Polar differences

tales of the small, big and bad

Warhol's eccentric youth

Books for Young Readers

February 06, 2005|By Mary Harris Russell | Mary Harris Russell,Chicago Tribune

Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears Will Never Be Neighbors

By Elaine Scott. Viking, $17.99. Ages 9-14 years.

One might expect the histories of exploration and of animal populations here, but what Elaine Scott does so well is convey the basic differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic themselves. Why is the Arctic not a continent, when Antarctica is? Because the Arctic "is a frozen sea, surrounded by the frozen edges of many different lands. ... Antarctica ... is a continent -- a mass of land surrounded by icy seas." And yet, for hundreds of years, there was no proof that that land, more solid in a sense, "existed anywhere but in the human imagination." And you'll find out why polar bears wouldn't flourish in the south, and penguins can't go north.

Andy Warhol: Prince of Pop

By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Delacorte. $16.95. Ages 11-14 years.

Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan bring to life an artist and individual who deserves more than a memory of soup cans and spiky hair. This eccentric kid from Pittsburgh, shy and gay, with a passion for drawing, was looking for a world large enough to include his hyper-attention to reality and a fascination with fantasy. He was also someone whose mother lived with him for years, cooking him homemade meals before he went club-crawling. This is a portrait of what can be achieved in a life that isn't tidily homogenous, but also of how many destructive microbursts there were within the orbit of that world.

Private Peaceful

By Michael Morpurgo. Scholastic. $16.95. Ages 11-14 years.

Chapter titles such as "Five Past Ten" follow the clock through the course of a long night in this book; we're waiting for something that at the beginning we don't understand and by the end feel only too strongly. This is a story of two English brothers who are World War I soldiers. Thomas has lied about his age to accompany his older brother, Charlie, into service. Thomas' memories of their growing up together occupy most of this long night and provide a portrait of rural life with strongly marked class divisions. Though the horrors of the war are vividly present, it's the brothers' family life -- which includes a brain-damaged older brother and a self-serving grandmother -- that gives the novel its emotional intensity.

The Shadows of Ghadames

By Joelle Stolz. Delacorte, $15.95. Ages 10-14 years.

Nearly 12, Malika yearns to know more of the world in which her merchant father travels. But for Malika, in the late-19th-century Libyan city of Ghadames, the restrictions of her sex seem all-determining. The events of the story, however, show her there are many ways of being a woman. Her mother is traditionally oriented, but her father's second wife, Bilkisu, a merchant's daughter from a far southern city, is more radical. When Bilkisu daringly takes into their home a man fleeing from a police patrol, all the women in the household have to shift positions and actions in order to do what they decide is morally right. Malika comes to understand that courage has its place in women's lives as well.

Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life

By Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Simon & Schuster, $16.95. Ages 5-8 years.

All the tales that the J. Carver Worthington Andersons tell are tall, because they are descended from a long line of giants. So, though they love young Hewitt dearly, they can't help noticing that he's "very, very small." Their lullabies shake his bones, and he falls asleep in his father's palm. They're worried: How will Hewitt make it in such a large world? (There is something familiar about their collection of golden eggs, and their teaching him how to climb a beanstalk, just in case.) Love conquers size, however, especially after Hewitt proves that small can sometimes be more useful than large.

Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak

By Deborah Ellis. Groundwood, $16.95. Ages 10-14 years.

This book isn't one of those cutesy upbeat specials, in which children from different sides of a border, whatever the border, join hands and live happily ever after. Deborah Ellis did her interviews in Israel and the Palestinian territories in November and December 2002. These children's lives are ordinary and yet extraordinarily marked by the conflict within which they live. The "ordinary" aspects of their world stand out almost more than the moments when conflict erupts: Most American children don't have a sense of what difference it would make if you had to cross checkpoints to get to school, or what happens when a curfew is imposed, or what family parties are like when someone always has to be standing guard. Children in such a conflicted world are not strangers to hate, though there are interviewees on both sides who try to be hopeful. Tough and worth the read.

The Gruffalo's Child

By Julia Donaldson, pictures by Axel Scheffler. Dial, $16.99. Ages 4-7 years.

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