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Reviews of the 2015 Batchelder Award winners

Winner:

dumon tak_mikis and the donkeyMikis and the Donkey
by Bibi Dumon Tak; illus. by Philip Hopman; trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
Primary, Intermediate   Eerdmans   93 pp.
10/14   978-0-8028-5430-8   $13.00

Setting the stage on the island of Corfu, Hopman’s atmospheric opening illustrations pan in from aerial view to village to Mikis’s grandpa under a sycamore tree with his cronies. Grandpa has just gotten a donkey to haul wood — “they don’t guzzle gas, and they usually start the first time.” Soon Mikis is making friends with Tsaki and becoming the animal’s advocate. Concerned about the chafing caused by heavy loads, the boy seeks medical attention for Tsaki (from an MD, to general amusement); he also arranges a visit with another donkey in case Tsaki is lonely. This is a huge success; as classmate Elena discreetly observes, the two donkeys “were getting along really well back there…really, really well.” Fortunately, the old man is kind as well as gruff; though “Mikis had to give his grandpa donkey lessons,” he eventually builds Tsaki a cleaner, airier stable with Mikis’s help. The Dutch creators of Soldier Bear (rev. 11/11) bring a lovely simplicity to this affecting picture of a close-knit Greek community where a teacher’s boyfriend can give her class motorbike rides to general contentment. The generous number of loosely drawn illustrations capture windswept landscapes, village life, and human character and diversity with equal aplomb. Visually inviting and easily read, this would also make a fine read-aloud for younger children. JOANNA RUDGE LONG

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books:

Dauvillier_HiddenHidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust
by Loïc Dauvillier; illus. by Marc Lizano; color by Greg Salsedo; trans. from the French by Alexis Siegel
Primary, Intermediate    First Second/Roaring Brook    78 pp.
4/14    978-1-59643-873-6    $16.99

In this graphic novel for younger readers, Elsa wakes up in the night and discovers her grandmother sitting in the dark, feeling sad. When Elsa asks why, she hears for the first time the story of her grandmother’s childhood in Nazi-occupied France. Young Dounia’s parents try to explain away the yellow star she must wear by calling it a sheriff’s star, but she quickly realizes its true meaning when she begins to be treated very differently at school and in town. When the Nazis come to their apartment, her parents hide Dounia but are themselves taken away, and the terrified little girl is saved by a neighbor. A chain of people help her escape to the country, where she lives as a Catholic girl, with a new name. The graphic novel format helps reinforce the contrast between the dark, scary moments and the happier times in the countryside. The artists use small panels to tell most of the story, with words in the bottom right corners emphasizing Dounia’s inner thoughts; large panels occasionally punctuate the big moments. While not disguising the ugliness of the events, the art also helps focus attention on the loving moments between Dounia and her parents, Dounia and the people who help her, and Dounia, Elsa, and her father (who also hears the story for the first time) all hugging one another at the end.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

lindelauf_nine open armsstar2 Nine Open Arms
by Benny Lindelauf; trans. from the Dutch by John Nieuwenhuizen
Intermediate, Middle School    Enchanted Lion    256 pp.
6/14    978-1-59270-146-9    $16.95

It takes a while to realize that the main character in this Dutch import is a building, the eponymous Nine Open Arms, a rundown, back-to-front, peculiar brick house situated beyond the cemetery “where names came to an end.” The story opens when a family of nine — hapless dreamer and cigar-maker father, tough grandmother, four almost-grownup sons, and three younger daughters — moves into this house and tries to figure out its mysteries, including the tombstone in the cellar, the forbidden room, and Oompah Hatsi the homeless man who moves into the hedge. While the setting is specific (the Dutch province of Limburg in the 1930s), the whole thing feels more like a folktale, with a folktale’s harshness. (The bully girl at school, Fat Tonnie, is said to have bashed a dog to death with a hammer.) Halfway into the tale we travel back to the 1860s to a doomed love story between a villager and a young woman of the Traveler people, and we start to figure out the origins of the steeped-in sadness of Nine Open Arms. Then back to the main narrative, where kindness, courage, and truth-telling redeem the tragic past. Up to a point. This is a strange, somber, and oddly compelling narrative, a different combination of flavors than we would find in a book originally published in North America. SARAH ELLIS

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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