SUMMER OF THE TREE ARMY

A CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS STORY

From the Tales of Young Americans series

A fictional look at the Civilian Conservation Corps.

One summer day in the early 1930s, Charlie discovers a set of mysterious buildings in the woods near his family’s northern Michigan home. Charlie’s father informs his son that these are barracks for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, then quickly disparages the group as lazy, stating that they only “eat three meals a day, sleep, and sit around.” Charlie seems unaffected by his father’s opinion and befriends Luke, a teen with the CCC, when he becomes lost in the woods. Charlie’s father changes his opinion when the men battle a forest fire, saving the woods. Stories about the CCC and their work are vanishingly few for this audience, but this effort is so superficial that readers won’t take much away from it. Although some of the CCC’s work is illustrated, more is only referenced by the text in passing. Charlie, Luke, and Charlie’s father—all White, but some Black CCC men are depicted—are but thinly developed and do little to explain the role of the Corps at the time or the impact of their work. Charlie’s father’s suspicion of the program, however, does echo uneasily in our times. A closing author’s note briefly expands on the importance of the Corps and discloses Whelan’s personal connection to it. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Disappointing. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: March 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-58536-385-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers.

THE CREATURE OF THE PINES

From the Unicorn Rescue Society series , Vol. 1

Elliot’s first day of school turns out to be more than he bargained for.

Elliot Eisner—skinny and pale with curly brown hair—is a bit nervous about being the new kid. Thankfully, he hits it off with fellow new student, “punk rock”–looking Uchenna Devereaux, a black girl with twists (though they actually look like dreads in Aly’s illustrations). On a first-day field trip to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the pair investigates a noise in the trees. The cause? A Jersey Devil: a blue-furred, red-bellied and -winged mythical creature that looks like “a tiny dragon” with cloven hooves, like a deer’s, on its hind feet. Unwittingly, the duo bonds with the creature by feeding it, and it later follows them back to the bus. Unsurprisingly, they lose the creature (which they alternately nickname Jersey and Bonechewer), which forces them to go to their intimidating, decidedly odd teacher, Peruvian Professor Fauna, for help in recovering it. The book closes with Professor Fauna revealing the truth—he heads a secret organization committed to protecting mythical creatures—and inviting the children to join, a neat setup for what is obviously intended to be a series. The predictable plot is geared to newly independent readers who are not yet ready for the usual heft of contemporary fantasies. A brief history lesson given by a mixed-race associate of Fauna’s in which she compares herself to the American “melting pot” manages to come across as simultaneously corrective and appropriative.

Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers. (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3170-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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A beautifully poignant celebration of memories of a loved one that live on in those that remain.

THE SOUR CHERRY TREE

With ample emotional subtext, a young girl recalls everyday details about her beloved grandfather the day after his death.

The child bites her mother’s toe to wake her up, wishing that she could have done the same for her baba bozorg, her beloved grandfather, who had forgotten to wake up the day before. She kisses a pancake that reminds her of her grandfather’s face. Her mother, who had been admonishing her for playing with her food, laughs and kisses the pancake’s forehead. Returning to Baba Bozorg’s home, the child sees minute remnants of her grandfather: a crumpled-up tissue, smudgy eyeglasses, and mint wrappers in his coat pockets. From these artifacts the narrator transitions to less tangible, but no less vivid, memories of playing together and looks of love that transcend language barriers. Deeply evocative, Hrab’s narrative captures a child’s understanding of loss with gentle subtlety, and gives space for processing those feelings. Kazemi’s chalk pastel art pairs perfectly with the text and title: Pink cherry hues, smoky grays, and hints of green plants appear throughout the book, concluding in an explosion of vivid green that brings a sense of renewal, joy, and remembrance to the heartfelt ending. Though the story is universally relevant, cultural cues and nods to Iranian culture will resonate strongly with readers of Iranian/Persian heritage. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A beautifully poignant celebration of memories of a loved one that live on in those that remain. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77147-414-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A bubble-gum crowd pleaser with wide audience appeal.

OLGA AND THE SMELLY THING FROM NOWHERE

From the Olga series , Vol. 1

A young girl who prefers science to people discovers an adorable and smelly little creature.

With an inquisitive mind and a dark teardrop-shaped swoop of hair, Olga may not have many friends, but she loves animals and thinks even their "farts are cute." She studies them and carefully transcribes her observations; she hopes someday to hang out with Jane Goodall. When she hears a scary rumble in her trash can, Olga discovers Meh, a pudgy, smelly creature that she describes as a "cross between an inflated hamster and a potato drawn by a three-year-old." Like any good scientist-in-training, she observes Meh, trying to discern his habits and his diet. When Meh goes missing, Olga must recruit actual people to help her find him—including two pop-star–obsessed girls she calls "The Lalas," a friendly boy with a tall scribble of hair and an incontinent dog, a punk-rock librarian, and a goofy but helpful shopkeeper. Gravel's tale is a visually interesting mix of illustration and story, punctuated by numerous lists, comic panels, and cartoon diagrams and led by a smart female protagonist. Covering everything from zoology to poop jokes, Gravel has painted her tale with a broad brush that should render this an easy sell to most young readers. The human characters all have paper-white skin, and there is no other cueing of racial difference.

A bubble-gum crowd pleaser with wide audience appeal. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 7-10)

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-235126-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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