2017-07-12
Reprinted with permission from Publishers Weekly magazine.

Buddhism | Christian Life and Worship | Catholicism | Islam

Buddhism

The Buddhism of Tibet
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama Trans. and edited by Jeffry Hopkins
Snow Lion
As Tibetan Buddhism matures in the West, the release of more substantive and esoteric literature becomes timely. With this intermediate audience in mind, and with the hope that "even a few people for a short period could have some internal peace," the Dalai Lama here offers two of his original writings alongside two ancient texts. His works "The Buddhism of Tibet" and "The Key to the Middle Way" comprise roughly half of the book. They reveal some of the secondary and more cerebral layers of Tibetan Buddhist study, going well beyond the primary embrace of the Four Noble Truths. Emptiness, "the final mode of being of all phenomena," is a recurring motif throughout the volume. The second half includes "Precious Garland of Advice for the King," 500 quatrains written by Nagarjuna, who lived 400 years after the Buddha. Written to advise the Indian king Satavahana, it has specific counsel on ruling, plus more general material on emptiness and compassion. Although theoretically softened by a caveat of application to both sexes, the prohibition against desiring women, who are partially described as "a source of excrement, urine and vomit," among other similar vitriolic phrases, will be hard to stomach for many. The book concludes with an exposition of a relatively short poem, "Song of the Four Mindfulnesses" by Kaysang Gyatso, the Seventh Dalai Lama. No doubt a book of merit, this volume is most appropriate for serious students who are ready to wade through fairly heavy intellectual currents.

Christian Life and Worship


On Forgiveness: How Can We Forgive the Unforgivable?
By Richard Holloway
Canongate

Former Bishop of Edinburgh and a divinity professor in the City of London, Holloway offers deceptively simple reflections on the always compelling, ever-relevant subject of forgiveness. Refreshingly free from the extremes of rant and piety, the cosmopolitan cleric instead summons an eclectic and humanistic range of provocative thinkers, from Derrida to Nietzsche, and a generous sampling of contemporary British poetry. The prolific author of "Godless Morality" and 23 other books is fond of attention-grabbing Derridan paradox: Unforgivability is necessary in order to make forgiveness possible. We can practice religion what it signifies without the form of religion, yielding "religion without religion," which can also be seen in the phenomenon of people who are "spiritual but not religious." Although the book originated as lectures at Glasgow University, Holloway's point is hardly academic. He always applies his reasoning to real and historical examples: the Middle East, Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Holloway offers subtle guidance, the kind that is easiest to accept and therefore most effective. He is not imperative: forgiveness is a choice so hard that there is room for the unforgiving, and magnanimity and generosity may work as substitutes for forgiveness in the political arena. This slender book is a reminder that if enormous error is all too human, so too must be the capacity to forgive it and thereby transcend it and, as the author puts it, "reclaim the future." This is an estimable contribution to the growing current literature on forgiveness.

The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity
By Roger E. Olson
InterVarsity

In this ambitious book, Olson delineates from an evangelical perspective what is and is not authentic Christian belief. Chapters feature such topics as the Bible, God, Jesus and the Church, beginning with an overview of orthodox belief about the topic, citing Scripture, the Church Fathers and noted Christian writers throughout history. Olson then devotes a section to heretical beliefs, and follows this with an examination of diverse non-heretical beliefs among orthodox Christians (including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, and most Protestants). He ends each chapter envisioning greater unity among Christians, despite honest disagreements. While marred by some redundancy and excess verbiage, Olson's writing renders many complex theological concepts surprisingly accessible. And in his attempts to separate heresy from right belief, he acknowledges that those who adhere to beliefs he labels erroneous are usually sincere Christians (he cites wrong belief among fundamentalists, charismatics, liberal Christians and various sects). Attempting to mediate among the myriad dogmas, doctrines and opinions of orthodox Christians is no easy task, and Olson's descriptions of certain right beliefs and heresies (such as the psychological analogy for the Trinity and modalism) are sometimes barely distinguishable. Despite these and other small logical problems, Olson's book contributes greatly to contemporary evangelicalism not only in its impressive survey of many theologies, but also in its use of "The Great Tradition" of Christian belief as an essential guide to orthodoxy.

