THE DANCING PANCAKE

Eleven-year-old Bindi copes with her parents’ separation and an unsettling move, supported by a gently colorful cast of characters. When Dad disappears to job-hunt far away, Bindi barely notices—until she learns that her parents have actually separated. Mom needs a job, and Aunt Darnell’s always dreamed of a restaurant, so The Dancing Pancake is born, open for breakfast and lunch only. Bindi and Mom move into the apartment upstairs. The diner’s populated by relatives (mother, good-natured aunt and uncle, energetic four-year-old cousin), a friendly teenage waitress and a wise, idealized homeless woman. Bindi’s free-verse narration makes for smooth, simple reading; Lew-Vriethoff’s line drawings add spirit. Bindi’s believable emotional aches exist in a fairly innocent world—where a six-year-old can roam a zoo alone, the most angry 11-year-olds might do “everything / from kicking pumpkins / to screaming ‘Banana poop!’ / in the principal’s office” and God and Sunday School teach Bindi an altruism that lessens her own melancholy. Choose readers who’ll enjoy, rather than envy, Bindi’s parents’ reunion at the end. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: May 11, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-375-85870-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

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KEVIN AND HIS DAD

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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A moving exploration of the places we come from and the people who shape us—not to be missed.

SOME PLACES MORE THAN OTHERS

On a birthday trip to New York City, a girl learns about her roots, Harlem, and how to stay true to herself.

Eleven-year-old sneakerhead Amara is struggling to feel seen and heard. A new baby sister is on the way, her mom still wants to put her in dresses, and that birthday trip from the Portland, Oregon, suburbs to New York City that she so desperately wants feels out of reach. When Amara gets a family-history assignment, she is finally able to convince her mom to say yes to the trip, since it will allow Amara to meet her dad’s side of the family in person. In addition to the school project, her mom gives Amara a secret mission: get her dad and grandpa to spend time alone together to repair old wounds. Harlem proves unlike any place Amara has ever been, and as she explores where her father grew up she experiences black history on every street. Watson is a master at character development, with New York City and especially Harlem playing central roles. Through her all-black cast she seamlessly explores issues of identity, self, and family acceptance. Although the ending feels rushed, with no resolution between Amara and her mom, Amara’s concluding poem is powerful.

A moving exploration of the places we come from and the people who shape us—not to be missed. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68119-108-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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