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


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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The second installment in this spirited series is a hit.


From the Ryan Hart series , Vol. 2

A new baby coming means Ryan has lots of opportunities to grow love.

Ryan has so much to look forward to this summer—she is going to be a big sister, and she finally gets to go to church camp! But new adventures bring challenges, too. Ryan feels like the baby is taking forever to arrive, and with Mom on bed rest, she isn’t able to participate in the family’s typical summer activities. Ryan’s Dad is still working the late shift, which means he gets home and goes to bed when she and her older brother, Ray, are waking up, so their quality daddy-daughter time is limited to one day a week. When the time for camp finally arrives, Ryan is so worried about bugs, ghosts, and sharing a cabin that she wonders if she should go at all. Watson’s heroine is smart and courageous, bringing her optimistic attitude to any challenge she faces. Hard topics like family finances and complex relationships with friends are discussed in an age-appropriate way. Watson continues to excel at crafting a sense of place; she transports readers to Portland, Oregon, with an attention to detail that can only come from someone who has loved that city. Ryan, her family, and friends are Black, and occasional illustrations by Mata spotlight their joy and make this book shine.

The second installment in this spirited series is a hit. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0058-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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