Books by Jan Slepian

Released: April 13, 1998

Thudding and thunking with the weight of a lesson to be learned, this homily in picture-book form will work best with those who like encouragement straight up. "This is how Emily grew from not-being-able, to now-she-can," begins Slepian (The Mind Reader, 1997, etc.). She masters small feats: pouring milk (from a bottle—the details are all nostalgic in this book) on her cereal without spilling, going down the twisting slide. When she becomes too fearful to stay all night at her grandmother's house, and must be driven home at 10:00, "It's all right, my honey," her grandmother says. "Someday you'll stay the night and think nothing of it." After three failures, Emily succeeds. Coalson's watercolors offer homey details, full of humor and whimsy; there's a terrific portrait of the older Emily eating crackers and reading in bed. But those young enough to appreciate the lesson may find it more sublimely served in Rosemary Wells's dear Edward the Unready tales (Edward's Overwhelming Overnight, 1995). (Picture book. 3-7) Read full book review >
THE MIND READER by Jan Slepian
Released: Oct. 13, 1997

Slepian (Pinocchio's Sister, 1995, etc.) turns again to the days of vaudeville for this surprising, meaty tale of an authentic mind-reading act. A last-minute substitute when his drunken father passes out at show time, Connie Leondar, 12, wows the crowd, bypassing the coded messages his costumed mother sends from the audience to make stunningly precise, accurate observations. Only Annie knows his secret; Connie really can read the thoughts and comprehend the feelings of others. She watches as he grows more haggard and desperate-looking, until at last, after visiting the particularly vile mind of a man named Rusty Shanks, Connie confesses that all the sorrow, need, pettiness, and malice is more than he can bear. Persuading him to make a break, Annie steals away with him, in search of a never-met uncle known as Crazy Joe. The plot has the pace and ambience of old-time melodrama, but Slepian goes beyond types in her casting—even Shanks has a spot of tenderness in his villainous heart, and Joe is far from crazy. Connie finds in Joe's strange and wonderful junk garden a rejoinder for his desperate pursuit of a better view of human nature, and the settled home he needs. Absorbing. (Fiction. 11-13) Read full book review >
Released: April 19, 1995

Martha's mother is dead, and her stepmother has left her and her father, a ventriloquist. Her devastated father cares for nothing except his dummy, Iris; Martha, traveling with him from town to town on the vaudeville circuit as part of his act, is emotionally neglected. Her bitterness and anger center on Iris, and she plots to eliminate the doll and make her father notice her. This perceptive novel has a misleading jacket; those looking for horror will be disappointed. Slepian (Back to Before, 1993, etc.) crafts a story that is beautifully eerie rather than frightening, about the bitterest sibling rivalry played out as melodrama. As such it is engrossing and has the feel of emotional truth, with the barest hints of the supernatural adding to the creepiness. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
BACK TO BEFORE by Jan Slepian
Released: May 26, 1993

The author of The Broccoli Tapes (1989, ALA Notable), plus several other perceptive novels depicting young people coping with various challenges, uses time-travel in a story of two cousins, each mourning the loss of a parent. Linny agonizes over having angrily abandoned his mother Josie, just before her death, to go to a skateboard competition; Hilary, pining for her adored father, blames her mother, Helen, for their divorce. Vacationing at Helen and Hilary's new Vermont home, the two 12-year-olds are transported (by a brass ring they find) to their old Brooklyn neighborhood—a year ago, three days before Josie died. There, Hilary confronts the truth that her Dad was involved with another woman; but Linny—though his feelings are again complicated by the need to prove himself on the skateboard, and by the pain (and boredom) of caring for his cranky mother—does have an affectionate parting with her before he and Hilary slip back to Vermont. The cousins are likable and well drawn, and Slepian uses some time-travel paradoxes to intrigue fans (older and wiser, Hilary and Linny find prescience uncomfortable), but there are cracks in her logic—e.g., Hilary is unbelievably unconcerned about her aunt's imminent death, and why there aren't two Linnys in Brooklyn goes unexplained. Still, there's entertainment here, plus some thoughtful underpinnings. (Fiction. 9-12) Read full book review >
Released: April 13, 1989

While their father teaches for a semester in Hawaii, Sara and her older brother, Sam, make friends with a stray cat and a local loner—Eddie Nutt, a boy in Sam's class; and learn that love is essential even though it brings loss. Neither Sara nor Sam has made friends in Hawaii, and their parents are preoccupied with their grandmother's sudden terminal illness. Taming the half-starved cat draws them together while—in a parallel development—they become friends with Eddie. Three events compel the children to confront love and loss: Grandma dies; Eddie's mother, from whom he has not heard in three years, wants him to come live with her, and Eddie's father doesn't seem to care; and the cat, Broccoli, is accidentally killed, leaving kittens. Sara narrates the story on tapes that are sent to her loved teacher and class back in Boston as an oral-history project, but confiding in this way also serves to comfort Sara and help her sort things through. Her voice is believably that of an 11-year-old who grows in sensitivity through experience—a subtle characterization in a deceptively simple narrative that neatly weaves its threads to support their common theme and includes a wealth of revealing, memorable scenes: Sara comforting her grieving mother, who has just courageously consoled her own weeping mother; the loving family interaction at Grandma's funeral picnic; the entrancing way the kittens are saved from the shelter when it's time to go back to Boston. Another fine, accessible book from an accomplished author. Read full book review >