Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anne of Green Gables: A Classic Revisited

Anne of Green Gables, 1st edition
Although L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables is one of the most beloved children's classics world-wide, having sold more than 50 million copies, I admit I never read Anne of Green Gables as a child.  I first remember encountering her in the enchanting award-winning 1985 TV adaptation starring Megan Follows and Colleen Dewhurst.  I read the entire series while in my 20's, and have recently been enjoying revisiting Avonlea and the adventures of Anne Shirley in audiobook, narrated by Barbara Caruso in the Recorded Books version. 

Anne from the 1985 TV version
If by chance you've never discovered Anne Shirley as a "kindred spirit", it's never too late to dive into these charming stories. No less than Mark Twain wrote, "In Anne of Green Gables you will find the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice."

Published in 1908 to immediate critical and commercial success, the first novel is set in 1878, looking back nostalgically to an earlier generation (the later novels, which include not only Anne's adventures but those of her family, take the reader all the way to World War I).  The well-known original story centers around a lonely middle-aged brother and sister who decide to adopt a boy to help them with farm work, but who are mistakenly sent a girl instead.  And not just any girl, but the outlandishly romantic, hot-headed Anne Shirley, whose temper is as fiery as her much-hated red hair, but who has a bright intellect and a heart of gold just longing for friendship and love.  Her adventures will make you laugh out loud as well as cry; who can forget when she accidentally makes her dear friend Diana drunk on current wine (thinking she was giving her raspberry cordial instead), or when she cracks a slate over Gilbert Blythe's head in a fit of fury, or when in desperation over her horrible red hair, she dies it, turning her red locks green instead.

It's fascinating to read some of the current scholarship on this beloved story (called the most famous in Canadian literature), particularly the many feminist reinterpretations of recent years.  An excellent bibliography can be found online through the L. M. Montgomery Institute's website.  You can also find an overview of recent scholarship in an on-line article by Kathleen A. Miller, "Revisiting Anne of Green Gables and her Creator."   The L. M. Montgomery Institute also sponsors a biennial conference held on Prince Edward Island itself, which in 2012 will focus on L. M. Montgomery and cultural memory.  I'd love to attend that some time!

Although I believe the first book retains all its appeal and charms for contemporary readers, it is hard not to be disappointed in some sense with the later volumes, in which the fiery, independent Anne seems to settle down into a sedate matron, married to Dr. Gilbert Blythe, and gives up her ambitions of a career as a writer and educator for the supposed joys of married life.  The books become increasingly sentimental as well.

In Anne's House of Dreams, which starts with Anne's wedding at Green Gables and continues through the beginning of her married life, I couldn't help but be moved to tears by Montgomery's account of the difficult birth and subsequent quick death of Anne's first baby, Joyce, although part of me was glad, too, for Anne's married life with Gilbert was portrayed as so idyllic and filled with happiness that as a reader (or listener), I almost wanted to scream in frustration!  I'm afraid that kind of perfect happiness doesn't make for interesting literature, as I'm sure Ms. Montgomery well knew.  The later books deal largely with Anne's many children and their adventures, and Anne takes a secondary role in these volumes.  I have little desire to revisit those volumes, although I may yet change my mind.

A bit of Anne trivia:  Kate Middleton, the new Duchess of Cambridge, is an Anne of Green Gables fan, and visited Prince Edward Island during the couple's first visit to Canada, where she met with L. M. Montgomery's granddaughter and was presented with a special 100th anniversary copy of the classic novel.  See the following link for many photos of their visit there.

If you are an Anne fan, please leave a comment with your favorite Anne moment in the series!  Thanks so much.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition, by Karen Blumenthal (Roaring Brook Press, 2011)

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

This fascinating new narrative nonfiction book delves into the story of Prohibition, a unique and colorful decade in our country's history.  Author Karen Blumenthal , a long-time journalist with the Wall Street Journal, puts her considerable writing skills to good use in explaining how the great social revolution known as Prohibition, which was supposed to forever end drunkenness, reduce crime, and improve the lives of America's families, led instead to a culture of lawlessness, bribery, gangsters, and even murder.

