Monday, April 14, 2008

review: The House in the Night

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson. Illustrated by Beth Krommes. Houghton Mifflin, 2008 (978-0-618-86244-3) $17.00

(This book will be available in May, 2008)

The cover of The House in the Night is a scratchboard illustration of a dark little house in a dark little forest; a dog peeps out the open window, stars glimmer, a stylized moon smiles above. The combination of plump, rounded shapes and scattered spots of glowing yellow lights amid blackness gives the scene an enticing air of cozy mystery. That feeling continues throughout the book, as a little girl and her dog are given "the key to the house." In the house burns a light, in that light rests a bed, on that bed rests a book, and in that book waits... a flying adventure in the starry dark.

A terse, cumulative text sucks us into this story, eager to see what each new page will bring. The pictures (by the illustrator of Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, winner of the 2006 Cybil for poetry) continue the theme of peaceful wondering: amidst surroundings made cozy with cats and flowers and teddy bears, and constant touches of yellow light to highlight the quietness of the primary black & white, the little girl is constantly on the move, seeking something. As she has her adventure, flying through the night sky, the pictures grow more exotic and surprising in each scene, showing giant, other-worldly flowers and a moon beaming with far-flung rays of light.

Both text and pictures wind themselves back up perfectly, retracing a path back to warmth and familiarity, leaving readers satisfied and comforted and at peace with the night. What more could you ask for from a bedtime book. * (2-6)

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Nonfiction Monday: Postcards from Washington D.C.

Postcards from Washington D.C./Postales desde Washington D.C. written and illustrated by Laura Crawford. Raven Tree Press, 2008 (0-9795477-0-9) $16.95

Part of the series, "Traveling With Anna," this is a partially bilingual book (English/Spanish) that uses a postcard-to-friends format to describe places of interest in Washington D.C. An eye-catching design mixes formal photos of the sites with casual pen & ink and watercolor pictures of the friendly Anna, who smiles with bookworm glee at the Library of Congress (even though nothing can be checked out,) and gazes soberly at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, putting some flowers under her uncle's name. Each section includes a "postcard" from Anna, enthusiastically describing her trip, plus a few additional facts as text.

Anna's postcards are engaging, giving interesting information that will appeal to kids, such as a description of a ritual in Arlington National Cemetery: "A guard marched 21 steps, clicked his heels, faced the tomb, waited 21 seconds, and marched back." After visiting the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, she writes: "Money isn't made of paper. It is really linen and cotton. That's why it doesn't get ruined in the washing machine!"

Postcards from Washington D.C. isn't completely successful as a bilingual book, because only the additional text is offered in Spanish; the postcards themselves, the best part, are only given in English. It's still an excellent resource for English speakers planning a family trip to D.C., for kids interested in other places, or for classroom reading. (6-10)

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