The Hero Two Doors Down

@scholastic

The Hero Two Doors Down, by Sharon Robinson; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 208 pages, ages 9-13.

Eight-year old baseball fanatic Stephen Satlow lives for his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, and one day the boy’s hero, Jackie Robinson, moves into his mostly Jewish neighborhood. The baseball giant befriends Stephen while teaching the boy about respect and courage in the face of adversity. Written by Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s daughter, The Hero Two Doors Down is based on interviews Sharon conducted with the real Stephen Satlow. Though a wonderful premise, sections of the story are weighed down by overly didactic passages, and some dialogue exchanges are clunky. Still, young sports fans and reluctant readers may find the book enjoyable or be inspired to seek out further reading about this most remarkable person.

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Gone to the Dogs
Two middle-grade readers for kids who know that dogs are loyal to the end. 

A Handful of Stars, by Cynthia Lord; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 184 pages, ages 10-13.

Every summer, migrant families travel from as far as Mexico to harvest blueberries in a remote part of Downeast Maine, and local residents generally don’t interact with them. That is, until one afternoon, when Lily’s blind retriever Lucky runs away and into the blueberry fields. Salma Santiago lures the dog back with her peanut butter sandwich, and from that moment on, Lily and Salma become friends. Salma wants to enter the Blueberry Queen pageant, but does she have the courage to do it? Newbery Honor Author Cynthia Lord (Rules) tackles such themes as prejudice, courage, and friendship with compassion and grace, and as a Maine resident herself, descriptions of this wild and wonderful area of New England are wonderfully accurate.

Finder, Coal Mine Dog, by Alison Hart, illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery; Peachtree Publishers, $12.95, 181 pages, ages 7-10.

In 1909, 259 coal miners died in a tunnel fire in Cherry, Illinois, becoming the third most deadly mine disaster in U.S. history. In this fictionalized thriller, readers meet Finder, a dog who pulls a cart in those dangerous mines. His young owner Thomas works too, trying to pay off his deceased parents’ debts. Soon enough, fire breaks out, and the unlikely duo find themselves in a race against time to save fellow miners. Told from the point of view of the dog, Alison Hart’s latest canine thriller in her Dog Chronicles series is action-packed, while also offering children a look at what life was like for children and their pets in America a century ago. Michael G. Montgomery’s pen and ink illustrations capture the fast pace of the tale. A map of the mine, notes about the actual fire, mining, child and animal labor bring this poignant moment in American history to life.

The Call of the Open Road

Some people are born to ride, and Stephanie Yue (Such a Little Mouse; The  Mousenet Trilogy) has successfully managed to combine her love of scootering with her job of illustrating children’s books. After logging almost 32,000 miles, she’s currently in the last leg of her tour, crossing the continental United States on her electric blue 2009 Vespa GTS 250. During a recent pit stop in Houston, Yue spoke with me about her fascination with mice, martial arts, the siren call of rubber and asphalt, and an enduring admiration of Calvin and Hobbes.

Did your childhood in China influence how you illustrate?

I took Chinese calligraphy classes pretty early on, and that influenced my brushwork. Just understanding how you can express something with a tool like a brush is pretty important.

What kind of illustrators are you drawn to?

I admire Maurice Sendak. I know everyone loves him, but he is pretty great. I’m a fan of Edward Gorey too. He has a house on the Cape that’s now a museum.   It’s one of my favorite summer destinations.

On your website, some of your cartoons’ expressions remind me of the characters in Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Did his work influence you?

Absolutely, he’s one of my favorite cartoon artists. I admire him for many things, even beyond his impressive body of work.

Did you read his comics growing up?

Yes, before marathoning Netflix was a thing, marathoning Calvin and Hobbes was my thing. I would go into my dad’s study where he had all the anthologies and collections of Calvin & Hobbes cartoons, and I read them dogeared. I don’t even realize it, I suppose his influence is inherent now. Watterson is not just a fantastic artist, he’s so technically skilled! His brushwork is very subtle. He doesn’t let on how much it takes to make everything work. He can have something as simple as a cartoon tiger next to a dinosaur that’s driving a jet. And how does that work? It does.

You draw lots of mice – can you talk about that?

That’s something from my childhood too. My favorite books were those adorable mouse stories by Kevin Henkes. I liked a lot of mouse-centric stories because it’s the same world but a completely different scale – there’s something going on in the background that big people wouldn’t otherwise notice. I think children can relate to that.

That comes through in your art – in some images it looks like nothing’s going on, but upon closer inspection, there’s a whole world wrought miniature.

Yes, another world running parallel to the human world. It worked great for MouseNet and MouseMobile. I love playing with scale and it’s a fun exercise when I can repurpose human objects for mice. I’ve always been a fan of miniatures.

Do you envision writing your own books?

I’d like to, but I’m not sure if it would be in the same field. I’m a big fan of travel. I’ve actually been traveling for 11 months. I’m working on the road.

Where are you?

I’m in Houston. Central Time Zone. I’ve been in all the time zones.

You’re on your scooter?

Yes.

What are you doing?

I’ve been doing a blog, and I post drawings every day that I ride.

Could you talk about scootering and working on the road?

I take notes as I go. I love notes. I blog and upload my sketches every few days, depending on variables like camp lighting and WiFi.  Generally,  I’ll find a coffee shop and set up – and draw the images I’ve noted while on the road and post them.  It’s a big task I set out for myself.

How long to do you plan on continuing your trek?

The trip is like an extreme four corners trip. I planned on visiting the four outermost points of the 48 contiguous United States. I went to Key West, then up to Angle Inlet, then I went west to Cape Flattery, then I took a side trip down to Baja, then to Colorado, now I’m here. I’m aiming for Lubec, Maine in early July, I think. It’d be nice to see some friends for July 4th.

