THE RIDE

THE LEGEND OF BETSY DOWDY

It’s 1775 and the people of North Carolina want freedom from England’s rule, but “[w]hen sixteen-year-old Betsy Dowdy heard Papa talk about war approaching, she felt as helpless as a ghost crab skittering along the sand.” The legendary Betsy of Currituck (her existence has never been proven) isn’t helpless, though. She promptly saddles up her pony Bess and rides all night—50 miles over hill and dale—to warn General Skinner’s militia about the incoming redcoats. In what may be the most Fauvist depiction of colonial America ever, Priceman’s splendidly untamed gouache-and-ink spreads reflect the menacing inevitability of war with fiery oranges and the red-cloaked Betsy’s phantasmagorical nighttime ride in deep blues and purples. Perspectives are distorted, buildings topsy-turvy, eyes of human and beast are wild and wide—even the sharp-toothed river fish look agitated, as in a crazy nightmare. The muddled story—more odd, atmospheric drama than history lesson—may just end up unsettling readers, though, despite the trumpeting clarity of its made-for-radio-voice refrain: “She couldn’t fight as a soldier. But she could ride.” (stylized map, author’s note) (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4169-2816-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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Hair today, gone tomorrow.

GET UP, ELIZABETH!

Nearly buried beneath fantastically abundant billows of red hair, a small, yawning princess is pulled from bed.

She submits with relative meekness (“No, I’m sorry Elizabeth, / No mouse in your skirt!”) to having her stockings tied on, her teeth rubbed with soot, sleeves and ruff attached to a gown over her wide petticoat, and finally her hair wrestled into shape—all just in time to be presented with a regal bow to an all-white crowd of likewise bowing retainers. Mouse aside, the whole procedure has a stilted formality that is only intensified by the elegantly restrained details of Tudor-style dress and interiors visible in the illustrations. Though its rhyming and scansion could use work, Bridges’ verse captures a chivvying tone that seems appropriate considering how the princess is being respectfully but briskly hustled along by her seldom-seen lady’s maid. But the scene-stealing hair seems to have all the character here, as the stiff, silent child’s face is either hidden or largely expressionless. In lieu of source notes the author offers a few scattered observations about Elizabethan fashion and behavior at the end, and Marley’s interiors are evidently likewise generic rather than based on those of Hatfield House, where Elizabeth I grew up. Readers might take up the implied invitation to compare their own morning toilettes or perhaps imagine enjoying the royal routine themselves. (This book was reviewed digitally with 9.5-by-19-inch double-page spreads viewed at 79% of actual size.)

Hair today, gone tomorrow. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-944903-94-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Cameron + Company

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Visually evocative of time and place but spoiled by apparently incomplete research and debatable historical claims.

GRANDFATHER WHISKER'S TABLE

From the Trade Winds series

Italy’s famous horse race, the Palio di Siena, serves as background for a medieval child’s first experience with a banker.

Both the race and banking are misrepresented here. Concerned that the toy he’s persuaded his papa to buy will be damaged by the festive crowds, Enzo asks a money-changer seated at his banco (table) to mind it—then manages to lose the essential receipt. Enzo frets, but (in an ending that is likely to excite skepticism in modern, or at least adult, readers) after the race’s wild celebrations, the grave graybeard gives the toy back anyway. Landmann’s illustrations, done in Renaissance Sienese style, outclass the sketchy storyline with scenes of cocked-headed, olive-skinned figures in elegant period robes placed in narrow medieval streets decked with simplified flags of the localities, the contrade, that compete in the event to this day. Still, even she gives the money-changer a cash box but neither ledger nor scales. In closing notes the author conflates the modern Palio with its medieval predecessors and makes a decidedly arguable claim that modern banking is a Sienese invention.

Visually evocative of time and place but spoiled by apparently incomplete research and debatable historical claims. (afterword, timeline) (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5474-2

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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