A fun series opener with a feisty protagonist who’ll keep readers on their toes.


From the Aven Green series , Vol. 1

Bowling introduces the outspoken, armless narrator of her Life as a Cactus series to younger readers.

Eight-year-old Aven Green doesn’t need arms to be a good private investigator; her feet work just fine. In fact, all those extra arm cells went to her brain instead—at least, that’s her hypothesis. So when somebody starts stealing food at school, she’s on the case. But then her great-grandma’s dog, Smitty, goes missing, and then new student Sujata arrives—looking mysteriously sad. Can Aven’s “super-powered brain” solve three cases at the same time? The simple plot, peppered with humorous malapropisms and leaps of kid logic, is primarily a showcase for Aven’s precocious personality. Witty, stubborn, and self-confident (“I was shy once. It was on a Wednesday afternoon in kindergarten”), Aven takes her disability in stride; her classmates are also accepting. She and her friends share rowdy and gleefully gross activities, complete with “ninja” chops, flatulence, and “rainbow barf.” Her (adoptive) parents are warmly supportive, but her long-suffering teacher is perhaps too much so; her remarkable tolerance for Aven’s occasionally disruptive antics may raise some eyebrows. Perry’s black-and-white cartoon illustrations energetically depict Aven’s agile feet and mischievous grin. The tidy ending sets up another adventure; a list of Aven’s “sleuthing words” is appended. Most characters, including Aven, appear to be White; Sujata is Indian American.

A fun series opener with a feisty protagonist who’ll keep readers on their toes. (Mystery. 6-9)

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4549-4221-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Sterling Children's Books

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A welcome, well-researched reflection of cultural pride in the early-reader landscape.


From the Rafi and Rosi series

The fourth installment in Delacre’s early-reader series centers on the rich musical traditions of Puerto Rico, once again featuring sibling tree frogs Rafi and Rosi Coquí.

Readers learn along with Rafi and Rosi as they explore bomba, plena, and salsa in three chapters. A glossary at the beginning sets readers up well to understand the Spanish vocabulary, including accurate phoneticization for non-Spanish speakers. The stories focus on Rafi and Rosi’s relationship within a musical context. For example, in one chapter Rafi finds out that he attracts a larger audience playing his homemade güiro with Rosi’s help even though he initially excluded her: “Big brothers only.” Even when he makes mistakes, as the older brother, Rafi consoles Rosi when she is embarrassed or angry at him. In each instance, their shared joy for music and dance ultimately shines through any upsets—a valuable reflection of unity. Informational backmatter and author’s sources are extensive. Undoubtedly these will help teachers, librarians, and parents to develop Puerto Rican cultural programs, curriculum, or home activities to extend young readers’ learning. The inclusion of instructions to make one’s own homemade güiro is a thoughtful addition. The Spanish translation, also by Delacre and published simultaneously, will require a more advanced reader than the English one to recognize and comprehend contractions (“pa’bajo-pa-pa’rriba”) and relatively sophisticated vocabulary.

A welcome, well-researched reflection of cultural pride in the early-reader landscape. (Early reader. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-89239-429-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Children's Book Press

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag.


Epistolary dispatches from the eternal canine/feline feud.

Simon the cat is angry. He had done a good job taking care of his boy, Andy, but now that Andy’s parents are divorced, a dog named Baxter has moved into Andy’s dad’s house. Simon believes that there isn’t enough room in Andy’s life for two furry friends, so he uses the power of the pen to get Baxter to move out. Inventively for the early-chapter-book format, the story is told in letters written back and forth; Simon’s are impeccably spelled on personalized stationery while Baxter’s spelling slowly improves through the letters he scrawls on scraps of paper. A few other animals make appearances—a puffy-lipped goldfish who for some reason punctuates her letter with “Blub…blub…” seems to be the only female character (cued through stereotypical use of eyelashes and red lipstick), and a mustachioed snail ferries the mail to and fro. White-appearing Andy is seen playing with both animals as a visual background to the text, as is his friend Noah (a dark-skinned child who perhaps should not be nicknamed “N Man”). Cat lovers will appreciate Simon’s prickliness while dog aficionados will likely enjoy Baxter’s obtuse enthusiasm, and all readers will learn about the time and patience it takes to overcome conflict and jealousy with someone you dislike.

An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag. (Fiction. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4492-2

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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