Black and White


Black and White by David Macaulay, 1990.

This book is unusual because there are four stories inside, being told at once, but there is one continuous storyline that joins all four of them together.  Two of the stories don’t have many words, but if you pay close attention to the pictures, the connection to the other stories becomes obvious.  The title of the book is also kind of a hint, although those colors apply to more than one aspect of the overall story.

(The picture above is from the title page.  The cover of my book was damaged, and the title page has that message that explains the concepts behind the stories.)


The four stories are:

Seeing Things — A young boy takes a train trip by himself, going home to his parents.  He sleeps through most of his long journey, but during the night, he wakes up to some strange happenings.

A Waiting Game — A group of commuters waiting for their train, which has been unexpectedly delayed, find amusing ways to entertain themselves.

Problem Parents — A girl and her brother are convinced that their parents are crazy when they arrive home from their offices in the city wearing weird outfits made of newspapers and singing.

Udder Chaos — An escaped convict hides among a herd of cows.

You might be able to get some of the connections between these stories from what I’ve said and the pictures I’ve shown, but it gets funnier if you keep going through the stories, seeing where each of them lines up with the others.





Harvey’s Hideout


Harvey’s Hideout by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban, 1969.

HarveysHideoutHouseSummer is difficult for the Muskrat kids this year.  Their friends are away for the summer, and Harvey and his older sister Mildred are getting on each other’s nerves.  But, there’s nothing that says they have to spend the whole summer with each other.

Harvey builds himself a raft and tells Mildred that he’s going off to meet with members of his secret club for a cookout where annoying big sisters aren’t welcome.  Mildred says that’s fine with her because she’s been invited to a party where there will be no annoying little brothers.  Harvey says that’s fine with him . . . except that it really isn’t.

The secret hideout where Harvey has been spending his time is empty except for him and the comic books he brought with him, and his cookout is for only one person.  He just made up the story about the secret club to make Mildred jealous and to have an excuse to spend time away from the house and her.  Harvey appreciates the freedom, but he’s also bored and lonely and envies Mildred, wondering who she knows who is still in town, inviting her to parties every day.


Then, when Harvey tries to make some improvements to his secret hideout, he discovers that he’s not the only one to dig a secret hideout for himself in the area.


This is a nice story about sibling rivalry and cooperation.  One of the parts I like best is early on in the story when Harvey and Mildred’s father lectures them for fighting and insulting each other (I hated it when I was a kid, but I kind of like it now because I realize what the father is actually trying to say).  He points out that there is some truth in their insults, but they’re wrong about each other at the same time.  Part of the reason they fight is because they each have their faults (Harvey can be selfish and Mildred can be bossy), but they each unfairly assume that the other is a lost cause and that they can never be friends.  It’s only when they come to realize that they’re equally lonely (Mildred has been having tea parties with just her doll) and Harvey makes the first move in offering to share what he has with Mildred that they realize that they can each be the friends they both need this summer.

When I was a kid, I wished I had a hideout like theirs!  I also love the colorful illustrations in the story.


ColSec Rebellion

ColSecRebellionColSec Rebellion by Douglas Hill, 1985.

This is the final book in the ColSec Trilogy, a sci-fi series. The first two books are Exiles of ColSec and The Caves of Klydor.

In a future where Earth is controlled by an oppressive government, dissidents are exiled to distant planets to start colonies whose resources can be exploited by the government.  However, the colonists have been plotting to take their destinies into their own hands.

Cord MaKiy and his friends, once exiled colonists on the planet Klydor, have joined up with the resistance movement.  They hijack a ColSec ship and return to Earth to gather allies for the rebellion against Earth’s government, called The Organization.

Once on Earth, they turn to the societies that they came from, little groups of outcasts on the fringes of Earth’s society. Cord’s people, the Highlanders who live in the wild areas of Scotland without modern technology, welcome them, and many of the young people are interested in joining the colonies, seeing other worlds, and living in freedom. Similarly, the rebels find more friends among the Vampires, the youth gang that lives in the Bunkers (what’s left of the old subway system under London).

However, the Streeters (a youth gang in the Chicago area) are a different story. Although many of them want to escape their little hideouts in the urban jungle called Limbo, their leader, Tuller, is unwilling to give up his relatively comfortable position of power. When he betrays the rebels to the government, the others have to decide where they stand and if they’re willing to take the risks necessary to gain their freedom.