Blumenthal goes back to the earliest days of the Pilgrims to trace the history of liquor in America, noting that rum was almost a form of currency in the earliest days of the country.  In the 19th century, taverns multiplied, as did concerns about excessive drinking, leading to the formation of the temperance movement, who at first worked toward drinking in moderation.  Soon, however, the movement changed its platform to total abstinence.  The author profiles some of the most important personalities from the temperance movement, such as Morris Sheppard, the "boy orator of Texas" who was the first to introduce a constitutional amendment against "an evil that will prove to be the source of the nation's death," and Carrie Nation, the infamous "bar smasher" who believed she was on a mission from God to destroy saloons.  The temperance movement was the first to put women in leadership positions, and forever changed women's influence in politics.

The political machinations of the "dries" to get the 18th amendment passed could spur many interesting discussions about parallel political movements today, and the whole saga of the rise and fall of the temperance movement is made all-too-contemporary in Blumenthal's lively narrative, which is full of personal anecdotes as well as sweeping analysis of the failures and limited successes of the prohibition movement. 

The book includes a glossary of some of the colorful prohibition and temperance vocabulary (i.e. "real McCoy, hooch, moonshine, flapper, etc.) as well as a detailed bibliography (both books and websites) source notes, and an index.  The book is handsomely illustrated with many period photographs as well as cartoons and newspaper clippings.

To read an excerpt of the first few chapters from this book, click here

Several new YA series have come out about this era recently:  Bright Young Things, by Anna Godbersen, and the Flappers series by Jillian Larkin.  Bootleg would be a perfect read-along for both these series.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: Dear America: With the Might of Angels: The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson, Hadley Virginia, 1954 (Scholastic, 2011)

Recommended for ages 8-12.

Release date:  September 1, 2011

The newest in Scholastic's relaunch of its beloved Dear America series, this book by award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney tells the story of Dawnie Rae Johnson, a fictional twelve-year old Virginia girl who's the first to desegregate an all white school in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education.

Dawnie tells us she's always been blessed with the gift of gab, so a diary is a perfect birthday gift, especially prized since it was made by her little brother, Goober.  It seems her dream is coming true when she finds out she's going to attend Prettyman Colburn, Hadley's white school, instead of the "colored" school, Bethune, where everything is broken, from the books to the toilets to the clocks.  Dawnie's especially bright, and dreams of becoming a doctor one day, although she's never seen a colored doctor or nurse either.  After passing an especially difficult test with flying colors, she's one of the students tapped by the NAACP to start the school integration process in their town.

Dawnie will need every bit of her courage and resolve, as she is confronted by demonstrations, small children spitting at her, adults calling her names, and police escorts needed just to get her into the school building.  No one will talk to her, and she spends the first day in the principal's office.  Dawnie writes in her diary, "By most counts, I'm a normal girl.  But with the way those kids were staring at me today, you'da thought I was a bearded lady at the Lee County Carnival."  But that's not her only problem, as her daddy loses her job when locals don't want to support a business that employs someone whose daughter is desegregating their schools.  About the only people nice to her at school are the colored custodian and the lunch ladies, and Gertie Feldman, a Jewish student at the school.  Will Dawnie be able to triumph in this hostile environment?

While both Andrea Davis Pinkney's heroine and the setting of Hadley, Virginia, are fictional, the narrative was inspired by several different integration stories, including one involving the author's own cousin.  Pinkney herself was the only black student at her very first grade school, although her experience was not as harsh as Dawnie's.  Pinkney incorporates many real historical events into her story, including the Montgomery bus protest of Claudette Colvin, the debut of Sports Illustrated magazine, and Jackie Robinson's integration of baseball.  Dawnie Rae's distinctive and colorful voice and personality help bring this important period in our history to life for young people today.  It's a must for school and public libraries, as well as all fans of the Dear America series.

Like the other Dear America volumes, back matter includes a historical note on American in 1954, as well as brief biographies of real people mentioned in Dawnie Rae's diary, a Civil Rights timeline, and an "about the author" note describing her background and her research on this topic.

Pinkney remarks in the author's note:  "I wrote this book to remind young readers of the great privilege they enjoy--that of attending any school they wish, with classmates of all races--and to show them that even in the harshest situations, hope can shine through the darkest days."

Disclosure:  Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review: Becoming Marie Antoinette, by Juliet Grey (Ballantine Books, 2011)

Recommended for ages 14 to adult.

