COUGAR

Just as Nickel, his aunt Starla, and her husband, Joe, turn into the farm road that leads to Joe’s parents’ house, the boy is astonished to see a magnificent black horse dash in front of their car, narrowly avoiding being hit. Neither Starla nor Joe saw the horse, and it turns out that there is no longer a horse on the farm. Just before Joe came back, the barn burned down, and Joe’s horse, Cougar, died in the blaze. As the makeshift family settles in with the Clendaniels, Nickel learns more about the horse, and how it was jealous of Joe’s bike and once tried to nip at it. When Nickel is pursued by bullies at his new school, he chooses the ruined old barn as a hiding place; as he crouches, he feels a hunk of metal that is warm to his touch, while his pursuers complain of getting cut. Nickel has found, in the place where Cougar died, Joe’s old bike; he and Joe’s father, Pop, restore it. When the bully strikes again, the spirit of Cougar, inhabiting the bike, saves Nickel. It’s a strange tale, weakened by the supernatural element, yet horse lovers will find it comforting. In the satisfying ending, as Nickel becomes part of a loving family and comes to understand himself a little better, readers won’t fail to be moved. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 27, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16337-8

Page Count: 106

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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THE COOKIE-STORE CAT

There is an ineffable sweetness in Rylant’s work, which skirts the edge of sentimentality but rarely tumbles, saved by her simple artistry. This companion piece to The Bookshop Dog (1996) relates how the cookie-store cat was found, a tiny, skinny kitten, very early one day as the bakers came in to work. The cat gets morning kisses, when the bakers tell him that he is “sweeter than any cookie” and “prettier than marzipan.” Then he makes his rounds, out the screen door painted with “cherry drops and gingerbread men” to visit the fish-shop owner, the yarn lady, and the bookshop, where Martha Jane makes a cameo appearance. Back at the cookie store, the cat listens to Father Eugene, who eats his three Scotch chewies and tells about the new baby in the parish, and sits with the children and their bags of cookies. At Christmas he wears a bell and a red ribbon, and all the children get free Santa cookies. The cheerful illustrations are done in paint as thick as frosting; the flattened shapes and figures are a bit cookie-shaped themselves. A few recipes are included in this yummy, comforting book. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-590-54329-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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