An orphaned girl creates, with friends, a remarkable shelter that allows them to dream of a permanent home. Maddie has resigned herself to life in the East Tennessee Children’s Home, figuring that “there wasn’t much chance anyone was going to adopt an 11-year-old girl as plain-Jane as me.” She keeps her hopes up by cutting out photographs of houses and pasting them in her Book of Houses in anticipation of a house of her own. When the charismatic, opinionated, and secretive Murphy arrives at the Home, Maddie determines to be her friend. In short order, their group expands to include Donita and Ricky Ray, two other children from the Home, and Logan, the lonely and misfit son of a local judge; together they decide to build a fort in Logan’s backyard. With a fair degree of help and luck, they build a solid little fort, within which they dream and tell stories of their homes and families, past, imagined, and hoped-for. Dowell (Dovey Coe, 2000) has created a tremendously appealing heroine and a parcel of equally agreeable secondary characters. Their stories, individual and collective, are poignantly told without ever becoming maudlin, and the way these lonely children come together to make their own home and family is truly lovely. When Murphy’s yearning for a place outside of their little society causes a jealous Maddie to threaten it altogether, readers will find themselves hoping as hard as Maddie that it will all come right in the end. The talky, pie-in-the-sky resolution mars the tightness of the narrative that precedes it, but taken as a whole, this is a lovely, quietly bittersweet tale of friendship and family. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-689-84420-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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Ultimately adds little to conversations about race.


A popular YouTube series on race, “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man,” turns how-to manual and history lesson for young readers.

Acho is a former NFL player and second-generation Nigerian American who cites his upbringing in predominantly White spaces as well as his tenure on largely Black football teams as qualifications for facilitating the titular conversations about anti-Black racism. The broad range of subjects covered here includes implicit bias, cultural appropriation, and systemic racism. Each chapter features brief overviews of American history, personal anecdotes of Acho’s struggles with his own anti-Black biases, and sections titled “Let’s Get Uncomfortable.” The book’s centering of Whiteness and White readers seems to show up, to the detriment of its subject matter, both in Acho’s accounts of his upbringing and his thought processes regarding race. The overall tone unfortunately conveys a sense of expecting little from a younger generation who may have a greater awareness than he did at the same age and who, therefore, may already be uncomfortable with racial injustice itself. The attempt at an avuncular tone disappointingly reads as condescending, revealing that, despite his online success with adults, the author is ill-equipped to be writing for middle-grade readers. Chapters dedicated to explaining to White readers why they shouldn’t use the N-word and how valuable White allyship is may make readers of color (and many White readers) bristle with indignation and discomfort despite Acho’s positive intentions.

Ultimately adds little to conversations about race. (glossary, FAQ, recommended reading, references) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-80106-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2021

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A fantastic, heartbreaking crescendo that echoes beyond the final page.


From the Willa of the Wood series , Vol. 2

A young Faeran girl puts everything on the line to save her home and the family she loves.

Emerging from the charred ruins of the Faeran forest lair, 13-year-old green-skinned, brown-haired Willa has formed a new family with humans who care about the Great Smoky Mountain as much as she does. Unfortunately, the Sutton Lumber Company has plans to clear the forest for railroad tracks. Her White adoptive father, Nathaniel, has become a leading voice against the destruction, making him a target. After he is arrested on suspicion of murdering loggers, Willa asks for help from her Faeran clan, but they blame her for the death of their leader and subsequent loss of their old home. Even the forest itself has grown hostile as strange, deathly cold creatures attack. Adelaide, a new blond, blue-eyed friend, and Hialeah, Nathaniel’s White and Cherokee daughter, join Willa in protecting the forest, clearing Nathaniel’s name, saving the Faeran, and unraveling the mystery of the malicious beasts. This duology closer is a captivating, stirring tale of family, friendship, the environment, and our place in the world. At every turn, Willa is faced with higher stakes and decisions that are even harder to make; the consequences of each choice weigh on her heart. The gorgeous prose and imagery of the mountains will inspire in readers a deep admiration for nature and support for Willa’s fight.

A fantastic, heartbreaking crescendo that echoes beyond the final page. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-368-00760-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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