In Memory of Marjorie Weinman Sharmat 1928-2019

Nate the Great and the Sticky Case – Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Marc Simont, Yearling, 2006 (reprint of 1978 edition, with additional material)

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It is no small accomplishment to write even one well-crafted and engaging chapter book for newly independent readers.  Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, who died on March 12, wrote over one hundred books, more than two dozen of them in the Nate the Great series about a smart and somewhat less than modest boy detective who seems to have all the answers. Sharmat’s career was not limited to this series, but, in paying tribute to her long career, one characterized by great intuition about what children would like to read, it seems appropriate to remember what is innovative and durable about him.

Nate has a sense of humor, one appreciated by those beginning their journey in literacy.  In Nate the Great and the Sticky Case, when Nate’s friend Claude is bereft by the loss of his stegosaurus stamp, Nate reassures him: “It is hard to find something that small…This will be a big case.”  Nate loves his mom. So, considerately, he leaves her a note when he departs to go out on his latest case:  “Dear Mother, I am on a sticky case…Love, Nate the Great.”

Nate’s stories include challenging vocabulary and content.  It’s one thing to like dinosaurs, another to learn about distinctions between the tyrannosaurus, ichthyosaurus, and stegosaurus.  Claude’s collection of dinosaur stamps in extensive.

Nate is loyal.  Nate’s dog sludge is “not a great detective” and sometimes gets in the way, but Nate tolerates this flaw. Nate’s friend Rosamond is a little odd. In this book, she has the enterprising idea of selling cat hairs.  Her cats have scary names, like Big Hex and Plain Hex, but her very quirkiness is part of why Nate likes her.

When Nate becomes discouraged, he doesn’t give up.  After a plate of pancakes, he is better able to focus: “Suddenly I, Nate, felt great.  I had pancakes in my stomach and a good idea in my head.”

Nate can dream up crazy ideas and think outside of the box: “I, Nate the Great, wished that I had two brains and that one of them would solve this case.”

After the conclusion of a successful case, Nate keeps his perspective, calming walking home with his dog Sludge: “We were careful not to step in any puddles.”

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Nate the Great is a little bit Sam Spade for kids, a little bit Philip Marlowe. Each of Sharmat’s books about him has a satisfying predictability, which is a great asset for beginning readers. They also have surprises and twists, and dramatically detailed pictures by Marc Simont.  The new reissues of the series include additional activities; Nate the Great and the Sticky Case has several, among them a brief history of the U.S. postal service, a diagram with the parts of a stamp, and a recipe for dinosaur lollipops.

It’s no mystery that Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s contributions to children’s literature, identified with, but not limited to, Nate the Great, will not disappear.

Friendship that Starts in the Soul

Anne’s Kindred Spirits – Kallie George (adapting L.M. Montgomery) and Abigail Halpin, Tundra Books, 2019

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Anyone who has read Anne of Green Gables knows that friendship is not just a pleasant link between two people, but a life-transforming bond. If you are a poor, bookish orphan who has never found anyone as understanding as her own reflection in a mirror, meeting someone who becomes a “bosom friend,” and a “kindred spirit,” is an affirmation of her own value as a human being.  In Kallie George and Abigail Halpin’s second in a series of adaptations of Anne for middle grade readers, they once again achieve the near-impossible, preserving the eloquence and passion of Montgomery’s work while making it accessible to those who will read the original book a bit later.

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As in their earlier volume, George and Halpin focus on a limited series of events, rather than trying to encapsulate the whole classic.  Anne meets Diana Barry, who loves reading as much as she does, although Diana’s “hair was black as a raven’s wing, not red.”  They learn that their inner similarities outweigh their outer differences, and make a vow, “to be faithful to my bosom friend as long as the sun and moon endure.” (link to image of girls holding hands)  The meeting between Anne and Diana was a close call. Having been warned by her guardian, Marilla, to downplay her irrepressible oddness, Anne almost sabotages the new bond by responding to Mrs. Barry’s formulaic “How are you?” with “I’m good in body, but rumpled in spirits, ma’am.”  Even as George simplifies some of the original novel’s language, she retains its intensity and depth.  There have been many other attempts to adapt classics for a younger audience; this one is exceptional.

