Still, the men, women and children gather as often as they can. Cline-Ransome sensitively tells the story from Rosa’s viewpoint, endowing her with a yearning and determination that overcome her mother’s weariness and fear. The author learned of these schools while researching her book on Frederick Douglass, Words Set Me Free (2012). In this tale, she makes the point that learning was not just a dream of a few famous and accomplished men and women, but one that belonged to ordinary folk willing to risk their lives. Ransome’s full-page watercolor paintings—in beautiful shades of blue for the night and yellow for the day—are a window, albeit somewhat gentle, into a slave’s life for younger readers.

A compelling story about those willing to risk “[a] lash for each letter.” (author’s note, further reading) (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4231-3495-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Disney-Jump at the Sun

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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The runt of the litter of print titles and websites covering the topic.

PRESIDENT ADAMS' ALLIGATOR

This tally of presidential pets reads like a school report (for all that the author is a journalist for Fox Business Network) and isn’t helped by its suite of amateurish illustrations.

Barnes frames the story with a teacher talking to her class and closes it with quizzes and a write-on “ballot.” Presidents from Washington to Obama—each paired to mentions of birds, dogs, livestock, wild animals and other White House co-residents—parade past in a rough, usually undated mix of chronological order and topical groupings. The text is laid out in monotonous blocks over thinly colored scenes that pose awkwardly rendered figures against White House floors or green lawns. In evident recognition that the presidents might be hard to tell apart, on some (but not enough) pages they carry identifying banners. The animals aren’t so differentiated; an unnamed goat that William Henry Harrison is pulling along with his cow Sukey in one picture looks a lot like one that belonged to Benjamin Harrison, and in some collective views, it’s hard to tell which animals go with which first family.

The runt of the litter of print titles and websites covering the topic. (bibliography, notes for adult readers) (Informational picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-62157-035-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little Patriot Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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THE RIDE

THE LEGEND OF BETSY DOWDY

It’s 1775 and the people of North Carolina want freedom from England’s rule, but “[w]hen sixteen-year-old Betsy Dowdy heard Papa talk about war approaching, she felt as helpless as a ghost crab skittering along the sand.” The legendary Betsy of Currituck (her existence has never been proven) isn’t helpless, though. She promptly saddles up her pony Bess and rides all night—50 miles over hill and dale—to warn General Skinner’s militia about the incoming redcoats. In what may be the most Fauvist depiction of colonial America ever, Priceman’s splendidly untamed gouache-and-ink spreads reflect the menacing inevitability of war with fiery oranges and the red-cloaked Betsy’s phantasmagorical nighttime ride in deep blues and purples. Perspectives are distorted, buildings topsy-turvy, eyes of human and beast are wild and wide—even the sharp-toothed river fish look agitated, as in a crazy nightmare. The muddled story—more odd, atmospheric drama than history lesson—may just end up unsettling readers, though, despite the trumpeting clarity of its made-for-radio-voice refrain: “She couldn’t fight as a soldier. But she could ride.” (stylized map, author’s note) (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4169-2816-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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