Books of the region: Hiss, Annapolis

July 07, 1996|By James Bready | James Bready,Special to the Sun

A review of the children's book "Can a Coal Scuttle Fly?" in the books section of last Sunday's editions of The Sun should have given the name of the book's artist as Tom Miller.

The Sun regrets the error.

It's 1989, and Richard Nixon is aging but still involved. He gets high-level word that Whittaker Chambers - remember the Pumpkin Papers? - produced three rolls of microfilmed classified documents, back there in 1948, but that wasn't really all. He had still a fourth one in reserve. So Nixon calls in a trio of his old operatives and says: Get it.

The quest starts at the Chambers farm, outside Westminster, pauses at Towson Library and then is off to East Germany, which is on the tumultuous brink of Communist downfall.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

High-speed driving, relentless thugs, a $2 billion price tag on the mysterious K-document: Bob Oeste's novel, "The Last Pumpkin Paper" (Random House. 267 pages. $23) has them all - especially, headline names from the historical confrontation pitting Alger Hiss' word against the testimony and artifacts of a host of Republican operatives.

When Oeste finishes (with you still up, well past bedtime), a new accounting of those lurid events has emerged. K can stand for Kuerbis (pumpkin, in German) - or someone's name.

Oeste, currently a staff member at Johns Hopkins University Press, has moved around, as dance instructor, teacher of German, military policeman and Johns Hopkins Ph.D. He could have a large future writing political thrillers.

***

The premise of "Annapolis," by William Martin (Warner Books. 865 pages. $24.95), seems to be that you're about to start vacation, that you'll stay close to hammock or beach umbrella, and that you mildly regret having paid so little attention in American history class.

So here's a whole summer's worth of historical fiction in one book. Celebrities, from George Washington to Bob Hope. The Navy, from before we had one to a Gulf War submarine named Annapolis.

And, in between wars and romances, the city on the Severn. Dominating the dust jacket is the State House dome - nary a wormhole showing. Two many-generation families (Staffords, Parrishes) supply a profusion of brave hearts and base varlets. Martin forms them from a good grade of cardboard; description- and reflection-skimmers will find conversation on every page; and the viewpoint in this pageant is safely red, white and navy all the way.

Martin's delight as storyteller is history when no historian was present; in clatter and bang, he rivals Herman Wouk and renders James Michener dull. Throughout, thanks to a book-within-a-book device, the sensibility is straight 1990s. As with many another commercial novel, this is easy, pleasant reading.

***

Here are four of the best recent, locally generated books for children:

The bent coal scuttle brought home one day by a 10-year-old Baltimore boy looked sad, unwanted; so young Tom Wilson painted eyes, claws and feathers on it. People smiled, most of all his mother, who had already applied color to things all over their back yard.

Then Tom Wilson went on to Maryland Institute, College of Art, and learned a lot about color and texture and line. By now, grownups esteem his work; the 4-to-8 set will like it too, in "Can a Coal Scuttle Fly?" (Maryland Historical Society. $14) with text by Camay Calloway Murphy.

"Many old discarded things" still catch an artist's eye with their beautiful shapes. To catch the public's eye? Hope, love, hard work and color.

Priscilla Cummings and A. R. Cohen, writer and illustrator: this combination has earned the rank or title of Chesapeake institution. In this area, their Chadwick the Crab books, and Oswald and Sid and Sal, have become part of the 8-to-12 journey.

This time, it's "Toulouse, the Story of a Canada Goose" (Tidewater. $9.95), with a touch of Quebecois French. And of two great birds and getting lost, and then being in deadly danger

Oh, in this season, for the dolphin life. Even if it means being not always well, sometimes orn- ery and confined, like Bob and his mother Aster, to the fictional Maryland State Aquarium.

Twig C. George and her illustrator Christine Herman Merrill have staff-level knowledge of Baltimore's National Aquarium, and their book "A Dolphin Named Bob" (HarperCollins. 72 pages. $13.95) is only going to add many more 7-to-10-year-olds to that Inner Harbor waiting line.

Colby Rodowsky's stature is increasing with every book she writes - with every additional theme that she takes from the real world with its hard personal problems. In "Remembering Mog" (Farrar Straus Giroux. 136 pages. $14), the teen-age protagonist struggles under a double burden: older sister killed by a car thief, mother in denial. Other family members bear up, but a new crisis arrives.

Reading Colby Rodowsky is a way to grow up.

James H. Bready was a reporter, book review editor and editorial writer for The Evening Sun for many years. He now writes a monthly column about books of the region.

Pub date: 7/07/96

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