A fascinating bit of history and much food for thought.

DEAR MR. DICKENS

Eliza Davis was a strong, intelligent woman and a great admirer of Charles Dickens.

Dickens’ enormously popular works portraying the social ills of his day had the power to inspire reforms. But Eliza was Jewish, and she was greatly disturbed when she read Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Dickens’ use of pejorative language in describing the character of Fagin was intensely hurtful. He was described as “dishonest, selfish, cruel, and ugly”; instead of his name, he was nearly always just called “the Jew.” So Eliza wrote to the author asking him to right the wrong he perpetrated. His answer was unfeeling, blaming Jewish readers for any hurt, but Eliza did not give up. She wrote again, reminding him that his Jewish characters did not represent reality and, most importantly, that readers would judge him for his prejudices. Dickens finally paid attention. His later work Our Mutual Friend notably included a positive, sympathetic Jewish character; he took measures to reedit new editions of Oliver Twist; and he wrote essays decrying antisemitism. Churnin presents this well-researched, little-known episode to young readers in simple, direct language that both conveys Eliza’s pain and her determination to right a wrong and provides them with a thoughtful comparison to their own time. Stancliffe’s deeply hued illustrations sympathetically depict Eliza in accurate mid-19th-century surroundings, with Dickens looking as he appears in contemporary portraits. All characters have pale skin. Inclusion of line-drawn scenes from Ivanhoe and Dickens’ books adds gravitas to Eliza’s viewpoint.

A fascinating bit of history and much food for thought. (author’s note, source note, acknowledgements) (Informational picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8075-1530-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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Empathetic art and lyrical text blend for a touching and empowering tale.

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AARON SLATER, ILLUSTRATOR

From the Questioneers series

The latest book in the Questioneer series centers an African American boy who has dyslexia.

Roberts’ characteristic cartoon illustrations open on a family of six that includes two mothers of color, children of various abilities and racial presentations, and two very amused cats. In a style more expressive and stirring than other books in the series, Beaty presents a boy overcoming insecurities related to reading comprehension. Like Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, the boy’s namesake, the protagonist loves to draw. More than drawing, however, young Aaron wishes to write, but when he tries to read, the letters appear scrambled (effectively illustrated with a string of wobbly, often backward letters that trail across the pages). The child retreats into drawing. After an entire school year of struggle, Aaron decides to just “blend in.” At the beginning of the next school year, a writing prompt from a new teacher inspires Aaron, who spends his evening attempting to write “a story. Write something true.” The next day in class, having failed to put words on paper, Aaron finds his voice and launches into a story that shows how “beauty and kindness and loving and art / lend courage to all with a welcoming heart.” In the illustration, a tableau of colorful mythological beings embodies Aaron’s tale. The text is set in a dyslexia-friendly type. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Empathetic art and lyrical text blend for a touching and empowering tale. (author's note, illustrator's note) (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-5396-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted...

CLAYMATES

Reinvention is the name of the game for two blobs of clay.

A blue-eyed gray blob and a brown-eyed brown blob sit side by side, unsure as to what’s going to happen next. The gray anticipates an adventure, while the brown appears apprehensive. A pair of hands descends, and soon, amid a flurry of squishing and prodding and poking and sculpting, a handsome gray wolf and a stately brown owl emerge. The hands disappear, leaving the friends to their own devices. The owl is pleased, but the wolf convinces it that the best is yet to come. An ear pulled here and an extra eye placed there, and before you can shake a carving stick, a spurt of frenetic self-exploration—expressed as a tangled black scribble—reveals a succession of smug hybrid beasts. After all, the opportunity to become a “pig-e-phant” doesn’t come around every day. But the sound of approaching footsteps panics the pair of Picassos. How are they going to “fix [them]selves” on time? Soon a hippopotamus and peacock are staring bug-eyed at a returning pair of astonished hands. The creative naiveté of the “clay mates” is perfectly captured by Petty’s feisty, spot-on dialogue: “This was your idea…and it was a BAD one.” Eldridge’s endearing sculpted images are photographed against the stark white background of an artist’s work table to great effect.

The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted fun of their own . (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-30311-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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