Books by Justine Rendal

Released: Sept. 30, 1995

A helpful computer program gets a depressed eighth grader over a tough spot in this rough-hewn, unabashed fantasy. Pollard—his mother and beloved dog suddenly gone, his father bitter and distant—sees his life and grades slipping away, although he believes a fresh start is possible if he could only graduate with the rest of his class, get a date with Donna Ames, and see the Red Sox win a pennant. On a visit to the school's computer lab, he gets not the remedial language arts lesson he's expecting, but Conner, a ``compensatory program'' that talks back, understands his jokes, knows everything about him, does his homework, and creates realistic simulations that allow him to learn new baseball and dating skills. Rendal (The Girl Who Listened To Sinks, 1993) uses Conner to deliver not-very-subtle lessons about coping with loss, growing up, showing compassion (until gently corrected, Pollard habitually uses words like feeb and retard), and admitting that his mother has moved out (in his first-person narration, he declared her dead initially). After this revelation and some cathartic howling at the moon, Pollard's misery vanishes and Conner signs off. The story is marred by sheaves of unanswered questions and dangling plot threads, but readers will love Conner: part homework machine, part therapist, part best friend, wholly touched by magic. (Fiction. 11-15) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 10, 1993

The premise here is childlike: lonely because Mother's preoccupied with a job she hates and the kids at school are ``mean,'' a little girl finds solace in conversations with things—a sheet that says ``Ouch!'' if she pulls too hard, toothpaste that giggles when squeezed, and especially the friendly bathroom sink. The girl makes the sink a ruffly skirt, which starts a lucrative fad; the child and her mother are soon selling so many sink skirts that they can move to a seaside house (loyally taking along the sink). It sounds silly, and the outcome is certainly contrived; but the characterizations of the objects are apt and their dialogue is amusing, while the story works well as a metaphor for a child's sense of alienation in a bleak environment. Leer's formally composed pastels effectively capture the city's joyless bustle and the imaginative spark that rekindles the little family. Offbeat and rather long, this may do best as a young reader. (Picture book. 6-9) Read full book review >
A CHILD OF THEIR OWN by Justine Rendal
Released: Aug. 1, 1992

A delightfully old-fashioned story about the Darlings, a family of hand-painted porcelain dolls purchased by a Tall American Lady and shipped from a London toy shop to New York. Their new owner seems kind—indeed, she installs the family in a magnificent dollhouse; the dolls' great fear is that she is a Serious Collector who will display them but never allow them to be loved and played with by a child, dooming them to becoming lifeless knickknacks. A subplot concerns a pair of mass-produced dolls who, even though they are ``common,'' yearn to be adopted by the Darlings. All ends happily after various adventures (including the near-demise of one doll, shattered when he falls from the dollhouse roof) with the revelation that the Lady is the author herself, while the dolls are a gift for her niece and nephew. Written in a quaint, leisurely style with occasional asides to the reader (including clever tips about furnishing a dollhouse) and warm, reassuring things to say about families and what dolls (i.e., children) need to feel safe and loved. Should come packaged with every dollhouse. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
THE DANCING CAT by Justine Rendal
Released: Sept. 26, 1991

Since the ``rough little girl'' likes ``friction and fighting and fuss,'' the toy cat wearing a fierce mask looks just right for her, but she's not—she's a gentle soul who yearns to dance. The girl's other toys are contemptuous, but still the cat refuses to fight. The mask falls off and breaks; a visiting cousin recognizes the cat's true quality and takes her home to be the star of his theatrical games. With toys as symbols of human foibles, and with Rendal's quietly telling language, this is reminiscent of Andersen despite its upbeat conclusion. Intriguing, especially as extended by Oberdieck's carefully detailed illustrations—a nice blend of satire and sympathy. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >