Bella Bella

From the Aaron's Wilderness series

An impressive sequel about an aquatic journey that stands on its own while building on the first trip.

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London (Foggy Goes to the Library, 2015, etc.) resumes the middle-grade adventures of his boating enthusiasts, this time along the Pacific Northwest coast.

Last year in Desolation Canyon, three Desert Storm veterans brought their teenage children together for a rafting trip down the Green River in Utah. Now 13-year-old Aaron and his dad rejoin Roger (and his 13-year-old daughter, Lisa) and Willie (who brings his 17-year-old son, Cassidy). They embark from the First Nations village of Bella Bella on a 10-day trip around Queen’s Sound, along the coast of British Columbia, in sea kayaks. Aaron is thrilled to see Lisa, on whom he has a crush. He’s less happy encountering Cassidy, since the former juvenile delinquent enjoys roughhousing with him and flirting with Lisa. Over 10 days, the group hopes to explore the coast’s many islands, see wildlife, and learn about First Nations tribes, like the Heiltsuk. It becomes quite a different trip when they hear gunshots one morning from a ship named the Sea Wolf. The Chinese fishermen are gathering geoduck clams, occasionally firing their guns to scare sea lions from the catch. After speaking with Wong, the diver, the group begins paddling away—and hears a thump and a cry within the Sea Wolf’s hull. Later, Aaron overhears the adults telling Cassidy that the ship may be transporting illegal immigrants from China to Vancouver. In this novel, London once again delivers an infectious blend of action, science, and tween romance to readers of all ages. The author’s son, Sean, also returns with gorgeous illustrations accompanying the narrative’s truly magical moments, like when orcas “swam right between our kayaks, their dorsal fins slicing the surface!” Aaron’s growing pains are visible not only regarding his crush on Lisa, but also whenever his father applauds Cassidy (Aaron thinks: “It was like a needle stuck in my skin hearing my dad praise him like that”). After presenting various opinions, the book addresses the central conflict of poor refugees seeking better lives thoroughly and compassionately. Aaron endears himself to audiences, not by being an awkward kid but a blossoming young man.

An impressive sequel about an aquatic journey that stands on its own while building on the first trip.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-943328-33-8

Page Count: 180

Publisher: WestWinds Press

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016


Sadly, the storytelling runs aground.

A little red sleigh has big Christmas dreams.

Although the detailed, full-color art doesn’t anthropomorphize the protagonist (which readers will likely identify as a sled and not a sleigh), a close third-person text affords the object thoughts and feelings while assigning feminine pronouns. “She longed to become Santa’s big red sleigh,” reads an early line establishing the sleigh’s motivation to leave her Christmas-shop home for the North Pole. Other toys discourage her, but she perseveres despite creeping self-doubt. A train and truck help the sleigh along, and when she wishes she were big, fast, and powerful like them, they offer encouragement and counsel patience. When a storm descends after the sleigh strikes out on her own, an unnamed girl playing in the snow brings her to a group of children who all take turns riding the sleigh down a hill. When the girl brings her home, the sleigh is crestfallen she didn’t reach the North Pole. A convoluted happily-ever-after ending shows a note from Santa that thanks the sleigh for giving children joy and invites her to the North Pole next year. “At last she understood what she was meant to do. She would build her life up spreading joy, one child at a time.” Will she leave the girl’s house to be gifted to other children? Will she stay and somehow also reach ever more children? Readers will be left wondering. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 31.8% of actual size.)

Sadly, the storytelling runs aground. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-72822-355-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Sourcebooks Wonderland

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020


A joyful celebration.

Families in a variety of configurations play, dance, and celebrate together.

The rhymed verse, based on a song from the Noodle Loaf children’s podcast, declares that “Families belong / Together like a puzzle / Different-sized people / One big snuggle.” The accompanying image shows an interracial couple of caregivers (one with brown skin and one pale) cuddling with a pajama-clad toddler with light brown skin and surrounded by two cats and a dog. Subsequent pages show a wide array of families with members of many different racial presentations engaging in bike and bus rides, indoor dance parties, and more. In some, readers see only one caregiver: a father or a grandparent, perhaps. One same-sex couple with two children in tow are expecting another child. Smart’s illustrations are playful and expressive, curating the most joyful moments of family life. The verse, punctuated by the word together, frequently set in oversized font, is gently inclusive at its best but may trip up readers with its irregular rhythms. The song that inspired the book can be found on the Noodle Loaf website.

A joyful celebration. (Board book. 1-3)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-22276-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Rise x Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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