PRAIRIE SCHOOL

In his third entry in the I Can Read Chapter Book series, master storyteller Avi (Abigail Takes the WheeI, 1999, etc.) offers another transitional chapter book with a historical setting, this time the isolated prairie of Colorado in pioneer days. Nine-year-old Noah works alongside his parents and loves his outdoor-oriented life on the family’s homestead. He sees no reason for schooling, but his parents have other ideas. They invite Aunt Dora, who uses a wheelchair, to come from Maine for a long visit with the purpose of providing some “book learning” for her nephew. Noah digs in his heels and resists his aunt’s lessons, but being a determined and skilled teacher, she finds a way to connect with Noah by teaching him about the stars and native plants. Over the summer Noah learns to read and write and by fall is able to read aloud to his proud parents, who have limited reading skills. When Dora returns to her home in the East, she leaves a letter for Noah (presented in letter format), and on the book’s last page, Noah writes his own touching letter to his aunt, which the reader senses will be the start of a fruitful correspondence. Farnsworth’s glowing paintings capture the details of Noah’s pioneer life, showing the dim, cramped interior of their sod dugout and the endless expanse of the prairie. This quiet, thoughtful story will have a subtle appeal to children who may have resisted “book learning” themselves, and the matter-of-fact inclusion of a still-active young teacher in a wheelchair provides further depth to the theme of reading as a “frigate like a book to take us lands away.” (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-027664-9

Page Count: 48

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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OWNEY, THE MAIL-POUCH POOCH

Going back to contemporary sources, Kerby retraces the travels of a stray terrier who became the semi-official mascot of the U.S. Postal Service in the 1890s and who, aboard ship and train, escorted mailbags to hundreds of destinations around the world. She sticks largely to facts—finding that accounts of how he got his name differ, she doesn’t try to explain its origin, for instance—but does tuck in occasional invented details to smooth the narrative. Although the text notes that his preserved body is still on display at the U.S. Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., it neglects to mention that he met his end by violence. Ever alert and sporting a harness increasingly covered in tags attached at his many stopovers, the small dog makes an engaging centerpiece in Barasch’s watercolor sketches. His tale has been told several times for younger audiences, most recently in Irene Kelly’s A Small Dog’s Big Life (2005); still, dog lovers will lap up this latest iteration. (photos, research note, sources) (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: May 7, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-35685-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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A skimpy alternative to Adrian Lister and Martin Ursell’s Ice Age Tracker’s Guide (2010).

TOBY AND THE ICE GIANTS

A small bison meets some ice age megafauna in this prehistoric ramble.

Assuring his mom that “I’m big now. I’m not scared!” little Toby scampers off. He collides with a grumpy woolly rhinoceros, introduces himself to a Megatherium, wonders at a woolly mammoth’s tusks, and sidles anxiously past a handful of other Pleistocene creatures—including a group of fur-clad humans—before gamboling back to safety. Along with exchanged greetings, each encounter comes with a side box of descriptive facts and comments, plus a small image of the animal posed next to a human (in modern dress) for comparison. Young viewers will marvel at the succession of massive ruminants and predators, which Lillington renders in watercolors with reasonable accuracy, if anthropomorphic facial expressions. He offers measurements in metric units only (except for humans, whose weight is opaquely designated “average”). Rather anticlimactically, he caps his gallery with a perfunctory, unillustrated list of “some other amazing ice age animals that Toby didn’t get to meet!”

A skimpy alternative to Adrian Lister and Martin Ursell’s Ice Age Tracker’s Guide (2010). (Informational picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-909263-58-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Flying Eye Books

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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