A touch of creative magic tempered by love and kindness. Welcome back, Saralee.



Saralee Siegel is ready for a new holiday challenge following her Rosh Hashanah adventure, Once Upon an Apple Cake (2019).

It is the harvest festival of Sukkot, and Zadie enlists Saralee’s help in developing a new recipe for the family restaurant, as Saralee has an amazing talent for discovering and identifying flavors. The sukkah, an outdoor roofless shelter covered in branches and leaves and decorated with the fragrant etrog, a citron, is ready to receive diners during the holiday week. Saralee sets out a pot of water, and, inspired by the view through the open roof of the sukkah, she sends her nose sniffing into space until she finds the splendid smell of starlight, a scent encompassing all her favorite foods. Magically, the pot simmers and begins to glow like starlight. When Saralee and her family sample it, they each taste their own favorite soup. Her Starlight Soup is a resounding success, with every diner enjoying a different taste. But then something goes terribly wrong. The tastes linger, grow stronger, and become overwhelming and painful to the tongue. She finds the cure with the help of her best friend, Harold Horowitz, and the famed pickled herring sold at his family’s rival restaurant. Saralee tells her own tale in lively, conversational language, seamlessly weaving in information about the holiday. Her large, multigenerational family is eccentric and loving, proudly celebrating their Jewish religious traditions. Naming conventions and descriptions of activities indicate that all the characters are also Jewish, with Naalchigar’s accompanying black-and-white cartoons depicting wide diversity in skin tones.

A touch of creative magic tempered by love and kindness. Welcome back, Saralee. (recipe) (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-68115-564-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Apples & Honey Press

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A plucky mouse finds her true home in this warm, winning tale.


From the Heartwood Hotel series , Vol. 1

An orphan mouse unexpectedly arrives at Heartwood Hotel, which she hopes will become the home she’s seeking.

Mona’s never had a home for long. After a storm forces her to flee her latest forest shelter, she discovers an enormous tree with a heart carved into its trunk. When Mona presses the heart, a door opens, and she enters the lobby of Heartwood Hotel, where small forest critters hibernate, eat, and celebrate in safety. The kindhearted badger proprietor, Mr. Heartwood, takes pity on homeless Mona, allowing her to stay for the fall to assist the maid, Tilly, a red squirrel. Grateful to be at Heartwood, Mona strives to prove herself despite Tilly’s unfriendly attitude. Mona’s clever approaches with a wounded songbird, an anxious skunk, and a wayward bear win Mr. Heartwood’s approval. But when Mona accidentally breaks a rule, Tilly convinces her she will be fired. As Mona secretly leaves Heartwood, she discovers marauding wolves planning to crash Heartwood’s Snow Festival and devises a daring plan to save the place she regards as home. Charming anthropomorphic characters, humorous mishaps, and outside threats add to the drama. Delicate pencil illustrations reinforce Heartwood’s cozy home theme. A sequel, The Greatest Gift, publishes simultaneously.

A plucky mouse finds her true home in this warm, winning tale. (Animal fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4847-3161-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.


Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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