Lively glimpses of formative moments and budding talents.



From the Kid Legends series

Sixteen young authors-to-be face challenges ranging from bullies to a really big spider in this series’ fourth entry.

All write, wrote, or have written for young audiences. The spider, an aptly named Hercules baboon tarantula, bit “Ronald” Tolkien during a family stay in South Africa; bullies improbably met their matches in Charles “Lewis Carroll” Dodgson and Edgar Allen Poe; others struggled with shyness (J.K. Rowling), parental death or abandonment (Zora Neale Hurston, Mark Twain, Lucy Maud Montgomery), birth defects (Sherman Alexie), poverty (several), racial prejudice (Langston Hughes), and other obstacles. The pseudonymous Stabler also points to important early influences, from an indomitable grandmother on Hughes to comics and comic strips on Stan Lee and Jeff Kinney, as well as at watershed moments such as Beverly Cleary’s epiphanic discovery in third grade that reading is fun and literary kickoffs like 7-year-old Jo Rowling’s “The Seven Cursed Diamonds.” Broadly read preteens will recognize the names and have no trouble connecting these observations and select incidents with each writer’s best known works. Horner supplies mildly comical caricatures and gags on nearly every page: “No more flies. Today I dine on human flesh!” exclaims that tarantula, leaping at a bug-eyed future fantasist. Brief anecdotes about 28 more writers bring up the rear.

Lively glimpses of formative moments and budding talents. (index and bibliography not seen) (Collective biography. 9-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59474-987-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats.


From the They Did What? series

Why should grown-ups get all the historical, scientific, athletic, cinematic, and artistic glory?

Choosing exemplars from both past and present, Mitchell includes but goes well beyond Alexander the Great, Anne Frank, and like usual suspects to introduce a host of lesser-known luminaries. These include Shapur II, who was formally crowned king of Persia before he was born, Indian dancer/professional architect Sheila Sri Prakash, transgender spokesperson Jazz Jennings, inventor Param Jaggi, and an international host of other teen or preteen activists and prodigies. The individual portraits range from one paragraph to several pages in length, and they are interspersed with group tributes to, for instance, the Nazi-resisting “Swingkinder,” the striking New York City newsboys, and the marchers of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Mitchell even offers would-be villains a role model in Elagabalus, “boy emperor of Rome,” though she notes that he, at least, came to an awful end: “Then, then! They dumped his remains in the Tiber River, to be nommed by fish for all eternity.” The entries are arranged in no evident order, and though the backmatter includes multiple booklists, a personality quiz, a glossary, and even a quick Braille primer (with Braille jokes to decode), there is no index. Still, for readers whose fires need lighting, there’s motivational kindling on nearly every page.

A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats. (finished illustrations not seen) (Collective biography. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-751813-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Puffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.


In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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