The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church
By Robb Redman
Jossey-Bass

Robb Redman, the former director of the D. Min. program at Fuller Theological Seminary, argues that American Christianity is in the midst of a "worship awakening." In "The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church," Redman argues that the shift is best seen in the popularity of seeker services, the "praise and worship" movement, the growth of the Christian worship industry and the renaissance of liturgical traditions. Redman traces demographic changes to understand why worship has taken on new significance, pointing to increasing ethnic diversity and inter-generational dynamics. This is not the most sophisticated book on changes in American Christian worship practices; recent contributions by Robert Webber and Leonard Sweet have hit the mark more forcefully. However, it is a competent and resourceful overview.

In God's Time: The Bible and the Future
By Craig C. Hill
Eerdmans

Eschatology is a hot subject. "Prophecy" is a regular feature in supermarket tabloids, and it recently made the cover of Time magazine. Interest in the subject fuels countless water cooler conversations, myriad "end-times" Web sites and the whole Left Behind publishing juggernaut. But in many quarters of the Christian community, that same intrigue over "what happens at the end of the story" is balanced by bewilderment, even embarrassment over what the Bible and its various interpreters say. For these Christians in particular (and less so for inerrantist end-time enthusiasts), this book is a welcome, comprehensive and accessible guide to exploring what the Bible says about the future. Hill, a professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., wants to show "that the idea of God's triumph is central to Christian faith and that a working knowledge of the concept is essential to an informed reading of the Bible, particularly the New Testament." He begins with a primer on biblical interpretation, then addresses prophecy throughout history, the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, Jesus' expectations for the future and what those expectations were for the earliest Christians. The book closes with an appendix on the Rapture. It all reads like a good lecture, punctuated with summary lists, illustrative diagrams and funny asides (though some readers may find the latter off-putting). Like a well-prepared and practiced professor, Hill leads his readers through this difficult material with ease and expertise, sensitivity and a sense of humor.

Catholicism

The Vatican's Women: Female Influence in the Holy See
By Paul Hoffman
St. Martin's

How do women influence the inner workings of the male-dominated Roman Catholic Church when the door to priesthood remains closed to them? To find out women's impact on the Vatican, Hoffman, a former Rome bureau chief for The New York Times, conducted interviews with more than 40 representatives of the church's distaff side and did historical research aided by two of the Vatican's women professionals. He learned that although they are barred from many official positions of authority, women have managed to exercise persuasive power at the Vatican into the present day. Indeed, some of Hoffman's strongest examples are of women who wielded great power while assuming traditional and even subservient roles. Chief among these was Mother Pascalina, a Bavarian nun who spent more than 40 years attending to the personal needs of Pope Pius XII, and who had so much influence that she was referred to by some as "the popess." This book is as much about the Vatican as it is about women and is full of interesting, gossipy tidbits drawn from the author's years of working and living in Rome. Although such details make for interesting reading and will certainly attract readers with a taste for scandal and rumor, their inclusion detracts from what otherwise might have been a more serious study of the role of women in the church.

Islam

Chasing Rumi
By Roger Housden
HarperCollins

Housden ("Ten Poems to Change Your Life") adds a mystical twist to a young man's search for love in this spare, allegorical tale of a Greek icon painter living in 1950s Italy who makes a pilgrimage to the tomb of 13th-century Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi. Aesthete Georgiou loves art and beauty, but is frustrated by his inability to find a worthy love in his native Florence. Dazzled by a book of Rumi's poems, Georgiou hopes that a journey to the poet's tomb at Konya, Turkey, will teach him something about love. His meandering trip takes him to a monastery in Meteora, Greece; to the shrine of Delphi, where he has a vision of the Virgin Mary, who poses a riddle that holds the key to his quest; and to other sites in Greece and Turkey, where he meets Orthodox priests, mystics, sheikhs and dervishes who teach him that romance between a man and a woman is not the only kind of love there is, and that accumulating knowledge doesn't necessarily help one to experience or understand love. Housden is a graceful storyteller and he offers an offbeat look at the relationship between divine love and earthly romantic love. Unfortunately, he tends to slip into treacly, bland affirmations ("All is already well. Listen to what your heart tells you, and you cannot stray far"), and the tidy, happily-ever-after ending belies some of the complicated questions about spirituality and self-knowledge that are raised through Georgiou's quest.

