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CHILDREN’s

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka; Schwartz & Wade ($16.99) Ages 4 to 8.

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Chris Raschka, a two-time winner of the Caldecott Medal (for wordless picture book “A Ball for Daisy” and “The Hello, Goodbye Window” written by Norton Juster) offers pure magic in this simple story of a rite of childhood. His figures sketched with splashes of watercolor – a child in a striped bicycle helmet, an elongated, hunched over father with glasses and flyaway hair – beautifully stand in as Everyman just as his step-by-step lesson stands in for other life lessons about the value of trying again and again until you keep your balance. The watercolors have a joyful exuberance, from a page of bicycles in the colors of the rainbow, to our novice rider falling and getting up to try again.

– Jean Westmoore

FICTION

Paris: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd; Doubleday, 832 pages ($32.50)

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Edward Rutherfurd’s latest historical novel tracks the aristocratic de Cygnes and a few other families in Paris from 1261 to 1968 as the city evolves from medieval outpost to world-class metropolis. His primary focus is on the cohort born later in the 19th century who grew up to witness the threat to Paris in two world wars. The book also follows the merchant Blanchard family, the working-class Gascons and the leftist Le Sourd clan. The fates of the families intersect over the centuries like lines on a Paris subway map.

Rutherfurd spends time up and down the social ladder in “Paris,” but he seems to prefer the chateau to the hovel. The wealthier characters tend to be more fully drawn. And with so many characters over so many centuries, some seem to merely exist to keep some plot thread moving.

Rutherfurd provides good glimpses of Paris as it was, like the old Knights Templar fortress and a stumpy Eiffel Tower halfway finished. But since he’s time jumping, the author has to redraw Paris again and again. Sometimes, the book seems burdened by the weight of all its scenes and subplots.

Rutherfurd takes it up a notch in the last part of the book, which is set in occupied Paris during World War II. In this long, climactic section, Rutherfurd succeeds best at describing not just the buildings and gardens of Paris, but the actual mood of the city under Nazi rule.

– Michael Hill, Associated Press