Mortensen, Lori. Nonsense!: The Curious Story of Edwin Gorey. Il. Chloe Bristol. Versity/Houghton Mifflin, 2020. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-358-03368-4. Ages 8-11. P8 Q8
For readers who like pretty picture books, Gorey is not popular. Publishers rejected his books in the mid-1950s, and he had to publish them himself—over 100 of them. His grim humor can make him an acquired taste; for example, his alphabet tale begins, “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.” Yet he had a good life, growing up in a normal family and, as an adult, working in Doubleday Publishing’s art department. His work is the precursor to such classics as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare before Christmas, and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Digitally painted pencil drawings on cream-colored paper introduce this author to young people looking for the eccentric and dark or silly—perhaps both at the same time—works.
Verdict: The Victorian feel of the tall illustrations, sometimes in panels, give the feel of Gorey’s work as Bristol occasionally mimics his approach, such as the snake hanging from a branch over a clueless Gory, leaning against the tree trunk and reading a book. A thoroughly enjoyable read about an unusual person.
May 2020 review by Nel Ward.
Mortensen, Lori. Away with Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird. Illus. by Kristy Caldwell. Peachtree, 2019. Unp. $17.95. ISBN 978-1-68263-005-1. Ages 7-10. P8Q8
In 19th century England, girls were supposed to be married at an early age, but stubborn Isabella, frequently ill, refused to fit in that mold. Only when she broke free from the confinement of her home and expectations for women, did she escape the strange malaise she suffered. She bloomed when her father taught her to ride a horse, and then went out into the world in her early 20s, taking a voyage to the United States and traveled through the rural areas to the West. Throughout her life she visited other faraway places in Australia, Hawaii, and Asia. After her adventures she wrote a dozen books and several articles about her journeys.
Verdict: The digital illustrations seem a bit flat, but the narrative, sometimes using excerpts from Bird’s books, is spirited. One flaw is the confusion of her last name because the narration doesn’t mention her marriage; another is her imperialist writing.
June 2019 review by Nel Ward.
Mortensen, Lori. Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range. Illustrated by Michael Allen Austin. Clarion Books, 2016. $16.99. ISBN 9780544370302. Unpaged. Ages 4-7. P7Q8
Cowpoke Clyde buys a new-fangled bicycle out of a catalog so he can see what the fuss is all about. Along with Dawg, he wobbles around the prairie causing chaos and fear among the local animals. At first it doesn’t go so well, but Clyde persists and eventually decides that he likes his bike. The story is told in rhyming, humorous language that pulls the reader along at a good pace. The digital illustrations have a lot of humor in them and will appeal to most kids.
VERDICT: Children who have learned to ride a bike, or are at that age will like this story and its message that if you keep practicing, you can get good at things that are hard.
March 2019 review by Carol Schramm.