WILDFIRE!

Ten-year-old Ben learns a lesson about loyalty, obedience, and jealousy. Ben’s parents died in a car crash six years earlier and his great-grandmother insisted that Ben move in with her and Ben’s grandparents, stating firmly, “He’s our boy.” These three words have kept Ben on the straight and narrow, helping whenever he can and being a good, good boy. Ben likes his life, but begins to doubt himself when Elliot, the city boy, arrives and seems to have something negative to say about every detail of rural life. Sophisticated and worldly wise, Elliot has some of the material things that Ben lacks, even gets a dog put up for adoption. When wildfires move through the state one July, fireworks are forbidden. But Elliot goads Ben into shooting off just a couple, with a disastrous result. Though the depiction of the grandparents is warm and loving, the story is predictable and the rest of the secondary characters are wooden. This tale fails to ignite any sparks for the reader. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2004

ISBN: 0-374-31712-7

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2004

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A fitting farewell, still funny, acute, and positive in its view of human nature even in its 37th episode.

HORRIBLE HARRY SAYS GOODBYE

From the Horrible Harry series , Vol. 37

A long-running series reaches its closing chapters.

Having, as Kline notes in her warm valedictory acknowledgements, taken 30 years to get through second and third grade, Harry Spooger is overdue to move on—but not just into fourth grade, it turns out, as his family is moving to another town as soon as the school year ends. The news leaves his best friend, narrator “Dougo,” devastated…particularly as Harry doesn’t seem all that fussed about it. With series fans in mind, the author takes Harry through a sort of last-day-of-school farewell tour. From his desk he pulls a burned hot dog and other items that featured in past episodes, says goodbye to Song Lee and other classmates, and even (for the first time ever) leads Doug and readers into his house and memento-strewn room for further reminiscing. Of course, Harry isn’t as blasé about the move as he pretends, and eyes aren’t exactly dry when he departs. But hardly is he out of sight before Doug is meeting Mohammad, a new neighbor from Syria who (along with further diversifying a cast that began as mostly white but has become increasingly multiethnic over the years) will also be starting fourth grade at summer’s end, and planning a written account of his “horrible” buddy’s exploits. Finished illustrations not seen.

A fitting farewell, still funny, acute, and positive in its view of human nature even in its 37th episode. (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-47963-1

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

INFINITE COUNTRY

A 15-year-old girl in Colombia, doing time in a remote detention center, orchestrates a jail break and tries to get home.

"People say drugs and alcohol are the greatest and most persuasive narcotics—the elements most likely to ruin a life. They're wrong. It's love." As the U.S. recovers from the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, from the misery of separations on the border, from both the idea and the reality of a wall around the United States, Engel's vital story of a divided Colombian family is a book we need to read. Weaving Andean myth and natural symbolism into her narrative—condors signify mating for life, jaguars revenge; the embattled Colombians are "a singed species of birds without feathers who can still fly"; children born in one country and raised in another are "repotted flowers, creatures forced to live in the wrong habitat"—she follows Talia, the youngest child, on a complex journey. Having committed a violent crime not long before she was scheduled to leave her father in Bogotá to join her mother and siblings in New Jersey, she winds up in a horrible Catholic juvie from which she must escape in order to make her plane. Hence the book's wonderful first sentence: "It was her idea to tie up the nun." Talia's cross-country journey is interwoven with the story of her parents' early romance, their migration to the United States, her father's deportation, her grandmother's death, the struggle to reunite. In the latter third of the book, surprising narrative shifts are made to include the voices of Talia's siblings, raised in the U.S. This provides interesting new perspectives, but it is a little awkward to break the fourth wall so late in the book. Attention, TV and movie people: This story is made for the screen.

The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982159-46-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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Deliberately inspirational and tinged with nostalgia, this will please fans but may strike others as overly idealistic.

STICKS AND STONES

Veteran picture-book creator Polacco tells another story from her childhood that celebrates the importance of staying true to one’s own interests and values.

After years of spending summers with her father and grandmother, narrator Trisha is excited to be spending the school year in Michigan with them. Unexpectedly abandoned by her summertime friends, Trisha quickly connects with fellow outsiders Thom and Ravanne, who may be familiar to readers from Polacco’s The Junkyard Wonders (2010). Throughout the school year, the three enjoy activities together and do their best to avoid school bully Billy. While a physical confrontation between Thom (aka “Sissy Boy”) and Billy does come, so does an opportunity for Thom to defy convention and share his talent with the community. Loosely sketched watercolor illustrations place the story in the middle of the last century, with somewhat old-fashioned clothing and an apparently all-White community. Trisha and her classmates appear to be what today would be called middle schoolers; a reference to something Trisha and her mom did when she was “only eight” suggests that several years have passed since that time. As usual, the lengthy first-person narrative is cozily conversational but includes some challenging vocabulary (textiles, lackeys, foretold). The author’s note provides a brief update about her friends’ careers and encourages readers to embrace their own differences. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Deliberately inspirational and tinged with nostalgia, this will please fans but may strike others as overly idealistic. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2622-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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