Too dense and erratic for children, and too adolescent for adults.

THE VERY LITTLEST DRAGON

Charlton’s debut is a fanciful tale of dragons, picture framing and princesses.

The novel begins promisingly: dragon parents, both employed at a framing shop run by a grizzly bear, await the hatching of their first clutch of eggs. Boomer, the first hatchling to emerge, flies faster than the speed of sound, while second-born Tink is so tiny that he fits in a coffee cup—one of the places he feels safest. Among the novel’s assets are utterly charming illustrations by Laura Reynolds and some lovely insights skillfully expressed (“seen from high altitude across large flat oceans and vast deserts, it is easy to understand why dawn is called a ‘crack,’ for it certainly splits the dark in two”). But the novel has two insurmountable weaknesses: The plot is thin to begin with (late in the story, for reasons not entirely clear, Tink faces a vague challenge friends and family help him prepare for) and the story is too cluttered for the novel to have the necessary dramatic tension. An overabundance of superfluous characters (including one who speaks in misspelled French, saying not mon dieu, but mon due or mon deu) appear only once or twice; although occasionally charming, they stall the story and make it difficult to remember the main characters. Long accounts of meals and the foods and beverages consumed at them (fish balls with various sauces, biscuits, chocolate, lots of coffee) grow tedious due to their frequency, length and ultimate irrelevance. Most damaging, the novel’s climax is repeatedly interrupted with cuts to quiet conversations and domestic scenes short on tension, fizzling away the power of Tink’s struggle and triumph. It’s a pity, because if focused, sharpened and streamlined, this could be a tight page turner sure to delight the young readers who should be its primary audience.

Too dense and erratic for children, and too adolescent for adults.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2011

ISBN: 978-0984966608

Page Count: 254

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift.

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BECAUSE I HAD A TEACHER

A paean to teachers and their surrogates everywhere.

This gentle ode to a teacher’s skill at inspiring, encouraging, and being a role model is spoken, presumably, from a child’s viewpoint. However, the voice could equally be that of an adult, because who can’t look back upon teachers or other early mentors who gave of themselves and offered their pupils so much? Indeed, some of the self-aware, self-assured expressions herein seem perhaps more realistic as uttered from one who’s already grown. Alternatively, readers won’t fail to note that this small book, illustrated with gentle soy-ink drawings and featuring an adult-child bear duo engaged in various sedentary and lively pursuits, could just as easily be about human parent- (or grandparent-) child pairs: some of the softly colored illustrations depict scenarios that are more likely to occur within a home and/or other family-oriented setting. Makes sense: aren’t parents and other close family members children’s first teachers? This duality suggests that the book might be best shared one-on-one between a nostalgic adult and a child who’s developed some self-confidence, having learned a thing or two from a parent, grandparent, older relative, or classroom instructor.

A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943200-08-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs.

WAYSIDE SCHOOL BENEATH THE CLOUD OF DOOM

Rejoice! 25 years later, Wayside School is still in session, and the children in Mrs. Jewls’ 30th-floor classroom haven’t changed a bit.

The surreal yet oddly educational nature of their misadventures hasn’t either. There are out-and-out rib ticklers, such as a spelling lesson featuring made-up words and a determined class effort to collect 1 million nail clippings. Additionally, mean queen Kathy steps through a mirror that turns her weirdly nice and she discovers that she likes it, a four-way friendship survives a dumpster dive after lost homework, and Mrs. Jewls makes sure that a long-threatened “Ultimate Test” allows every student to show off a special talent. Episodic though the 30 new chapters are, there are continuing elements that bind them—even to previous outings, such as the note to an elusive teacher Calvin has been carrying since Sideways Stories From Wayside School (1978) and finally delivers. Add to that plenty of deadpan dialogue (“Arithmetic makes my brain numb,” complains Dameon. “That’s why they’re called ‘numb-ers,’ ” explains D.J.) and a wild storm from the titular cloud that shuffles the school’s contents “like a deck of cards,” and Sachar once again dishes up a confection as scrambled and delicious as lunch lady Miss Mush’s improvised “Rainbow Stew.” Diversity is primarily conveyed in the illustrations.

Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296538-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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