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Reviews of the 2012 Batchelder winners

Winner: Eerdmans for Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak; trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson; illus. by Philip Hopman
Review in The Horn Book Magazine, November/December 2011
It really happened: hundreds of Polish soldiers, fleeing the Russians after the German attack on their already divided country in 1941, escaped to Iran. There they joined the British army, were assigned to carrying supplies — and adopted a bear cub who grew up to become a functioning member of their group. Relying on three books about the bear “Voytek” plus photos provided by London’s Sikorski Museum, Tak makes a fascinating tale of the wartime progress of the clever animal as he endeared himself to the tight-knit group of five Poles who adopted him (as well as to a series of their skeptical superior officers). Not only were Voytek’s antics a reliable morale booster; he also did real work — most memorably, passing ammunition at Monte Cassino. The men’s amusing banter has the appeal of, say, episodes of M.A.S.H., deepened by touches of war’s grimmer realities and the sad fate of a mischievous monkey, also a member of this unusual menage. In 1946, when the men finally went home, Voytek ended up as a favorite at the Edinburgh Zoo. First published in Holland in 2008, this account of one of World War II’s happier oddities includes a generosity of appealing drawings plus (cheers!) a clear historical map each time you might wish for one. JOANNA RUDGE LONG


Honor: Delacorte for The Lily Pond by Annika Thor; trans. from the Swedish 
by Linda Schenck
Review in The Horn Book Magazine, January/February 2012
It’s been a year since Stephie and her little sister left their home in Nazi-occupied Vienna for the safety of a remote Swedish island. As this sequel to A Faraway Island (rev. 1/10) opens, Stephie, now thirteen, is moving to the mainland to continue her schooling and live with the Söderberg family. She soon learns that, with the exception of eighteen-year-old Sven, the Söderbergs are not quite the altruistic benefactors she expected: she’s merely a boarder, not a member of the family, a “poor refugee” who affords Mrs. S. bragging rights and helps serve at dinner parties. Other challenges include the bewildering animosity of the only other Jewish girl at school and the stings, of varying degree, of the anti-Semitism Stephie encounters. But she is buoyed by her friendship with down-to-earth, loyal classmate May; by the news from Vienna that her parents have been cleared for emigration to America; and most of all by the nearness of Sven, with whom Stephie is hopelessly in love. This is a more conventional book than A Faraway Island as well as a more melodramatic one (minutes after being falsely accused of cheating and expelled from school, she discovers that Sven has a girlfriend). But Stephie’s story of adjustment to a new school and of a first crush is both specific and universal, and fans of the series will want to stick by Stephie as her own future brightens even as her parents’ becomes ever more perilous. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO



  1. Thanks for the reviews of these books. It’s exciting to see which books get this award every year.

    Some may enjoy reading an interview with Laura Watkinson about translation. The interview can be found here:

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