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Books in Brief: The Good Son, Shouting at the Rain, Juana & Lucas Big Problems

PICTURE BOOK

The Good Son: A Story From the First World War Told in Miniature by Pierre-Jacques Ober, illustrated by Jules Ober and Felicity Coonan; Candlewick Studio ($22)

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"About one hundred years ago, the whole world went to war.  The war was supposed to last months. It lasted years." With spare narration, and scene after haunting scene of the devastation of the Great War displayed in all its horror through photographs of miniatures, Pierre-Jacques Ober tells the terrible story, based on true events, of Pierre, a French soldier facing execution for desertion for going home to visit his mother at Christmas. The terrible ironies of war are on full display: he had been treated as a hero for turning in German prisoners when in reality he had been fraternizing with the enemy.

Ober and his collaborators use a process similar to filmmaking, but in miniature, using natural light and shadows, to construct the haunting photographs, of soldiers marching to battle, of newspaper front pages displaying "news" photos composed of  miniatures, a battlefield littered with corpses, soldiers around a campfire, to create an amazing depth of emotion in the stiff, unchanging faces of posed toy soldiers. This disturbing book, with its powerful images and anti-war message, might be suitable for sturdy souls only, ages 8 or 10 and up.

CHILDREN'S

Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; Nancy Paulsen Books, 288 pages ($16.99) Ages 10 and up.

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This poignant novel, of a young girl coming to new understandings of family and friendship, comes from the author of "Fish In a Tree" and "One for the Murphys." The author offers an appealing setting - Cape Cod in summer, a cast of colorful characters who live on the Cape year-round and an appealing narrative voice in outspoken, stubborn Delsie McHill.

Delsie has always lived with her granny, a kindhearted woman who cleans vacation cottages to support the two of them in their tiny house in a piney cluster of four tiny houses. Her mother abandoned her, she doesn't know who her father is, and Delsie longs for a real family like other kids have. Delsie loves tracking the weather on Cape Cod and watching game shows with her granny; she spends all summer barefoot. But this summer Delsie's friend Aimee has gotten the role of  "Annie" at the local playhouse and she unwittingly hurts Delsie's feelings when she decides to research her role by quizzing Delsie about what it's like to be an orphan. Then Delsie's friend Brandy, who comes to the Cape every summer, seems to have outgrown her, with her interest in makeup, manicures and clothes, her friendship with a snobby girl named Tressa, and her disdain for the beach adventures she and Delsie always enjoyed: collecting shells, clamming, building sand castles.  Delsie forms an unlikely friendship with a new kid named Ronan, who is dealing with his own family issues.  Class differences are apparent, when her friends think nothing of going to a very expensive ice cream stand and when her friend Brandy goes to get a mani-pedi with her mom. ("I know what they are, but I've never had one. It's more likely that Grammy would take me out on a raft in the middle of a nor'easter.")

CHILDREN'S

Juana & Lucas: Big Problems by Juana Medina; Candlewick Press, 88 pages ($14.99) Ages 7 to 10.

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Author-illustrator Juana Medina, winner of the Pura Belpre Author Award, offers another endearing tale about Juana, an irresistibly upbeat girl who lives with her wonderful mother and her wonderful dog Lucas, not far from her wonderful grandparents in beautiful Bogota, Colombia. But suddenly life is not so wonderful: her mother has been doing her hair differently, wearing perfume and spending lots of time with her new friend Luis. Juana likes Luis and likes visiting his country house, but when her mother announces she is marrying Luis, Juana is worried her life will change. She is "so distraught, my appetite went away. My appetite had never gone away before. My helado [ice cream] melted and became one big chocolate-flavored puddle." The text is sprinkled with Spanish words and nuggets of information about life in Colombia (including a whole page devoted to how to make creamy potato corn soup "ajiaco"), and the layout, with only a paragraph of text and most of the page devoted to expressive illustrations, will appeal to beginning readers.

PICTURE BOOK

Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child: A Worldwide Jack and the Beanstalk Story by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Julie Paschkis; Henry Holt ($17.99)

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The author and illustrator who collaborated on "Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella" join forces again for this companion work, crafting a single if somewhat dizzying narrative of folk tales from around the world of a child confronting a man-eating giant or witch. Fleischman, a poet, performs quite a sleight of hand as he shifts from tale to tale (the country of origin identified on each page) from the start with "the youngest of 12" (Denmark), "the youngest of 13" (Italy), the eighth "no bigger than a finger" (Ethiopia), "so quiet that everyone took him for stupid" (France), "so the father led his son into the jungle and left him." (Indonesia).  The ever-changing child's cleverness in escaping danger and accomplishing various impossible tasks will appeal to young children although this tale is not quite as seamlessly stitched together from disparate parts as the previous "Cinderella" effort.

Paschkis draws on the folk art traditions of different countries for her marvelous, stylized illustrations.

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