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Books For Kids

MONKEY KING By Ed Young HarperCollins: 40 pp. $16.95

JALANI AND THE LOCK By Lorenzo Pace; Rosen/PowerKids: 48 pp., $17.95

PEARL By Debby Atwell; Houghton/Lorraine: 32 pp., $16

NIM'S ISLAND By Wendy Orr Illustrated by Kerry Millard; Alfred A. Knopf: 144 pp., $14.95

ACKAMARACKUS Julius Lester's Sumptuously Silly Fantastically Funny Fables By Julius Lester Illustrated by Emilie Chollat; Scholastic: 48 pp., $17.95

March 25, 2001|All reviews are provided to Book Review by Publishers Weekly, where they first appeared. 2001, Publishers Weekly

MONKEY KING By Ed Young HarperCollins: 40 pp. $16.95

Caldecott Medalist Ed Young opts for elegance in this deceptively simple adaptation of Chinese myth. In piquant phrases and minimalist collages, he summarizes the antics of the Monkey King, a trickster hero. Monkey has learned "the art of turning cloud somersaults, riding the wind, changing shape and disappearing in the blink of an eye," and he uses his magic for mischief. While serving the Jade Emperor, he "plucked all the forbidden fruit from the immortal peach tree and gobbled them up. Then he tumbled home before anyone could punish him." Monkey's evocatively named opponents, including Dragon King and Red Beard Bandit, cannot defeat him, and finally Jade Emperor seeks Buddha's intervention. In an impressive gatefold spread, Monkey is trapped in the shadowy Five Finger Mountain, actually Buddha's obsidian hand. Upon his release 500 years later, Monkey improves his behavior on the path to enlightenment-'but it wasn't always easy to stay good." Young bases this distilled saga on Wu Cheng'en's Buddhist epic, "The Journey to the West," which he glancingly mentions in an afterword. The tale may be better suited to older readers who can handle its epic qualities and some characters' cameo appearances. His cut-paper compositions, in earthy shades of spice and sky, might be described as freestyle; pencil marks remain visible and shapes are imperfectly carved, requiring plenty of imagination. Young's dynamic artwork and his mercurial transitions between spreads mimic Monkey's own shape-shifting, making for deliciously unpredictable reading. (All ages)

JALANI AND THE LOCK By Lorenzo Pace; Rosen/PowerKids: 48 pp., $17.95

Noted sculptor Lorenzo Pace makes a stunning children's book debut. Disarming in its simplicity, his narrative conveys complex themes in a fairy-tale structure. "A long time ago in Africa," reads the first page, opposite a childlike outline of the continent in orange, clearly labeled, which vibrates against a cherry-red background. The next two spreads continue, "a little boy named Jalani/loved to play in the forest." Jalani's smiling face dominates his portrait; the forest is a grove of lollipop trees. In these three spreads, Pace introduces the key elements of his story. As in other classic fairy tales, the forest, once a child's magical kingdom, becomes a source of terror; this is the scene in which "a strange man came and took him away." Pace marks Jalani's transition into life as a captive in America with a single word, "Locks," paired with the image of a padlock so carefully rendered that it seems to be animated on the page. The compositions depict Jalani's fellow field hands but never his oppressors, and his memories sustain him until he is finally freed. He keeps the lock, however, and hands it down to his eldest son "so they would never forget from where they all came." Based on the biography of Pace's own great-great-grandfather, the volume ends with a photograph of his lock. In his choice to adhere to a child's vocabulary and view of the world, Pace conveys the childlike hope that kept Jalani and his past alive. (Ages 8 and up)

PEARL By Debby Atwell; Houghton/Lorraine: 32 pp., $16

Born at the beginning of the Civil War, Pearl celebrates her 75th wedding anniversary just as the Space Age lifts off by volume's end. Her family stories stretch back to George Washington's inauguration, and she dreams of the day when her newborn great-granddaughter might "ride in a spaceship and walk on the moon." At times, the narrative seems constructed to accommodate the major events of a century, but Pearl's fictitious first-person reminiscences put a human face on this eclectic timeline of American history. She rides the new transcontinental railroad to Texas as a child, survives two world wars and the Great Depression and recounts experiences both lofty (encounters with Susan B. Anthony, the Wright Brothers and Martin Luther King Jr.) and humble (buying her first television). Throughout the volume, Pearl's warm voice shines through. Debby Atwell's full-page folk-art paintings-a sort of Currier and Ives meet Grandma Moses-strike up a vibrant counterpoint as they highlight changes in fashion and architecture and chart the parallel between Pearl's passage from babyhood to old age and the country's progress from a pastoral to a postindustrial society. Brimming with patriotism and hope, this is a gem. (Ages 4 to 8)

NIM'S ISLAND By Wendy Orr Illustrated by Kerry Millard; Alfred A. Knopf: 144 pp., $14.95

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