Books by Gail Owens

THE DOWN AND UP FALL by Johanna Hurwitz
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

The fourth book in a series that includes The Up & Down Spring (1993), about three friends—Bolivia, Rory, and Derek—now in middle school. Bolivia's parents are in Turkey for six months, so she stays with her aunt and uncle in the New Jersey town where Rory and Derek live. Bolivia wants to get to know other people, but Rory is possessive and jealous. He seems to want to force her to choose, but Bolivia is just as determined to keep her old friends and make new ones as well. This book is full of enthusiastic, well-behaved, helpful, obedient, and kind children, who are ``looking forward to taking the bus'' and think ``Middle School is going to be neat.'' In other words, it's a fantasy at worst and insipid at best, lacking real people in whom readers can take an interest, or a real plot to keep the pages turning. Even an appearance by Aldo doesn't bring this one up to Hurwitz's usually charming standard. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 8+) Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1994

This earnest story by the psychotherapist who wrote I Had a Friend Named Peter: Talking to Children About the Death of a Friend (1987) is not really about why Daniel's friend Mr. James gets a broken arm when his store is robbed. Although Daniel's father offers some generalized answers (e.g., ``Some people have a special kind of problem that makes it hard for them to know right from wrong''), the question is more a classic cry against injustice. It's about the feelings aroused in a child when violence touches someone close and how they can best be addressed. Daniel's parents find out the real facts, encourage verbal and nonverbal expression of his feelings, and provide a punching ball for him to vent his anger; when he dramatizes capturing the robber, he's encouraged to find an alternative to guns, even in play; when Daniel is reluctant to return to the store, Mr. James reassures him with a home visit; and so on. The thorough explication, extended even further in a sensible five- page introduction, is heavy-handed for a story, but Cohn carries it off in a smooth telling that's nicely enhanced by empathetic full-bleed art rendered in warm, rather sober hues. For a more imaginative (yet equally serious) treatment of the impact of violence on children, see Eve Bunting's Smoky Night (p. 300). (Picture book. 4-10) Read full book review >
THE UP AND DOWN SPRING by Johanna Hurwitz
Released: May 1, 1993

Rory, Derek, and Bolivia (The Hot & Cold Summer, 1984, etc.) are back; now the Woodside, N.J., boys are visiting Bolivia in Ithaca, N.Y., where they must adjust to her unusual household (exotic food, no TV) and her full spring-vacation agenda, including (to Rory's disgust) attending a ballet. But his biggest concern is a plane ride with Bolivia's uncle as pilot; embarrassed to admit his fear of flying, he feigns illness. Left alone, he discovers a fire in the house; his quick thinking prevents disaster, and, bolstered by his new hero-status, he's able to admit his fear. Later, he even accepts a second chance to fly, recognizing that real bravery is ``when you're afraid of something and you do it anyway.'' Once again, Hurwitz engagingly captures both ordinary and atypical experiences of these 11-year- olds. Amusing plays on names—plus interesting peripheral characters (Bolivia's archeologist parents; six-year-old neighbor Alexander Gian Carlo Cammarota)—add fun and color. Another Hurwitz winner. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 8-11) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 30, 1991

Lucky Annabelle: she makes instant friends in her new school; then, in the euphoria at the end of her first day, she invites her entire class to Grandma's for an impromptu ``birthday'' party, Grandma rises handsomely to the occasion, providing not only ice cream but a cake in full regalia. Conscientiously trying to forestall objections, Kroll stretches credulity—mothers are consulted before these second graders go en masse to a stranger's apartment, but that's only possible because every mother arrives to pick up her child after school. Still, reality recurs when Grandma follows up the party with a thoughtful command: Annabelle must explain to her class that it wasn't her birthday. She tempers this stern requirement with cookies to share and some good advice about how to handle the confession, so that there are no recriminations or misunderstandings. With five brief, easily read chapters, this light, upbeat story makes good transitional fare. Owen's nicely observed b&w illustrations reinforce the wholesome good humor. (Fiction/Young reader. 6-9) Read full book review >
THE CAT NEXT DOOR by Betty Ren Wright
Released: Sept. 15, 1991

A little girl whose treasured memories of Grandma include sharing the trust of the shy cat that visited them on the dock at their summer home is comforted, the summer after Grandma's death, to find that the cat still comes—this time, with two new kittens. The text's sensitive understatement is nicely reflected in Owens's intimate points of view and soft colors. A well- structured, comforting story. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 3, 1981

When (most of) these stories of Danny and the Jewish holidays appeared in Highlights for Children in the Fifties, Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family series was almost the only presentation of Jewish family life on library shelves; and to explain the holidays, librarians usually reached for Florence Mary Fitch's all-enlightening One God. The stories are still pleasant, thanks to Taylor's identification with kids and her storytelling skills; but alongside the competition (both fiction and nonfiction), they can't but seem mild, even tepid, and all-too-obvious. Still, gentle fictionalized instruction has never been altogether out of favor with kids (or, certainly, their parents), and may even be making a comeback; so there may be a place for Danny's first, unsuccessful attempt to blow the shofar (on Rosh Hashanah), his decision to patch up a quarrel with good-friend Bobby (on Yom Kippur), his gleeful "theft" of Grandpa's precious piece of matzo (on the first evening of Passover). Much of the content consists, however, of explanation by various adults: "On Hamishah Asar Bishevat," says Sunday School teacher Miss Strum, "we eat the fruits that grow in Israel to show our love for our ancient land." But, again, the warmth of feeling and the general vitality of the telling will effectively counter the didacticism—for many. Read full book review >
THE CYBIL WAR by Gail Owens
Released: April 27, 1981

Young love, fifth-grade variety, portrayed with warmth and humor and that extra, penetrating touch one expects of Byars. Simon Newton has actually loved Cybil Ackerman since second grade when she supported him in a bad classroom moment shortly after his father left home. It was during the same "awful" period that Simon and fatherless Tony Angotti became friends—"sealed together by a mutual loss rather than mutual interest." But now Tony's lies and tricks as he attempts to beat Simon's time with Cybil cause Simon to question that friendship. When things come to a head with a mixed-up afternoon movie date, Simon's mother has some perceptive things to say about poor Tony, who will never realize that he's his own worst enemy. Crumb as he is, we've seen Tony's human side in some touching moments with his weepy grandfather. But the story's real emotional dimension comes from Simon's feelings about his absent father: in a few well-placed words Byars documents his evolution from the initial desolation and pathetic daydreams to the present dull ache and then, in his relationship with Tony, a facing-up that sets him apart from his irresponsible father. (The story's only flaw is Byars' implicit dig at long-hairs, environmentalists, and vegetarians, apropos this contrast.) Oh yes, the young hero does end up with the girl, on an after-the-movies bicycle ride more suited than the movie date to their age and inclinations. Read full book review >