In 1914, Johnny Briggs’s father marches off to WWI with the promise that he will be home by Christmas. When his mother joins the war effort as a factory worker, Johnny is sent to live with his maiden aunt: a good woman, but practical and humorless. Johnny’s father, a toymaker, sends him frequent letters from the trenches, each accompanied by a hand-carved soldier to populate his toy army. But the letters and the wooden figures gradually alter . . . from humorous, to sad, to grotesque. Johnny fears that the small figures mirror his father’s own nightmarish transformation in the trenches and that his own innocent game of toy soldiers can have actual effects on events in France. Subplots involving Johnny’s vandalism of the rose garden of a respected teacher, and a deserter who is too ashamed to face his own father add further emotional weight and complexity to Johnny’s situation as the horrors of an adult world at war penetrate his childhood innocence. The well-realized English village setting during the fall and winter of 1912 is bleak, and the backyard in which Johnny ranges his toy soldiers is as muddy as the frontline. Johnny’s studies of the Iliad may be beyond some young readers. However, they will understand the stated parallels of a world in which war is a game for the gods (much as his game with his soldiers) and a world in which wars may pause but never stop (as in the well-documented 1914 Christmas truce). Thoroughness of research is indicated in a detailed author’s note. A minor false note is that Johnny, a bright 11-year-old, needs to have his father’s letters read to him, but that can be forgiven in an otherwise original piece of historical fiction in which big themes are hauntingly conveyed through gripping personal story and eerie symbolism. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-72924-3

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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A child finds that being alone in a tiny tropical paradise has its ups and downs in this appealingly offbeat tale from the Australian author of Peeling the Onion (1999). Though her mother is long dead and her scientist father Jack has just sailed off on a quick expedition to gather plankton, Nim is anything but lonely on her small island home. Not only does she have constant companions in Selkie, a sea lion, and a marine iguana named Fred, but Chica, a green turtle, has just arrived for an annual egg-laying—and, through the solar-powered laptop, she has even made a new e-mail friend in famed adventure novelist Alex Rover. Then a string of mishaps darkens Nim’s sunny skies: her father loses rudder and dish antenna in a storm; a tourist ship that was involved in her mother’s death appears off the island’s reefs; and, running down a volcanic slope, Nim takes a nasty spill that leaves her feverish, with an infected knee. Though she lives halfway around the world and is in reality a decidedly unadventurous urbanite, Alex, short for “Alexandra,” sets off to the rescue, arriving in the midst of another storm that requires Nim and companions to rescue her. Once Jack brings his battered boat limping home, the stage is set for sunny days again. Plenty of comic, freely-sketched line drawings help to keep the tone light, and Nim, with her unusual associates and just-right mix of self-reliance and vulnerability, makes a character young readers won’t soon tire of. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-81123-0

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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The inevitable go-to for Percy’s legions of fans who want the stories behind his stories.


Percy Jackson takes a break from adventuring to serve up the Greek gods like flapjacks at a church breakfast.

Percy is on form as he debriefs readers concerning Chaos, Gaea, Ouranos and Pontus, Dionysus, Ariadne and Persephone, all in his dude’s patter: “He’d forgotten how beautiful Gaea could be when she wasn’t all yelling up in his face.” Here they are, all 12 Olympians, plus many various offspring and associates: the gold standard of dysfunctional families, whom Percy plays like a lute, sometimes lyrically, sometimes with a more sardonic air. Percy’s gift, which is no great secret, is to breathe new life into the gods. Closest attention is paid to the Olympians, but Riordan has a sure touch when it comes to fitting much into a small space—as does Rocco’s artwork, which smokes and writhes on the page as if hit by lightning—so readers will also meet Makaria, “goddess of blessed peaceful deaths,” and the Theban Teiresias, who accidentally sees Athena bathing. She blinds him but also gives him the ability to understand the language of birds. The atmosphere crackles and then dissolves, again and again: “He could even send the Furies after living people if they committed a truly horrific crime—like killing a family member, desecrating a temple, or singing Journey songs on karaoke night.”

The inevitable go-to for Percy’s legions of fans who want the stories behind his stories. (Mythology. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-8364-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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