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“Tell the Moon to Come Out,” “Illustrated Oxford Dictionary”

by Payal Kapadia

“Tell the Moon to Come Out,” Joan Lingard, Puffin Books; 2003; 208 pp.

How many times have you seen this happen at school? The English teacher gives the class a topic to write on, and everyone comes up with something different. In fact, some of the essays are so inventive that you find it hard to believe everyone started out with the same basic theme.

This happens to children’s fiction writers, too. They might draw inspiration from the same topic, but how they treat their subject matter makes all the difference.

Take Joan Lingard’s “Tell the Moon to Come Out,” a story of young love and of a boy’s relentless search for his father through wartime Spain. Compare this with, for instance, another children’s book in the war-fiction genre, Michael Cronin’s “Through the Night” (see this column, April 3, 2003).

While Cronin’s fast-paced narrative capitalizes on the conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed, Lingard is in no hurry to make such judgments. She takes her time to tell the story, and wartime events take a back seat to characterization and atmosphere.

Nick, the Scottish-born son of a Spaniard, has just sneaked into Civil War Spain to find his father, who returned home to fight for the Republicans against Gen. Francisco Franco. If you’re new to this chapter in history, here’s a quick recap: 1930s Spain was polarized between the Nationalists and the Republicans. After the Republican Popular Front won the 1936 elections, Franco and the Nationalists who supported him staged a military uprising to seize power. Both sides sought help from abroad: Franco from Hitler and Mussolini; the Republicans from France, Britain and the USSR. But, as Lingard points out, both sides ended up with blood on their hands.

She depicts a Spain divided by fear and distrust. The civil guards are the most fearful face of the repressive Franco regime, in their gray-green uniforms and patent-leather tricorn hats. Everyone dreads that knock on the door in the middle of the night announcing a visit from them; suspected dissidents are dragged out into the street and shot in the head.

As Nick journeys across Spain without any official papers, he must constantly make difficult judgment calls about whom he should trust. But Lingard never lets the grimness of war completely take over. She paints rural Spain with warmth — the rugged countryside, the searing afternoon sun that drives people home for their siestas, the highway travelers on their donkeys. It is here that Nick meets Isabel, a local girl whose father is a Civil Guard. Despite their disagreements in matters of politics, Isabel saves Nick’s life and changes it forever. As they search together for his father, they meet many people along the way who help them, expecting nothing in return.

A poignant tale of a young man’s seemingly impossible quest, this is also an engaging introduction to Spanish history. This isn’t a brisk read in which the good guys trounce the bad guys. Instead it’s a lingering look at Spain in all its easygoing vitality and color. What we get is a sense that even in wartime, there are moments — however fleeting — that allow us to experience the pleasant sensations of life acutely.

As Francisco, a friend of Nick’s father, tells him: “In the war, you enjoy yourself when you can. Whenever there is a lull. You live for the hour. It sharpens life.”

For teenagers 13 years and up. Available from September at Kinokuniya, Shinjuku, (03) 3354-0131.

“Illustrated Oxford Dictionary,” Dorling Kindersley; 2003; 1008 pp.

So you’re studying all about South America in geography class and you want to know what a gaucho is. You look it up in the dictionary and it says: “a cowboy from the South American pampas.” OK. That helps — but you still have questions, right? It gets you conjuring up images of South American cowboys, but if only you could see one.

Now you can. The gaucho pictured in DK’s Illustrated Oxford Dictionary comes wearing bombachas (bloused trousers) and a panuelo (knotted scarf), with a boldeadoras (lasso) in hand. Once you’ve seen this fellow for yourself, it’s hard to forget him.

Want to see what a modem looks like from inside? Or get a quick look at how nuclear power is produced? Or simply learn how to tell a tawny owl from a barn owl?

The publishers of this dictionary understand that a picture is worth a thousand words. So they’ve packed this volume not only with 187,000 definitions of everything from an abacus to a Zulu, but they’ve also crammed it with 4,500 color illustrations to help you develop a vocabulary that shows not just how much you’ve read, but also how much you’ve seen.

The publishers have carefully picked words that cry out for illustration — they’re usually those where just a written definition falls short. Sometimes a single word embodies an entire concept. For example, to illustrate the word “gem,” a page-full of images is provided so that you can tell an emerald from a peridot, a sapphire from lapis lazuli. Where it’s needed, cutaway diagrams and labeling are given to add details.

The dictionary proper is sandwiched in between a usage guide at the beginning and a reference section at the end. The usage guide helps you figure out how a word is pronounced once you look it up, find its illustration (if it has one), see how it is commonly used and learn about its etymology. (And if you don’t know what etymology is, you know what to do . . .)

The reference section includes political and physical maps of the world, the flags of every country you can think of, a chart of the night sky and a map showing time zones across the world. There’s more — but don’t let me tell you all about it.

This isn’t just a must-have for every classroom; it’s also a great addition to home reference that your parents could use just as easily.