Books by Kimberly Willis Holt

THE LOST BOY'S GIFT by Kimberly Willis Holt
Released: April 30, 2019

"After Daniel's experiences, readers will want to move there too. (Fantasy. 9-11)"
The dull and seemingly ordinary neighborhood in which Daniel fetches up with his newly divorced mom turns out to be anything but. Read full book review >
Released: March 28, 2017

"Endearing and imperfect, Stevie establishes immediate rapport with readers. (Fiction. 10-13)"
Thirteen-year-old Stevie thought her mother's father was dead—until her parents' unexpected deaths result in her traveling from New Mexico to her grandfather's motel in Texas. Read full book review >
DEAR HANK WILLIAMS by Kimberly Willis Holt
Released: May 19, 2015

"Soulful and satisfying. (Historical fiction. 8-12)"
Tate has gumption, and it's a good thing: She's the only one who has faith in her ability to sing—except for her little brother, Frog, and everyone seems surprised whenever Tate mentions him. Read full book review >
Released: April 8, 2014

"Like the central meal it features, this clever concoction will likely please some preschool palates, but it may take slightly older and more sophisticated readers to easily digest the combination of fun foolishness and explicit advice. (Picture book. 5-8)"
An invitation to have dinner with a friend's family leads to an unpredictable evening for a young boy. Read full book review >
Released: June 14, 2010

"Epstein writes with intelligence, wit and flair—highly recommended. "
Achingly beautiful stories of growing old, searching for meaning and facing death. Read full book review >
THE WATER SEEKER by Kimberly Willis Holt
Released: May 11, 2010

Holt infuses the American pioneer landscape with a hint of magical realism in this intimate and epic coming-of-age tale. In 1848 Missouri, Amos Kincaid is born to Jake, a talkative trapper, and Delilah, a headstrong redhead who dies in childbirth. Delilah's spirit follows Amos, seen by others but not by him. Passed from family to family while Jake traps, Amos leads a lonely childhood. He inherits Jake's mystical talent for dowsing, but, like his father, he rejects it. When Amos is 13, he and Jake join an Oregon-bound wagon train. En route he experiences tragedy and romance, suffering a broken heart. It is only when faced with a critical decision that Amos claims the family he was afraid to love and accepts his dowsing fate. Drawing on such diverse themes as Manifest Destiny, personal identity and cross-cultural relationships, the author has crafted a satisfying all-ages story that hosts a dazzling array of richly realized secondary characters (including Jake's scene-stealing second wife, Blue Owl) and flows as effortlessly as the Platte River. (map) (Historical fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
PIPER REED GETS A JOB by Kimberly Willis Holt
Released: Aug. 1, 2009

To earn money for a clubhouse where she and her friends can meet outside her crowded home, fifth grader Piper Reed sets herself up as a party planner, substitutes for her babysitting older sister and illustrates her younger sister's book. Not surprisingly, it doesn't turn out the way she imagines. Fans of the series will recognize Piper's family and friends, but new readers can just as easily begin with this third volume. They will recognize her disappointment when the school year begins and she finds herself in the same old classroom, sympathize with her frustration when the only person left for the important biography report is Cyrus McCormick (someone even the librarian has never heard of) and admire the way she almost manages to juggle all her looming deadlines. Although the siblings have the usual disagreements, this is a warm and supportive Navy family, and Piper's friends, the Gypsy Club, work well together. This is another successful entry in what has become a solid chapter-book series. (Fiction. 8-10)Read full book review >
PIPER REED by Kimberly Willis Holt
Released: Aug. 1, 2007

Fourth-grader Piper Reed's life is a moving experience, but not the way you might think. Her father is a Navy aircraft mechanic who gets transferred often, this time to Pensacola, Fla.—and in the middle of the school year! Older sister Tori is convinced the Navy is ruining her life, but her little sister Sam, the prodigy, is excited. Piper wastes no time starting a new Gypsy Club even though there's no club tree house like she had in her last yard. To make up for it, she promises those she invites that there'll be a real Gypsy fortune-teller at the first meeting. But Sam's flimsy imitation just causes disbelief until Tori takes over, complete with turban and a pink bowling ball that serves as her crystal ball. Piper's lively imagination, wholesomeness and moments of "sister magic" are likable and believable. This easy chapter book, based on Holt's own experiences, is spot on with the details of roving family life. Davenier's fluid black-and-white drawings fit the mood and characters but at times distort facial expressions. Launching a new series, Piper's foray sets sail with verve, fun and spunk. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
SKINNY BROWN DOG by Kimberly Willis Holt
Released: June 1, 2007

