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Reviews of the 2014 Batchelder Award winners

matti_mister orangeWinner: Mister Orange by Truus Matti; trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson; 
illus. by Jenni Desmond
(Enchanted Lion)
In 1943 Manhattan, Linus’s position in his large family shifts when his oldest brother, Albie, goes off to war and Linus is assigned a new job — delivery boy for the family’s grocery store. One of his customers is an artist, a kind elderly man who takes the time to talk to Linus about color, design, and “the future.” Because of the old man’s regular fruit order, Linus dubs him Mister Orange. Two plot lines move in parallel. Bohemian Mister Orange introduces Linus to the joys of jazz and the avant-garde; meanwhile, Albie’s letters home become increasingly bleak until Linus realizes that war is nothing like the fantasy world of Mr. Superspeed, the comic-book hero that Albie had invented. Only in an appendix do we discover that Mister Orange is Piet Mondrian, who in the last years of his life lived in New York City, working on his painting Victory Boogie-Woogie. The various elements here don’t entirely mesh, but this Dutch import by the author of Departure Time (rev. 11/10) presents a fresh and immediate portrait of the time and place. SARAH ELLIS

moundlic_bathing costumeHonor: The Bathing Costume, or the Worst Vacation of My Life by Charlotte Mounlic; trans. from the French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick; illus. by Olivier Tallec
(Enchanted Lion)
review to come





my father's arms are a boatHonor: star2 My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde; trans. from 
the Norwegian by Kari Dickson; 
illus. by Øyvind Torseter
(Enchanted Lion)
Where Rebecca Cobb’s Missing Mommy (rev. 3/13), is all plain speaking and simple comfort about the death of a mother, this book from Norway is indirect and mysterious in its depiction of a grieving father and son. A little boy is having trouble sleeping, his unease echoed in the cool, sparely awry picture of his bedroom, his pillow providing the only spot of color. His father takes him into the similarly gloomy living room to comfort him; the two discuss the birds and the fox that live in the surrounding woods until the boy, after recounting his grandmother’s belief that “the red birds are dead people,” asks his father if Mommy will ever wake up again. Honest, but gently changing the subject, the father replies, “No, not where she is now. Should we go out and look at the stars?” And, in a sequence reminiscent of Charlotte Zolotow’s The Summer Night, so they do, the monochromatic illustrations now seeming enchanted rather than sad. When the two return inside, the red glow of the fire warms the page, the family, and the reader, as the father reassures the son that “everything will be all right.” The quiet, intimate text and enigmatic paper-collage and ink illustrations make a world of their own that commends interest beyond the therapeutic. ROGER SUTTON

sax_war within these wallsHonor: The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax; trans. from the Flemish by Laura Watkinson; illus. by Caryl Strzelecki
The War Within These Walls is an illustrated novel, and, history being what it was, does not have a happy ending. The narrator (unnamed until the closing pages of the book) lives with his parents and sister in what becomes the Warsaw Ghetto, with walls built around their neighborhood and strangers moved into their apartment. The boy finds a secret escape from the ghetto and begins smuggling food, eventually joining with Mordechai Anielewicz’s organized Resistance. While the history is tragic, the story doesn’t feel so much developed as outlined, perhaps because of the spareness of the prose. The format, with text on black or white pages and plentiful ink and wash illustrations, is intentionally dramatic and will grab young readers, although the images are sometimes histrionic (raised hands behind barbed wire; corpses) and the paragraphing and text placement, overwrought (“We were going to die” as a single sentence in white type on a black page). It is precisely this intensity that will speak to some readers, of course. ROGER SUTTON

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