THIRTEEN O’CLOCK

A film animator for James and the Giant Peach makes his children’s book debut with this entertaining, deliciously quirky chronicle of a “ring-rackety clock-oddity” that chimes at 13 o’clock and a small girl in a “fairly normal house” who “thought it all quite nice.” Suspense builds with each bing, clank and toll of the clock: “The next horrifying chime numbering 9 / led to a curious clatter numbering 10, / the tenth tone to a horrendous number 11! / And with each haunting cue there came another / more horticulturally hideous than the other.” Internal rhyme, alliteration and whimsical wordplay abound, making this poetic story a delight for wordsmiths and a rather hypnotic read-aloud for the younger set who may not yet revel in sentences such as “Is it a peculiar pendulum with a precarious pivot?” Stimson’s stylized pencil illustrations, mostly black-and-white but tinged with mildew-green, recall Lane Smith’s work and crawl and swirl with spriteful frights, pumpkin creep sisters and other spooky sorts. Innovative designs and varied font sizes add to the fun of this offbeat offering. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8118-4839-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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A Christmas cozy, read straight or bit by bit through the season.

HOW WINSTON DELIVERED CHRISTMAS

Neither snow nor rain nor mountains of yummy cheese stay the carrier of a letter to Santa.

So carelessly does 8-year-old Oliver stuff his very late letter to Santa into the mailbox that it falls out behind his back—leaving Winston, a “small, grubby white mouse” with an outsized heart, determined to deliver it personally though he has no idea where to go. Smith presents Winston’s Christmas Eve trek in 24 minichapters, each assigned a December “day” and all closing with both twists or cliffhangers and instructions (mostly verbal, unfortunately) for one or more holiday-themed recipes or craft projects. Though he veers occasionally into preciosity (Winston “tried to ignore the grumbling, rumbling noises coming from his tummy”), he also infuses his holiday tale with worthy values. Occasional snowy scenes have an Edwardian look appropriate to the general tone, with a white default in place but a few dark-skinned figures in view. Less-crafty children will struggle with the scantly illustrated projects, which run from paper snowflakes to clothespin dolls and Christmas crackers with or without “snaps,” but lyrics to chestnuts like “The 12 Days of Christmas” (and “Jingle Bells,” which is not a Christmas song, but never mind) at the end invite everyone to sing along.

A Christmas cozy, read straight or bit by bit through the season. (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68412-983-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Silver Dolphin

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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CHRISTMAS TAPESTRY

This longer Christmas story centers on an embroidered tapestry purchased to hang in a church for the Christmas Eve service. As with many of her works, Polacco (When Lightning Comes in a Jar, p. 665, etc.) sets her story in Michigan, this time in wintry Detroit. Young Jonathan resents his family’s recent move from Tennessee to where his minister father has been reassigned to renovate an old church and revive its congregation. Through a series of Dickensian trials and coincidences, the tapestry is purchased to cover some water damage to a church wall, and an elderly Jewish woman (and Holocaust survivor) whom the family has befriended recognizes the tapestry as the one she made in pre-WWII Germany for her wedding ceremony. In an ending worthy of O. Henry, the repairman who arrives on Christmas Eve to inspect the water damage turns out to be the woman’s long-lost husband (each thought the other had died in the Holocaust), and the devoted couple is reunited. Polacco succeeds as always with her watercolor-and-pencil illustrations in creating unique, expressive characters who seem to have real lives in their snowy city streets, cozy living rooms, and busy church. The gentle, reassuring message, suggested to Jonathan by his kindly father, is that “the universe unfolds as it should,” even when we don’t understand the pattern of the tapestry. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-399-23955-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2002

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