CRACKER!

THE BEST DOG IN VIETNAM

“But she and Rick had . . . something bigger. She wasn’t sure what it was. All she knew was that when he came to her in the morning, she had no choice but to twirl around and chase her tail before sitting down in front of him.” Cracker is a German shepherd, owned by the US Army, who sniffs out booby traps in Vietnam with her handler, Rick. Kadohata has deftly intertwined a classic dog story with that of a soldier’s by writing from both points of view, remarkably well, though her talents with realistic voice and immediacy of setting that garnered her the Newbery Medal are put to the test here. Rick’s colloquialisms are essential to his character, but sometimes fall flat on the page: “The more Rick trained, the more he started to feel that Cracker was kind of like reading his mind or something.” The narrative is slow to engage, starting with Cracker’s previous owner, and plenty of saccharine. There’s not much information on the war, nor do Rick’s internal dilemmas reach beyond the surface. Despite thin spots, the story succeeds on the strength of its characters, their struggles and their relationship, reaching a readership that doesn’t get enough quality writing in this genre. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2007

ISBN: 1-4169-0637-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE

A young teen whose world is filled with colors and shapes that no one else sees copes with the universal and competing drives to be unique and to be utterly and totally normal. Thirteen-year-old Mia is a synesthete: her brain connects her visual and auditory systems so that when she hears, or thinks about, sounds and words, they carry with them associated colors and shapes that fill the air about her. This is a boon in many ways—she excels in history because she can remember dates by their colors—and a curse. Ever since she realized her difference, she has concealed her ability, until algebra defeats her: “Normally an x is a shiny maroon color, like a ripe cherry. But here an x has to stand for an unknown number. But I can’t make myself assign the x any other color than maroon, and there are no maroon-colored numbers. . . . I’m lost in shades of gray and want to scream in frustration.” When Mia learns that she is not alone, she begins to explore the lore and community of synesthesia, a process that disrupts her relationships with her family, friends, and even herself. In her fiction debut for children, Mass has created a memorable protagonist whose colors enhance but do not define her dreamily artistic character. The present-tense narration lends immediacy and impact to Mia’s color perceptions: “Each high-pitched meow sends Sunkist-orange coils dancing in front of me. . . . ” The narrative, however, is rather overfull of details—a crazily built house, highly idiosyncratic family members, two boy interests, a beloved sick cat—which tend to compete for the reader’s attention in much the same way as Mia’s colors. This flaw (not unusual with first novels) aside, here is a quietly unusual and promising offering. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-316-52388-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winner

  • Newbery Honor Book

HEART OF A SAMURAI

BASED ON THE TRUE STORY OF NAKAHAMA MANJIRO

In 1841, 14-year-old Manjiro joined four others on an overnight fishing trip. Caught by a severe storm, their small rowboat was shipwrecked on a rocky island. Five months later, they were rescued by the crew of a whaling ship from New Bedford. Manjiro, renamed John Mung, was befriended by the captain and eventually lived in his home in New Bedford, rapidly absorbing Western culture. But the plight of his impoverished family in Japan was never far from Manjiro’s mind, although he knew that his country’s strict isolationist policy meant a death sentence if he returned. Illustrated with Manjiro’s own pencil drawings in addition to other archival material and original art from Tamaki, this is a captivating fictionalized (although notably faithful) retelling of the boy’s adventures. Capturing his wonder, remarkable willingness to learn, the prejudice he encountered and the way he eventually influenced officials in Japan to open the country, this highly entertaining page-turner is the perfect companion to Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy, by Rhoda Blumberg (2001). (historical note, extensive glossary, bibliography.) (Historical fiction. 9-13)

 

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8109-8981-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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