BLUE HERON

A versatile author whose popular books include rousing historical adventures (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, 1990, Newbery Honor) and sparkling satire (Nothing But the Truth, 1991) portrays a contemporary family under unusual stress. Flying in for her annual visit with her 50-ish father, his young wife Joanna, and their new baby, Maggie (12) hopes that "nothing about her father [has] changed." Not so: Dad is unaccountably snappish and unreasonable. As the vacation on a Connecticut lake progresses, it develops that he's at odds with Joanna and has heart trouble, while even Joanna doesn't know that he lost his job just after the baby's birth and isn't taking his medication. Maggie's plea that he do so precipitates an angry outburst during which Dad nearly dies in an accident. Though sadly credible, Dad's behavior, as observed by Maggie, makes him unsympathetic and hard to like. Meanwhile, Avi draws other relationships with exceptional subtlety, especially Maggie's growing affection for her nice, intelligent stepmother, who in her need reaches out to her like a sister; and Maggie's delicate negotiation with a neighborhood bully, Tucker, who has been stalking a noble great blue heron. The heron, a potent symbol (Dad says it can mean life or death), has been Maggie's preoccupation and solace; in the end, though Dad's adult problems may defy solution, she manages to transform the belligerent Tucker's perception of the awe-inspiring bird. A thoughtful, beautifully crafted story. (Fiction. 11+)

Pub Date: March 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-02-707751-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1992

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BYSTANDER

Bullying is a topic that never lacks for interest, and here Preller concentrates on the kids who try to ignore or accommodate a bully to keep themselves safe. Victim David’s pain is evident from the first moment newcomer Eric sees him, but he tries not to acknowledge the reality before him. His mother is trying for a fresh start in this Long Island community, as his father has succumbed to schizophrenia and left her and their two boys on their own. Griffin, the bullying instigator, has charisma of sorts; he is a leader and yet suffers under his father’s bullying and aggression. For Eric to do the right thing is neither easy nor what he first wants to do, and the way he finds support among his classmates is shown in logical and believable small steps. Eminently discussable as a middle-school read-aloud, the narrative offers minimal subplots to detract from the theme. The role of girls is downplayed, except for classmate Mary, who is essential to the resolution, enhancing appeal across gender lines. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-37906-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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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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