Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Kid Lit: Children's book reviews

By Sara Pearce

        Angelina and Henry

        Written by Katharine Holabird, illustrated by Helen Craig (Pleasant Co.; $12.95; ages 3-7). Angelina has been one of the spunkiest picture book characters right from the get-go, which was 10 books back. The ballet-crazy mouse is still twirling, this time up Big Cat Mountain on a camping trip with her Uncle Louie and cousin Henry. When Henry sends the cousins to fetch firewood, they get distracted by imaginative play and soon are lost. Night is falling and a storm is kicking up. Is that Big Cat howling or just wind? No matter, Angelina is there to protect and comfort Henry until Uncle Louie comes. Ms. Craig's ink-and-watercolor illustrations are, as always, charming. Her affection for the characters is apparent in their expressiveness and in the fully-realized mouse world she has created.


        By Andrea Cheng (Front Street; $16.95; ages 9-13).

        The Cincinnati writer's debut novel is the understated story of a Jewish girl in Budapest at the outbreak of World War II. On the surface, she is the pampered daughter of a wealthy stockbroker, and maybe a bit spoiled. But fear lies beneath every moment of her family's life. Though they pretend to be Catholic, everyone knows they are Jewish - and Jews across Europe are being targeted. The tension builds as Marika ages from 6 to 16 and war becomes reality. Ms. Cheng's prose is unsettling in its directness and has a forceful grace that lingers. Readers will wonder how this could have happened - and will find themselves thinking about places where prejudice still exists.

        Ms. Cheng will sign Marika at noon Saturday at Blue Manatee Books, 3054 Madison Road, Oakley, (513) 731-2665.

        This is the House That Jack Built

        Retold and illustrated by Simms Taback (Penguin Putnam; $15.99; ages 4-8).

        Mr. Taback (There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly) has done it again. His signature style - call it controlled chaos - perks up another centuries-old cumulative rhyme. His eye-boggling, mixed-media illustrations take readers on a roller-coaster ride through the tale, which starts with “the rat that ate the cheese.” As cast and story grow, new characters are squeezed in until it seems the pages will burst. Poems, ads, lists and a variety of objects are worked into the vibrant, folksy illustrations. It takes repeated viewings to wade through it all. (Who knew that the “forlorn maiden who milked the cow” wore Passion perfume?)

        Real estate ads on the end papers and a tool ad on the back cover are the kind of finishing touches you'd expect from such a fine craftsman.

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