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The book also includes the episode of Anne’s unjust punishment by Marilla when a favorite brooch disappears from Marilla’s pincushion.  George conveys the frustration of a child who is misunderstood by adults, but is not free to express that frustration.  Marilla is also frustrated at her apparent failure to have taught moral lessons to her foster child.  Halpin’s beautifully profound illustration of this sorrow shows Marilla and her bother Matthew seated at a table, with a sliced pie in the center.  Matthew’s plate is empty, but Marilla’s serving is untouched. She rests her head on her elbow and looks overwhelmed, trying to process the facts: “I’ve looked everywhere…Anne took it. That’s the plain, ugly truth.”  Every picture in the book is in close harmony with the accompanying text; children will truly read both text and pictures. (link to image)

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In another image, Anne leans out the window in her nightgown, her braids lifted by the wind like a Prince Edward Island Rapunzel.  Instead of waiting for her prince, she is terrified that Diana will not understand why she is not attending the community picnic.

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Another picture subtly captures Anne and Marilla’s opposite personalities. They are riding in a their carriage, Marilla holding the reins firmly and looking down, but also listening to Anne, whose verbal stream both puzzles and amuses her: “Do you think amethysts might be the souls of flowers?”  The book’s final two-page spread is really a testament to the author and artist’s vision.  Everyone is enjoying the closeness of a town too small to have strangers; Halpin has introduced people of color, who have a rich history in the Maritime Provinces. Their presence in the scene is one more piece of evidence of Halpin’s deliberate artistic choices.

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Reading Anne’s Kindred Spirits, and sharing it with children, is an elevating experience.  The book is a reminder of how innovation and awareness of tradition can work together to make a great children’s book.

Upstairs Boy, Downstairs Mouse

Matzah Belowstairs – Susan Lynn Meyer and Mette Engell, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2019

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There is an undeniable appeal to the suggestion that mice, adorable anthropomorphic ones, live parallel lives hidden in our own homes. Beatrix Potter’s lifelike creatures lived among other animals but also interacted with humans.  In Beverly Donofrio and Barbara McClintock’s modern classics, Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, and Where’s Mommy? (Mary and the Mouse), a girl and a mouse develop a friendship based on the parallel parts of their respective lives.

In the world of Jewish children’s books, Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing gives us a similar glimpse into the mouse world, as the author and illustrator relate the story of a traditional folksong. Florence Zeldin’s A Mouse in Our Jewish House introduces Jewish holidays through cut out paper pictures of an enthusiastic participant, who happens to be a mouse. The story that Susan Lynn Meyer tells in  Matzah Belowstairs follows this tradition, although Engel’s illustration style is more in tune with modern animation than with the nostalgic images of other mouse stories.

It’s Passover, and the Winkler family in apartment 4B is getting ready to celebrate with the ritual Seder and meal.  Belowstairs, things are much more hectic, because Miriam Mouse and her family cannot find a single piece of matzah: “There won’t be anything to remind us of the time our mouse ancestors left Egypt in too big a hurry for the bread to rise!”

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Their cozy apartment looks busy, nonetheless, with Miriam and her parents reading the book of Exodus on their couch, while the grandparents chop vegetable in anticipation of the holiday’s beginning. They reassure Miriam that it is not her fault that the matzah is missing, blaming the Winkler’s acquisition of a new tin box, so securely closed that no mouse-size pieces have fallen out and landed below the floorboards. Eli Winkler’s dad hides the afikomen, a piece of matzah that Eli will need to find and return to the family, in order to conclude the festive meal and begin the last part of the Seder.  In searching for this valuable piece of unleavened bread, Eli runs into an anxious Miriam.  Who will get the piece of matzah which both families are seeking?

Mette Engel’s pictures are sure to please young readers.  The characters’ facial expressions clearly signal their moods, whether a bereft Miriam left in tears at the thought of an incomplete Seder, or a surprised Eli meeting Miriam on a bookshelf as they both do their jobs.  There are images which give the perspective of small people and smaller mice, as one where young Eli stands amidst a group of adult guests shown only from their feet to their waists, while, belowstairs, the mouse family is busily engaged in holiday preparations.  I particularly like the mouse grandparents: Grandpa with his matching, slightly dorky, zigzag print sweater and yarmulke, and Grandma, wearing pearls and delicate half-glasses.