I am a bit obsessed with the tragic tale of Marie Antoinette, the epitome of the doomed Queen, and I'm clearly not the only one; her fascinating life continues to inspire novels, movies, and more.  The newest novel about her is the first in a planned trilogy by debut novelist Juliet Grey.  The first novel begins in 1766 at the court of Maria Theresa of Austria, the Hapsburg empress who was Marie Antoinette's mother, and ends in 1774 with the ascension to the throne of France of two teenagers, Marie Antoinette and her husband, Louis Auguste. The next book, "Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow," is due out in 2012, with the third part appearing in 2013.

The book is narrated in the first person by Marie Antoinette herself, much like Carolyn Meyer's recent Young Royals treatment of Marie Antoinette, The Bad Queen, reviewed here at the Fourth Musketeer last year.  Grey establishes then Maria Antonia's happy childhood, frolicking with her many siblings at the Austrian court, which was much less formal than the etiquette-dominated splendors of Versailles.  When Marie Antoinette is matched up with Louis XV's grandson, her life changes even before her marriage; she is expected to be completely transformed in order to be suitable as the Dauphine and future queen of France, from her education to her hairline to her teeth (she was even given braces, which in the 18th century sounds like some kind of torture!).

Grey paints a very sympathetic portrait of the young Marie Antoinette, totally naive and unprepared for the intrigue of the French court, where she soon becomes a pawn in a game played by the king's maiden daughters (the "aunts") who conspire against the king's low-born mistress, Madame Du Barry.  With no real friends, no privacy, and little support from her awkward husband, Marie Antoinette is expected to dominate the intricate court life, guided by conflicting advice from her mother in Austria and the "aunts."  We can't help but feel sorry for this pampered princess, who enters France on her wedding voyage from Austria to the cheers and love of the French people but who later becomes the target of their hatred and vitriol.  How this transformation occurred with undoubtedly be covered in the next two volumes of this trilogy.  

Although published for adults, this engaging book is suitable for teens as well, especially those with a strong interest in history. There is some frank discussion of sexual intercourse (or lack thereof, since Marie Antoinette's husband was unable to consummate their marriage for many years, much to the dismay of not only Marie Antoinette, but everyone at court, where everyone knew of the lack of activity in the marital bed).  My own teenage reviewer found the book "too long and too detailed," but otherwise "fun."  She gave it 3 out of 5 stars, mostly because of the length.

Grey includes a detailed bibliography of sources she consulted.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Titanic, Book One: Unsinkable,by Gordon Korman (Scholastic, 2011)

Recommended for ages 8-12.

2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and a slew of new books on the subject, both fiction and non-fiction, are due to be released in the coming months.  The senseless tragedy that was the Titanic is a source of endless fascination across generations, and the anniversary is likely to spur a flood of new interest among young people.

The well-loved and versatile author Gordon Korman, who has published many popular action-adventure trilogies for young readers (i.e. Everest, Island, Dive, and Kidnapped) is a natural to capture this story for a new generation of readers.  According to his blog, Korman has always been a Titanic buff, and in this series, he follows the adventures of four young passengers on the magnificent and supposedly unsinkable luxury ship's maiden (and only!) voyage.

Paddy is a petty thief and a stowaway, running away from gangsters who would like nothing more than to murder him for stealing money from them.  Sophie is the daughter of an American suffraggist, and is embarrassed when her mother is arrested and delivered to the Titanic by police for her illegal activities.  She meets a new friend on the ship, also traveling first class--Juliana, whose wealthy father seems to spend all his time gambling.  The fourth character of this quartet is young Alfie, who gets himself hired on as a steward, although he's underage, because his father is working as a stoker on the ship.  There's non-stop action in the story, as well as mystery, as the boys find a scrapbook filled with clippings about Jack the Ripper.  Could the real "Jack the Ripper" be hiding on the ship among the passengers?

Korman's trilogies are perfect for reluctant readers; volume 1 is a manageable 170 pages, and volume two, Collison Course, was just released August 1.  The finale, S.O.S., releases September 1, so fans don't have to wait long for the conclusion of the series.  There's lots of foreshadowing of the coming tragic events in this first book (i.e. Paddy hides out in a lifeboat, wondering why there aren't more of them).  Even if they know what happens to the ship itself, readers will be on pins and needles to see how our appealing young heroes and heroines fare when the iceberg strikes.  Are they among the lucky few that make it onto the lifeboats or will they go down with the ship?  We won't know until September.

