Hope, love, determination, and kindness abound.

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RACHEL'S ROSES

Rachel does not like having to be responsible for her little sister Hannah, who idolizes her and wants to be just like her.

Papa has a good job, and Bubbie takes in laundry. Her mother has quit her job in order to design and sew a dress for a client, hoping eventually to start her own business. Every penny counts. But Rachel wants new buttons on her old skirt to wear for Rosh Hashanah. Mama gives her a nickel and she has six pennies of her own, but the beautiful rose buttons she craves cost more. The button seller agrees to hold the buttons, along with some for Hannah, until Rosh Hashanah. Now Rachel must earn the money. The drugstore has the only telephone on the block, and when calls come in, she brings the intended recipients to the phone, sometimes getting a penny for her help. When Hannah gets lost trying to help her, Rachel learns the value of generosity, and a very happy holiday ensues. Wolff has constructed a sweet, nostalgic vignette of early-20th-century immigrant New York City, alluding to the difficulties but stressing the goodness. Rachel and her family, friends, and neighbors are not anachronisms or caricatures but are entirely accessible to modern readers. Lucas’ lovely black-and-white drawings, reminiscent of Helen John’s in Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family (1951), are perfectly in sync with the spirit of the text.

Hope, love, determination, and kindness abound. (Historical fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4365-9

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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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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