Matzah Belowstairs is a playful and clever addition to Passover books for kids, as well as to the age-old genre of mice and their secret lives.

Haiku for Everyone

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z – Sydell Rosenberg and Sawsan Chalabi, Penny Candy Books, 2019

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Haiku is a poetic form that seems to demand less, but really demands more.  In only three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, the artist asks for our attention to the essential, and revealing, parts of life.  As author Sydell Rosenberg’s daughter writes in the introduction to this collection of her late mother’s work, “What’s most important about writing haiku is to focus on those many small moments we may overlook and make them special.” If you thought that writing haiku meant that you had to address nature, or conform to other requirements of the traditional Japanese form, then focus intently on this quirky collection before you grab your pen, or sit down at your computer. Rosenberg wrote about children, umbrellas, monsters, beauty parlors, and trash cans, all related to one another with delicate humor and verbal assurance.  The pictures that accompany the poems are bright and expressive, equally accessible to children and adults.

H is for Haiku is not the first collection to expand the form beyond its origins.  There are other lovely examples, such as Celeste Mannis and Susan Kathleen Hartung’s One Leaf Rides the Wind, Betsy E. Snyder’s sweet I Haiku You, and the detailed guidelines of Patricia Donegan’s Write Your Own Haiku for Kids. Rosenberg’s collection is a bit more irreverent and dream-like.

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Sawsan Chalabi’s picture of a woman hanging out wash on a line captures the arresting lines, “Vacation cottage/long Johns on a mountain top/swaying in the sun.” (In the book, the words are all capitalized, with letters alternating color and angle to one another.) The woman’s skirt is the house itself, with windows and chimney facing the reader as she concentrates on her task.  There is an authentic slice of New York City life, as workers suffering from the summer heat indulge in a refreshing moment: “Queuing for ice cream/sweat-sprinkled office workers/on Queens Boulevard.” That “sweat-sprinkled” is just right, as the patient line of people, of different ethnicities, enjoy a moment of respite as brief as the poem itself.

The book concludes with brief profiles of author and illustrator. Ms. Rosenberg was a public school teacher for many years, as well as a charter member of the Haiku Society of America.  Ms. Chalabi is a versatile illustrator and designer. As a short introduction to the form by Rosenberg aptly declares, “Haiku can’t be gimmicked; it can’t be shammed.” H is for Haiku illuminates how and why this form of poetry is unique, in all its non-gimmicky, sham-denying beauty.

In Memory of Paul B. Janeczko

How to Write Poetry: Scholastic Guides – Paul B. Janeczko, Scholastic, 1999

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I was saddened to hear of the death of poet and author Paul Janeczko, one of the most thoughtful and innovative practitioners of the art of poetry and of teaching poetry writing to children.  Both his own poems and his anthologies, some illustrated by Chris Raschka and Melissa Sweet, among others, are joyful and serious introductions to verse, for example A Poke in the I, Dirty Laundry Pile, and The Death of the Hat.  Reading these beautifully organized and presented collections is a lesson in itself; they convince children and teens, as well as adults, of the excitement and the relevance of the genre.

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One modest book which stands out when I think of Janeczko’s work is the practical guide published by Scholastic, How to Write Poetry. While there are other books which give aspiring poets formulas and tips, this one stands out for its unassuming but assuring format.  Each chapter approaches a different task essential to writing, exploring different types of poems, and analyzing how each one responds to that task.  The book is physical simple, but appealing, with text boxes of grey or green embedded to highlight “poetcraft” and “writing tips.” “Try this” sections are accompanied by a small icon of a book and pen.

Rather than structuring the book around rules and recipes for specific verse forms, Janeczko develops each chapter as a work-in-progress, a map of the poet’s work.  For example, the chapter on “Writing Free Verse Poems” includes list poems and poems of address, quotes from poets, advice on word choice and figurative language, and even checklists for the writing process.  The tone is focused, respectful of the difficulties as well as the rewards of writing poetry.

Recently, there have many children’s and young adult authors who have had success with verse novels or memoirs in poetic form: Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Debbie Levy, Karen Hesse, Sharon Creech, Marilyn Nelson, and others.  Paul Janeczko’s guide offers a complement to reading those authors, an inside look at the nuts and bolts which poets use to build their inimitable structures and to suggest that kids can learn how to write poetry, too.  Janeczko will we remembered for his unique contribution and his inspiring vision.

