Readers young and old are sure to learn something new in this informative story. Asa’s father is the captain of his own canal boat, carrying coal from Pennsylvania to Jersey City. When his mule driver quits, the Captain decides that nine-year-old Asa is old enough to help him on the five-day run. Asa is used to putting the mules in the stable, but now that he’s responsible for keeping them from running the boat aground, they suddenly seem to be much larger. In remarkably simple language, and yet with great detail, Yezerski (Perfect Puppy, not reviewed, etc.) describes the fascinating journey of the coal. First is the clever way the railroad cars open at the bottom and drop the coal down chutes to the waiting boats, which are themselves designed to come apart into two sections for quicker loading. Then, the travel through the canal begins. As they come to a place where the canal level rises, Asa learns the workings of a lock. At a river crossing, the canal goes over an aqueduct—a bridge with water in it for the boat. When they reach a steep hill, Asa thinks the canal ends, but instead, learns about the ingenious inclined plane. Later that afternoon, though, they meet an obstacle there is no way around—a thunderstorm. As lightning strikes a tree, the mules spook and ground the boat. The Captain tumbles into the swift-moving canal, but Asa’s quick thinking saves the day. On shore, they survey the damaged boat, and Asa tells his Dad that he would like to be a captain someday, too. A foreword tells readers about the Morris Canal, on which the story was based, and the layout of the boats that ran on the canal. The watercolor illustrations complement the text perfectly; on the one hand educating readers about the many creative inventions that allow boats to travel across the country, while on the other, showing a father and son working together to support their family. Authentic 1800s details and fantastic fall foliage only add to the appeal. A sure hit with young budding engineers. (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-42502-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002


An inspiring story of young boy's compelling desire to read. As a boy of nine, Booker works in a salt mine from the dark of early morning to the gloom of night, hungry for a meal, but even hungrier to learn to read. Readers follow him on his quest in Malden, Virginia, where he finds inspiration in a man ``brown as me'' reading a newspaper on a street corner. An alphabet book helps, but Booker can't make the connection to words. Seeking out ``that brown face of hope'' once again, Booker gains a sense of the sounds represented by letters, and these become his deliverance. Bradby's fine first book is tautly written, with a poetic, spiritual quality in every line. The beautifully executed, luminous illustrations capture the atmosphere of an African-American community post-slavery: the drudgery of days consumed by back- breaking labor, the texture of private lives conducted by lantern- light. There is no other context or historical note about Booker T. Washington's life, leaving readers to piece together his identity. Regardless, this is an immensely satisfying, accomplished work, resonating first with longing and then with joy. (Picture book. 5- 8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-531-09464-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Orchard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1995


A white youth from Ohio, Sheldon Russell Curtis (Say), and a black youth from Georgia, Pinkus Aylee (Pink), meet as young soldiers with the Union army. Pink finds Say wounded in the leg after a battle and brings him home with him. Pink's mother, Moe Moe Bay, cares for the boys while Say recuperates, feeding and comforting them and banishing the war for a time. Whereas Pink is eager to go back and fight against "the sickness" that is slavery, Say is afraid to return to his unit. But when he sees Moe Moe Bay die at the hands of marauders, he understands the need to return. Pink and Say are captured by Confederate soldiers and brought to the notorious Andersonville prison camp. Say is released months later, ill and undernourished, but Pink is never released, and Polacco reports that he was hanged that very first day because he was black. Polacco (Babushka Baba Yaga, 1993, etc; My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, above) tells this story, which was passed down for generations in her family (Say was her great-great-grandfather), carefully and without melodrama so that it speaks for itself. The stunning illustrations — reminiscent of the German expressionist Egon Shiele in their use of color and form — are completely heartbreaking. A spectacular achievement. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4- 8)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1994

ISBN: 0-399-22671-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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