Following Grandfather by Rosemary Wells; illustrated by Christopher Denise; Candlewick Press, 58 pages ($14.99).
The incomparable Rosemary Wells, who has written and/or illustrated more than 120 books for children including the Ruby and Max books, the haunting “Lincoln and His Boys” and mysteries “The Man in the Woods” and “When No One Was Looking,” offers a beautifully written story of a child dealing with the loss of a loved one in the form of a mouse and her beloved grandfather. Much of the magic comes from Wells’ vivid description of a world within a world, in a real time and place: Boston in the mid-20th century, beautifully realized in Denise’s gorgeous black and white illustrations. She begins: “Down at the very end of Revere Beach, where the people never go, the mice of Boston spread their towels and plant their beach umbrellas in the sun.” This is also a lovely treatment of the American immigrant experience; Jenny’s grandfather crossed the ocean from Italy – “he stowed away in a coil of rope under a cleat” on the steamship Leonardo da Vinci – and opened a restaurant for mice in the attic of Salvadore’s “featuring daily specials from the kitchen downstairs.” Once Jenny is born, her grandfather becomes her guardian, teaching her “how to button my buttons and how to draw J for Jenny.” He takes her to the beach, offers words of wisdom to soothe the hurt when she is insulted by the snobby mice “who lived in the home of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.” (among several hilarious slaps at Boston’s bluebloods). Other wonders of this mouse world include “specialty boutiques run by mice” in the storage rooms and air shafts of Jordan Marsh and Filene’s department stores, where her grandfather takes Jenny to try on clothes she can’t afford. (“it is important that you are able to go anywhere and say to the richest girl, ‘Oh, I tried on those shoes last week. They look much better on you.”) Along with these pearls of wisdom, he tells her stories, teaches her about shells. Death is abrupt, as death often is, and Jenny in her grief imagines she sees him everywhere. But Wells wraps things up on a hopeful note.
– Jean Westmoore
Sacrifice Fly by Tim O’Mara; Minotaur, 320 pages ($24.99)
Redemption can come in myriad forms. In Tim O’Mara’s intriguing debut, one man’s atonement comes in the form of a life-affirming career change — from being an intuitive cop to a concerned teacher.
Raymond Donne left the Brooklyn police force soon after he saved one child while on duty but inadvertently caused the death of a teenager. The incident also left him disabled. Now he teaches in a Brooklyn school.
Ray was able to get eighth grader Frankie Rivas a complete scholarship to a private school because of his skills on the baseball diamond. But the scholarship also hinges on keeping up his grades, so Ray is concerned when Frankie has been missing from school for more than a week.
But this is more than a truant child. Ray discovers the battered body of Frankie’s father; Frankie and his younger sister, Milagros, are missing. Did Frankie snap, finally fed up with this abusive father; or are the brother and sister victims?
Ray is a complex character who is conflicted about being drawn back into a police investigation. But because he is no longer a cop, Ray is excluded by the cops from the details of the investigation and has no legal standing as he tries to follow clues that he uncovers. Ray learns that straddling the boundaries of his current occupation and his former career can be uncomfortable.
– McClatchy Newspapers