Peanut and Moe are Back!

Now? Not Yet! – Gina Perry,  Tundra Books, 2019 (June 4)

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This story, about two friends with somewhat dissimilar personality traits, will delight young children. We first met Peanut and Moe in Gina Perry’s Too Much! Not Enough!, and they are back, this time ready to meet the challenges of a camping trip: tents, s’mores, and all the rest.

While Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie are clearly an elephant and a pig, Moe and Peanut are not so easily identified by species.  Peanut looks a little like a peanut with bunny ears, while Moe’s bigger and bluer frame and long pink nose make him more like the creature of a child’s imagination.  Their sometimes frustrating but ultimately resolved differences are funny and comforting at the same time.

Moe and Peanut are both looking forward to an action-packed day outdoors, but their priorities are not always in sync.  Peanut wants to swim; Moe wants to hike.  Then Moe needs a snack, gets them lost, and insists on putting up their tent. It’s not even a disagreement, just a seemingly unending series of interruptions, which is the way young kids often see the obstacles placed in the way of doing what they want.  Eventually, the swimming happens!

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Then Perry reveals that Moe isn’t just a killjoy, but is actually a wise and almost adult figure, who knows that fun has to happen in its own time, and that after the fun, there is more stuff to do.  Children reading or listening to the book will understand this subtle message, as they experience the sequence of events: delaying the fun, having fun, and meeting unanticipated joys afterwards: “Now we are dry…Now we are cozy…Now we are warm…Now we are happy…”

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Gina Perry’s pictures are as accessible as her text. The colors are bright, but not flashy. Green and brown plants and earth meet Peanut’s bright pink toy bunny and candy-striped floaty. Some of the characters’ outbursts erupt in oversized and neon letters.

 

 

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There is a lot of activity on each page, but it isn’t frenetic.  On the title page, we see Moe carefully putting the ingredients for a snack in a small plastic bag, while Peanut hangs upside down from the top of his bunk bed.  The excursion is full of little surprises and distractions. A tiny worm crawls on Peanut’s ear, and both friends deal with burrs and pinecones sticking to their fur.

While adults might view those as incidental, from a kid’s perspective they are inextricable parts of the event itself.  Now? Not Yet is a happy combination of child empathizing and adult perspective, where a camping trip becomes a colorful metaphor for the way that, sometimes, things just work out.

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Girls, Horses, and Power

The Queen’s Secret (A Rose Legacy Novel) – Jessica Day George, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019

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Sometimes older genres are rejuvenated by rethinking conventions; this is certainly true in series fiction primarily marketed to girls.  In The Queen’s Secret, the second book in Jessica Day George’s fantasy series about girls set in a fictional kingdom torn by conflict, Anthea Cross-Thornley is brave and assertive, and also possesses the Way, a kind of superpower that allows her to communicate with horses.  Her relationship with her mother is conflicted, and she does not hesitate to question authority. There is quite a lot in the book to intrigue and entertain middle grade readers, and also encourage them to think.

 

The book is set in a far-off, but not so far-off, land, both in time and in space.  The characters’ names clearly invite associations with Britain, and the locations also have a European flavor.  While at first the reader may assume she is in the distant past, references to motor cars and cameras quickly correct that impression.  The author succeeds in balancing the fantastic and realistic elements in the narrative by alternating them smoothly and believably.  Anthea’s uncanny ability to speak to horses is woven into the other strands of the story: political intrigue, historical allusions, and feminism.

The most interesting part of the novel to me was its theme of mass hysteria and the need to use science to correct misplaced fears of progress. Because a deadly disease with nineteenth-century overtones is attacking people indiscriminately, they seek easy answers and cling to the falsehood that it is transmitted by horses.  Here is where readers attracted to the book by the promise of a good story about girls and horses will not be disappointed.  Chapters narrated by the horses themselves are interspersed throughout the book, complementing Anthea’s perspective and strengthening the idea of her commitment to save these noble animals from prejudice and hatred.

