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From the Gold Rush Ghosts series , Vol. 1

An appealing ghost story with a high-spirited cast of characters.

A ragtag group fights to save a historically significant and decidedly haunted hotel in Gorder’s debut middle-grade novel.

Junior high school history teacher Ryan Kelly has long championed the Elk Grove Hotel; it’s a valuable piece of history, giving the California city of Elk Grove its name. But some residents of the city want it torn down to make room for a golf course. No one, it seems, wants the hotel gone more than Mayor Matt Fox. Decades ago, when they were 11 years old, he and Ryan snuck inside the hotel and encountered two ghosts who pleaded for the boys’ help to protect their home. The experience inspired Ryan to ensure no harm comes to the old building, but it completely unnerved young Matt. In the present day, Ryan’s students Amelia, Zoey, TJ, and Sophia explore the hotel. They surmise that Big Bob Thornton, a prospector killed at the hotel in the mid-19th century, had hidden gold nuggets there. The kids believe that if they can unearth these treasures, using clues Bob left behind for his fiancee, maybe they can save the hotel. The author’s prospective series launch is a short, diverting mystery with a well-developed, entertaining cast of junior high school students. The kids supply much of the family-friendly humor, from goofy insults (“ ‘I don’t recall anything scaring us,’ TJ lied. ‘Just your ugly face in my selfie!’ Sophia replied, holding her phone out to him”) to a couple of prank-loving pals with a misguided resolve to build a skate park instead of the golf course. Peterson’s black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations sublimely depict the hotel and characters, some of whom, such as Elk Grove Hotel founder James Hall, Gorder based on actual people. The novel ends on a minor cliffhanger ready for a sequel to address.

An appealing ghost story with a high-spirited cast of characters.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2023

ISBN: 9781954779730

Page Count: 138

Publisher: Emerald Books

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2023

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A joyful celebration.

Families in a variety of configurations play, dance, and celebrate together.

The rhymed verse, based on a song from the Noodle Loaf children’s podcast, declares that “Families belong / Together like a puzzle / Different-sized people / One big snuggle.” The accompanying image shows an interracial couple of caregivers (one with brown skin and one pale) cuddling with a pajama-clad toddler with light brown skin and surrounded by two cats and a dog. Subsequent pages show a wide array of families with members of many different racial presentations engaging in bike and bus rides, indoor dance parties, and more. In some, readers see only one caregiver: a father or a grandparent, perhaps. One same-sex couple with two children in tow are expecting another child. Smart’s illustrations are playful and expressive, curating the most joyful moments of family life. The verse, punctuated by the word together, frequently set in oversized font, is gently inclusive at its best but may trip up readers with its irregular rhythms. The song that inspired the book can be found on the Noodle Loaf website.

A joyful celebration. (Board book. 1-3)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-22276-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Rise x Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story.

A home-renovation project is interrupted by a family of wrens, allowing a young girl an up-close glimpse of nature.

Renata and her father enjoy working on upgrading their bathroom, installing a clawfoot bathtub, and cutting a space for a new window. One warm night, after Papi leaves the window space open, two wrens begin making a nest in the bathroom. Rather than seeing it as an unfortunate delay of their project, Renata and Papi decide to let the avian carpenters continue their work. Renata witnesses the birth of four chicks as their rosy eggs split open “like coats that are suddenly too small.” Renata finds at a crucial moment that she can help the chicks learn to fly, even with the bittersweet knowledge that it will only hasten their exits from her life. Rosen uses lively language and well-chosen details to move the story of the baby birds forward. The text suggests the strong bond built by this Afro-Latinx father and daughter with their ongoing project without needing to point it out explicitly, a light touch in a picture book full of delicate, well-drawn moments and precise wording. Garoche’s drawings are impressively detailed, from the nest’s many small bits to the developing first feathers on the chicks and the wall smudges and exposed wiring of the renovation. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12320-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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