H.A. and Margret Rey's curious story

November 06, 2005|By MARY HARRIS RUSSELL

The Journey That Saved Curious George

Louise Borden; illustrated by Allan Drummond

Houghton Mifflin / Ages 8-12

H.A. Rey and his wife, Margret, fled Paris on bicycles in June 1940. Using this central fact, Louise Borden tells two fascinating and overlapping stories. Who was the author of Curious George? And what was life like in South America and Europe in the 1930s and wartime 1940s? This is not the landscape of broad national statistics but of human-size events, like finding the bicycles, loading them, cycling 48 kilometers the first day out of Paris and really enjoying the nights when they could sleep in a real bed or have a bath. And that curious little monkey? We're following his story from their early Brazilian years to 1941, when Curious George was published in New York. Dense coverage of how writers really write and people really live, in whatever times are given them.

The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Roaring Brook / Ages 10-14

An earlier book, The Conch Bearer, started in contemporary India and ended in a remote valley of healers and seers, accessible only to travelers with special powers. Beginning in that valley, Anand and Nish, the boy and girl from the earlier book, embark on a journey through time, entering events that happened nearby 300 years earlier. They defeat an onslaught against the sacred Conch (a magical object) by forces of evil. Fortunately, the Conch has a sharp, edgy and sometimes humorous voice, so that the fantasy events, deftly plotted as they are, don't get overpoweringly grand or remote from these two young people.

John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth

Elizabeth Partridge

Viking / Ages 11-15

Although there are pictures you haven't seen before, the real strength here is Elizabeth Partridge's focus on John Lennon's psychological and artistic life. The influences on him of relationships with his mother, his aunt, and wife, Yoko Ono, all prove interestingly knotty. Partridge conveys the heady atmosphere of in Lennon's early musical career and the Beatles years, yet also expands our sense of how the live performances - and that collective identity - came to be burdensome. Ono's insistence on being present at the group's recording sessions, for instance, is conveyed in convincingly grating detail, as are the various stages when Lennon sought spiritual enlightenment on a variety of paths.

Criss Cross

Lynne Rae Perkins

Greenwillow / Ages 10-14

"She wished something would happen." And what teen hasn't wished along with 14-year-old Debbie? She and Patty, Hector, Lenny and Phil have neighborhood connections, and they often gather, during one summer, to listen to the show "Criss Cross" on the radio in Hector's father's truck. But each chapter follows mostly their individual lives. Hector is an aspiring rock star who doesn't even know how to play a guitar. Lenny fixes things; Debbie dreams about an older boy. There's a clear, quiet sense of how the boys and girls are in separate worlds. Lynne Rae Perkins doesn't force events to happen, and her slow pace is just right.

Inkspell

Cornelia Funke

Chicken House/Scholastic / Ages 10-14

Meggie and her father share the dangerous ability to read characters out of books and into life; in this sequel, one year after the conclusion of Inkheart, we meet another such reader, Orpheus, who sets new action into play by returning Dustfinger to the Ink-world. (A few introductory pages offer a satisfyingly complete summary of the characters from the first book.) As before, Cornelia Funke's narrative moves slowly, emphasizing that when those with the power to change reality do so, they cannot always control what happens next. And the implied topics here are not only the power of imagination to make books real, but questions of time, life and death.

10,000 Days of Thunder: A History of the Vietnam War

Philip Caputo

Atheneum / Ages 12-15

Philip Caputo's journalistic strengths and Vietnam War experiences combine for a strong and admirably balanced treatment. Caputo begins the war's story much earlier than the first U.S. combat troops' arrival in 1965, going back to Ho Chi Minh's declaration of Vietnamese independence in 1945. The book opens, after an introduction with some familiar images, with a section about communism, a wise choice for readers born after the Cold War. The rest of the book is divided into many small sections, each with "quick facts" in a sidebar, a longer text and then a photo. Sections covered include "The Draft," "The Nurses' War" and "The Tunnel War." Includes a good list of related Web sites.

Mary Harris Russell, who teaches English at Indiana University Northwest, reviews children's literature for the Chicago Tribune.

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