Though flawed, it brings a good sampling of lore from the past to a new generation of readers.



The combination of Newbery winner Hamilton and the Dillons, two-time Caldecott Medalists, raises high expectations.

It is especially noteworthy that they've combined their talents to present a collection of Black American tales—a folklore awesome in its richness, power and complexity. With all this in mind, we expect to find here nothing less than fire from the mountain. Though there is much to enjoy, and many parts are quite stirring (such as the title story), Hamilton has prepared a sampling of carefully and respectfully retold tales, not a living work of art. A surprisingly facile introduction sets a restrained tone. And her forerunner, the complex figure of Joel Chandler Harris, is unfairly assessed. From reading Hamilton, one would not get the idea that Harris took enormous pains to reproduce the tales as he heard them, even when elements of the stories were incomprehensible to him. The book is organized into four sections: animal tales, fantasy, supernatural and tales of freedom. The final one ("Carrying the Running-Aways: And Other Slave Tales of Freedom") is by far the most effective for the contemporary reader; the best of these stories convey great heroism, beauty and nobility. Less rewarding are the fantasy tales (with the exception of "Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Man"), and the supernatural tales (although they frequently entertain, and several would be excellent as read-alouds). The animal tales move the reader the least, and are rather lifeless. Hamilton's approximation of dialect speech is laudable for its readability. The Dillons have lent handsome black-and-white paintings to the work, but they seem posed and static. Still and all, this is a useful collection and a valuable undertaking.

Though flawed, it brings a good sampling of lore from the past to a new generation of readers. (Folktales. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1985

ISBN: 978-0-394-86925-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985

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A visual delight for the culturally savvy.



Seven generations of a family in a communal apartment lead readers through 100 years of Russian history.

First published in Russia as Istoriia Staroi Kvartiry (2016), this story tracks the fictional Muromstev family from its move into the apartment in 1902 to a birthday celebration in 2002, covering major political and personal events within that time period. Double-page, diary-style spreads generally alternate between an intimate look into the apartment, with one of the current generation’s children narrating events both personal and political, and a more objective examination of the history experienced. These pages tend to be crowded with labeled illustrations of household objects, conversations among characters, and collaged-in archival images. Endpapers are plastered, scrapbook-style, with photographs and document clippings, and family trees are helpfully included prior to and following the story proper. Extensive backmatter provides further cultural elucidation. While readers might at first be skeptical of what appears to be a glorified house tour, the triumphs and tribulations of the family quickly become engrossing thanks to Litvina’s conversational, emotive text. Desnitskaya’s simple cartoon illustrations easily distinguish the many characters, although time skips of up to 12 years can make it difficult to discern who’s still alive. Readers unfamiliar with Russian might also have trouble pronouncing character names; conversely, readers who can read the language will enjoy perusing the newspaper articles and song lyrics scattered throughout. Characters are all white presenting, but the Muromstev clan includes Jewish and Georgian family members.

A visual delight for the culturally savvy. (author’s note, glossary, timeline, bibliography, index) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3403-8

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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This title in the “Chronicles of America” series (Colonial Times, 1600–1700, see below), provides an introduction to everyday life in the 18th century, and then describes the events leading up to, during, and after the Revolutionary War. It’s a lot to tackle in 48 pages, half taken up with photographs from “America's Living History Museums.” The title has browser appeal, but too little substance and overgeneralization may mislead young readers. For example: “Most people in America gathered together to pray at least once a week.” Or: “Even if folks had come from Germany or Holland, they quickly became English citizens of the Americas.” The tone sometimes trivializes the topic, for example: Pirates are described as “the naughtiest men.” And under the heading “Ouch!” the author states: “Some unlucky prisoners even had their ears nailed to the planks.” Most topics are treated in a two-page layout, with four to six full-color photographs and a very brief text. A typical spread entitled “There’s No Place Like Home” describes homes in the Northern and Southern colonies and provides a photograph of Mount Vernon, an interior of a bedroom from Colonial Williamsburg, a brick row house, a Hudson Valley stone farm house, and a man mixing clay for bricks with his feet. The text states: “In the early 1700s, most houses were simply one big room.” None of the dwellings shown are one room. The dwellings in the photographs span the century, but since the reader is not given dates, the text is at odds with the visual images. Other text labeled “surprising facts,” explains: “The plaster at Mount Vernon includes both hog and cattle hair.” That's neither surprising nor important. A blue box called “Brickmaking Made Easy” explains how bricks are made. With so little space the author should focus on more important topics. Many of the issues leading up to the Revolutionary War are introduced, for example the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Townsend Acts. Loyalists get very brief treatment, and battles are narrated with the fervor and flavor of a hockey sportscast. There are no maps or time lines to aid the reader. The author concludes with information on historic restorations to visit, books for further reading, Web sites of interest, photo credits, and an index. Too slight and problematic for purchase. (Nonfiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-05109-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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