After a scrawny stray wanders into his bakery, Benny the polar bear lures the well-dressed dog out with a piece of bread and the words, "A bakery isn't anyplace for a dog." But the aptly named Brownie continues to hang around, and the reticent Benny continues to feed him. It isn't until Benny falls and breaks his leg and Brownie is refused admittance to the hospital ("A hospital is no place for a dog") that the baker opens his heart and home to the heroic pet. Holt's unassuming text is nicely structured and paced as she presents Benny's reassuring routine and customers, including the menagerie of school children that embrace "Free Broken Cookie Day." With varied placement, Saaf's complementary, naïve-tinged illustrations will engage readers with color, texture, pattern and the friendly expression of emotions. A tasty treat for reading aloud that should get a rave reception. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2006

In 1939, Rose McGee's Papa leaves, and Momma moves the family from Amarillo, Texas to the Louisiana bayou where she grew up. When they arrive, Momma forces Rose to lie about her age to get a job driving the bookmobile. Rose would rather go to school, but the family needs the money. Seventeen years later, Rose's son Merle Henry prefers trapping, but sees the use in some books. In the '70s, his daughter Annabeth grows from reading fairytales to classics, and in 2004 her son Kyle takes a job at the library and discovers that he doesn't hate reading. As lovely as it may be, Holt's collection of stories connected by ties familial and literary doesn't have the time to flesh out most of its characters. Rose, who begins by telling her story, never comes back to life even as her dream of writing a book of her own comes to fruition in the final pages. None of the other characters are allowed to tell their own stories, and they come away feeling like place-holders on the family tree. Still, for its sense of family history, this is worth a spot in large collections, especially, of course, in Louisiana. (Fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
WAITING FOR GREGORY by Kimberly Willis Holt
Released: April 1, 2006

Young Iris can't help but wonder how and when her baby cousin, who is to be named Gregory, will arrive. She asks her most-trusted adults and her friend, Lacey, but their whimsical replies, involving storks and cabbage patches and pickles, leave her unsatisfied. Finally, her mother tells her the plain, honest truth: No one knows the exact day and time . . . we will just have to wait and see. Holt's narrative conveys the wistful wishfulness of a little one's wait: The snow, the dandelions and the summer vacation all come and go before Gregory is born. This child's-eye take on the passage of time is concrete and comforting. In contrast, Swiatkowska's surreal pictures—color-drenched figures on loan from Renoir canvases set against da Vinci-esque engineering sketches—seem like quirky, Monty-Python-like efforts to diagram dreams. The paintings are dappled and disarming, but young readers may find the disquieting visual narrative a bewildering and curious counterpoint to the much more mainstream text. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
KEEPER OF THE NIGHT by Kimberly Willis Holt
Released: May 1, 2003

In a series of exquisitely presented snapshots, a young teen struggles to cope with the aftermath of her mother's suicide. Her grief-stricken father having effectively abdicated his responsibility, Isabel must mind the family store, from which she watches both helplessly and resentfully her brother Frank's descent into his own brand of madness. Holt makes the most of her Guam setting, subtly and inexorably involving readers in a way of life utterly foreign to most of them and getting it so thoroughly under their skin that taking in the story is like dreaming of the tropics. Isabel narrates the story in tiny present-tense vignettes, the longest of which approaches three pages. This narrative technique takes readers in and out of memory, showing how Isabel's mother's depression had repercussions that began in the past and echo loudly into the present. It also enables the development of several subplots that parallel the primary narrative, introducing a colorful and unforgettable array of secondary characters, whose lives touch, support, and mirror Isabel's. Stunningly beautiful. (Fiction. 10+)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2001

