THE FOOL AND THE PHOENIX

A TALE OF OLD JAPAN

In this original tale of a mute birdcatcher who nets a phoenix and saves his village from a bandit, Lattimore (Arabian Nights, 1995, etc.) shows little of the zeal for authenticity and depth of research that characterize her other works. In feudal Japan, the shogun has threatened to burn down a village he believes is harboring his stolen treasure. Hideo, the birdcatcher, sees a scar on a passing bandit's forehead and an identical one on Nobu, head of the village council, but fails to connect the two until after he frees and falls in love with a phoenix, and then performs several random good deeds. After trying to kill Hideo—who is speechless and unable to defend himself—for the thievery, Nobu hears the phoenix's accusation and instantly confesses all. Hideo and the phoenix disappear into a tree and are last seen, many years later, flying off wing in wing (though the illustration depicts an odd, birdlike creature with two heads on a single body). The intricately brushed scenes are backed by foamy trails of dingy-looking mist to go with the heavily contrived plot. A somewhat superficial background note is appended, which wrongly implies that the legend of the phoenix is a Japanese story, when it is actually found in many cultures. (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1997

ISBN: 0-06-026209-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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PRAIRIE TRAIN

As the Great Northern chugs its way to St. Paul, past fields “stitched together / in brown and yellow patches, / like Grandma’s quilt spread over the hills,” a lone child in her Sunday Best gazes happily out the windows, takes a meal in the dining car (surreptitiously dropping sugar cubes into her wallet as mementos), makes friends with those seated around her when the train is temporarily halted by a snowdrift, then steps off at last, and into her grandmother’s arms. Thompson places the ride in the 1920s or ’30s, depicting passengers and elegant interiors with photorealistic sharpness, then backing off to show the big train steaming its way through towns and over rolling prairie. Despite occasional anxious moments, the generally buoyant tone of this individual odyssey will reassure prospective young travelers, and trainiacs will pore over the period details. (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-688-13433-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2003

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UNITE OR DIE

HOW THIRTEEN STATES BECAME A NATION

Memorable for the contrast between the melodramatic title and Czekaj’s funny cartoon scenes of popeyed children putting on a low-budget stage play, this account of our Constitutional Convention should leave even less attentive readers with some idea of what the resultant document is all about. The curtain rises on players in state-shaped costumes running around shouting “Hooray! Freedom!” In subsequent scenes they fall to squabbling (“I know what’s best for me”) under the weak Articles of Confederation, recognize the need for change and gather (all but Rhode Island, that is) in sweltering Philadelphia for long, secret negotiations—nearly failing to reach consensus until Connecticut proposes the Great Compromise over the nature of the two legislative houses. “Who will be the first to sign? George Washington, of course!” A lively way to kick off discussions of how the Constitution works and why it’s still a living document, especially with readers too young to tackle Jean Fritz’s Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution (1987). (Informational picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-58089-189-9

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2009

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