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March 19, 2008 > Footnotes: March 2008

Footnotes: March 2008

"The Butter Man" by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli, Charlesbridge Publishing hardback, $14.95. (2008)

While Nora waits for the couscous her father is cooking to be finished, he tells her a story about his youth in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. It's a story about a young boy's lesson in patience and resourcefulness as he waits to get a little delicious butter for his meager bread.

The book reminds us that for much of the world, people daily see a direct link between how food is grown and dinner on the table. There are the uncertainties of rain, famine and fathers who must journey far to find work to provide for their families. There are the mothers who gather wood for kindling and carry water. In America, however, a much smaller part of the money we earn goes towards food. There are so many intermediaries between farm and table that we lose sight of the connection. In these places, food is truly a daily family struggle.

The simple and child-like illustrations fit a dialog that is spoken by a young boy in a far off land.

This picture book is recommended for grades 3 - 4. Reviewed by jp.

"What Happened to Cass McBride?" By Gail Giles, Little Brown paperback, $7.99. (2007)

Cassie McBride is a popular girl who always gets the good grades and is seen with the right guy. She's a shoe-in for Homecoming Queen, so everyone says. That's why it's such a shock when she disappears.

She awakens in a box, buried alive. There is a pipe connecting her to her tormentor, and she realizes that she has to talk to him. She has to convince him to let her go, before she dies from lack of oxygen. She can't figure out why he put her there; she didn't do anything wrong. As Cassie talks to the kidnapper she realizes she did indeed do something wrong. She also realizes something else - he has put the wrong person in the box.

This is a very frightening story with minimal graphic violence. It's a story about the emotional abuse a mother inflicts upon one of her children. That said, it's a gripping and suspenseful tale in which the morals that are taught are powerful though subtly presented.

Recommended for high school. Reviewed by dh.

"Elijah of Buxton" by Christopher Paul Curtis, Scholastic hardback, $16.99. (2007)
Newbery Honor Winner.

Eleven-year-old Elijah is the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit. He's best known in his hometown as the boy who made a memorable impression on Frederick Douglass. But things change when a former slave steals money from Elijah's friend, who has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the South. Elijah embarks on a dangerous journey to America in pursuit of the thief, and he discovers firsthand the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents fled - a life from which he'll always be free, if he can find the courage to get back home.

Christopher Paul Curtis sure has a way with stories about young African-American boys who face very "big" challenges ("Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963," Newbery Honor winner; "Bud, Not Buddy," Newbery Award winner, "Bucking the Sarge"). He presents historical fiction in a very sensitive way for young readers. The violence of slavery is referred to in a way that doesn't sensationalize nor sugarcoat the subject. As in his previous books, Curtis takes you smoothly to a time and place different from our own. The reader can't help rooting for his heroes who are presented with problems that would stump most adults. They handle them with their wits and courage despite the limited resources and knowledge that children possess.

Recommended for ages 9 - 12. Reviewed by jp.

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