Islam Explained
By Tahar Ben Jelloun
New Press

From the author of "Racism Explained to My Daughter" comes this slender but ambitious treatise designed to make sense of Islam to young Western readers in the wake of September 11. Jelloun organized his book in a simple question-and-answer format, imagining the questions to come from his own children. The format and largely simple language makes it a quick read and easily digestible. Jelloun tells the tale of Muhammad and the origins of Islam, then dwells largely on Islam's Golden Age by emphasizing its openness to the knowledge of other cultures and by enumerating some of its own contributions to world science and philosophy. Jelloun tries not to whitewash Islamic history by mentioning the violent wars that characterized its expansion, but in doing so he raises more questions than he answers. He explains terrorists as "bad men" who are "not real Muslims." He also defines a range of terms from "humility" and "decadence" to "martyr" and "jihad," but often uses fairly sophisticated vocabulary in his explanations (which could be a translation issue from the original French: Jelloun is a Moroccan-born Muslim transplanted to France). For this reason, the book would work better for adult readers looking for simple ways to answer their children's questions. Although billed as being of interest to the general reader, it will certainly be frustrating to those who want more than a superficial overview of Islam. This book only whets the appetite.

Behind the Burqa: Our Life in Afghanistan and How We Escaped to Freedom
By "Sulima" and "Hala," as told to Batya Swift Yasgur
Wiley

This memoir from two sisters who fled Afghanistan 20 years apart distinguishes itself from the spate of books about women in similar circumstances by the sheer breadth of its coverage. Through these first-hand accounts of oppression, abuse and downright misery, readers come to understand that the much-maligned Taliban only picked up where the Mujihaddin left off in curtailing women's rights. In fact, as "Sulima" and "Hala"'s mother points out, "[The Taliban] is better than the Mujihaddin. The laws are strict and harsh, but at least we know what to expect. They're not just randomly breaking into houses and killing people.... If we keep all the rules, then we will be safe." The sisters' tales of domestic abuse and other now-familiar yet hair-raising injustices may crystallize the turbulent historical timeline, but it seems that their individual voices have been muted in translation. Unfortunately, it's so difficult to distinguish one from the other that much of the impact of this well-intentioned book is lost.

Judaism

The New Encyclopedia of Judaism
NYU Press
In 1989, The Encyclopedia of Judaism set a high standard for Jewish reference works and was selected as an Outstanding Reference Book by the American Library Association. But in The New Encyclopedia of Judaism, a good work has been made even better; the original thousand entries have been updated and 250 new ones added. As with the first edition, the one-volume resource has hundreds of illustrations, contributions from scholars from all major branches of Judaism and a strong annotated bibliography.

The Secret: Unlocking the Source of Joy and Fulfillment
By Michael Berg
Kabbalah Publishing

Popular kabbalist and author of "The Way," Berg is back with another spiritual how-to, a guidebook for applying the principles of Jewish mysticism to everyday life. The book opens with a powerful tale: Josef and Rebecca, a poor couple, sell their only cow to provide a feast for a famous rabbi, and they are eventually rewarded with unfathomable riches. The cow, says Berg, symbolizes the unfulfilled life many people are willing to accept, and the riches symbolize the joy we can find if we shape our lives around the titular "Secret." What is this secret? It is a saying that Berg's teacher, the late Rav Ashlag, learned from his own teacher, years ago in Jerusalem: "The only way to achieve true joy and fulfillment is by becoming a being of sharing." That idea is hardly innovative, of course, but Berg's meditations on the life of generosity are stirring, and the kabbalistic and midrashic tales he employs movingly illustrate the fruits of sharing. The book is a bit skimpy, though, and padded with self-help standards. There's a list of six tips to aid those trying to live out The Secret, including the unabashed suggestion to "Read this book often" and, since The Secret is about sharing, share the book with others. Most readers will breeze through the text in an hour. One wishes that Berg had followed his own advice and shared even more with his audience.

Kabbalah Month by Month: A Year of Spiritual Practice and Personal Transformation
By Mindy Ribner
Jossey-Bass

It was inevitable that amid the explosion of Kabbalah-related books in the last five years, some would be done devotional-style, aimed to bring the puzzles of Judaism's most mystical text to readers in digestible, bite-sized daily doses. But in "Kabbalah Month by Month: A Year of Spiritual Practice and Personal Transformation," Mindy Ribner gives readers a fairly thoughtful and perceptive interpretation. What sets this book apart from most others that explore Kabbalah for the hoi polloi is that it is firmly and stubbornly rooted in Jewish tradition. Some may not agree with Ribner's explanations of some Jewish traditions, or her investigations of astrology, but they will appreciate the fact that she has not sought to divorce Kabbalah from its religious roots. The book is beautifully designed in a square paperback format.

