TESTING THE ICE: A True Story About Jackie Robinson, by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Scholastic, $16.99. Ages 6-10.
Jackie Robinson, the baseball legend who integrated America's sport, has been the subject of many books, but "Testing the Ice" is a story only one of his children could tell. In 1955, Robinson's ninth year with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the year the team finally beat the Yankees in the World Series, the family moved to a house in Stamford, Conn.
"Our new house sat in the middle of six acres," Sharon Robinson writes, "on a narrow, twisted road named for the waterfall at the end of it." While their father prized the privacy, the children liked the lake and their new friends, who asked the baseball hero "questions in ways we never thought to ask." The drama comes when Sharon realizes their father is afraid of water and can't swim, but for his children's sake tests the surface of the frozen lake - tapping like a blind man on the booming ice - before letting them skate. "My dad," she concludes, "is the bravest man alive." Here is a fact we knew about Jackie Robinson, but we now know in "ways we never thought to ask."
THE MAZE RUNNER, by James Dashner. Delacorte Press, $16.99. Ages 12 and up.
In the crowded field of post-apocalyptic young-adult novels, "The Maze Runner" has the testosterone to stand out. It opens, claustrophobically, in the mind of a boy whose memory has been wiped clean: "He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air." Where is he? Who are the boys in the "Lord of the Flies"-like society that greets him when the doors to this dark box open? Why is he drawn to join the near-suicidal elite crew that explores the endless maze outside the ancient stone walls of their compound? Are the flickers of memory he experiences real or implanted by their captors? At novel's end, as the survivors of the creepy but compelling maze ordeal emerge into the outside world, we realize the questions are only partially answered, for this is the first of a trilogy.
DESTROY ALL CARS, by Blake Nelson. Scholastic, $17.99. Ages 14 and up.
James is your typical idealistic teenager: He tries to make sense of a world that makes no sense. When he turns in righteously outraged rants against consumer culture to his brain-dead teachers, they complain that "destroying all cars" just isn't an answer; it's unrealistic. You can't get out of this novel without loving James. The problem is that he doesn't feel your love, because he's looking for the love of one Sadie, the girl with the smooth hair who spends her time recruiting fellow students to good causes. Blake Nelson's novels about smart kids who don't quite fit give a good ride, and leave the reader with plenty to think about.
RETURN TO THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD, by David Benedictus,
illustrated by Mark Burgess.
Dutton, $19.99. All ages.
If your children were fortunate enough not to have seen Winnie-the-Pooh's charm destroyed forever by the Disney version, or if they have blissfully forgotten the sappy movie characters (as mine has) and are ready for a cozy interlude in their swift march to adulthood, read on.
"Winnie-the-Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner" have been joined by a sequel, faithfully delivered in the styles of A.A. Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard. For those who are horrified that anyone would attempt such an intrusion on a classic, or are offended by the introduction of a new character (Lottie the bossy otter), get over it. We forget that the "The House at Pooh Corner," which introduced Tigger, was itself a sequel, dreamed up out of publishing necessity. The horribly bouncy striped animal seemed obnoxious and unnecessary, even to my childish ears, until he became just one of the crowd in the Hundred Acre Woods. I vividly remember that the only thing I liked about Tigger was that he said, "worra-worra-worra," the kind of delightful sound that Milne was so good at creating on the page, and Benedictus imitates nicely. The drawings are fine, although it's best not to look too carefully at Christopher Robin.