This teen gossip columnist's fiction debut floats like a bubble in the breeze, despite plenty of traumatic events and sibling conflict. Off to Italy for ten days with little brother Matt and parents Marc and Miranda, Melanie fills up her diary with details of the long flight and subsequent jetlag. Encounters with new people (“Almost everyone here speaks Italian—even kids”) and food, visits to famous places (“The Leaning Tower of Pisa is soooo cooool”), family squabbles, and a chain of calamities, from running into one of her father's old flames on her parents’ anniversary and having to search—twice—for a missing Matt, to having a wallet stolen and needing a quick trip to the emergency room after a fall. All's well that ends well, heigh ho; Melanie returns to the States with new tastes for gelato and parmesan cheese, a greater willingness to appreciate people—even dorky classmate Norbert—and an unaffected poem that sums up her experiences. Sprinkled with exclamation points, pronounced Italian words (“piazza (Pee Ot Za)” etc) and small drawings, Melanie's journal will tease fans of the Eloise sequels and like travelogues into further armchair adventuring. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-80509-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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From the author of the Animorphs series comes this earnest novel in verse about an orphaned Sudanese war refugee with a passion for cows, who has resettled in Minnesota with relatives. Arriving in winter, Kek spots a cow that reminds him of his father’s herd, a familiar sight in an alien world. Later he returns with Hannah, a friendly foster child, and talks the cow’s owner into hiring him to look after it. When the owner plans to sell the cow, Kek becomes despondent. Full of wide-eyed amazement and unalloyed enthusiasm for all things American, Kek is a generic—bordering on insulting—stereotype. His tribe, culture and language are never identified; personal details, such as appearance and age, are vague or omitted. Lacking the quirks and foibles that bring characters to life, Kek seems more a composite of traits designed to instruct readers than an engaging individual in his own right. Despite its lackluster execution, this story’s simple premise and basic vocabulary make it suitable for younger readers interested in the plight of war refugees. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-36765-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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