Wicca

The Witches' Craft: The Roots of Witchcraft & Magical Transformation
By Raven Grimassi
Llewellyn

Grimassi ("Wiccan Mysteries"; "Encyclopedia of Wicca and Witchcraft"), a practicing Wiccan for nearly three decades, has trained in at least four schools of The Craft. Here he makes a powerful case for returning to the ancient traditions that he believes have fallen by the wayside in the last 20 years. He complains that "many modern books on Witchcraft will describe a technique or method of performing a spell or ritual, and then go on to inform the reader that almost everything described is optional, and that the prescribed items can easily be substituted with other things." His approach is different than those "modern" books he chastises more traditional, more rooted. His substantive research in the first third of the book traces the written history of witches over the past 2,500 years. Having thus established his traditional credentials, Grimassi then turns to the tools, techniques and tried-and-true methods such as instruments, states of consciousness, implements, and the like. Much more than the standard gallop through the sabbats (seasonal observations), Grimassi delves deftly into more cerebral issues such as "right and left brain consciousness" and "myth and metaphor." He also manages to put into perspective more provocative avenues such as "sex magic" and "ritual flagellation." Grimassi offers a well-researched history of ancient magickal techniques, including some that have been preserved orally and are here in print for the first time. Everyone who cares deeply about the witchcraft tradition will want this impressive work.

Spirituality

The New Revelations: A Conversation with God
By Neal Donald Walsch
Atria

Like Walsch's earlier bestsellers, this New Age volume purports to be a record of a conversation with, and revelation from, God. The overarching argument is simple, indeed a bit tautological: humanity has reached a turning point. As evidenced by September 11, something about our world isn't working. We do not, however, need to tinker with our economics or politics; rather, we need to retool our beliefs about those systems that govern society. This is key, Walsch insists, because "beliefs create behaviors." Fond of numbered lists, Walsch gives us "Five Steps to Peace," which include our admitting that there is something we don't understand about "God and... Life, the understanding of which could change everything." Walsch also offers Nine New Revelations, some of which don't seem all that new, including the idea that God has always communicated directly with people, or that God would never punish us with eternal damnation. The Steps to Peace and the New Revelations all point toward the peaceful, humane spirituality that Walsch wants readers to cultivate, a spirituality that focuses not on morals but on "functionality." Because Walsch is ecumenical, drawing on Robert Schuller, Harold Kushner, the Bhagavad Gita and Shakespeare, seekers from many spiritual backgrounds will find his book inviting, and the dialogue format makes for easy reading. For those who are interested in a spiritual approach to global upheaval, these "New Revelations" will prove inspiring and companionable.

History and Current Affairs

Joseph Smith: A Penguin Life
By Robert V. Remini
Viking/Lipper

This accessible biography by Remini, a historian whose three-volume biography of Andrew Jackson won the National Book Award, makes a fine contribution to the field of Mormon studies. Remini has an engaging writing style, as when he suggests that Joseph Smith's future father-in-law "roared his refusal" to his daughter's marrying the young upstart, or that the prophet's friend Sidney Rigdon was a "fire-breathing Mormon." The book is strongest when it contextualizes the Mormon story in the larger fabric of U.S. history in the first half of the 19th century. Not surprisingly, Remini speaks eloquently about the sea changes that characterized the Jacksonian age, and explores how Smith and early Mormonism benefited from and were also hurt by the spiritual and economic cataclysms of the era. Remini helps readers understand how specific events in Mormon history were related to larger trends and affairs; for example, he situates the collapse of the Mormon-owned Kirtland Bank in the larger rubric of the financial panic of 1837. Remini states at the outset that this biography does not seek to pass judgment on the authenticity of Smith's prophetic calling, and with only a few exceptions, he successfully holds that neutral stance. There are several scattered and minor errors; there was no subtitle on the first edition of the Book of Mormon, as Remini claims, and Brigham Young is believed to have had 27 wives for "time and all eternity," not 20. But these are very insignificant problems in a book noteworthy for its balanced tone and thorough scholarship.

The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works
By Roger Highfield
Viking

British science writer Highfield ("The Private Lives of Albert Einstein") takes on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series "to show how many elements of her books can be found in and explained by modern science." The result is an intelligent though odd attempt to straddle the imaginative worlds of science and fiction. Using Harry's magical world to "help illuminate rather than undermine science," Highfield splits the book in two: the first half a "secret scientific study" of everything that goes on at Potter's Hogwarts school, the second half an endeavor to show the origins of the "magical thinking" found in the books, whether expressed in "myth, legend, witchcraft or monsters."

This division is an obvious attempt to duplicate the method and the popularity of his "Physics of Christmas." Here, however, as intriguing as the concept is, the author isn't quite able to engage or entertain as he explores the ways in which Harry's beloved game of Quidditch resembles the 16th-century Mesoamerican game Nahualtlachti or how, by using Aztec psychotropic mushrooms, Mexican peyote cactus and other types of mind-altering fungi, even Muggles can experience their own magic. While interesting, the book reads more like an obsessive Ph.D. dissertation that fails to satisfy either of its target audiences: the children who read the books or the parents who buy them and often read them themselves.

Self-Help

Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Simple Splendor
By Sarah Ban Breathnach
Scribner

"Women were created to experience, interpret, revel in, and unravel the mysteries of Life through their senses," declares Breathnach ("Simple Abundance"), insisting that women have two extra senses: those of "knowing" and "wonder." Breathnach then works her way through the calendar year, offering tips to women to free their "essensual" selves. Much of the advice (e.g., make your own scented sachets and foot lotions) is rote. At times, Breathnach herself criticizes the commercialization of the sensual. For example, the bath is a "waterfall of delight" that's being "snuffed out by the banality of the self-enhancement poseurs." Homemade is the best way to go, says Breathnach, and even the hours spent preparing various potions are a gift in themselves. On the other hand, she heartily endorses purchasing gourmet fruits, "essensual sets of underwear," silk sheets and other luxuries, since these items also pleasure the senses. Fortunately, the object of all this pampering isn't just to attract a mate. Breathnach urges women to stop focusing on finding a partner and to "learn the sacred soulcraft of self-nurture." While exhortations to "become your own courtesan" may seem narcissistic, the message will strike a welcome chord among women who've learned that sacrificing for others isn't always worth it. At times Breathnach is unintentionally funny she recommends taking Beckett plays to the laundromat to "try on for size being an intellectual." But her occasionally pretentious use of quotations and capitalized references to the Spirit and the Divinity shouldn't stop her fans from pampering their Inner Goddess.

Everyday Karma: A Renowned Psychic Shows You How to Change Your Life by Changing Your Karma
By Carmen Harra
Ballantine

Telling readers to "forget everything you think you know about psychics," self-described "metaphysical intuitive" Harra combines her gift to communicate with the "Invisible World" (honed after nearly drowning in a Romanian river at age five) with lessons she's gleaned as a licensed hypnotherapist, astrologist, numerologist and Kabbalah expert. Juxtaposing her casual, friendly writing style and positive tone against a highly structured framework, Harra, who's consulted with presidents, Hollywood celebrities and European royalty, provides thorough explanations on the levels of karma (past, present and accumulated), types of karma (individual, family and group) and a 10-step Karmic Resolution Method meant to develop the self-awareness needed to "project your own happy future." The tips on communicating with one's spirit guide, rules for a happy marriage and exercises meant to clarify one's true purpose, attract a soul mate and eliminate addictive patterns from one's life do lend an interactive feeling. However, Harra's heavy reliance on anecdotal evidence and her predictions section (where she shows that, for example, she knew "Clinton would almost be ousted from office" and later "disappear into civilian life") come off as self-congratulatory and may leave skeptics wondering if she's only the latest to capitalize on the ever-growing American appetite for occultism.

U Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money
By Daniel Lapin
Wiley

Combining pop psychology, snippets of Jewish lore, homespun homilies and quotations from a daunting variety of sources, Lapin offers a manual on how to make money by succeeding in business. Lapin, a super-conservative Orthodox rabbi and talk show host, insists that everyone is in business "unless you are a Supreme Court judge [sic] or a tenured university professor." (Excluding professors fits with Lapin's devaluation of them, since he believes that higher education doesn't prepare for "real life.") The material is organized into 10 chapters of advice, beginning with the notion that "business is moral, noble and worthy," and ending with the admonition not to retire. Throughout, Lapin urges behavior that will produce more business and, thus, more money. For example, he unabashedly recommends attending synagogue or church services in order to make business contacts. Similarly, he encourages giving charity to an organization that has members who "are in the best position to advance your business objectives." Lapin justifies these dubious actions by interpreting the fifth commandment ("Honor thy father and thy mother") as a mandate to form relationships for business purposes. His struggle to ground his financial advice in Jewish tradition is abandoned as he expounds an anti-environmentalist stance. He digresses still further from both Judaism and wealth-building when he gives tips for public speaking based on what his father taught him (talking without a manuscript or notes and not grasping the rostrum). Lapin's book may appeal to patient readers who share his conservative political and economic views.