In a way, the colonists seem to gain their ultimate freedom more easily than expected, but that’s partly a product of the type of repressive government that controls Earth. It isn’t really a military dictatorship, although they do use deadly force against their enemies; it’s more of a greedy corporate structure, designed to bring vast amounts of wealth to the people at the top of the structure, while keeping the lower levels in line to do their bidding.  In the end, as Lathan had guessed in the previous book, The Organization is more concerned with profit and loss than anything else, and the rebels manage to cut them a deal after showing them that fighting would only bring heavy losses with no material gain.

There’s plenty of action in the story as the young rebels struggle to prove themselves to potential allies on Earth and flee the forces of ColSec to return to Klydor, where they issue their ultimatum.  The negotiations with Earth are summed up fairly quickly, and although there are no more books in the series, the ending sets it up for Cord and his friends to continue their life of exploration on other worlds, seeking out new places for people who want to flee the dull repression that still exists on Earth.

The Caves of Klydor

CavesKlydorThe Caves of Klydor by Douglas Hill, 1984.

This is the second book in a sci-fi series, the ColSec Trilogy.

The five remaining colonists on the planet Klydor have been exploring their new planet and trying to survive and to decide what they will do when the government department that exiled them to this planet, ColSec, sends its ship to check on their progress.  Under Earth’s repressive government, dissents are sent into exile to become colonists on alien planets so that the government can later reap the benefits of anything they find or produce.

They get worried when a ship arrives on their planet earlier than expected.  While searching for the ship to see who it is, the colonists encounter Bren Lathan, the best space explorer that works for ColSec.  It’s his job to seek out new planets for ColSec to colonize.  But, it turns out that he’s not there on an assignment for ColSec.  He’s crash-landed on the planet, apparently frightened of pursuers, who may be the people in the space ship now on the planet.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Lathan is being hunted by CeeDees (Civil Defenders, the harsh law enforcement department that Earth’s government uses to keep the civilian population in line).  Worst still, these ones are Crushers, a group known for using extreme force and not leaving survivors.  They spot Cord and Samella, and they think that the two of them killed one of their people (who was actually killed by an alien creature).  Cord and Samella manage to get awhile, stealing one of the CeeDee’s weapons.

Then, they discover that the reason that the CeeDees are after Lathan is that he is involved with a rebellion against the government of Earth, a rebellion that these colonists would very much like to join.

The themes of the story are still survival and teamwork.  The colonists often have differing opinions about how to solve their problems, but they have to work them out because they only have each other to rely on.  Lathan, who is much older than they are, doesn’t really respect them much at first or want to involve them in his plans, comes to realize that their skills and ideas are valuable and that they may be just the people he needs.

Exiles of Colsec

ExilesColSecExiles of ColSec by Douglas Hill, 1984.

This is the first book in a sci-fi series, the ColSec Trilogy.

In the future, Earth is controlled by a repressive government that sends criminals and dissidents (especially strong youths) into exile on other planets. These exiles are assigned to different planets to form colonies by ColSec (short for Colonization Section). The government then reaps the benefits of whatever resources the colonists find or produce, all while keeping them at a safe distance to prevent them from starting rebellions.

The system works very well as far as the government is concerned, but this time, things don’t go according to plan.  The ship of dissident colonists destined for the planet Klydor crashes, killing most of the people on board.  There are only six survivors, all teenagers:

Cord — A boy from the Scottish Highlands, an area more wild and uncontrolled than most areas of Earth.

Samella — From the area once known as Minnesota (or possibly Manitoba, even the people who live there aren’t sure of the old name).  She lived as part of a commune until a harsh winter brought them to the brink of starvation, and her own family sold her into slavery.  On Klydor, she begins to discover that she has ESP.

Heleth — From the Bunkers, the old Underground tunnels under Old London.  She belonged to a gang called the Vampires, who purposely dye their skin jet black to blend into the darkness of their hidden homes.

Jeko and Rontal — a pair of Free Streeters, gang members from Limbo, in the area of what was once Chicago.

Lamprey — The most dangerous of all, a homicidal maniac who quickly forces the others to do his bidding for fear that he will kill them.

These few survivors are alone on a strange world, where they will have to figure out how to continue to survive and somehow create a life for themselves . . . if Lamprey doesn’t kill them all first.  The other rebels from Earth decide that they will have to stage a rebellion within their own group to get rid of Lamprey, and Cord finds himself appointed to be their leader.

But, it turns out that they aren’t quite as alone on Klydor as they thought, and possibly the most formidable creatures on the planet might be . . . the trees.

