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Reviews of selected books by Marla Frazee

frazee_roller coasterRoller Coaster
by Marla Frazee; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary     Harcourt     32 pp.
5/03     0-15-204554-6     $16.00

Once a roller coaster is all loaded up, and the operator releases the brake to start the cars slowly chugging up the first hill, that’s that. “Now it is too late for anyone to change their mind,” Frazee points out, as we watch her eclectic group of riders — some smiling with anticipation, some lounging nonchalantly, some rigidly clutching the safety bar — start on their way. As she did in her illustrations for Susan Meyers’s Everywhere Babies (rev. 5/01), Frazee depicts a diverse cross section of people with refreshing naturalness in this tantalizing run-through of a roller coaster ride, from waiting in line to lurching off at the end. What’s more, her affectionately drawn pencil and watercolor figures don’t all react to the “dips and dives” the way one might expect. A sweet-looking elderly woman pumps her fist in the air as the cars careen around a curve, while the two muscle-guys behind her hold on for dear life. A young girl emerges early on as the focal character in Frazee’s cast. When the text says that, of all those in line, “at least one of them has never ridden on a roller coaster before, ever,” she stands slightly apart from the crowd with her older brother, hesitantly sizing up the book’s other main character: the coaster itself. The red and yellow Rocket is “very big and very noisy,” not to mention old (no padded over-the-shoulder harnesses here, just a thin lap belt). Once Frazee sets the train going, she brings us right into the action. The text becomes more minimal as it not only describes the coaster’s motion but mimics it, looping and bending alongside the track. If you have a weak stomach, this wild ride might make you queasy. More likely, though, you’ll side with the young girl and decide you want to experience the whole process again, “right now!” CHRISTINE M. HEPPERMANN

From the May/June 2003 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Santa Claus Frazeestar2 Santa Claus: The World’s Number One Toy Expert
by Marla Frazee; illus. by the author
Primary     Harcourt     40 pp.
10/05     0-15-204970-3     $16.00     g

As the world’s number one kid, toy, and gift expert, Santa gets to know every child, selects toys, performs quality control, and wraps all the gifts himself. “And then on Christmas morning, Santa Claus gives the exact right toy to the exact right kid.” The magic here lies in Frazee’s effortlessly clever, detailed illustrations. As in Everywhere Babies, children are represented in all their variety (see especially the double-page spread of kids sitting on Santa’s lap). But the emphasis is undeniably on Santa, and Frazee’s Santa is hard-working, devoted — and hip. He sports red high-tops and voluminous, suspender-hoisted boxers, the patterns on which change according to the time of year (snowflakes, shamrocks, hearts), his mood (lightning bolts when he’s frustrated), or task (Xs and Os while chalkboarding his toy-to-child game plan). Frazee delivers the exact right book for the exact right season. BRIDGET T. MCCAFFREY

From the November/December 2005 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

frazee_couple of boys have the best week everA Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
Marla Frazee; illus. by the author
Primary     Harcourt     32 pp.
3/08     978-0-15-206020-6     $16.00

In this tongue-in-cheek story, Frazee’s text plays straight man to her comic illustrations, and the clever interplay between the two fuels the book’s humor. James and Eamon are staying with Eamon’s grandparents, Bill and Pam, so they can attend a nature day-camp. Though the boys tolerate camp, the real action happens during their unstructured time at Bill and Pam’s beach house. In fact, the illustrations effectively ignore camp activities, relegating those scenes to the endpapers. While the earnest narrative offers one version of events, the energetic illustrations and sound-bite speech balloons provide a boys’-eye view of “the best week ever.” Highlights include zoning out in front of the TV, playing video games (or, as the text describes it, practicing “quiet meditation”), and camping on an air mattress in the downstairs bedroom with a legion of stuffed animals. Bill and Pam remain mostly in the background: Pam comes into focus when she’s offering ice cream for snack and banana waffles for dinner; nature-lover Bill pops up periodically to share his interest in Antarctica or to suggest a trip to the museum to see the penguin exhibit. (Eamon: “Do you want to go?” James: “No.”) This week, and this story, belongs to the boys, which is what makes both week and story so successful. KITTY FLYNN

From the March/April 2008 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

scanlon_all the worldstar2 All the World
by Liz Garton Scanlon; illus. by Marla Frazee
Preschool, Primary     Beach Lane/Simon     40 pp.
9/09     978-1-4169-8580-8     $17.99

Scanlon’s text has a child-friendly simplicity reminiscent of Margaret Wise Brown — “Rock, stone, pebble, sand / Body, shoulder, arm, hand / A moat to dig, a shell to keep / All the world is wide and deep” — around which Frazee’s illustrations build a satisfying narrative. After a trip to the beach, a family stops at a farmers’ market, visits a park, and enjoys a meal at a café; back home at day’s end, they host an informal gathering, where young readers will be able to spot individuals seen earlier in the book. Though the text mentions “nanas, papas, cousins, kin,” the corresponding art has a “family-of-humankind” vibe, encompassing interracial and same-sex couples, old folks and babies — an obvious statement of affirmation but also a natural choice for a book about “all the world.” The West Coast seaside setting showcases not only Frazee’s affectionate mix of people but also her familiar skyscapes, glowing with color and shaded with horizontal lines that lend a sense of both movement and endless connection. While the rolling hills, crisscrossed by roads and dotted with trees and houses, bring to mind Virginia Lee Burton, Frazee’s palette is all her own: fresh-feeling pastels that make everything look rain-washed, faded and softened by the sun. A seashell on the title page reappears on the final page, in the hands of a girl who found it at the beach; Scanlon and Frazee seem to be saying to readers that the world is not your oyster but your seashell — to discover, wonder at, and hold gently in your hand. All the World will win audiences with a sensibility both timeless and thoroughly modern. JENNIFER M. BRABANDER

From the September/October 2009 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.



  1. A wonderful collection of terrific reviews considering one of our best illustrators. Love ROLLER COASTER, ALL THE WORLD, BEST WEEK EVER a,d also……….STARS.

    Cannot wait to get my copy of THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN. 🙂

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