Book Review: Underground by Shane W. Evans

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Underground by Shane W. Evans

Using only the shortest of sentences, the smallest of words, Evans has created a picture book that captures the fear and hope of escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad.   The well-chosen words add to the tension, keeping it taut with danger.  It reads as if the author too is trying to be quiet, near silent and to escape notice. 

The palette is one of darkness with bright whites of eyes shining, the colors capturing the oppression of slavery.  As freedom nears, the colors change, almost glowing with the light and brightness of freedom.  The art here is what makes the book so special.  The images are collage mixed with the texture of brushstrokes, all evoking a rustic, roughness.  Yet in the faces there is a nobility, a grace, a hope that shines through.

A beautiful, evocative book that is haunting and ever so strong.  It will work beautifully for elementary aged children learning about the Civil War and slavery.   Appropriate for ages 7-10. 

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Book Review: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall

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The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall

In this third Penderwicks novel, the family is separating for the first time.  For two weeks in the summer, their father will be heading off and so will Rosalind.  The remaining Penderwicks are off to vacation in Maine.  This leaves Skye as the OAP (oldest available Penderwick) to take care of the others, along with Aunt Claire.  Skye is overwhelmed with the responsibility, particularly for Batty and even more so when a soggy note warns her vaguely about the potential that Batty could “blow up.”  Jane continues to write books, but this summer she has decided to write about romance and doesn’t know much about it, so she develops a Love Survey.  Batty and Hound continue to easily make friends, and this summer Batty discovers a hidden talent all her own.  Jeffrey escapes the binds of his mother and stepfather to join the others in Maine and he too makes a discovery with the help of Jane and Skye. 

So many series become rather drab and dull in their third book, but the Penderwicks seem to be growing ever better and stronger.  The characters here are funny, bright, and complete individuals.  Birdsall writes each character as if they were her favorite, making it nearly impossible for readers to figure out which sister they enjoy most.  It was a pleasure to have a book where Skye shines so much as she struggles with new responsibilities and not wanting to let anyone down. 

In such a character-driven work, it can be easy to not notice the skill with which Birdsall interweaves the setting of Maine into the story.  But it is there, filling in the spaces in the novel where the characters have a quiet moment.  As if it is waiting for them to stop being busy and to notice the beauty around them.  From the seals on the islands, the moose on the golf course, and the cold of the water, Maine is a spectacular setting for this third book.

A cozy, wonderful story that is filled with humor, these books have the feel of a classic but remain modern.  If you are looking for a series to start reading aloud with your children, this is a great one.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

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