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A fast-paced read featuring a smart, young protagonist.

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In McClean’s debut middle-grade novel, a 12-year-old Caribbean boy must save the day when he discovers danger lurking in the forest in the first installment of the Secrets of Oscuros series.

Jason “JV” Valentine lives on the Caribbean island of Alcavere with his grandmother, Granny B, the town’s herbal healer. JV has always had a longing for travel and adventure and decides that during his vacation, he’ll explore Oscuros, the mystical, forbidden forest on the outskirts of town. Despite the mystery and superstition surrounding Oscuros, JV is unafraid. He’s frequently accompanied Granny B on trips there to pluck herbs and flowers and “often…felt a strange pull from the forest—as if an unseen force wanted to usher him deeper in, away from his grandmother, his home, and his village.” But when Adelle De Couteau, a neighborhood girl, goes missing in Oscuros, tensions run high, and JV’s friends urge him not to return there. Then the boy overhears a neighbor say that Granny B found the abandoned, infant JV in Oscuros long ago. He’s shocked, as it reveals that everything that his grandmother had ever told him about his traveling, adventurer parents was a lie (including their handwritten letters, likely written by Granny B herself). But as JV wanders deeper into the forest, he stumbles upon a dangerous operation and receives assistance from an unlikely supernatural ally. Overall, JV’s side story about discovering his true parentage could have been fleshed out a little more. That said, he remains a consistently strong character throughout this tale and one whom readers will root for. McClean effectively infuses Caribbean elements into the text, including specific elements of Trinidadian folklore and culture. For example, JV’s aforementioned encounter with Papa Bois, the titular protector of the forest, is an integral part of the plot. Additionally, the text is peppered with local words and phrases (such as “Bless my eyesight,” meaning “I can’t believe my eyes”), which helps to create an authentic setting. McClean also provides a helpful glossary of terms at the end of the book.

A fast-paced read featuring a smart, young protagonist.

Pub Date: May 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9978900-7-5

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Caribbean Reads Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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Broccoli: No way is James going to eat broccoli. “It’s disgusting,” says James. Well then, James, says his father, let’s consider the alternatives: some wormy dirt, perhaps, some stinky socks, some pre-chewed gum? James reconsiders the broccoli, but—milk? “Blech,” says James. Right, says his father, who needs strong bones? You’ll be great at hide-and-seek, though not so great at baseball and kickball and even tickling the dog’s belly. James takes a mouthful. So it goes through lumpy oatmeal, mushroom lasagna and slimy eggs, with James’ father parrying his son’s every picky thrust. And it is fun, because the father’s retorts are so outlandish: the lasagna-making troll in the basement who will be sent back to the rat circus, there to endure the rodent’s vicious bites; the uneaten oatmeal that will grow and grow and probably devour the dog that the boy won’t be able to tickle any longer since his bones are so rubbery. Schneider’s watercolors catch the mood of gentle ribbing, the looks of bewilderment and surrender and the deadpanned malarkey. It all makes James’ father’s last urging—“I was just going to say that you might like them if you tried them”—wholly fresh and unexpected advice. (Early reader. 5-9)

Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-14956-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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The seemingly ageless Seeger brings back his renowned giant for another go in a tuneful tale that, like the art, is a bit sketchy, but chockful of worthy messages. Faced with yearly floods and droughts since they’ve cut down all their trees, the townsfolk decide to build a dam—but the project is stymied by a boulder that is too huge to move. Call on Abiyoyo, suggests the granddaughter of the man with the magic wand, then just “Zoop Zoop” him away again. But the rock that Abiyoyo obligingly flings aside smashes the wand. How to avoid Abiyoyo’s destruction now? Sing the monster to sleep, then make it a peaceful, tree-planting member of the community, of course. Seeger sums it up in a postscript: “every community must learn to manage its giants.” Hays, who illustrated the original (1986), creates colorful, if unfinished-looking, scenes featuring a notably multicultural human cast and a towering Cubist fantasy of a giant. The song, based on a Xhosa lullaby, still has that hard-to-resist sing-along potential, and the themes of waging peace, collective action, and the benefits of sound ecological practices are presented in ways that children will both appreciate and enjoy. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-689-83271-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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