Witness by Karen Hesse (Scholastic Press, 161 pages, $16.95). Karen Hesse, winner of the Newberry Medal for "Out of the Dust," paints a vivid portrait of a small town in Vermont invaded by the Klu Klux Klan in 1924. Her book is written as a series of poems in the voices of different residents -- a young black girl, the town constable, the editor of the newspaper, an angry young Klan member, a young Jewish girl and the Vermont woman who has taken in her and her father. Despite her selection of a difficult literary form for a children's book, Hesse manages to maintain the narrative thread and sustain the suspense right up to the dramatic conclusion. This stirring tale of racism and redemption couldn't come at a more welcome moment. The author (whose last book, "Stowaway," was a fascinating account of Captain James Cook's voyage, through a journal kept by an 11-year-old stowaway) again demonstrates her versatility and affirms her standing as one of the top talents writing for young people.
Tikvah, Children's Book Creators Reflect on Human Rights (Seastar, 111 pages, $19.95). Fourteen winners of the Caldecott medal are among the contributors to this handsome but uneven collection of reflections and artwork addressing various issues of human rights. Artists aren't always eloquent writers, and the best pieces in this volume are by author-illustrators. The book starts off with an eloquent plea for social justice by the incomparable Natalie Babbitt. William Joyce has a marvelous personal remembrance of school desegregation in Louisiana. Anita Lobel offers a stirring remembrance of the Holocaust. Tomie DePaola has a nice piece on being different. Lauren Mills has a meaningful essay on "The Little Match Girl" and the power of fairy tales and myths to inspire and inform. Marc Simont offers a plea to assist the United Nations. Part of the proceeds go to Oxfam's relief work.
-- Jean Westmoore