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Books in Brief: Bone Jack by Sara Crowe; A Voyage in the Clouds by Matthew Olshan


A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785; by Matthew Olshan; illustrated by Sophie Blackall; Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux; $17.99.

This amusing picture book tells the true story of the first international flight, a balloon journey across the English Channel on Jan. 7, 1785, by Dr. John Jeffries and Jean-Pierre Blanchard. The details of the daring feat are interesting, and Olshan mines the full comic potential of the fact that the two men did not get along. An author’s note explains that much of his tale is factual, based on a monograph Jeffrie presented to the Royal Society afterward. (For example, while there was no dogs on board, the two men did in fact pee over the side of the balloon to lighten the load when it looked as though the balloon was about to crash.) Sophie Blackall’s droll illustrations bring the period to life and add to the fun.

Bone Jack by Sara Crowe; Philomel Books, 244 pages ($16.99) Ages 10 and up.
This impressive debut novel, a finalist for the Carnegie Medal - is a compelling coming-of-age tale set against a background so bleak it has an almost dystopian quality - a northern England farming community devastated by drought and by a disease that infected the sheep and required government officials to kill the animals and burn the carcasses. Ash Tyler is training to run in the annual Stag Chase, a long-distance race tradition rooted in ancient lore, and hopes to win the race to please his father, a soldier who has returned from war profoundly damaged. Meanwhile, Ash discovers his best friend Mark is on a quest to bring his own father back from the dead through the Stag Chase, a mission that threatens Ash’s life. Crowe brilliantly tiptoes between illusion and reality as she creates a pulse-pounding finale in the race itself up the mountain, as forces of nature and much darker forces seem to converge.

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