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A stirring example of “grace under fire” (writes the author, mangling another meme), commemorated in rhapsodic but not...

A tribute to Wallace Hartley, the bandleader who played on as the RMS Titanic was sinking.

When young Jonathan complains that piano practice is “sissy stuff,” his grandfather responds with the tale of how, as a 9-year-old stowaway on the Titanic, he was taken in by the friendly Hartley—who was so impressed by the lad’s talent that he arranged an onboard audition before John Jacob Astor that later led to a life in music. First, though, comes that night to remember (or as Polacco unoriginally puts it, a “date that would live in infamy”), with its rending collision, general panic…and tearful separation as the child reluctantly boards a lifeboat while Hartley remains on deck, playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” for those doomed to stay behind. “Can you imagine the majesty and harrowing strength…the limitless bravery in that man’s heart,” the storyteller declaims. The musicians who, with like courage, joined Hartley on that fateful night are just dim figures in the background, but the illustrations bring the disaster’s terror and tragedy into sharp focus on the expressive faces of the young stowaway and other passengers and crew (all white). Readers will come away appreciating Hartley’s fortitude and may be equally moved by the closing note (with photos) that his violin, miraculously, was later recovered along with his body.

A stirring example of “grace under fire” (writes the author, mangling another meme), commemorated in rhapsodic but not unsuitable language. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4814-9461-8

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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From the Unicorn Rescue Society series , Vol. 1

Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers.

Elliot’s first day of school turns out to be more than he bargained for.

Elliot Eisner—skinny and pale with curly brown hair—is a bit nervous about being the new kid. Thankfully, he hits it off with fellow new student, “punk rock”–looking Uchenna Devereaux, a black girl with twists (though they actually look like dreads in Aly’s illustrations). On a first-day field trip to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the pair investigates a noise in the trees. The cause? A Jersey Devil: a blue-furred, red-bellied and -winged mythical creature that looks like “a tiny dragon” with cloven hooves, like a deer’s, on its hind feet. Unwittingly, the duo bonds with the creature by feeding it, and it later follows them back to the bus. Unsurprisingly, they lose the creature (which they alternately nickname Jersey and Bonechewer), which forces them to go to their intimidating, decidedly odd teacher, Peruvian Professor Fauna, for help in recovering it. The book closes with Professor Fauna revealing the truth—he heads a secret organization committed to protecting mythical creatures—and inviting the children to join, a neat setup for what is obviously intended to be a series. The predictable plot is geared to newly independent readers who are not yet ready for the usual heft of contemporary fantasies. A brief history lesson given by a mixed-race associate of Fauna’s in which she compares herself to the American “melting pot” manages to come across as simultaneously corrective and appropriative.

Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers. (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3170-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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An evocative and empowering tribute to human dignity and optimism.

This story, inspired by the author’s grandparents, celebrates love blooming in the desert during a time of extreme duress.

In a World War II incarceration camp for Japanese Americans, two young people find respite in one another. In Minidoka, families are crowded together, enduring harsh weather, barbed wire fences, the intimidating scrutiny of White armed guards, and the stress of unjust imprisonment. Book lover Tama finds solace volunteering in the camp library, where she is visited daily by George, a handsome young man with a seemingly insatiable appetite for reading. Tama, who revels in the power of words, struggles to name her overwhelming feelings. George’s reassurance that she is only human opens the door to love, marriage, and the birth of their first child in camp, a bubble of happiness in the midst of struggle. The gentle text shows how, no matter how bleak the outlook, people can find ways to hope, dream, and endure. An author’s note fills in some background on the real Tama and George Tokuda and connects their story to the many other American communities who experience racism but nevertheless claim joy. Imamura’s soft, exquisite illustrations capture the physical locale, using light and shadow in powerful ways. The 1940s setting comes to life with loving care in details of the decor and characters’ clothes.

An evocative and empowering tribute to human dignity and optimism. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0430-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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