The following reviews of recent Batchelder Award winners and honor books are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please visit www.hbook.com/subscriber-info.
Bondoux, Anne-Laure A Time of Miracles
181 pp. Delacorte 2010. ISBN 978-0-385-73922-1
Library binding ISBN 978-0-385-90777-4
YA Translated by Y. Maudet. This beautifully written novel about a young refugee boy, Koumail, and his guardian, Gloria, who, in the mid-1990s, leave their war-torn home in the Caucasus and head for France, is full of harsh yet tender moments. As Koumail grows older, the mysteries of his origins and of Gloria’s past deepen. Bondoux evokes their journey in prose that is both exquisitely poetic and unsparing.
Matti, Truus Departure Time
214 pp. Namelos 2010. ISBN 978-1-60898-087-1
Paperback ISBN 978-1-60898-009-3
Gr. 4–6 Translated by Nancy Forest-Flier. In alternating chapters we experience two stories, one about a girl with talking-animal companions, the other about a girl recovering from trauma. Certain elements begin to appear in both — piano music, the smell of gasoline, letters — and the stories finally meet. Matti has created an austere world, stripped of coziness and easy answers, daring in its portrayal of childhood pain and strength.
Teller, Janne Nothing
240 pp. Atheneum 2010. ISBN 978-1-4169-8579-2
YA Translated by Martin Aitken. A nihilistic seventh-grader asserts: “Nothing matters” then climbs a tree and pelts his classmates with philosophical arguments (as well as plums from the tree). To refute him, the kids compile an increasingly horrifying “heap of meaning” (items include the dug-up casket of a baby and a classmate’s freshly chopped-off finger). This stark meditation on mob mentality and life’s meaning is devastating and argument-provoking.
Thor, Annika A Faraway Island
248 pp. Delacorte 2009. ISBN 978-0-385-73617-6
Library binding ISBN 978-0-385-90590-9
Gr. 4–6 Translated by Linda Schenck. Stephanie, twelve, and Nellie, eight, Jewish sisters from cosmopolitan Vienna, are evacuated to a fishing village on a small, stark Swedish island. The girls are separated: Nellie is placed with kind, warm Aunt Alma and Stephie with stern, brusque Aunt Marta. Through straightforward, unsentimental prose, an unusually fine balance is achieved between small, child-centered humiliations and joys and larger adult issues.
Bredsdorff, Bodil Eidi: The Children of Crow Cove
138 pp. Farrar 2009. ISBN 978-0-374-31267-1
Gr. 4–6 Translated by Kathryn Mahaffy. In this companion to The Crow-Girl, Eidi’s blended family becomes too crowded after a new baby is born. She decides to avoid the situation and live with her friend Rossan, earning her keep by carding and spinning wool from his sheep. Bredsdorff’s crystalline prose evokes the austere beauty of the Danish coastal setting and shapes a strong, independent main character.
Brun-Cosme, Nadine Big Wolf & Little Wolf
32 pp. Enchanted Lion 2009. ISBN 978-1-59270-084-4
Gr. K–3 Translated by Claudia Bedrick. Illustrated by Olivier Tallec. When Little Wolf starts hanging around under Big Wolf ’s tree, the latter is first curious, then annoyed, then nurturing, then frantic when his diminutive counterpart goes missing. With an expansive palette, the illustrations underscore the touching relationship between the two leads, but the story’s subtlety may elude readers.
Uehashi, Nahoko Moribito: Guardian of the Darkness
262 pp. Scholastic/Levine 2009. ISBN 978-0-545-10295-7
Gr. 4–6 Translated by Cathy Hirano. Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. In this sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, bodyguard and skilled warrior Balsa returns to her native Kanbal and discovers a conspiracy to wrest power from the Mountain King. Fans of the first book will find even more action and intrigue here and will enjoy further insights into Balsa’s character. Uehashi’s detailed fantasy world is completely engaging.
Uehashi, Nahoko Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
248 pp. Scholastic/Levine 2008. ISBN 978-0-545-00542-5
Gr. 4–6 Translated by Cathy Hirano. Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. In this vivid, suspenseful martial arts story, Balsa, a female bodyguard and skilled warrior, is hired to protect the Second Queen’s son from assassins. The prince is the Moribito, host to a water spirit whose death would bring drought to the country. Despite some flat characters, the thrilling action and thoughtful prose create an intelligent and exciting fantasy.
Hole, Stian Garmann’s Summer
40 pp. Eerdmans 2008. ISBN 978-0-8028-5339-4
Gr. K–3 Six-year-old Garmann is nervous about starting school. He assuages his fears by asking an elderly aunt if she’s scared of dying and his musician father whether he gets nervous before concerts, and discovers his mother fears the dentist. The book’s disconcerting ending and surrealistic photo-collage illustrations provide a unique (though not particularly child-friendly) examination of how kids confront their fears.
Michaelis, Antonia Tiger Moon
455 pp. Abrams/Amulet 2008. ISBN 978-0-8109-9481-2
YA Translated by Anthea Bell. In nineteenth-century India, Safia awaits death at the hand of her cruel husband. She befriends a servant, Lalit, and tells him a story about a kidnapped princess and the thief recruited to rescue her. Michaelis weaves the most spectacular elements of Hindu mythology throughout the story to great effect. Witty dialogue contributes to the charm of this exotic fairy-tale fantasy.
From the September/October 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.