Reviews- Sister Bear, Snow in Summer, Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers

Among the most prolific and award-winningest authors of our time, Jane Yolen has authored more than 300 books, including OWL MOON, and HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT? Here are just a few of her newest releases.

SISTER BEAR: A NORSE TALE (Marshall Cavendish, 2011) ages 5-8    Yolen has retold an old Norse folktale that has been published in differing versions many times, first appearing in English in 1888. Yolen may be the first author to change the gender of the main character. In her words, “…I thought it was about time to show what a girl could do.”
In the wintry land of Finnmark, young Halva discovers an abandoned white bear cub in the woods. Though her parents originally object to the idea of a bear in the house, certain they would eventually become dinner, Sister Bear, as the cub is named, becomes a lovable protector with a unique talent. She likes to dance. Halva and Sister Bear set out to show off the bear’s talent to the King of Denmark, in time for Christmas. The last thing they expect is to be faced with a band of trolls who make it a holiday tradition to terrorize a woodland family. Halva and Sister Bear, the unlikely heroine, must come to the rescue.
This is a romping good holiday tale not only for families, but for classroom units about folktales and fairytales. Linda Graves’ illustrations are rich in Scandinavian-inspired details and exquisite physical features. The colorful lifelike images seamlessy transition into the fantastical elements of the story. Beautiful!

SNOW IN SUMMER: FAIREST OF THEM ALL (Philomel, 2011) ages 10+   When Summer loses her mother and baby brother during childbirth, her father sinks into a deep depression. So, when Papa brings home a new bride, Summer is hopeful that she and her father will both have someone to love. But, over the course of a few years, she discovers Stepmama is armed with potions, a magic mirror, and many dark secrets.
Papa seems to be under a spell that leaves him oblivious. Summer is left to endure cruelty. When she is thirteen years old, her situation comes to a head when Stepemama takes her to her own “church,” far into the Appalachia mountains. Stepmama wants the ultimate sacrifice. Summer must find the strength and allies to help her survive.
Set in Appalachia in the 1940’s, SNOW IN SUMMER is told in the alternating points of view of Summer, her beloved Cousin Nancy, and Stepmama. This book is best described as a novel-length fairytale complete with motherless child, wicked stepmother, magic mirrors, high intensity peril, even seven little men with great big hearts.

SELF-PORTRAIT WITH SEVEN FINGERS: THE LIFE OF MARC CHAGALL IN VERSE by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen (Creative Editions, 2011) A very visual biography, SELF-PORTRAIT includes fourteen paintings by the famous Russian-Jewish artist. Tribute is paid to each portrait through the use of poems in verse, while biographical information is paced concurrently in prose on each page. The highs and lows of Chagall’s life offer revealing insight into his creativity.  Readers will appreciate his all-too-human experiences, of childhood in his beloved Russia, duties during WWI, his later arrest by Hitler’s Nazis and ultimate foot-escape over the Pyraneese Mountains that led to his immigration to America.

This book is marketed to adults, but I think this would also be a fabulous read for any child interested in Chagall, or art history.

To do something with seven fingers is a Yiddish expression meaning to do something well or adroitly. The expression would be appropriate in describing the authors of this very book.

Five Writing Tips From Jane Yolen:
1. Anchor your characters with action.
2. Find the right word.
3. Read what you’ve written out loud.
4. Exercise the writing muscle.
5. Have fun writing.
(printed with permission of Jane Yolen and Raab Associates, Inc.)