ANNABEL THE ACTRESS

STARRING IN HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES

Cute and lightly amusing though not as funny as its predecessor (Starring in Just a Little Extra, 2000, etc.), this time Annabel, Conford’s can-do budding actress heroine, is offered a part in an interactive mystery play. Annabel, who lives by the motto “no part too big or too small,” is thrilled at the opportunity, but when she arrives at her first rehearsal, isn’t happy to discover that she’ll be sharing the stage with Binky, a gigantic dog who drools by the bucketful. Ever game, Annabel comforts herself with the notion that her favorite star, Winona McCall, had to deal with wild rhinoceroses and leopards in her last movie, while she just has “to work with a huge dog the size of a Jeep.” Aptly illustrated by Andriani’s droll black-and-white drawings, the humor in this series is fueled by Annabel’s comic obsession to perform no matter what obstacles are thrown her way. And Conford piles them on, having her young heroine cope not only with Binky, but a ridiculous bunny costume and finally, on the night of the performance, heckling from her hateful classmate Lowell Boxer. But Annabel, who is intelligent and resourceful, proves to be a “real trooper,” and her quick thinking saves the day. Particularly good is that Annabel’s idea is both credible and childlike, the kind of save that an actual kid could come up with. Sadly, despite the fact that the Conford’s production is smooth and professional, it’s also rather hollow, technically on point but lacking her special brand of energized sparkle. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-84734-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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Sweetly low-key and totally accessible.

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THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER

Billy Miller’s second-grade year is quietly spectacular in a wonderfully ordinary way.

Billy’s year begins with his worry over the lump on his head, a souvenir of a dramatic summer fall onto concrete: Will he be up to the challenges his new teacher promises in her letter to students? Quickly overshadowing that worry, however, is a diplomatic crisis over whether he has somehow offended Ms. Silver on the first day of school. Four sections—Teacher, Father, Sister and Mother—offer different and essential focal points for Billy’s life, allowing both him and readers to explore several varieties of creative endeavor, small adventures, and, especially, both challenges and successful problem-solving. The wonderfully self-possessed Sal, his 3-year-old sister, is to Billy much as Ramona is to Beezus, but without the same level of tension. Her pillowcase full of the plush yellow whales she calls the Drop Sisters (Raindrop, Gumdrop, etc.) is a memorable prop. Henkes offers what he so often does in these longer works for children: a sense that experiences don’t have to be extraordinary to be important and dramatic. Billy’s slightly dreamy interior life isn’t filled with either angst or boisterous silliness—rather, the moments that appear in these stories are clarifying bits of the universal larger puzzle of growing up, changing and understanding the world. Small, precise black-and-white drawings punctuate and decorate the pages.

Sweetly low-key and totally accessible. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-226812-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Young readers will recognize Suds as one of their own and will gladly follow him to fourth grade. Sweet and funny.

THIRD GRADE ANGELS

Suds Morton is not yet a “Fourth Grade Rat.” In this prequel to Spinelli's 1991 standby, he is a year younger and, according to his school’s traditional chant, he aspires to the sobriquet of “Third Grade Angel.”

When his teacher announces her intention of rewarding angelic behavior with a halo, Suds decides he wants to be the first angel. Between his cool new friend Joey, his wise mom and a little conclusion-jumping, he comes up with a plan. But, of course, his results are just a little off-kilter. Suds, nicknamed for his preference for calming soaks in bubble baths when he gets “chipmunky,” needs all the help he can get to deal with the various disasters and tribulations that threaten to overwhelm him. Along with the angel chase there’s a pesky little sister, a fifth-grade bully and total rejection by the girl he adores. Spinelli doesn’t miss a beat in recreating the characters from the earlier work and never reveals any hint of Suds’ fourth-grade future. He lets readers into Suds’ 8-year-old mind without condescension. His problems and concerns are treated comically but with genuine kindness. Suds is innocent, gullible and trusting; he is also entirely good-hearted.

Young readers will recognize Suds as one of their own and will gladly follow him to fourth grade. Sweet and funny. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-38772-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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