A stirring example of “grace under fire” (writes the author, mangling another meme), commemorated in rhapsodic but not...

THE BRAVEST MAN IN THE WORLD

A tribute to Wallace Hartley, the bandleader who played on as the RMS Titanic was sinking.

When young Jonathan complains that piano practice is “sissy stuff,” his grandfather responds with the tale of how, as a 9-year-old stowaway on the Titanic, he was taken in by the friendly Hartley—who was so impressed by the lad’s talent that he arranged an onboard audition before John Jacob Astor that later led to a life in music. First, though, comes that night to remember (or as Polacco unoriginally puts it, a “date that would live in infamy”), with its rending collision, general panic…and tearful separation as the child reluctantly boards a lifeboat while Hartley remains on deck, playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” for those doomed to stay behind. “Can you imagine the majesty and harrowing strength…the limitless bravery in that man’s heart,” the storyteller declaims. The musicians who, with like courage, joined Hartley on that fateful night are just dim figures in the background, but the illustrations bring the disaster’s terror and tragedy into sharp focus on the expressive faces of the young stowaway and other passengers and crew (all white). Readers will come away appreciating Hartley’s fortitude and may be equally moved by the closing note (with photos) that his violin, miraculously, was later recovered along with his body.

A stirring example of “grace under fire” (writes the author, mangling another meme), commemorated in rhapsodic but not unsuitable language. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4814-9461-8

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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Once again, this talented author/illustrator brings the past to life for young listeners and introduces them to...

TUCKY JO AND LITTLE HEART

Polacco shares the story of a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific as a very young man.

According to the author’s note, her intention was to “tell it as nearly as I can in his own words.” Assuming she succeeded, Johnnie Wallen was a thoughtful and eloquent individual whose words convey the horrors of war while also offering glimpses of humanity and hope. Inspired to join the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the “Kentucky Kid,” as he was known, was initially teased for his youth but gained the respect of his comrades for his marksmanship and skill with explosives. The colloquial, conversational text skims over the many battles in which Wallen’s infantry unit was involved to focus on Johnnie’s redemptive connection to an emotionally fragile young Filipino girl. Little Heart’s difficult experiences are delicately depicted, allowing young readers to see clearly the impact of war on children and families. In an unlikely, heartwarming (and true) twist, Little Heart eventually finds a way to repay “Tucky Jo” for his help and care. Polacco’s illustrations, created with colored pencil and marker, effectively reflect the action and illuminate the emotions of major and minor players without explicit violence or mawkish sentimentality.

Once again, this talented author/illustrator brings the past to life for young listeners and introduces them to unforgettable, admirable characters in the process . (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1584-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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Moving and emotionally charged, the book is capped with a powerful close-up of the child’s face on the rear cover with the...

UNSPOKEN

A STORY FROM THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

A farm child and a fugitive make an unspoken connection in this suspenseful, wordless Civil War episode.

Drawn in monochrome pencil on rough-textured paper, the broad, full-page and full-spread rural scenes give the encounter a shadowy, atmospheric setting. Going about her chores after watching a detachment of mounted soldiers beneath a Confederate flag trot by, the child is startled and fearful to realize that someone is hiding in a pile of cornstalks in the storehouse. Rather than mention this to the (seemingly) oblivious adults in her extended family or, later, to the hunters who come by with a reward poster, she courageously ventures out by herself, carrying small gifts of food. Never seen beyond a glimpse of an eye amid the leaves, the fugitive at last departs as silently as he (or she) came—leaving a corn doll in return for the girl’s kindness. In a ruminative afterword, Cole reflects on his Virginia family’s own connections to the war and, though silent about the signal quilt he hangs on the farmyard’s fence in the illustrations, explains the significance of the Big Dipper visible in the nighttime sky.

Moving and emotionally charged, the book is capped with a powerful close-up of the child’s face on the rear cover with the legend “What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?” (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-39997-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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