A story about a tumultuous family that lacks a certain element of hardship needed to make a book truly gripping.

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PAINTING THE RAINBOW

Two young cousins try to recapture the feeling of summertime fun during a fraught vacation at their family’s lake house, a summer overshadowed by the mystery of their uncle’s long-ago death.

Cousins Holly Swanson and Ivy Greenwood have very different personalities, but that has never mattered before. During the summers, they’ve always been inseparable. But this summer of 1965, with Ivy’s parents fighting more than ever and Holly showing interest in local boys, they can’t seem to find any common ground. It doesn’t help that tensions are running high among other family members. Uncle Jesse may have died many years ago, but guilt, sadness and shame still surround the accident. Mixing diary entries and letters into the narrative, Gordon delivers a sweet albeit convenient story about familial rupture and healing. The cast of characters is well-imagined, and the plot is infused with the inevitable repercussions of history, both immediate and those of a more global nature. However, events are repeatedly too advantageous to be ultimately satisfying. Hidden diaries, letters and pictures are discovered with alarming regularity. Perhaps acknowledging this narrative ease, the publisher recommends this book for ages 8-12, but the girls’ dawning understanding of the complex world of adulthood pushes it a little older.

A story about a tumultuous family that lacks a certain element of hardship needed to make a book truly gripping. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2525-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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