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MOLLY BELL AND THE WISHING WELL

A heroine struggles to find her way back from despair and anger to joy and acceptance in this highly relatable tale for...

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A young girl, wanting things back the way they used to be before her mother died, pins her hopes on a wishing well in this debut middle-grade novel.

Molly Bell’s beloved father has just remarried. The 11-year-old girl, still grieving her mother’s death two years before, feels cross and abandoned as Dad and her stepmom, Faith, go on their honeymoon. They leave the tween and Faith’s 6-year-old son, Henry, in the care of Molly’s grandparents on their farm. Although Molly tries to make the best of it and finds comfort working outdoors, she resents her grandparents’ attention to Henry and can’t untangle her emotions, feeling unloved and unlovable. She has compounded her unhappiness by giving up the sport she excelled at—soccer—due to misplaced guilt. A remote old wishing well on the property becomes the focus of her dreams (“It looked ancient, like old ruins that she had just discovered. It was as if Molly had been transported to a far away place in time. The bricks and stones were covered with overgrown weeds, making the well seem like it was almost alive”). She wishes for her mother, a best friend, and a life without Henry and Faith. In unexpected ways, some of her wishes come true. But does Molly actually hold the key to her own happiness? Geraghty clearly respects her tween audience, inviting empathy for each character with touching and realistic revelations of what lies underneath Henry’s brattiness, for instance, and Grandpa’s abruptness. Helping Molly heal are a lonely dog and the girl’s growing awareness of the vulnerabilities of others (including Grandpa, who lost his leg and his best friend in Vietnam). That Molly finds her way through turmoil is predictable, but she also recognizes the impact of her self-pity and rage. The author shapes Molly’s journey with a deft and informed touch while deepening the narrative with vivid imagery: “Grandpa Cody gazed out his passenger side window, his leathery skin illuminated by the glow of the sunrise and his long grey ponytail waving gently in the breeze. A slow and hearty country song played on the radio.”

A heroine struggles to find her way back from despair and anger to joy and acceptance in this highly relatable tale for tweens.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5410-3400-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019

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FAMILIES BELONG

A joyful celebration.

Families in a variety of configurations play, dance, and celebrate together.

The rhymed verse, based on a song from the Noodle Loaf children’s podcast, declares that “Families belong / Together like a puzzle / Different-sized people / One big snuggle.” The accompanying image shows an interracial couple of caregivers (one with brown skin and one pale) cuddling with a pajama-clad toddler with light brown skin and surrounded by two cats and a dog. Subsequent pages show a wide array of families with members of many different racial presentations engaging in bike and bus rides, indoor dance parties, and more. In some, readers see only one caregiver: a father or a grandparent, perhaps. One same-sex couple with two children in tow are expecting another child. Smart’s illustrations are playful and expressive, curating the most joyful moments of family life. The verse, punctuated by the word together, frequently set in oversized font, is gently inclusive at its best but may trip up readers with its irregular rhythms. The song that inspired the book can be found on the Noodle Loaf website.

A joyful celebration. (Board book. 1-3)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-22276-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Rise x Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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