This is largely a story of survival as the colonists work together to protect themselves from Lamprey and uncover the secrets of their new world that will allow them to survive.  Samella’s ESP is what allows them to realize the truth about the forest where they have crashed.

The Case of the Cool-Itch Kid

Polka Dot Private Eye

CoolItchKid#5 The Case of the Cool-Itch Kid by Patricia Reilly Giff, 1989.

Dawn heads off to summer camp!  At first, she’s not sure that she really wants to go, even though the idea of riding horses, swimming, and roasting marshmallows sounds appealing.  It turns out that there’s only one other girl from her school going, Jill Simon.  All of the other girls on the bus to camp are people she doesn’t know from another school called Coolidge (which Dawn pronounces “Cool-Itch”).

Before she leaves home, Dawn receives a package of small presents from her grandmother.  Among her grandmother’s gifts are some candy and cookies, a pin, and a small mirror surrounded by seashells that Dawn loves.  Later, after their bus stops at a rest stop, she realizes that some of these things are missing.  She particularly notices that the pin and the beautiful mirror are gone.

Who is the thief?  Could it be one of those kids from Coolidge (“Cool-Itch”)?

Dawn misses her family, especially her grandmother.  She hates the food at camp.  She’s upset about losing her grandmother’s presents.  Worst of all, she realizes that she left her Polka Dot Private Eye box at home!  How is she going to solve this mystery?

Part of the story is about the mistakes people make by jumping to conclusions.  Right from the beginning, Dawn assumes that her only friend at camp is Jill because the other kids are unfamiliar, and she thinks they’re unfriendly.  Also, she assumes that the presents disappeared because they were stolen, but actually, it’s due to a series of accidents and misunderstandings.


The Powder Puff Puzzle

The Polka Dot Private Eye

PowderPuff#4 The Powder Puff Puzzle by Patricia Reilly Giff, 1987.

Dawn is on her way to go swimming with her friend Emily Arrow when her cat, Powder Puff, is startled and jumps into a stranger’s car.  Before Dawn can do anything about it, the car drives away with her cat!

Fortunately, Dawn managed to notice a few things about the car and driver. The car is red and dented.  The driver is tall and skinny and has long, gray hair.  She was eating a jelly cookie and carrying a box and a long pole.  Her license plate had a name on it and that started with “PA,” but Dawn didn’t get to read the rest.

Emily’s father is a police officer, but he can’t trace the license plate with just the letters that Dawn was able to give him.  Instead, he has the kids make Lost Cat posters to put up in the neighborhood.  Still, that’s not enough for Dawn.  As The Polka Dot Private Eye, she should be able to figure out where her own lost cat is!

PowderPuffPicWith the help of her friends, especially Jason, Dawn uses what she knows to put together a picture of the person they’re looking for, and they try to retrace her steps through town.  Can they track down Powder Puff and get him back?

Part of the puzzle that Dawn and Jason overlook at first is the woman’s profession, which is one that the kids hadn’t really expected to find a woman doing, although Dawn spots the clues which point to what the woman was doing in the area and allow them to realize where she had to be going.  Whether more modern kids reading this book would feel the same way about the woman’s profession, I’m not sure.

The Secret at the Polk Street School

The Polka Dot Private Eye

SecretPolkStreet#3 The Secret at the Polk Street School by Patricia Reilly Giff, 1987.

Dawn’s class is competing against other classes in a contest to see which class does the most for the school.  All of the classes are working on their own special projects, trying hard to keep them a secret until the judging.  Dawn, as the class’s resident detective, suggests that she could solve a mystery on behalf of the class, but unfortunately, there is no mystery for her to solve.  Yet.

Instead, Ms. Rooney’s class decides to put on a play for the rest of the school.  It’s Little Red Riding Hood, and Dawn is playing the starring role.  Jason gets to be the Wolf, borrowing an old wolf costume from his sister without her permission.

At the class’s rehearsal, Dawn gets mad when someone dressed in the wolf costume tries to scare her, and she thinks that it’s Jason, goofing off.  But, it turns out that Jason wasn’t even there, and the wolf costume is missing.  Suddenly, Dawn has a mystery!

Dawn starts receiving messages from “The Wolf” saying that someone is going to get her and Jason.  Then, someone takes a bite out of the loaf of bread that Dawn has been using as a prop (the food that she’s taking to “Grandma’s House” in the play).  Could “The Wolf” be someone in a rival class, hoping to sabotage their play so they can win the contest?

The Secret of the Strawbridge Place


SecretStrawbridgePlacePic1The Secret of the Strawbridge Place by Helen Pierce Jacob, 1976.