In coming months I will be reviewing other Titanic novels, including Allan Wolf's upcoming YA novel, The Watch that Ends the Night, which will be released in October.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: The Genius of Islam: How Muslims Made the Modern World,by Bryn Barnard (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)

Recommended for ages 8-14.

Kids definitely learn more about Islam today in the public school curriculum (at least here in California) than I did as a kid, but I don't think the curriculum includes the many fascinating facts explored in author/illustrator Bryn Barnard's new book, The Genius of Islam, an attractive, elegantly illustrated slim volume suitable for older elementary school or middle school children.

An introduction gives a brief introduction to Islam as "one of the world's great religions, one of history's most important civilizations, and one of the foundational cultures of the West."  Barnard stresses Islam as much more than an Arab religion, but rather a diverse culture which borrowed elements from other cultures and faiths and rewarded minorities in its midst, including Jews and Christians.  Barnard then addresses a number of areas in which Islam was particularly influential, including calligraphy, mass-produced paper, the introduction of what we now call Arabic numerals, architecture, astronomy, health care, agriculture, technology, optics, musical instruments (particularly percussion instruments), and translation of ancient writings.

Why are we not more aware of all these contributions?  Barnard explains that during the Renaissance, some influential European thinkers such as the 14th century Italian poet and scholar Petrarch resented the influence of "infidels" on Western philosophy and learning, and demanded that all Arab learning be expunged from European university education.  Indeed, Muslim philosophy was removed from European university curricula, and Europeans began to take credit for Muslim inventions.  Over centuries, Muslim contributions to Western thought were "barely a memory."

Barnard is an extremely talented artist as well as a capable writer, and the book is abundantly and attractively illustrated in full color.  Back matter includes suggestions for further reading as well as recommended websites.  Endpapers show maps of the Islamic World in 622-750 and 1500 CE.

One issue I had with this book is that since it ends at the Renaissance, it leaves the reader wondering whether the contributions of Islamic civilization ended then as well!  Nonetheless, this book serves as a worthy introduction to a fascinating subject, and would be an excellent addition to classroom and school libraries.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Presidential Libraries, Nixon, Watergate, and historical fiction

Yesterday my teenage daughter and I visited for the first time the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum  in Yorba Linda, California, not too far from our Southern California home.  A few years ago, the National Archives took over the Nixon Library from the Nixon Foundation (an organization run by Nixon loyalists) and just this year unveiled a new, state-of-the-art exhibit on Watergate.  

This exhibit, intended to present a balanced view of the complex web of Watergate, chronicles the events from June 1971, with the leak of the Pentagon Papers and the formation of the secret White House group known as the Plumbers, to Nixon’s resignation and his public explanations of Watergate after he left office.

I was in junior high school during the Watergate Hearings, and because I lived next door to school, came home at lunch where I watched the drama of the hearings unfold on live television.  It was my first experience watching our government in action (remember this was before the days of CSPAN!) and it made an indelible impression on me.  

Tim Naftali, the library’s director and curator of this exhibit, commented in an interview with NPR, "Our main client is the 14-year-old visitor who is texting while you are telling them about people not only their grandparents' age, great-grandparents' age," he says, "but from a different era and culture."  With this visitor in mind, Naftali’s exhibit mimics a web experience; in each section
is an interactive video screen where visitors can hear some of the infamous tapes recorded by Nixon at the White House, as well as watch snippets of oral histories with key participants in the scandal.  Even the graphics and colors are clearly designed to appeal to a young audience.

While touring the museum, I couldn’t help but think about the lack of historical novels for young people exploring this important time period.  In recent years, we have seen a plethora of historical novels about Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, but nary a one for young people about Watergate (not trusting my memory, I turned to WorldCat and Amazon, my trusty sources, and found nothing).  OK, authors out there--I see a niche ready to be filled!  It’s also time for a really compelling narrative nonfiction account of the Watergate events for young people; many books for older kids and teens on Watergate exist, but most were written before many of the key documents from the affair were de-classified.  

