JOHNNY APPLESEED

THE STORY OF A LEGEND

Many are the available picture-book tales of half-legendary wanderer John Chapman, but this one (not really a picture book) merits consideration, both for its appealing folk-art–style illustrations (Moses is an artistic, as well as genetic, descendant of Grandma Moses), and for its thoughtful prose portrait of a man who, Moses suggests, “represents the best qualities of the American character.” The author tucks a few tall-sounding tales into his narrative, but in general sticks closely to the historical record, following Chapman from his early years in Massachusetts, through decades of planting and preaching in Pennsylvania, the Ohio Territory, and, finally, Indiana, where he tended orchards to the last. Ranging from spread-fillers to vignettes, the paintings are nearly all landscapes, with a small, lanky, oddly dressed figure placed amid tapestries of orchards and fields, or paddling along waterways in a birch bark canoe. Just as his apple trees “helped blaze the trail westward,” so, avers the author, should his “kindness and humanity, [his] industrious, independent spirit” make him a “beacon to follow” for today’s young readers. Make room on the shelf for this slim volume, too. (Biography. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-23153-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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THE GREAT DIVIDE

A MATHEMATICAL MARATHON

From Dodds (The Shape of Things, 1994, not reviewed, etc.), a rhyming, reckless text that makes a math process pleasurably solvable; Mitchell’s illustrative debut features a smashing cast of 1930s characters and a playfulness that will keep readers guessing. The premise is a Great Race: at the sound of the gun, 80 bicycle racers take off at top speed. The path diverges at the top of a cliff, and half the racers hurtle forever downward and right out of the race and the book. The remaining 40 racers determinedly continue in boats, their curls, spyglasses, eye patches, matronly upswept hairdos, and Clara Bow—lips intact. Whirlpools erupt to divide them again and wreck their ships, so it’s time to grab the next horse and ride on. The race continues, despite abrupt changes in modes of transportation and in the number of racers that dwindle by disastrous divisions, until a single winner glides over the finish line in a single-prop plane. The pace is so breathless and engaging that the book’s didactic origins all but disappear; few readers will notice that they’ve just finished a math problem, and most will want to go over all the action again. (Picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7636-0442-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1999

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WESTWARD TO HOME

JOSHUA’S DIARY

Another installment in this year’s new “My America” series, this is the fictional diary of Joshua, a young boy whose family joins a wagon train to Oregon in 1848. Joshua’s tale offers language simple enough for emerging readers, but pulls few punches regarding the harsh realities of the westward pioneer journey. Joshua can hardly contain his excitement at the prospect of the journey. His diary begins as his parents and extended family make the difficult decision to uproot their lives. On the trail he experiences dust, heat, and fear, along with the births of babies and the deaths of others from cholera, accidents, and Indian attack. Joshua also finds his cousin, Rachel, dead one morning, the victim of an accidental hanging during the night. The story’s not all tragedy; there is a nice balance with more positive experiences, such as Joshua’s childhood friendships along the trail. His grandfather helps him kill a buffalo, and he saves his little sister Becky from drowning when she falls into a rushing river. Hermes sparks her tale with a budding romance for Joshua as he copes with the grief, anger, and charity of the adults in the wagon train. Decent historical fiction aimed at appealing to the reader who would enjoy the sense of reading a diary to learn more about the harsh realities and triumphs of America’s westward pioneers. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-11209-5

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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