The solution to the mass terror is the rational solution of inoculating people against the dreaded illness; the discovery that those who are immune to the relatively innocuous “ring pox” are immune to “the Dag” is an obvious historical allusion to physician Edward Jenner’s similar route to protecting patients from smallpox.  Jessica Day George has subtly introduced some medical history into her story.  Less subtle, but just as welcome, is the prominent role played by women in resolving the book’s central dilemma: “All the scientists were indeed women,” begins one chapter. These women, like the others in the book, are not two-dimensional heroines, but flawed and complex human beings.

The Queen’s Secret should have broad appeal to an audience of middle grade readers. While it may have been envisioned as a book for girls, it should not be a secret that boys can enjoy it, too.

 

 

 

Not a Secret: A Brilliant Book

The Secret Project – Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter, Beach Lane Books, 2017

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In a recent forum in the New York Times, author Jonah Winter finally had the opportunity to express his frustration at the swerve in responses to his book The Secret Project. Initially praised enthusiastically by The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and other publications, the book became the focus of attacks by some readers who condemned inaccuracies in its presentation of the Native Americans who lived and worked in the region of the Project.  I am not writing to defend the book, because it doesn’t need my defense.  I would like to post an appreciation of its immense value as an informational book which also has a mythic dimension, and as a beautifully realized artistic production.

The idea of writing a picture book about the Manhattan Project for young readers is fraught with risk.  How can one present the history of a mission designed to save lives through massive destruction without merely terrifying? Author Jonah Winter and his mother, distinguished illustrator Jeanette Winter, bring readers to the New Mexico desert, a land of beauty and rich traditions, including of the native peoples who had lived there for generations.  The artist Georgia O’Keeffe also makes a cameo appearance, although she is named only as “an artist,” as if to emphasize the collective nature of the description.  Then come the scientists.  A school has been closed to make way for them, and local workers come to the new site without any knowledge of what is taking place there. Winter and Winter depict their dedication with text and images that match one another in mystery.  “What they are working on is so secret, they cannot even call it by its real name,” one line intones beneath a dark building with windows and door peopled by silhouettes.  Other pictures show visions of splitting atoms above a scientist’s head, and a group of “shadowy figures,” gesturing to one another in profile below a complex set of equations in a cloud.

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Readers learn a minimal number of facts; more information appears in a detailed “Author’s Note,” which is stunningly placed as black font against a grey background, and a black border of mourning. There is also a list of further resources.  The notes and resources complement the text itself; this is an informational book, but one which resembles a work of theater or a film, as it creates an atmosphere where “Crouching down in their bunker, the scientists prepare themselves for something…so earth-shattering…it is hardly even imaginable.”  The final pages of the book visualize the tension and the unprecedented destruction of the mushroom cloud, followed by blackness.

Informational books are not the last word on a subject, but, especially for children, often the first.  There are many resources available for opening the discussion of science, technology and society, the morality of war, and the role of civilians during military conflicts. If you expect The Secret Project to be a comprehensive history of the Manhattan Project, or a sociological study of the different ethnic groups and socioeconomic classes impacted by its presence in their community, you may be disappointed. Anyone who recognizes integrity and artistic brilliance in books for children will not be.

Jews and Trees

Pavel and the Tree Army – Heidi Smith Hyde and Elisa Vavouri,
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2019

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Before there was a Green New Deal, there was a New Deal that was green.  President Franklin Roosevelt and his advisors established the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program through which American men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-eight could earn a living during the Great Depression and contribute to a far-sighted commitment to conserve natural resources at the same time. Participants engaged in a variety of tasks, including flood control, fire prevention, and the prevention of soil erosion. Heidi Smith Hyde and Elisa Vavouri have given young readers, as well as caregivers and educators, a fictionalized glimpse at a lesser-known fact about this program: a number of the participants were Jewish, and some were new Americans.

My first thought on opening this book was that its very existence is a wonderful idea. There are many excellent children’s books about Jews in the American military, Jews as crusaders for civil rights, Jews in the arts.  Here is a focused look at one specific New Deal program, with a legacy of overwhelming importance today.  Hyde and Vavouri tell the story of Pavel and Anatoly, two Jewish immigrants from Russia whose rabbi has told them about the outstanding opportunity awaiting men willing to work hard and earn a living, at the same time helping the country to which they felt gratitude and loyalty.  Even imperfect English skills would not discourage their enrollment in the corps.  In one two page spread, we see a line of “hungry people, hoping for a scrap of bread or a bowl of warm soup,” blending into an image of Pavel’s rabbi on Shabbat, informing him hopefully about the scope of the program. Soon the familiar urban scene changes to a much lonelier one, where Pavel and Anatoly contemplate “a dry, dusty land dotted with wheat fields and farmhouses.”  The exciting idea has become a much more difficult reality, as some of their fellow workers deride their foreign accents and question their ability to be productive members of a team.