Are you on your own?

Yes.

What’s that like?

It can be lonely, but it gives me a lot of freedom. A lot of things aligned for this trip to happen. I’m already very used to working by myself – for all of my books, I work from home, I had a second bedroom in Providence converted into a studio and I work by myself and realized that I think I can take this on the road.  I managed to pack my whole studio in a little box. If  you look on my blog you’ll see photos of the scooter, and on the back there’s a big black box. It’s a Pelican case, shatterproof and waterproof. It works out great. My artwork and my laptop and tablet are in there. That’s my studio. And a thin box, pens and paper. All that goes into a Velcro bag, and then it all goes into that bag.

Is there anything you didn’t bring that you wish you did?

I was really involved in my martial arts group back home, and it’s really hard to do that from the road. I can’t really justify packing that stuff because it takes so much space. I can’t put my boxing gloves on my scooter.

How long have you been practicing martial arts?

About 10 years, all different styles – kung-fu, muay-thai, jiu jitsu. I love that stuff. If you look on my website, that’s how I started getting the mouse work, I made a poster of a mouse demonstrating the 24 steps of tai-chi. It was just a really popular poster.

Have you met people on the road? What’s the scooter/biker community like?

I know a lot of scooterists – I’m familiar with that community, and some of the bikers too. We’re all riders. It’s been a crazy trip.

My Secret Guide to Paris, by Lisa Schroeder; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 216 pages, ages 10-13.

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli; Viking Juvenile $17.99, 48 pages, ages 5-9.


With the snow slowly melting here on the East Coast our thoughts suddenly turn to Paris in the springtime, and these two titles are just the thing to tap into that certain je ne sais quoi that captivates visitors to the City of Light. Lisa Schroeder’s My Secret Guide to Paris is an effervescent story about a young girl who adores everything about Paris. Even though Nora has never actually visited the city, she falls in love with it by listening to her grandmother’s tales of the Eiffel Tower and chocolat chaud. Just before they are set to visit Paris together, grand-mere passes away, leaving behind a sort of scavenger hunt for Nora, who, in the process of uncovering her grandmother’s mysteries, also learns how to heal her grief. Lifelong Francophiles will adore sharing this sweet romp with young readers, and the sprinkling of mots français throughout lends just the right air of authenticity.  

Meanwhile, Greg Pizzoli’s uproariously true story about master con-man Robert Miller will fascinate  readers from start to finish. At a surprisingly hefty forty-eight pages, Tricky Vic stands out from the standard picture-book fare, (most offerings meet the industry standard 32 pages) but that shouldn’t deter interested parties; every page is full of bold, retro-graphic style illustrations accompanied by a story as wild as it is factual. In 1925, the Eiffel Tower was, at the grand old age of thirty-six, already in a state of disrepair and exceedingly unpopular among Parisians. Enter Robert Miller, aka “Count Victor Lustig”, aka “Tricky Vic,” a lifelong con man who made his living defrauding aristocrats through cardgamess and selling fake counterfeit money-making machines. He even managed to con Al Capone as way to gain the mobster’s trust. Miller’s biggest score was tricking a French scrap metal dealer into buying the Iron Lady. Would you believe he even tried to sell the Eiffel Tower twice?  What child wouldn’t want to read about someone this delightfully despicable, someone who so fully embodies the meaning of the word chutzpah?

Unstoppable Octobia May, by Sharon G. Flake; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 276 pages, ages  8-12.

In 1953, most children are expected to be seen and not heard, but that’s certainly not the case with ten year old Octobia May, a plucky self-styled detective with a heart condition who is certain a vampire is rooming at her aunt’s boarding house. Coretta Scott King Honor Award winning author Sharon G. Flake (The Skin I’m in) weaves a vivid portrait of the Eisenhower era and explores topics such as racism, gender inequality, and the Holocaust.  Flake’s unique novel will attract vampire chasers and history buffs alike, while offering encouragement to young readers that it’s alright to speak out againt injustice, even when others might prefer to maintain the status quo.  

literarykids: Correction: Antony uses graphite pencils, not pen and ink.

Please, Mr. Panda, by Steve Antony; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 2-6.

 

Etiquette gets a furry makeover in this good-natured primer on proper behavior. British artist Steve Antony (Betty Goes Bananas; The Queen’s Hat) returns to the world of picture books with a surprisingly generous, yet straight-lipped panda, who patiently surveys his animal friends to see if they would like a doughnut. While most jump at the chance to savor a sugary confection, they do not employ the magic words, and the panda reneges on his offer until someone asks him politely. All the animals are rendered with graphite pencils in bold strokes of black and white, and the bright pink, red and purple colored doughnuts pop off the page.  The recurring dialogue makes this a wonderfully fun and engaging read-aloud, and children just on the cusp of independent reading might even be tempted to decipher the words on their own. 

Please, Mr. Panda, by Steve Antony; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 2-6.

 

Etiquette gets a furry makeover in this good-natured primer on proper behavior. British artist Steve Antony (Betty Goes Bananas; The Queen’s Hat) returns to the world of picture books with a surprisingly generous, yet straight-lipped panda, who patiently surveys his animal friends to see if they would like a doughnut. While most jump at the chance to savor a sugary confection, they do not employ the magic words, and the panda reneges on his offer until someone asks him politely. All the animals are rendered with graphite pencils in bold strokes of black and white, and the bright pink, red and purple colored doughnuts pop off the page.  The recurring dialogue makes this a wonderfully fun and engaging read-aloud, and children just on the cusp of independent reading might even be tempted to decipher the words on their own.