A flawed but hopeful tale about what children can achieve.




This middle-grade book follows the adventures of a girl from the far north whose ice raft drifts to New York City, where she learns about the plight of circus animals.

Haibu, 10, lives very far north in a tiny village. Her (fictional) Mayok people follow a lifestyle similar to the Inuit, which includes hunting with sled dogs, ice fishing, and avoiding polar bears, or “nanuq” (the Inuit word for polar bear). Haibu is impatient about restrictions on what girls can do in her society; she’d love to go fishing with her father and brother, for example, and isn’t scared of danger. The mantra that goes with her special bracelet has been passed down for generations: “I can do anything I believe I can do. I can be anything I believe I can be. I can achieve anything I want to achieve.” She decides to prove the mantra right and go ice fishing by herself. She catches some fish, meets a seal pup, and even learns that she can communicate with animals, but she runs into trouble when she confronts an angry polar bear. Then the ice floe beneath her breaks away and she’s sent drifting all the way to New York, where she finds refuge at an orphanage. In search of bears, Haibu finds a nearby circus, where the animals’ mistreatment galvanizes her; soon, she and the orphans mount a rescue mission. In this debut, Freeman and Price aim to educate children about “the global treatment of wild animals” and what they can do to help. The prose style is engaging and often funny, and the story may inspire kids to get involved. However, the characters’ remedy—breaking into circus cages—isn’t very practical, and scenes of animal cruelty may upset sensitive readers. The Mayok are also a problematic creation, appropriating details of traditional Inuit culture while adding elements like the Shookia bracelet, with its distinctly Western-sounding affirmations. Boros and Szikszai’s (Demon’s Dream, 1996) color illustrations are nicely detailed but cutesy, featuring middle-school-aged children with toddlerlike proportions; it’s also strange that Haibu, who’s indigenous to the Arctic, has blue eyes.

A flawed but hopeful tale about what children can achieve.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5132-6221-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Graphic Arts Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2018

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Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Troubled teen meets totemic catalyst in Mikaelsen’s (Petey, 1998, etc.) earnest tribute to Native American spirituality. Fifteen-year-old Cole is cocky, embittered, and eaten up by anger at his abusive parents. After repeated skirmishes with the law, he finally faces jail time when he viciously beats a classmate. Cole’s parole officer offers him an alternative—Circle Justice, an innovative justice program based on Native traditions. Sentenced to a year on an uninhabited Arctic island under the supervision of Edwin, a Tlingit elder, Cole provokes an attack from a titanic white “Spirit Bear” while attempting escape. Although permanently crippled by the near-death experience, he is somehow allowed yet another stint on the island. Through Edwin’s patient tutoring, Cole gradually masters his rage, but realizes that he needs to help his former victims to complete his own healing. Mikaelsen paints a realistic portrait of an unlikable young punk, and if Cole’s turnaround is dramatic, it is also convincingly painful and slow. Alas, the rest of the characters are cardboard caricatures: the brutal, drunk father, the compassionate, perceptive parole officer, and the stoic and cryptic Native mentor. Much of the plot stretches credulity, from Cole’s survival to his repeated chances at rehabilitation to his victim being permitted to share his exile. Nonetheless, teens drawn by the brutality of Cole’s adventures, and piqued by Mikaelsen’s rather muscular mysticism, might absorb valuable lessons on anger management and personal responsibility. As melodramatic and well-meaning as the teens it targets. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2001

ISBN: 0-380-97744-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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