A disappointing outing with a lauded author.

READ REVIEW

RIDING LESSONS

From the Ellen and Ned series , Vol. 1

A young rider named Ellen Leinsdorf takes the reins in this first part of a trilogy set in the same California town as Smiley’s series aimed at slightly older readers, the Horses of Oak Valley Ranch.

Ellen, who is depicted as white on the book’s cover (there seem to be no people of color in the book), takes riding lessons every week from teenager Abby Lovitt, sometimes at the stable in the unnamed coastal town where she lives and sometimes at Abby’s family’s ranch farther inland. Ned, a recently retired racehorse, comes to live at Abby’s farm, and Ellen realizes she can talk to him—in person and also sometimes from her bedroom. Ellen also discovers both that her parents are about to adopt a baby girl and that she herself is adopted. Ellen’s age—9—isn’t revealed until about halfway through, and before that readers might think she’s older; her voice feels more an adult’s version of a child’s voice than authentically childlike. Her chattiness and distractibility are told about instead of shown, and when Ellen’s teacher asks her to focus more in class and follow directions, she instantly becomes a model student. Ellen’s third-person narration is stuffed with detail but features little insight or action. Readers who don’t already know Abby Lovitt will not realize the story is set in the 1960s but might wonder at some of the seemingly anachronistic family structures.

A disappointing outing with a lauded author. (Historical fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1811-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet! (Fiction. 8-10)

WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE

Ryan Hart is navigating the fourth grade and all its challenges with determination.

Her mom named her Ryan because it means “king,” and she wanted Ryan to feel powerful every time she heard her name; Ryan knows it means she is a leader. So when changes occur or disaster strikes, budding chef Ryan does her best to find the positive and “make sunshine.” When her dad is laid off from the post office, the family must make adjustments that include moving into a smaller house, selling their car, and changing how they shop for groceries. But Ryan gets to stay at Vernon Elementary, and her mom still finds a way to get her the ingredients she needs to practice new recipes. Her older brother, Ray, can be bossy, but he finds little ways to support her, especially when she is down—as does the whole family. Each episodic chapter confronts Ryan with a situation; intermittently funny, frustrating, and touching, they should be familiar and accessible to readers, as when Ryan fumbles her Easter speech despite careful practice. Ryan, her family, and friends are black, and Watson continues to bring visibility to both Portland, Oregon, generally and its black community specifically, making another wonderful contribution that allows black readers to see themselves and all readers to find a character they can love.

Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet! (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0056-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Readers will enjoy this sequel from a plot perspective and will learn how to play-act a trial, though they may not engage...

THE LEMONADE CRIME

From the Lemonade War series , Vol. 2

This sequel to The Lemonade War (2007), picking up just a few days later, focuses on how the fourth graders take justice into their own hands after learning that the main suspect in the case of the missing lemonade-stand money now owns the latest in game-box technology.

Siblings Evan and Jessie (who skipped third grade because of her precocity) are sure Scott Spencer stole the $208 from Evan’s shorts and want revenge, especially as Scott’s new toy makes him the most popular kid in class, despite his personal shortcomings. Jessie’s solution is to orchestrate a full-blown trial by jury after school, while Evan prefers to challenge Scott in basketball. Neither channel proves satisfactory for the two protagonists (whose rational and emotional reactions are followed throughout the third-person narrative), though, ultimately, the matter is resolved. Set during the week of Yom Kippur, the story raises beginning questions of fairness, integrity, sin and atonement. Like John Grisham's Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer (2010), much of the book is taken up with introducing courtroom proceedings for a fourth-grade level of understanding. Chapter headings provide definitions  (“due diligence,” “circumstantial evidence,” etc.) and explanation cards/documents drawn by Jessie are interspersed.

Readers will enjoy this sequel from a plot perspective and will learn how to play-act a trial, though they may not engage with the characters enough to care about how the justice actually pans out. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: May 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-27967-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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