Children

Jewish Holidays All Year Round
By Ilene Cooper, illus. by Elivia Savadier
Abrams

Written by Booklist's children's book editor, abundantly illustrated with Savadier's ("The Uninvited Guest and Other Jewish Holiday Tales") playful watercolors as well as color photographs of art and artifacts from New York City's Jewish Museum, this book strikes a tone both child-friendly and respectful. As the author thoughtfully explores the history and significance of the holidays and festivals of the Jewish year, she succinctly links these to traditions and rituals. For example, after explaining Sukkot and identifying it as an inspiration for the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving, she writes, "Today, each sukkah fragile... open to the sky and the rain reminds us that we eternally owe our thanks to God. The sukkah symbolizes our need for God's shelter." Instructions for holiday activities (crafts, recipes, etc.) are also included. Almost every page features at least one illustration, from a view of an 18th-century Galician Torah crown to a contemporary photo of a Harlem congregation blowing long, twisty shofars to a 1910 Rosh Hashanah "card" carved on a walrus tusk in Nome, Alaska. Savadier's vignettes, mostly of busy, happy people, underscore the liveliness of Jewish faith.

The Legend of Saint Christopher
By Margaret Hodges, illus. by Richard Jesse Watson
Eerdmans

Hodges ("Saint George and the Dragon") masterfully adapts William Caxton's 15th-century translation of The Golden Legend to serve up a saint's tale with strong folkloric elements. Offero, a strong man who works as a bearer (porter), wants to serve the greatest king in the world. When he discovers that the king fears the devil, Offero concludes the devil is mightier, and serves him until he learns that the devil fears Christ. Offero's search to serve Christ teaches him that his own inner grace is even stronger than his physical prowess. Watson's ("The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake") artwork achieves a startling blend of the ancient and the timeless, the archetypal and the particular he paints narrative elements in representational oils, reserving the backgrounds for abstract patterns that hint at the mythic roots of legend.

Annie's Ark
By Lesley Harker
Scholastic/Chicken House

Though adapted from the same source, Harker's ("Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star") journey on the ark is stylistically worlds away from Jerry Pinkney's. In this chipper version, young Annie scampers throughout the sailing vessel to tend to the animals, per the directions of "Grandaddy Noah" and other relatives. All the while, Annie hopes to find some peace and quiet amid the clatter and confusion on board. Annie's wish is closer to being granted as the rain finally ends and everyone dances for joy at the sight of the rainbow ("I knew it was a present... just for me!" Annie exults, not naming the donor of the "present"). The rainbow, like the raindrops on the jacket, is laminated; the shiny surfaces, along with the cheery watercolors of bright-eyed critters creating a rumpus and the sweet countenances of Annie and her family, are sure to prove inviting to very young readers.

Noah's Ark
By Jerry Pinkney
North-South/SeaStar

Pinkney ("The Ugly Duckling") unfurls some of the finest illustrations of his career in this lush, not-to-be-missed version of the perennially popular Bible story. In unfettered, graceful prose, Pinkney relates Noah's faithful work in building the ship and gathering the animals. He enhances the smoothly rendered plot with simple, evocative detail ("The strong wooden beams embraced the clouds"; "[The animals] followed him into the ark, and God closed the door behind them"). The watercolor-and-pencil animal tableaux delicately hued, vigorously executed are stunning in their artistry. Realistically drawn creatures flap, leap, lumber and slither about under the watchful, hopeful eyes of a kind-faced, gray-bearded Noah and his family. These crowded but never chaotic scenes, as well as those depicting whales in implicit comparison with the ark, will help children grasp the magnitude of the story's message of faith, stewardship and obedience.

