Saturday, November 24, 2007

review: The Gentleman Outlaw and Me

The Gentleman Outlaw and Me by Mary Downing Hahn. (Originally titled The Gentleman Outlaw and Me--Eli) Clarion, 1996 (0-395-73083-X) $14.95; Clarion, 2007 (978-0-618-83000-8) $5.95 pb

For this book, Hahn left her usual suspense genre to explore the old west, and proved that she's as much at home with card-sharks and horse thieves as she is with sinister strangers. Our heroine is twelve-year-old Eliza Yates, a spirited girl with a sassy tongue, who narrates the story of how she become Elijah Bates, the boy confederate of the notorious Gentleman Outlaw. Neither of them, however, was exactly what they seemed.

Eliza's adventure begins when she and her beloved dog Caeser run away from her harsh relatives, to find the father who went west when she was five. Disguised as a boy, she saves the life of Calvin Featherbone, a refined young man who claims to be an experienced outlaw. His friend Miss Nellie draws a different picture of him, however: "Some folks think they know it all, but talking like you swallowed a dictionary don't mean a thing if you aint got common sense." And Eli soon discovers the truth of her words, as Calvin--who's as stubborn as he is conceited--gets her into one dangerous get-rich scheme after another.

There's nothing especially original about this plot, but it certainly doesn't seem stale. With a relish in her story that is highly infectious, Hahn spins a lively, funny tale, with lovable characters, a strong sense of place and an enjoyable dash of romance. (9-13)

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Review: What Do illustrators Do?

Now available in paperback:

What Do Illustrators Do? written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow. Clarion, 1999 (0-395-90230-4) $15.00; 2007 (978-0-618-87423-1) $6.95 pb

This companion to What Do Authors Do? is another fun and friendly look behind the scenes of the creation of a book. As two illustrators get to work on separate versions of "Jack and the Beanstalk," their pets, Scooter the dog and Leonard the cat, chat with each other and comment on the process, from the initial plan of what scenes to illustrate to the design of the cover. The helpful pets also demonstrate perspective, style, and--oops!--getting stuck in "the gutter." Christelow's informal watercolors and lively characters make both the business side and the creative side of illustrating understandable and entertaining. Readers may be surprised by how much thought and effort have to go into "just" drawing pictures, but will also inspired by seeing that "real" artists make rough sketches, traces, and mistakes. (5-8)


review: Chanukah Lights Everywhere

Chanukah Lights Everywhere by Michael J. Rosen. Illustrated by Melissa Iwai. 2001; Voyager, 2006 (0-15-205675-0) $6.00 pb

On each of the eight nights of Chanukah, a little boy counts lights for the number of candles his family lights. On the first night, "the skinny moon beams like a proud candle flame against the dark sky." On the sixth night, he counts six other menorahs in windows during a walk. On the seventh night, he visits a friend who celebrates Christmas and counts seven lights burning in his windows. And on the eighth night, he finds "all seven stars in the Big Dipper, plus the famous North Star above us, as though God, too, were lighting his own menorah in the sky. Even when Chanukah is over, he sees lights that remind him of their menorah and "I think about Chanukah and about being Jewish in such a wide world of so many other lights."

A sincere, earnest book with sincere, earnest illustrations, Chanukah Lights Everywhere explores themes also seen in Rosen's previous books like Elijah's Angel: respect and appreciation amongst people of different religions. This time it comes across as more messagey than heartwarming, however. There are some playful moments, with lots of cats popping up--one peers out between the narrator's legs in a busy family scene--and the glow of bright lights amid sparkling blue skies in the many night illustrations is warm and satisfying.

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