HANK ZIPZER: NIAGARA FALLS, OR DOES IT?

A clunky but well-meant series kickoff featuring, as the subtitle has it, “The World’s Best Underachiever.” Already in hot water for being tardy on his first day, Hank digs himself a deeper hole by presenting his “summer vacation” report not as a written essay (writing being torture for him), but a model of Niagara Falls—which proceeds to flood the classroom. He gets zero slack from teacher, Principal, or even his parents—until the music teacher with whom he spends his lengthy detention suggests that he be tested for “learning differences.” Aha! Strongly assured that doesn’t mean he’s stupid, Hank shows his creative flair again at the end, by helping his multiethnic circle of friends put on a magic show for seniors. Thoroughly typecast characters, plus Hank’s tendency to overexplain, make the earnestness outshine the plot. There’s no actual note to parents, but there might as well be, as this is plainly meant to be a consciousness-raiser about learning disabilities for both children and adults. The celebrity co-author may draw some of the former. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-448-43232-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay.

HOW TÍA LOLA CAME TO (VISIT) STAY

From the Tía Lola Stories series , Vol. 1

Renowned Latin American writer Alvarez has created another story about cultural identity, but this time the primary character is 11-year-old Miguel Guzmán. 

When Tía Lola arrives to help the family, Miguel and his hermana, Juanita, have just moved from New York City to Vermont with their recently divorced mother. The last thing Miguel wants, as he's trying to fit into a predominantly white community, is a flamboyant aunt who doesn't speak a word of English. Tía Lola, however, knows a language that defies words; she quickly charms and befriends all the neighbors. She can also cook exotic food, dance (anywhere, anytime), plan fun parties, and tell enchanting stories. Eventually, Tía Lola and the children swap English and Spanish ejercicios, but the true lesson is "mutual understanding." Peppered with Spanish words and phrases, Alvarez makes the reader as much a part of the "language" lessons as the characters. This story seamlessly weaves two culturaswhile letting each remain intact, just as Miguel is learning to do with his own life. Like all good stories, this one incorporates a lesson just subtle enough that readers will forget they're being taught, but in the end will understand themselves, and others, a little better, regardless of la lengua nativa—the mother tongue.

Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-80215-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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THE YEAR OF MISS AGNES

In 1948 the unorthodox Miss Agnes arrives to teach the children of an Athabascan Indian Village in remote Alaska. Ten-year-old Fred (Fredrika) matter-of-factly narrates this story of how a teacher transformed the school. Miss Agnes’s one-room schoolhouse is a progressive classroom, where the old textbooks are stored away first thing upon her arrival. The children learn to read using handmade books that are about their own village and lives: winter trapping camps, tanning moose hides, fishing, and curing the catch, etc. Math is a lesson on how not to get cheated when selling animal pelts. These young geographers learn about the world on a huge map that covers one whole schoolhouse wall. Fred is pitch-perfect in her observations of the village residents. “Little Pete made a picture of his dad’s trapline cabin . . . He was proud of that picture, I could tell, because he kept making fun of it.” Hill (Winter Camp, 1993, etc.) creates a community of realistically unique adults and children that is rich in the detail of their daily lives. Big Pete is as small and scrappy, as his son Little Pete is huge, gentle, and kind. Fred’s 12-year-old deaf sister, Bokko, has her father’s smile and has never gone to school until Miss Agnes. Charlie-Boy is so physically adept at age 6 that he is the best runner, thrower, and catcher of all the children. These are just a few of the residents in this rural community. The school year is not without tension. Will Bokko continue in school? Will Mama stay angry with Miss Agnes? And most important, who will be their teacher after Miss Agnes leaves? A quiet, yet satisfying account. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-82933-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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