Have you visited any presidential libraries and do most of them attempt to present an unbiased view of the person in question?  Please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: The Lost Crown, by Sarah Miller (Atheneum Books, 2011)

Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Like so many other readers, I am fascinated by stories of doomed princesses.  Sarah Miller’s new YA novel, The Lost Crown, about the last few years in the lives of the Romanovs of Russia, tells their story from the point of view of all four Grand Duchesses, the beautiful and privileged daughters of Czar Nicholas II.  Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, sometimes known as OTMA, each of them imbued with her own personality, narrate in alternating chapters how world war and revolution irrevocably changed their lives, robbing them not only of their privileged status but eventually of their lives as well.  

In a recent interview, Miller was asked why the story of the Romanovs’ assassination has so much “staying power.”  She comments:

Think about the things that fascinate the public: celebrity, royalty, beauty, youth, power, wealth — and, of course, tragedy. One or two items on that list are enough to grab most people. The Romanovs can boast all seven. I suspect it also has a lot to do with the extreme contrasts in the story. There’s the riches-to-rags aspect, and also the incongruity between the irresistible appeal of Nicholas II’s personality and his ineptitude as a ruler. With the possible exception of the empress, the whole family was so guileless and personable that you can hardly help liking them even as they hurtle themselves toward their own destruction. Even their jailors were taken aback by the sympathy they developed for the Romanovs after observing them in person.

There’s just something enthralling about a senseless tragedy... it’s hard to quench people’s appetite for stories about the Romanovs, Anne Frank, and the Titanic. Things that never should have happened are hardest to let go of because we crave an explanation. That’s why the grand duchesses in particular have tremendous staying power. People can stomach the political necessity of executing the tsar, the empress, and maybe even the 13-year-old heir to the throne, but there was no reason for those four sisters to die. To top it off, so many photos have been left behind showing them vibrantly alive — dancing, swimming, rollerskating, playing tennis. That’s pretty much a recipe for immortality.

The book begins with the duchesses enjoying a glorious day on the imperial yacht, dancing, playing games, spoiling their lapdogs, and flirting with the handsome officers.  Their happiness is only tainted by the illness of their young brother, Aleksei--perhaps the most famous hemophiliac in history.  But soon they learn of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Austria, and war breaks out all over Europe.  

The whole family throws themselves into war work; the Czarina herself and the two oldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana, are trained to nurse by the Red Cross, and the younger girls visit the wounded to cheer the soldiers.  The men are thrilled by the attention from the royal family, begging for photos and autographs.  But as the war goes badly for the Russians, dissent begins to grow, erupting in revolution and the abdication of the czar.  Soon the family is forced to leave their palace for house arrest in rural Tobolsk and finally imprisonment in Siberia, at Ekaterinburg, where their tale comes to its inevitably tragic and violent conclusion.  

Miller works hard to create a distinct voice for each of the archduchesses, although I must admit that at the beginning I had trouble separating all but the youngest, Anastasia, who is portrayed as the impish jokester of the bunch.  Her book is impeccably researched, with original source material including the diaries and correspondence of the four girls, much of it still available only in Russian, used by the author in her attempt to create a balanced portrayal of the historical events and to create sympathetic young women that contemporary girls would identify with.  

Russian names, with the language’s extensive use of nicknames, can be confusing to English readers, and the author therefore includes a cast of characters list at the beginning of the novel, which includes formal names, nicknames, and descriptions of each character in the book, so that readers can keep everyone straight.  Miller also includes a glossary of Russian words and phrases, which are scattered liberally throughout the text.  A brief epilogue describes the horrific assassinations in the cellar in some detail, as well as the rumors of survival of one or more of the imperial children that persisted for years after the revolution.  Back matter includes reproductions of both formal and informal photographs of the imperial family, an author’s note on her research, and an excellent bibliography, including on-line resources and films as well as an extensive selection of books on the Romanovs.  

Some other novels for young people on the Romanovs that are worth reading include:

Anastasia’s Secret, by Susanne Dunlop (Bloomsbury, 2010)
Anastasia:  The Last Grand Duchess, by Carolyn Meyer (Royal Diaries series, Scholastic, 2000)
The Curse of the Romanovs, by Staton Rabin (Margaret K. McElderry, 2007)

Note:  You may know Sarah Miller as the author of Miss Spitfire:  Reaching Helen Keller (Atheneum, 2007),  another excellent historical novel which tells the well-known story of Helen Keller from the viewpoint of her teacher, Annie Sullivan.  Her website includes links to all the best Romanov websites, as well as websites about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan.  You can also access a number of interviews with her about The Lost Crown and her research about and interest in the Romanovs.  
One of the many photographs of the doomed Romanov archduchesses

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: These Hands, by Margaret H. Mason (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

Recommended for ages 6-12.

