Tuesday, November 13, 2007

review: Journey Between Worlds

Now available in paperback:

Journey Between Worlds by Sylvia Louise Engdahl. 1970;
Putnam, 2006 (0-399-24532-4) $17.99; Puffin, 2007 (978-0142-408-28-5) $7.99 pb

First off, let me say this book has a terrific cover. In the publicity for its reissue, Engdahl has emphasized that it's a romance, presumably not wanting people to expect something similar to her serious YA science fiction novels, and the Manga-looking drawing of a girl in stylish space gear, rather dejectedly holding a bouquet of roses, couldn't say "science-fiction chick-lit" any better.

Journey Between Worlds is the story of Melinda, who having graduated high school expects to marry her boyfriend, settle down in her home town, and never budge again. Her plans take a detour when her father gives her a ticket to Mars as agraduation present--and when her boyfriend's obnoxious reaction to the idea convinces her to use it. Melinda doesn't expect much from the primitive, colonial world of Mars; she can't even understand why anyone would live there by choice. Even when she begins to have feelings for Alex, a returning "Martian" she meets aboard ship, she can't imagine giving up life on Earth to be with him... can she?

Originally published in 1970, this is the last of Engdahl's six YA novels to be recently reprinted, and it remains her slightest work. In an afterward, she mentions making small changes for the 2006 edition, mainly to update views about women, marriage and careers. Nonetheless, the first-person narrative retains a squeaky-clean 1960's feel, like Beany Malone or Up a Road Slowly in space.

But there's also an older tradition being followed here, that of books like Christy or Mrs. Mike, about a young woman leaving behind the comforts of "civilization" to become a pioneer. The heart of Journey Between Worlds is the belief that exploration is necessary to the human spirit, as well as to mankind's ultimate survival. Engdahl wrote about this same theme in her other YA books,
in ways I personally find more compelling... but there's nothing wrong with also delivering the idea with a bouquet or roses. (12 & up)

review: Hush, Little Baby by Shari Halpern

Hush, Little Baby illustrated by Shari Halpern. NorthSouth, 1997; 2007 (978-0-7358-2167-5) $6.95 pb

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word,
Mama's going to buy you a mockingbird.

And if that mockingbird won't sing,
Mama's going to buy you a diamond ring."

Children's lullabies are often strangely ambivalent in tone, so it's always interesting to see how an illustrator approaches them. I think Halpern made some good choices here, turning what's essentially a laundry list of potential disasters into a cozy picture book. Instead of sticking faithfully to the text, the pictures show all positive, sometimes surprising interactions: the baby (really a toddler) sings along with the mockingbird, swings on a diamond ring constellation, tickles the nose of the bull that joins him in the cart and rides on the back of the dog named Rover in a circus act. Each square collage illustration is framed by smaller squares that look like quilt pieces, each thematically linked to the main illustration; every picture has an individual blend of textures and colors, some looking jewel-toned and sparkling, others muted and homey. Though the scenes are sometimes exciting, the small size and simplicty of the pictures help keep the mood of the book mellow for bedtime.

An uncomplicated arrangement of the song is included at the end; the book could also be just read aloud, but it's such a lovely melody, it's worth learning if you don't already know it. (1-4)

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