Chickens, voices, minstrels and a famous lawman

Review Children's books

December 17, 2006|By Madeline Bryant | Madeline Bryant,Los Angeles Times

Children are always looking for a good read - it helps postpone bedtime like nothing else. Here are some titles that stand up equally well in daylight.

PICTURE BOOKS

Fourteen masters of illustration answer the eternal comedic question Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? (Dial: 40 pp., $16.99). The nearly wordless responses range from the obvious to the absurd. Mo Willems' chicken is being "grilled" by police after running "afowl" of the law, while Jerry Pinkney's wants to attend a lavish tea party. My favorite is Harry Bliss' zombie chickens from Mars.

A single line followed from page to page illustrates the colorful Follow the Line by Laura Ljungkvist (Viking: 32 pp., $16.99). Questions invite children to participate in the line's journey from morning to night. How many apples have fallen from the tree? How many babies are awake?

In Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick: 48 pp., $15.99), librarian Mrs. Merriweather tells a story-hungry lion he is welcome, as long as he follows the rules. He soon becomes a fixture at story time and in the stacks, much to the dismay of a clerk. When Mrs. Merriweather is injured in a fall, the lion wants to help but has to ... roar! Hawkes' soft illustrations evoke a feeling of yesteryear.

CHAPTER BOOKS

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow: 224 pp., $18.99). Once a professional magician, Fleischman details the life (but not the magician's secrets) of Ehrich Weiss - a poor Jewish boy born in Budapest who would become Harry Houdini - from his hard-knock days as an illusionist to his almost mythical hero status as an escape artist.

Second in a proposed trilogy, Crispin: At the Edge of the World by Avi (Hyperion: 240 pp., $16.99) stands well on its own. Crispin and his protector Bear win their freedom in 14th-century England and try to resume their lives as traveling minstrels but quickly realize they are in peril. This fast-paced story of survival and friendship touches on themes of love, war, religion and family.

YOUNG ADULTS

In Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins: 336 pp., $16.99), 15-year-old Aza is considered unsightly, yet she has an uncommonly beautiful voice. When young Queen Ivi discovers Aza's gift for "illusing" (mimicking and throwing) people's voices, she blackmails Aza into providing a singing voice for her. Aza must then grapple with the morality of her deception.

A bit of grit and a dose of the Old West come together in The Legend of Bass Reeves by Gary Paulsen (Wendy Lamb: 160 pp., $15.95), a fictionalized biography of a slave turned federal marshal. Reeves grew up on a Texas ranch with an alcoholic master and went to live with the Creek tribe in what would become Oklahoma. Later, as a rancher and lawman, he brought order to a reckless land.

ALL AGES

Its title demands that you Pick Me Up. In this book by Jeremy Leslie and David Roberts (DK Children: 352 pp., $29.99), seemingly random facts are arranged in colorful sections such as "You and Your Body" and "Planet Earth" and connected by bold links.

Madeline Bryant is senior librarian in the children's literature department of the Los Angeles Public Library. She wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.

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