THE TWINS AND THE BIRD OF DARKNESS

A HERO TALE FROM THE CARIBBEAN

San Souci (The Birds of Killingworth, p. 572, etc.), one of the premier promoters of the folkloric tradition, always provides a careful author’s note detailing the origins of his stories, several of which have recently come from the Caribbean. This tale comes from Guadeloupe and the author states that it “is composited in the main from thirteen variant tales” collected by Elsie Clews Parsons as well as other tales by Philip Sherlock and Lafcadio Hearn. San Souci also mentions that the story has European roots. The motifs in the story, the good brother and the evil brother; the princess who has to be rescued, and the slaying of a monster with the help of magic, are all common enough in many cultures and usually make for an exciting story. The text has its dramatic high points, but unfortunately, the narrative is undermined by the illustrations. With the exaggeration and cartoon-like style of Widener’s (If the Shoe Fits, p. 189, etc.) paintings, this hero tale seems less than heroic. Sure, the princess is rescued, but the beads of sweat all over the hero’s body, when he tries to get out of the ravine into which he has fallen, look like a grade-B comic book. The large eyes and round heads of the characters have a silly, almost stereotypical look that just doesn’t work with this type of serious traditional tale. The clothing and the palace do not belong in the Caribbean. Only when the Bird of Darkness with its seven rainbow-colored heads appears, does the book reverberate with any real power. (author’s note) (Picture book/folktale. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-83343-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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A WEEK IN THE WOODS

Playing on his customary theme that children have more on the ball than adults give them credit for, Clements (Big Al and Shrimpy, p. 951, etc.) pairs a smart, unhappy, rich kid and a small-town teacher too quick to judge on appearances. Knowing that he’ll only be finishing up the term at the local public school near his new country home before hieing off to an exclusive academy, Mark makes no special effort to fit in, just sitting in class and staring moodily out the window. This rubs veteran science teacher Bill Maxwell the wrong way, big time, so that even after Mark realizes that he’s being a snot and tries to make amends, all he gets from Mr. Maxwell is the cold shoulder. Matters come to a head during a long-anticipated class camping trip; after Maxwell catches Mark with a forbidden knife (a camp mate’s, as it turns out) and lowers the boom, Mark storms off into the woods. Unaware that Mark is a well-prepared, enthusiastic (if inexperienced) hiker, Maxwell follows carelessly, sure that the “slacker” will be waiting for rescue around the next bend—and breaks his ankle running down a slope. Reconciliation ensues once he hobbles painfully into Mark’s neatly organized camp, and the two make their way back together. This might have some appeal to fans of Gary Paulsen’s or Will Hobbs’s more catastrophic survival tales, but because Clements pauses to explain—at length—everyone’s history, motives, feelings, and mindset, it reads more like a scenario (albeit an empowering one, at least for children) than a story. Worthy—but just as Maxwell underestimates his new student, so too does Clement underestimate his readers’ ability to figure out for themselves what’s going on in each character’s life and head. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-82596-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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An inspirational exploration of caring among parent, teacher and child—one of Grimes’ best. (Poetry. 8-12)

WORDS WITH WINGS

In this delightfully spare narrative in verse, Coretta Scott King Award–winning Grimes examines a marriage’s end from the perspective of a child.

Set mostly in the wake of her father’s departure, only-child Gabby reveals with moving clarity in these short first-person poems the hardship she faces relocating with her mother and negotiating the further loss of a good friend while trying to adjust to a new school. Gabby has always been something of a dreamer, but when she begins study in her new class, she finds her thoughts straying even more. She admits: “Some words / sit still on the page / holding a story steady. / … / But other words have wings / that wake my daydreams. / They … / tickle my imagination, / and carry my thoughts away.” To illustrate Gabby’s inner wanderings, Grimes’ narrative breaks from the present into episodic bursts of vivid poetic reminiscence. Luckily, Gabby’s new teacher recognizes this inability to focus to be a coping mechanism and devises a daily activity designed to harness daydreaming’s creativity with a remarkably positive result for both Gabby and the entire class. Throughout this finely wrought narrative, Grimes’ free verse is tight, with perfect breaks of line and effortless shifts from reality to dream states and back.

An inspirational exploration of caring among parent, teacher and child—one of Grimes’ best. (Poetry. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59078-985-8

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Wordsong/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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