This story takes place in Ashtabula, Ohio during the Great Depression. Kate is frightened of the hobos who pass through town looking for work, but at the beginning of summer, her brother Josh dares her to come with him to spy on the hobo camp. The two of them witness a fight between three hobos, and in their haste to get away, Kate falls and breaks her arm. At first, she is sure that her summer is ruined, but when she considers the place where she fell, she realizes that she has stumbled on an important clue to a secret surrounding the old house where they live.

Locals say that during the Civil War, the Strawbridge family, who lived in the house before Kate’s family, were part of the underground railroad, hiding runaway slaves. However, no one has ever been able to find the place where the slaves were hidden. When Kate fell, she discovered the opening to a cave near the river that she never knew was there before.

SecretStrawbridgePlacePic2Oscar, a boy visiting his grandfather nearby, becomes Kate’s friend. Since he was also injured in one of Josh’s escapades (having broken his leg when the kids were fooling around in the haymow), she invites him to join her in the search for the secret. They form a partnership called Cripples Incorporated and have fun inventing codewords and writing secret messages about what they’ve discovered. Pursuing the secret comes with some risks, and before Kate can discover the whole truth about Strawbridge Place, she has a serious brush with danger.

It’s an interesting mystery that invites readers to try to figure out the clues along with Kate and Oscar as they ponder the sampler with the strange motto left behind by the Strawbridge twins. Oscar also introduces Kate to Sherlock Holmes stories, one of which provides her with the inspiration to solve the mystery. Kate also develops better feelings for the hobos, who, like the runaway slaves, turn out to be mostly ordinary people just looking for a better life.

The Mystery of the Haunted Trail

MysteryHauntedTrailThe Mystery of the Haunted Trail by Janet Lorimer, 1989.

Brian Kelly wasn’t too excited at first when his teacher assigned his class to write letters to students at a school in Hawaii.  He doesn’t really like to write, and the whole thing sounded boring, but it turned out to be pretty fun when his new pen pal, Alani, wrote back.  Brian discovered that he and Alani had a lot in common, and he even got to meet Alani when his family came to California on a trip.  Then, best of all, Alani’s family invited Brian to spend part of the summer with them in Hawaii!

Brian loves Hawaii from the moment he arrives.  Alani’s family lives in a rural area near Kalawa.  All of the families in the area raise their own vegetables and keep animals.  They depend on what they earn from selling food although some of them, like Alani’s mother, who is a nurse, have other jobs as well.  Alani’s father, like Alani’s grandfather, is primarily a farmer.  Alani’s grandfather lives with him on land that the family has owned for generations.

Alani and his family enjoy showing Brian around their island and talking about the history of the place.  Brian particularly likes the stories that Alani’s grandfather, who they call Kupuna, tells them, although some of them are frightening.  At the luau that the family and their friends have to welcome Brian to Hawaii, Brian overhears people talking about the Night Marchers.  They say that the Night Marchers have been seen recently and that bad things have been happening in the area, like crops dying and the nearby stream starting to dry up.  Some people seem to think that it’s a sign of bad luck and that maybe they should move away from the area.

According to Kupuna, the Night Marchers are a ghostly parade of the ancestors of the people who have lived there for generations.  Sometimes, it’s just ordinary people and sometimes it’s the souls of warriors.  Sometimes, Hawaiian gods may even walk among them.  But, when they march, any living person must either flee from them or, if that is impossible, they must lie down and hide their eyes.  At the head of the Marchers is a ghostly spearman who will strike down any living person who sees them, unless that person is related to one of the Marchers themselves.  They spare members of their own families.  People who are struck by the spear of the Marchers appear to have died of a heart attack.

The place where the Marchers supposedly walk is an old trail that leads to a sacred place where Alani’s ancestors are buried.  Brian is curious to see the place, but Alani warns him away, saying that they are not allowed to go there because it’s too dangerous.  However, Brian soon sees the Marchers himself one night in Alani’s family’s fields, and the next day, their crops are dead.  When Brian notices strange footprints in the fields as well, he realizes that some living people may be responsible for the awful things that have been happening in the area, but the only way he can prove it would be to explore the haunted trail himself and track the “ghosts” to their lair.

Janet Lorimer’s books are interesting because they are often a combination of mystery and ghost story.  There are logical explanations and living villains who are responsible for the things that are happening to Alani’s family and their neighbors, but there is also a definite supernatural element to the story as well.  Telling you where one ends and the other begins may be saying too much.  It may be more fun to let you find out yourself.