SOPHIE’S MASTERPIECE

The creators of When Mama Comes Home Tonight (1998) weave another affecting tale, in which a gentle, eight-legged artist spends her last strength on a gift to a newborn baby. Though Sophie’s ingeniously patterned webs are the delight of her Mama and playmates, when she moves into a drab boarding house, its residents react to her presence with fear and disgust. Most of its residents, that is—weary and aging, Sophie finds a home and quiet welcome at last when she crawls into an expectant young mother’s yarn basket. Sophie’s webs, all finer than the finest lace, ripple with stars, flowers, and geometric patterns in Dyer’s delicately detailed watercolors. She herself cuts a stylish bohemian figure, with long, slender legs in multicolored stockings radiating from a black body topped by a flaxen-haired human head. Learning that the young woman is too poor to knit or buy a blanket, Sophie gathers strands of moonlight, wisps of night and pine, old lullabies, snowflakes, and, last of all, her own heart to create a gift that the new mother receives with “love and wonderment.” Sophie may physically resemble the proud, angry protagonist of Kate Hovey’s Arachne Speaks (2000), but her generosity of spirit gives her a very different character. (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-689-80112-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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RED-EYED TREE FROG

Bishop’s spectacular photographs of the tiny red-eyed tree frog defeat an incidental text from Cowley (Singing Down the Rain, 1997, etc.). The frog, only two inches long, is enormous in this title; it appears along with other nocturnal residents of the rain forests of Central America, including the iguana, ant, katydid, caterpillar, and moth. In a final section, Cowley explains how small the frog is and aspects of its life cycle. The main text, however, is an afterthought to dramatic events in the photos, e.g., “But the red-eyed tree frog has been asleep all day. It wakes up hungry. What will it eat? Here is an iguana. Frogs do not eat iguanas.” Accompanying an astonishing photograph of the tree frog leaping away from a boa snake are three lines (“The snake flicks its tongue. It tastes frog in the air. Look out, frog!”) that neither advance nor complement the action. The layout employs pale and deep green pages and typeface, and large jewel-like photographs in which green and red dominate. The combination of such visually sophisticated pages and simplistic captions make this a top-heavy, unsatisfying title. (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-590-87175-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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TWENTY-ONE ELEPHANTS AND STILL STANDING

Strong rhythms and occasional full or partial rhymes give this account of P.T. Barnum’s 1884 elephant parade across the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge an incantatory tone. Catching a whiff of public concern about the new bridge’s sturdiness, Barnum seizes the moment: “’I will stage an event / that will calm every fear, erase every worry, / about that remarkable bridge. / My display will amuse, inform / and astound some. / Or else my name isn’t Barnum!’” Using a rich palette of glowing golds and browns, Roca imbues the pachyderms with a calm solidity, sending them ambling past equally solid-looking buildings and over a truly monumental bridge—which soars over a striped Big Top tent in the final scene. A stately rendition of the episode, less exuberant, but also less fictionalized, than Phil Bildner’s Twenty-One Elephants (2004), illustrated by LeUyen Pham. (author’s note, resource list) (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-44887-X

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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