LAND OF YESTERDAY, LAND OF TOMORROW

DISCOVERING CHINESE CENTRAL ASIA

North of Tibet, bordering on Pakistan and Afghanistan, lies Xinjiang: a vast 20% of China's area, comprised of the terrible Taklamakan Desert (home to untapped petroleum and China's nuclear tests) ringed with oases fed by mountain snows. Through two valleys north and south of the desert ran the most difficult portion of the medieval Silk Road from Xian in central China to Damascus; today, irrigation tunnels from the surrounding mountains—some in use for 500 years—supplement local water to grow prized fruits and vegetables, supporting 1% of China's total population—mostly the predominant Uighurs; nomadic Kazakhs, who crossed the long border with the USSR in the 30's; and more recently arrived Han Chinese settlers from the east. The Conklins (Paul took his sons on this Smithsonian- sponsored expedition as a college graduation gift) traveled by train from Xian through Xinjiang, photographing the forbidding desert, the friendly people, and the colorful oasis culture. Ashabranner (who did not go along) sets the journey in historical and cultural context, enlivening his account with direct quotes and the Conklins' personal experiences. Though it lacks the immediacy of a firsthand account, his narrative is informative and intelligent. The photos, on almost every spread, are excellent; like the text, they leave the reader thirsting to know more about this fascinating, little-known area. Bibliography; index. (Nonfiction. 10+)

Pub Date: May 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-525-65086-5

Page Count: 84

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1992

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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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GIRL'S BEST FRIEND

From the Maggie Brooklyn Mysteries series

In this series debut, Maggie Sinclair tracks down a dognapper and solves a mystery about the noises in the walls of her Brooklyn brownstone apartment building. The 12-year-old heroine, who shares a middle name—Brooklyn—with her twin brother, Finn, is juggling two dogwalking jobs she’s keeping secret from her parents, and somehow she attracts the ire of the dogs’ former walker. Maggie tells her story in the first person—she’s self-possessed and likable, even when her clueless brother invites her ex–best friend, now something of an enemy, to their shared 12th birthday party. Maggie’s attention to details helps her to figure out why dogs seem to be disappearing and why there seem to be mice in the walls of her building, though astute readers will pick up on the solution to at least one mystery before Maggie solves it. There’s a brief nod to Nancy Drew, but the real tensions in this contemporary preteen story are more about friendship and boy crushes than skullduggery. Still, the setting is appealing, and Maggie is a smart and competent heroine whose personal life is just as interesting as—if not more than—her detective work. (Mystery. 10-13)

   

 

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 967-1-59990-525-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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