THE COMPOSITION

Well-meaning if heavy-handed, this picture book views a Latin American dictatorship through the eyes of a nine year old. Pedro doesn’t understand why his parents listen so carefully to the radio broadcast every night. He knows that the streets are now full of soldiers, but until a friend’s father is arrested, Pedro has really never thought about the turmoil that is going on in his country. Pedro finally asks if his father and mother are against the dictatorship; his father tells him that yes, he and Pedro’s mother oppose the new regime. When Pedro asks if that means that he (Pedro) is also against the government, his mother answers, “Children aren’t against anything. Children are just children.” But despite this, Pedro has gotten the implicit message that he, too, is against the dictatorship. So when an army officer comes into Pedro’s classroom and announces that the child who writes the best composition on the topic of what his or her parents do at home in the evening will win a prize, Pedro understands that he has to protect his parents. While he doesn’t win the officer’s prize, he does win the admiration and respect of his parents by ingeniously saying that his parents play chess every evening, all evening long. Although the story ends well for its heroes, the reader comes away with the distinct impression that Pedro hasn’t been very well prepared by his parents. They tell their son the truth about their own political leanings, yet leave it up to Pedro to figure out that he’s supposed to lie for them. The illustrations are unsophisticated, even a little amateurish (the depictions of Pedro aren’t consistent from image to image), and only contribute to the book’s heavily didactic tone. Useful, perhaps, for social-studies teachers trying to explain what life is like under a totalitarian regime, but not a particularly engaging work. (afterword) (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-88899-390-0

Page Count: 36

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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An uncomplicated opener, with some funny bits and a clear but not heavy agenda.

BOOKMARKS ARE PEOPLE TOO!

From the Here's Hank series , Vol. 1

Hank Zipzer, poster boy for dyslexic middle graders everywhere, stars in a new prequel series highlighting second-grade trials and triumphs.

Hank’s hopes of playing Aqua Fly, a comic-book character, in the upcoming class play founder when, despite plenty of coaching and preparation, he freezes up during tryouts. He is not particularly comforted when his sympathetic teacher adds a nonspeaking role as a bookmark to the play just for him. Following the pattern laid down in his previous appearances as an older child, he gets plenty of help and support from understanding friends (including Ashley Wong, a new apartment-house neighbor). He even manages to turn lemons into lemonade with a quick bit of improv when Nick “the Tick” McKelty, the sneering classmate who took his preferred role, blanks on his lines during the performance. As the aforementioned bully not only chokes in the clutch and gets a demeaning nickname, but is fat, boastful and eats like a pig, the authors’ sensitivity is rather one-sided. Still, Hank has a winning way of bouncing back from adversity, and like the frequent black-and-white line-and-wash drawings, the typeface is designed with easy legibility in mind.

An uncomplicated opener, with some funny bits and a clear but not heavy agenda. (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-448-48239-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

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Readers will be waiting to see how Charlie faces his next challenge in a series that marks a lovely change of pace from the...

CHARLIE BUMPERS VS. THE TEACHER OF THE YEAR

From the Charlie Bumpers series , Vol. 1

Charlie Bumpers is doomed. The one teacher he never wanted in the whole school turns out to be his fourth-grade teacher.

Charlie recalls third grade, when he accidentally hit the scariest teacher in the whole school with his sneaker. “I know all about you, Charlie Bumpers,” she says menacingly on the first day of fourth grade. Now, in addition to all the hardships of starting school, he has gotten off on the wrong foot with her. Charlie’s dry and dramatic narrative voice clearly reveals the inner life of a 9-year-old—the glass is always half empty, especially in light of a series of well-intentioned events gone awry. It’s quite a litany: “Hitting Mrs. Burke in the head with the sneaker. The messy desk. The swinging on the door. The toilet paper. And now this—the shoe on the roof.” Harley has teamed once again with illustrator Gustavson (Lost and Found, 2012) to create a real-life world in which a likable kid must face the everyday terrors of childhood: enormous bullies, looming teachers and thick gym coaches with huge pointing fingers. Into this series opener, Harley magically weaves the simple lesson that people, even teachers, can surprise you.

Readers will be waiting to see how Charlie faces his next challenge in a series that marks a lovely change of pace from the sarcasm of Wimpy Kid. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-56145-732-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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