Moving and emotionally charged, the book is capped with a powerful close-up of the child’s face on the rear cover with the...

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UNSPOKEN

A STORY FROM THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

A farm child and a fugitive make an unspoken connection in this suspenseful, wordless Civil War episode.

Drawn in monochrome pencil on rough-textured paper, the broad, full-page and full-spread rural scenes give the encounter a shadowy, atmospheric setting. Going about her chores after watching a detachment of mounted soldiers beneath a Confederate flag trot by, the child is startled and fearful to realize that someone is hiding in a pile of cornstalks in the storehouse. Rather than mention this to the (seemingly) oblivious adults in her extended family or, later, to the hunters who come by with a reward poster, she courageously ventures out by herself, carrying small gifts of food. Never seen beyond a glimpse of an eye amid the leaves, the fugitive at last departs as silently as he (or she) came—leaving a corn doll in return for the girl’s kindness. In a ruminative afterword, Cole reflects on his Virginia family’s own connections to the war and, though silent about the signal quilt he hangs on the farmyard’s fence in the illustrations, explains the significance of the Big Dipper visible in the nighttime sky.

Moving and emotionally charged, the book is capped with a powerful close-up of the child’s face on the rear cover with the legend “What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?” (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-39997-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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