A New York City preteen’s world turns suddenly scary when her stepmother goes missing. Will Sylvia turn up, or is she gone forever with her latest boyfriend? Casey isn’t sure at first, but as days go by, her desperation grows, leaving her vulnerable to the overtures of the building super’s teenage foster son, Paulie. Paulie dispenses savvy advice and lends a genuinely sympathetic ear, but also turns out to have an ulterior motive—he’s looking for a younger confederate to help him rob a certain old lady. Reluctantly, Casey goes along, but not only does the ensuing emotional price prove almost overwhelming for her, Paulie gets a savage beating when his foster father finds the stolen money. Then a predatory gypsy, who discovers that Casey’s alone, arrives to crank up the level of anxiety another notch. Couloumbis (Getting Near To Baby, 1999, Newbery Honor), in perfectly cast characterization, pairs two young people here who aren’t as tough or smart as they think they are—but who come through for each other in the pinch. Both also find unlooked-for allies when the going gets too tough—most notably Sylvia’s levelheaded, large-hearted mother Fran, who sweeps in protectively as soon as she gets wind of what’s happened, and then consoles Casey with the insight that Sylvia’s not self-centered or evil, just weak, not perfect, but good. And that turns out to be enough, for when Sylvia ultimately does come back, remorseful but willing to take up where she left off, Casey’s anger is sharp, but soon spent. The author tellingly communicates Casey’s growing fear and Paulie’s underlying fragility and leaves thoughtful readers plenty to chew over with this convincing portrait of young people learning how to make choices. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-23390-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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


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. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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