I Love You, Christopher Bear
Stephanie Jeffs
September Publications

A trio of titles in the handsize paper-over-board Tales of Christopher Bear series by Stephanie Jeffs, illustrated by Jacqui Thomas, links a boy's love for his teddy bear to divine love. In I Love You, Christopher Bear, Joe loses Christopher Bear but the joyful reunion prompts Mom to explain just how much God loves everyone; "A Bad Day for Christopher Bear!" occasions a similar lesson about seeking forgiveness from individuals and from God; and in "Christopher Bear's First Christmas," the bear follows along as Joe's preschool class enacts a simple Nativity pageant.

The Littlest Candlesticks
By Sylvia Rouss
Pitspopany

On the heels of The Littlest Pair's winning the 2002 National Jewish Book Award in the picture-book category comes "The Littlest Candlesticks," another title in the Littlest series by Sylvia Rouss, illustrated by Holly Hannon. Couplets describe a girl's wish for her own Sabbath candlesticks, like her mother and her older sisters ("'Abby, just wait 'til you're a little older./ You'll have candlesticks,' her mother gently told her"). Abby's patience pays off the next week in preschool (her class is girls only, with all of them in modest dresses), when each girl receives a pair of "see-through glass" candlesticks to paint. Hannon compensates for uneven draftsmanship with radiantly colored compositions that almost shine with Abby's family's warmth.

On Morning Wings
by Reeve Lindbergh
Candlewick

Often breathtaking watercolor-and-collage illustrations by Holly Meade illuminate "On Morning Wings" by Reeve Lindbergh, a verse adaptation of Psalm 139 that previously appeared in Lindbergh's "In Every Tiny Grain of Sand: A Child's Book of Prayers and Praise" (2000). Meade's visual story line shows four children spending an idyllic summer day together outdoors. The striking use of light, reflected in water or filtered by a campfire, conveys the natural reverence of the text with seeming spontaneity.

I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem
By Jamie Lee Curtis, illus. by Laura Cornell
HarperCollins/Cotler

The dynamic duo behind "Today I Feel Silly" returns for another lively, emotionally reassuring picture book. This time out, Curtis looks to the source of what makes children (of all ages) feel comfortable in their own skin. Cornell pictures the perky rhymes being delivered by a pair of young protagonists confident enough to shake off embarrassment and to feel proud (though not overly so) of personal achievements. "I'm gonna like me when I'm called on to stand. I know all my letters like the back of my hand," announces a girl dressed in plaid, flowers and a cape. "I'm gonna like me when my answer is wrong, like thinking my ruler was ten inches long," says the boy as both youngsters stand before the school blackboard. Ultimately, the author concludes "I'm gonna like me 'cause I'm loved and I know it, and liking myself is the best way to show it." Though the message is both catchy and effective in its delivery, it's Cornell's humorous, detailed, ink-and-watercolor illustrations that give this volume true pizzazz. She hits just the right note of fear-tinged bravura with the characters' vividly imagined antics. Their portraits, embellished with all manner of costumes and fun accessories (a fire-extinguisher-like toothpaste tube, an Esther Williams lunchbox, a "Dalmatian Kit" for polka-dotting pets), will delight the audience. Ages 4-8.

The Festival of Bones/El Festival de las Calaveras: The Little-Bitty Book for the Day of the Dead
By Luis San Vicente, trans. by John William Byrd and Bobby Byrd
Cinco Puntos/Consortium

Originally published in Mexico, this bilingual primer on the Day of the Dead may be best suited to those already familiar with the festival. For the uninitiated, an afterword explains that Mexicans celebrate el d¡a de los muertes from October 31 to November 2. Feasts, music and visits to gravesites help the living honor the dead, who are believed by many to return for the festivities. Vicente, a respected Mexico City artist, creates charming skeletal characters; their playfulness accentuates the holiday's merriment. Rendered in a style reminiscent of scratchboard illustrations, his bony subjects dance in top hats and ride bicycles amid a fetchingly surreal world. For "Pascual's skeleton sings a song/ Without any pain or dread/ Although half a leg is really gone/ Still a flower sits upon his head," he pictures the skeletal fellow balanced on one leg atop a crescent moon and a wide-eyed owl as his audience. But for norte¤os, the macabre content may not translate well. The text abruptly begins with a deceased guitarist crooning, "The skeletons are going along the road to the graveyard.... These are the dead. How happy they are." They may be further confused by a shifting narrative voice and non sequitur conclusion. But for those immersed in Mexican culture, this neatly designed square volume offers a fresh look at a familiar subject. Ideas on how to honor the dead and recipes for the holiday feast are included. Ages 4-10.

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