Wednesday, March 07, 2007

review: Sometimes/Algunas veces by Keith Baker

Sometimes/Algunas veces written and illustrated by Keith Barker. Green Light Readers, 1999; 2007 (978-0-15-205961-3) $3.95 pb

One of my favorite easy readers is now available in an English/Spanish edition. Less is more in this positive but never preachy little look at feelings and self-esteem. The star is an active and adventurous alligator, who reveals that "Sometimes I am happy. Sometimes I am sad." But no matter what happens, "I like who I am. I like what I do." The gentle rhythm of the text gives it the qualities of a song, making its simplicity and repetition feel natural, instead of forced or babyish. Baker's vibrant and expressive acrylic illustrations fill in all the details the text leaves out, showing busy scenes of the alligator as he enjoys his daily life.

This is an unusually attractive beginner's book, an excellent choice for sibling reading. The short sentences also make it a good choice for those learning English or Spanish as a new language, and though some of the flow of the original text is lost in the Spanish translation, reading both versions together--"I like who I am. Me gusta quien soy. I like what I do. Me gusta lo que hago."--works surprisingly well. (2-6)

Labels: , ,

review: The Skull of Truth by Bruce Coville

The Skull of Truth by Bruce Coville. Illustrated by Gary A. Lippincott. Harcourt Brace, 1997; 2002 (0-15-204612-7) $17.00; 2007 (978-0-15-206084-8) $5.95 pb

In the third "Magic Shop" book, a boy named Charlie finds his way to Mr. Elives' shop and is irresistibly drawn to an item that's not for sale: a human skull. To his own astonishment, he steals the skull--but that's nothing to his astonishment when its eyes begin to glow and it starts to talk to him.

The skull turns out to be none other than Yorick--Coville just can't seem to stay away from Shakespeare!--and he's really more annoying than frightening, always cracking bad jokes and keeping Charlie up at night. But one aspect of owning the skull is far more than just annoying: it forces Charlie, and anyone near it, to speak nothing but the absolute truth. Soon Charlie has badly hurt the feelings of a sick friend, seriously offended that school bully and learned some uncomfortable secrets about his family. Even when he tries to put Yorick to good use, by forcing a developer who wants to destroy his favorite swamp into full disclosure, the result isn't quite what he expected. Truth turns out to be much more complicated than Charlie ever thought.

The Skull of Truth gets a little crowded with subplots, including the history of Charlie's reputation as a liar, his friend's cancer, and his favorite uncle's unexpected "outing" at an all-too-truthful family dinner. But Coville juggles everything skillfully, tying most of the subplots together for a poignant and thought-provoking ending. Like the previous "Magic Shop" books, this is a fast-paced, easy read that also fulfills a longing for more meaningful themes. (8-12)

Labels: , ,