I just came across at my local library a moving new picture book that combines a little-known piece of labor history and the civil rights movement with a tender portrait of a grandfather’s close relationship with his grandson.  Author Margaret Mason explains in an author’s note that during the 1950s and early 1960s, African American workers at Wonder Bread and other bakery factories were allowed to sweep the floors, load the trucks, and fix the machines—but they were not allowed to work as bread dough mixers or bread dough handlers, “because the bosses said/white people would not want to eat bread/touched by these hands.”  Inspired by the stories she heard from an old friend who was a Bakers Union organizer, she wrote this inspiring tale of overcoming discrimination.

Joseph’s grandpa’s hands can still teach a young fellow how to tie his shoes, play the piano, do card tricks, or hit a line drive.  But because they weren’t allowed to touch bread dough in the factory, “these hands joined with other hands,” writing petitions and demonstrating until their proud hands could finally touch the bread dough.  And Joseph, too, can do lots of things with his hands, now, all by himself, including baking “a fine loaf of bread.”  A refrain of “yes, you can” unites the free verse poetry of Mason’s text.  The incomparable illustrator Floyd Cooper, winner of four Coretta Scott King honor awards, provides the stunning illustrations, done in his signature oil wash style with kneaded erasers, which produces an almost glowing softness to the muted earth tones of the colors.  

Highly recommended for public and school libraries.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Big Wig: A Little History of Hair, by Kathleen Krull (Arthur A. Levine, 2011)

Recommended for ages 8-12.

Hair--we’re all obsessed with it, to one degree or another.  But how many of us spend time thinking about the history of hair?  Veteran non-fiction writer Kathleen Krull does--her first “book”, written when she was ten, was called “Hair-Dos and People I Know,” a collection of hair-dos of all kinds.  

So it should be no surprise that her newest book looks at the history of hairstyles, and of those individuals who “made history with their hair.”  In the beginning, she reminds us, “everyone is furry.”  But over the centuries fur coats grow smaller and smaller, until they’re mainly on top for sun protection.  Now we’ve got hair instead of fur.  Krull touches briefly on many hair related topics in chronological order, from the evolution of hair color (how and why did a cavewoman wind up with blonde hair?) to Egyptians who shaved their heads to get rid of bugs but then wore wigs to protect their heads from the hot sun, to punk rockers’ Mohawks and Dorothy Hamill’s wedge cut.  Kids will especially relish descriptions of all kinds of disgusting-sounding early hair products.  Did you know “goat pee” and “pigeon poop” were early remedies to get rid of baldness?  Cleopatra recommended a blend of horse teeth and deer marrow, mixed with toasted mice, to her bald lover, Julius Caesar.  Avocado, bear grease, and butter were used in various time periods to make hair soft and shiny.  Flour helped powder wigs for 17th and 18th century aristocrats, and Marie Antoinette and her friends sported huge hair-dos adorned with everything from miniature ships to birdcages and toys.  

Back matter includes “hair extensions,” providing further details about hair in each of the time periods portrayed in the text as well as a bibliography with other sources suitable both for young readers and adults.  

The illustrations by British artist Peter Malone greatly enhance this entertaining volume.  At once elegant and hilarious, who could resist the whimsy of three monkeys sitting in the African savannah on beauty parlor chairs with hair dryers over their heads, surrounded by elephants, giraffes, and oddly enough, the Statue of Liberty?  Or Cleopatra and Julius Caesar surrounded by a variety of animals in the process of urinating into buckets?  Or my personal favorite, a bear barber coiffing the Mohawk hairdo of a Native American. The finely detailed gouache art will be sure to fascinate young people who take the time to carefully peruse the drawings.  Especially noteworthy is the way Malone mimics the style of the art of the countries and periods discussed; i.e. text about samurai hairstyles is illustrated by a drawing in a perfect mimicry of Japanese classical art.