Moon, Texas, in 1968: the year that 11-year-old Jaynell's widowed Grandpap moves in. Fearing that he is becoming senile, Jaynell is instructed to keep an eye on Grandpap at all times. She does so with pleasure because it represents both a thrilling invitation to spy and an opportunity to be with her beloved grandfather. Before Grandpap dies (midway through the book), he buys a '62 Cadillac and teaches Jaynell the rudiments of driving. He also gives his own home to the destitute Pickens family whose father, not unlike Grandpap, is overcoming alcoholism. The setup proceeds at a pace as leisurely as Grandpap's rounds in his Cadillac, meandering gently through issues of gender, class, alcoholism, and family secrets. Subtle narrative tension threads through the story's second half as Jaynell's family argues over Grandpap's "estate." Jaynell, the only one who knows that Grandpap intended the Pickens family to have his home, resents the loss of the "homeplace." Bitterness prevents Jaynell from revealing Grandpap's intentions when the relatives talk about evicting the Pickenses; a tragedy forces her to reveal the truth. This is bustlingly peopled with colorful, often funny characters. Not all are as interestingly complex as Jaynell's quiet mother who is coping with her husband's '60s-era paternalism and her family's greed in a tentative but definite way. As always, the author has a reliable grasp on time and place. If the thematic connections are sometimes tenuous, to Holt's credit the few highly dramatic incidents are not used to manipulate either plot or readers. While this is inherently nostalgic and tenderhearted, it never becomes maudlin and it will be welcomed by fans of Holt's 1999 National Book Award-winning When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. (Fiction. 9-12)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1999

Holt reinvents the coming-of-age story, breathing life into a quirky cast of characters that inhabits the enervated town of Antler, Texas. It's said that nothing ever happens in Antler, so the arrival of a trailer decked out with Christmas lights is news. Soon the townsfolk are lining up to peek at Zachary Beaver, world's fattest boy. A master at finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, the author peoples her town with a quiet postmaster/worm-raising father, aspiring country-singer mother, watchful sheriff, eccentric judge, town historian Miss Myrtie Mae, flirt Scarlett, and, at the center of it all, sensitive narrator Toby Wilson and his sidekick, best friend Cal. In the lazy days of one summer, Toby makes a good friend, loses his mother to the Grand Ole Opry, dances under the moonlight with heartbroken Scarlett, and tries to toughen up after the death of Cal's brother, who's been serving in Vietnam. Toby is an unusually strong narrator—awkward, earnest, and conflicted—who feels bad about a lie or simple wrongdoing. He nudges the lingering, Sunday-drive of a plot forward until, in the end, the gawked-at carnival boy in the trailer proves a most unlikely means of redemption. The events of the story combined may seem no larger than a pebble underfoot, yet the characters tug at readers, gaining steadily their attention and affection. (Fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >
MY LOUISIANA SKY by Kimberly Willis Holt
Released: May 1, 1998

In her first YA novel, Holt gives a fresh theme sensitive and deliberate treatment: The bright child of "slow" parents comes to terms with her family's place in the community. Tiger Ann Parker is smart; she's gotten straight A's and won the spelling bee five years in a row. People in her rural 1950s Louisiana community can't figure out where she got her brains, because everyone knows that her parents, are mentally challenged. Her mother has the capabilities of a six-year-old, while her father, a good steady worker at the nursery down the road, can't manage writing or simple math. Tiger loves her parents, but as she enters middle school she becomes increasingly aware that she's socially ostracized by her classmates; her affection for her family becomes mixed with shame and anger at their differences. When Tiger's loving grandmother, who has always run the household, has a fatal heart attack, Tiger is invited to live with her glamorous Aunt Doreen in Baton Rouge. Tempted to move away and reinvent herself, Tiger ultimately comes to appreciate her parents' strengths and her own as well. Tiger, with her warring feelings, is a believable and likable narrator, and while the offerings of big-city living are too patly rejected, a well-developed setting and fully-realized characters make this an unusually strong coming-of-age story. (Fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >