THE BUTTERFLY

During the Nazi occupation of France, Monique discovers that a young Jewish girl named Serine has been hidden in her cellar. It is a surprise to Monique that her mother and father have been sheltering the family, but she does not let on that she knows. The girls visit and play together in the evening when the rest of the household is asleep. “They laughed and giggled, and told each other their dreams.” Although frightened by the presence of Nazi soldiers in her village, their friendship grows, and Monique brings gifts to Serine from the outside world: rich soil, a bright flower, and finally a real wonder, a butterfly. A neighbor catches a glimpse of Serine, and the family must flee. This is another one of Polacco’s (Thank You Mr. Falker, 1998) family stories based on real events and retold in a dramatic picture book for older readers. The strikingly detailed marker and pencil illustrations bring forth the fear, deprivation, and small joys of the time. The richness of the illustrations from the blue-patterned teacups to the gallery of dog portraits that adorn a staircase evokes a strong sense of time and place. Polacco uses a palette of pinks and pastels that are quickly overshadowed by grays, black, and red to evoke Monique’s growing realizations of the oppression, danger, and darkness of the moment. A strong contrast comes at the end when hope returns in the form of dozens of bright orange-and-black butterflies. Polacco’s choice of monarchs to depict the butterflies emphasizes the miraculous nature of this occurrence because, although these butterflies are abundant in North America, they are rarely sighted in Europe. A portrait of friendship, courage, and hope.(Picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-399-23170-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers.

THE CREATURE OF THE PINES

From the Unicorn Rescue Society series , Vol. 1

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 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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Moving and accessible.

BEAR AND FRED

A WORLD WAR II STORY

A bear and his boy survive the Holocaust.

A stuffed bear tells the story of his life with a young Dutch Jewish boy as World War II engulfs the Netherlands. The bear’s words are never maudlin or precious. Rather, he is an observer with keen eyes and ears and a loving heart. Fred, the boy, lives with his parents and brothers in Delft but is then taken to Amsterdam to stay with his grandfather. Fred is warned to keep silent about his family. After Grandpa sews a yellow star onto Fred’s coat, Mama returns, rips off the star, and takes Fred to live with a “nice lady.” The war ends, and Fred and his family are all happily united. In her author’s note, Argaman describes how she saw the bear at Yad Vashem, Israel‘s Holocaust museum, and exchanged letters with Fred Lessing, now living in America, because she wanted to share the story. Translated from Hebrew, it reads seamlessly and beautifully presents a family caught up in war as seen from the perspective of a caring but historically naïve eyewitness. Without in any manner diminishing the actual horrors of World War II or any current fighting, the author enables a child to grasp in some small manner the impact of conflict on a family. Loose-lined, simply colored illustrations focus attention on the titular characters.

Moving and accessible. (author’s note, photograph) (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1821-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Amazon Crossing Kids

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

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