Book Reviews

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Looking for books that will liven up history for kids? The Columbus Dispatch's Nancy Gilson has these great suggestions….

A few liberties taken with history liven up a trio of new picture-book biographies for young readers.

Formative periods in the lives of Charles Dickens, Theodore Roosevelt and George Washington are re-imagined in these lively, handsome books:

* A Boy Called Dickens (Schwartz & Wade, 32 pages, $17.99, ages 4 to 9) by Deborah Hopkinson and John Hendrix

In the bicentennial year of his birth, Charles Dickens is the subject of a picture book that draws parallels between his childhood and the heroes of some of his best-known novels - David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Pip and Tiny Tim.

When he was 12, while his father was in a debtors' prison, Charles was sent to work in a factory. His experiences helped establish the prevailing themes of social reform in his fiction.

The story by Hopkinson imagines a lonely boy named Dickens occupying himself with invented stories as he works in the factory and wanders the grimy streets of London. The illustrations by Hendrix mix realistic scenes with the boy's daydreams.

* The Camping Trip That Changed America (Dial, 32 pages, $16.99, ages 6 to 8) by Barb Rosenstock and Mordicai Gerstein

In another imagined version of a historical event, Rosenstock depicts the 1903 Yosemite National Park camping trip of President Theodore Roosevelt and preservationist John Muir.

The men rode horses, slept under the stars, swapped tales, experienced a spring snowfall and marveled at giant sequoias - painted by Gerstein in a scene that spreads over a double page, and that the reader turns sideways, to capture the trees' grandeur.

The book is exciting and impressive.

* George Washington's Birthday (Schwartz & Wade, 32 pages, $17.99, ages 4 to 8) by Margaret McNamara and Barry Blitt

On his 280th birthday, Washington is imagined as he was at age 7 - an inquisitive, impetuous youngster who admits he chopped down the cherry tree because "I cannot tell a lie."

That and other escapades are envisioned in Blitt's humorous watercolor paintings and McNamara's anachronistic dialogue.

To keep young readers grounded, small graphics state the facts about each incident.

-Nancy Gilson