Appealing and thought-provoking, with an ending that suggests endless possibilities.

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THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH

What would it be like if your grandfather turned up in your house as a 13-year-old boy?

For sixth-grader Ellie, this leads to a recognition of the importance of the cycle of life and the discovery of her own passion for science. After her scientist grandfather finds a way to regain his youth, he’s denied access to his lab and must come to live with Ellie and her mother. Although he looks young, his intellect and attitudes haven’t changed. He still tells Ellie’s mother what to wear and when to come home, and he loathes middle school even more than Ellie does. There’s plenty of opportunity for humor in this fish-out-of-water story and also a lesson on the perils as well as the pluses of scientific discovery. Divorced parents, a goth friend and a longed-for cellphone birthday present are among the familiar details setting this story firmly in the present day, like Holm’s Year Told Through Stuff series, rather than in the past, like her three Newbery Honor–winning historical novels. The author demonstrates understanding of and sympathy for the awkwardness of those middle school years. But she also gets in a plug for the excitement of science, following it up with an author’s note and suggestions for further exploration, mostly on the Web.

Appealing and thought-provoking, with an ending that suggests endless possibilities. (Science fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-87064-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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An extraordinary and timely piece of writing.

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HARBOR ME

Just before she begins seventh grade, Haley tells the story of the previous school year, when she and five other students from an experimental classroom were brought together.

Each has been bullied or teased about their difficulties in school, and several face real challenges at home. Haley is biracial and cared for by her white uncle due to the death of her African-American mother and her white father’s incarceration. Esteban, of Dominican heritage, is coping with his father’s detention by ICE and the possible fracturing of his family. It is also a time when Amari learns from his dad that he can no longer play with toy guns because he is a boy of color. This reveals the divide between them and their white classmate, Ashton. “It’s not fair that you’re a boy and Ashton’s a boy and he can do something you can’t do anymore. That’s not freedom,” Haley says. They support one another, something Haley needs as she prepares for her father’s return from prison and her uncle’s decision to move away. Woodson delivers a powerful tale of community and mutual growth. The bond they develop is palpable. Haley’s recorder is both an important plot element and a metaphor for the power of voice and story. The characters ring true as they discuss issues both personal and global. This story, told with exquisite language and clarity of narrative, is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

An extraordinary and timely piece of writing. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25252-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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