The newest 'Sydney' outdoes 'Herself'


Several established writers and illustrators from the Baltimore area have new books out this year. Here's a sampling of titles for older children and young adults; a roundup of picture books will follow in two weeks.

* When she decided to write "Sydney, Invincible" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14, 144 pages, ages 12 and up), Colby Rodowsky had a tough act to follow -- herself. Ms. Rodowsky won critical acclaim for "Sydney, Herself," a School Library Journal Best Book in 1989.

The sequel picks up Sydney Downie's story as she is entering her junior year at Hawthorne Hills, a Baltimore private girls school where her mother teaches American history. Sydney is an extremely believable teen-ager, given to bouts of self-centeredness, but even she has noticed that her mom's life has changed for the better since her marriage to Sam Klemkoski.

Sydney and her mom have moved in with Sam, a sculptor. The school year gets off to an inspiring start when Sydney's class meets the new writing teacher, Zephyr Kennealy, whose voice is "soft and rustling, like autumn leaves."

Sydney and her friends are enthralled by Zephyr's breathless descriptions of her cross-country trip via Greyhound bus to gather experiences she will write about -- someday. In the meantime, Zephyr is supposed to be teaching journalism. She doesn't even try.

Her students put out monthly editions of the school paper on their own, and in the midst of all the hard work, Sydney learns a hard lesson about ethics. Finally Zephyr is exposed as a fraud who is more immature than the students in her charge.

While all this is going on at school, Sydney is stunned by news that her mom and Sam are going to have a baby. And her shy romance with Wally becomes secondary to Wally's struggle to cope with his parents' ugly separation.

Sydney keeps her wits about her, and though she isn't quite invincible, she proves to be a reliable friend and loving daughter. Ms. Rodowsky's perceptive characterizations and true-to-life dialogue make this a worthy successor to "Sydney, Herself."

* Mary Downing Hahn of Columbia has written ghost stories ("The Doll in the Garden," "Time for Andrew"), historical fiction ("Stepping on the Cracks") and contemporary young adult fiction ("The Wind Blows Backward"). She has combined aspects of all of the above in a fine, new novel, "Look for Me by Moonlight" (Clarion, $13.95, 208 pages, ages 11 and up).

Cynda was 6 when her father ran off with one of his literature students. Now, 10 years later, Cynda's mother and stepfather are going on vacation in Europe and Cynda is shipped off to Maine to spend the winter with her father and Susan, the former student, and their 5-year-old son at the drafty mansion they have turned into a bed and breakfast.

Cynda's reunion with her long-lost father doesn't live up to her fantasies. She's jealous of the attention lavished on her half-brother. And she's tired of helping with chores at the inn -- a workload that increases with Susan's advancing pregnancy.

Enter Vincent Morthanos, a dark, handsome man in his 30s who comes to the inn during a blizzard and arranges to stay for a month or more, to work on his poetry. He fascinates and seduces Cynda, listening to her problems as they walk along the winter surf at night.

In return for his sympathy and his passionate kisses, Vincent exacts a price: Cynda's blood. In classic vampire fashion, he sucks away her strength. She wants to escape, but is powerless.

Then Vincent bites Cynda's half-brother. She summons her last ounce of energy, her knowledge of inn's haunted history and her friendship with a boy from the village to come up with a plot to destroy Vincent. With some help from the spirits of his past victims, Cynda succeeds.

* Fred Powledge lives on Half-Pone Point, in St. Mary's County. The creek by his house feeds into the Patuxent River, which is the subject of his 16th book: "Working River" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15, 136 pages, ages 10 and up).

Mr. Powledge writes reverentially about the river that begins as a spring in the northwestern corner of Howard County and rolls more than 100 miles until it meets the Chesapeake Bay at Solomon's Island.

He traces its history, going back to the arrival of man sometime around 10,000 B.C., when the Atlantic Ocean was 155 miles farther east than it is now. Then the glaciers covering much of North America began to melt, the sea level rose and by about 6000 B.C., the Chesapeake Bay was formed.

There is no written history of the estimated 1,300 Native Americans who lived in southern Maryland at the time the first English settlers arrived in 1607. By the turn of the century, most of the natives had been killed in smallpox epidemics. Mr. Powledge quotes local archaeologists about the Native Americans' contributions to the colonial culture and laments the fact that the settlers did not share the natives' respect for the bountiful resources of the river.

The book makes a clear case against the increase in subdivisions and chemical-assisted farming that pollute the water. Untreated sewage no longer gets dumped into the Patuxent, but much work remains to be done.

Mr. Powledge is sometimes repetitive in his harangue about the excess nitrogen and phosphorus that continue to choke off life in the river. But he pleads an important case, and he introduces us to several adults and children who care deeply about trying to restore his beloved Patuxent.

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