The book achieves a good balance between confronting reality and offering hope.  Pavel, Anatoly, and the other immigrants feel the sting of intense prejudice against Jews, Italians, or anyone who did not conform to their narrow view of America held by some of the men: “You don’t belong in the Civilian Conservation Corps.  You’re not real Americans. I bet you don’t even know America’s national anthem.” Suffice it to say, in addition to digging trenches and cutting timber, Pavel and his friends pursue a new goal with nothing less than total attention: learning to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” correctly, and with all the fervor of someone born under a dictatorship who could now enjoy the promise of democracy.

Hyde and Vavouri’s presentation of Jewish religious practices in the American military is quite realistic. The men do what they can to retain some observance, such as resting and singing on Shabbat while others go to the movies. At the same time, they are clearly shown eating chicken, mashed potatoes, and apple pie with the other corps members.  Today, when divisions between American Jews based on affiliation and level of practice have become so rigid, it is refreshing to see a book for children that describes a time when things were different.  The books reinforces Jewish teachings about ecology in an unobtrusive way, as when the kind sergeant points out to an insecure Pavel that, just as the saplings need time to take root, he and the other immigrants will also become rooted in the land. It is, unfortunately, not a coincidence that none of the book’s characters are African-American.  The CCC, like other New Deal programs, offered limited positions for people of color, and was segregated by race. This fact offers an opportunity for discussion when reading the book.

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Vavouri’s color palette reflects both nature and the Corps, with the green of the land matching the workers’ uniforms, along with a blue lake and a roaring orange campfire.  Then there is the flag: red, white, and blue.  Pavel and the Tree Army offers children a vital lesson in American democracy for today.

It’s Not Like There Are Any Buildings…

The Not-So Great Outdoors – Madeline Kloepper, Tundra Books, 2019

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“I have no idea why we have to ‘venture into the great outdoors’” this summer.”  So begins the skeptical young narrator in Madeline Kloepper’s story of a city kid forced to vacation in the forest of the Pacific Northwest. When I opened the book, I shared her crankiness.

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Why would anyone want to leave the inviting city scene from which her parents are about to exile her? Kloepper, a poet who sings the praises of the outdoors, takes care to depict the urban scene as attractively as she does the verdant world that comes next in the book.  Local artisans sells their wares on the street, residents sit at lovely cafés, and a bearded guitarist passes the hat.  I didn’t want to leave.

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The book has a clever and convincing structure. On each page, the narrator expresses her frustration at the desolate environment of the not-so-great outdoors.  The picture accompanying her complaints highlights the depth and beauty of the environment.  So, “It’s not like there are any buildings’ is set against a majestic scene of towering trees. The girl’s father looks upwards, aiming his camera at a woodpecker, while she lugs her backpack on the trail and scowls at the ground. Her irritated realization that “There’s no electricity” shows her moping on a log while her parents and little brother enjoy a campfire and singalong. Then, midway through the book, the girl has a breakthrough, realizing that the dreaded outdoors has it amenities: “songbirds instead of street performers,” food cooked outdoors which tastes better than the fare in a downtown restaurant.  The transition between the two mindsets happens in a subtle way, but seems to be transformative, as she and her family lie under the stars, pointing up at the night sky: “I don’t even mind that I’m missing my favorite show.”

Kloepper’s color palette is gorgeous and deep, with different shades of green and brown, marine blue, and a cranberry red for standout items such as the brother’s sweater or the family car.  People have expressive faces and animals such as huge bears or smaller beavers become the equivalent of her city neighbors.  The detail in small items—cooking utensils, flowers, blankets—adds realism to the story, although the humorous touch of a Sasquatch running in the woods implies that this is also a fable.  Keep an open mind and you may discover new things!

It doesn’t take an open mind to wait for more works from this gifted artist, or to return to her earlier books. You can enjoy reading The Not-So- Great Outdoors in a sleeping bag, or sitting at a sidewalk café.