DEAR PAPA

Nine-year-old Isabelle’s first letter to her Papa in September 1943, a year after his death from an allergic reaction (the war-time setting is largely background), is the beginning of an epistolary journal that spans the rest of her Minnesota childhood. Her letters to Papa, unread by anyone else (except for the first, which Isabelle mails to her namesake aunt), are interspersed with her letters to other, living, characters: Aunt Izzy, Mama, and Isabelle’s siblings and friends. Isabelle, the middle child of five, is determined, practical, and lonely amid the changes her father’s death has wrought. She schemes to reunite her family when she and her older sisters are sent to live with relatives. She is outraged when her mother becomes a live-in housekeeper to, and then marries, a Catholic. But she gradually warms to her stepfather and to her new life. As that takes on stability and happiness, her letters to her Papa taper off and a final letter from Isabelle as a young woman, now earning a living as a writer, closes the story. Ylvisaker’s narrative voice falters a few times in her debut with the challenge of sustaining a truly childlike style for the second-person address. On December 7, observing the second anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Isabelle reminds Papa of his “prayers” upon hearing the news in 1941, and tells him, “I will pray just like you did: Christ Almighty! God, damn them all to hell. Holy Jesus, preserve us.” A nudge and a wink to adult readers steal in along with the earnest assertion. Yet Isabelle’s resolute nature does produce a few flashes of warmth and gentle humor. Ylvisaker gives us a look at life at home during the war years, sketching in the big events, letting Isabelle’s details of daily life show just enough of wartime economies and worries. Uneven, but overall refreshingly free of bathos. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-7636-1618-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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THE LEMONADE WAR

From the Lemonade War series , Vol. 1

Told from the point of view of two warring siblings, this could have been an engaging first chapter book. Unfortunately, the length makes it less likely to appeal to the intended audience. Jessie and Evan are usually good friends as well as sister and brother. But the news that bright Jessie will be skipping a grade to join Evan’s fourth-grade class creates tension. Evan believes himself to be less than clever; Jessie’s emotional maturity doesn’t quite measure up to her intelligence. Rivalry and misunderstandings grow as the two compete to earn the most money in the waning days of summer. The plot rolls along smoothly and readers will be able to both follow the action and feel superior to both main characters as their motivations and misconceptions are clearly displayed. Indeed, a bit more subtlety in characterization might have strengthened the book’s appeal. The final resolution is not entirely believable, but the emphasis on cooperation and understanding is clear. Earnest and potentially successful, but just misses the mark. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 23, 2007

ISBN: 0-618-75043-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2007

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Readers will enjoy this sequel from a plot perspective and will learn how to play-act a trial, though they may not engage...

THE LEMONADE CRIME

From the Lemonade War series , Vol. 2

This sequel to The Lemonade War (2007), picking up just a few days later, focuses on how the fourth graders take justice into their own hands after learning that the main suspect in the case of the missing lemonade-stand money now owns the latest in game-box technology.

Siblings Evan and Jessie (who skipped third grade because of her precocity) are sure Scott Spencer stole the $208 from Evan’s shorts and want revenge, especially as Scott’s new toy makes him the most popular kid in class, despite his personal shortcomings. Jessie’s solution is to orchestrate a full-blown trial by jury after school, while Evan prefers to challenge Scott in basketball. Neither channel proves satisfactory for the two protagonists (whose rational and emotional reactions are followed throughout the third-person narrative), though, ultimately, the matter is resolved. Set during the week of Yom Kippur, the story raises beginning questions of fairness, integrity, sin and atonement. Like John Grisham's Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer (2010), much of the book is taken up with introducing courtroom proceedings for a fourth-grade level of understanding. Chapter headings provide definitions  (“due diligence,” “circumstantial evidence,” etc.) and explanation cards/documents drawn by Jessie are interspersed.

Readers will enjoy this sequel from a plot perspective and will learn how to play-act a trial, though they may not engage with the characters enough to care about how the justice actually pans out. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: May 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-27967-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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