Appealing as a story of school and friendship as well as family.

BIG & LITTLE QUESTIONS

Wren’s school year is off to a rocky start after a summer turned upside down by her parents’ divorce.

Nine-year-old Wren, who is white, as are her parents and most of her friends, doesn’t know quite how to explain her summerlong silence to her best friend, Amber. The gap between them seems to widen when it appears that newcomer Marianna has supplanted Wren for Amber. A transplant to this small Wisconsin town from Seattle, Marianna has an enviable self-assurance and panache, along with an off-putting swagger. Meanwhile Wren is busy trying to hide her situation and make sense of her new schedule, with weekdays at Mom’s and weekends at Dad’s small cabin across the lake. She uses her phone’s dictionary both to define and frame her questions about divorce and family changes. Bowe’s first-person voice for Wren is quietly contemplative, frustrated, and confused by the disruption in her family but also determined to sort out how things will work. It’s a realistic young voice nicely free from snarky irony, and it’s focused on the arts of questioning and paying attention to the answers. Marianna has secrets of her own, and the growing bond between the girls is restorative for each of them as well as for Wren’s friendship with Amber.

Appealing as a story of school and friendship as well as family. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3693-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Kathy Dawson/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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Warmhearted cross-cultural friendship for a refugee on distant shores: both necessary and kind.

LETTERS FROM CUBA

In 1938, a Jewish refugee from Poland joins her father in small-town Cuba.

After three years abroad, Papa’s saved only enough money to send for one of his children. Thus Esther boards the steamship alone even though she’s not quite 12. Cuba is a constant surprise: Her father’s an itinerant peddler and not a shopkeeper; they live as the only Jews in a tiny village; and she’s allowed to wear sandals and go bare-legged in the heat. But the island is also a constant joy. Nearly everyone Esther meets is generous beyond their means. She adores her new trade as a dressmaker, selling her creations in Havana to earn money to bring over the rest of the family. In glowing letters to her sister back in Poland, Esther details how she’s learning Spanish through the poems of José Martí. She introduces her sister to her beloved new friends: a White doctor’s wife and her vegetarian, atheist husband; a Black, Santería-following granddaughter of an ex-slave; a Chinese Cuban shopkeeper’s nephew. Esther’s first year in Cuba is marked by the calendar of Jewish holidays, as she wonders if she can be both Cuban and a Jew. As the coming war looms in Europe, she and her friends find solidarity, standing together against local Nazis and strike breakers. An author’s note describes how the story was loosely inspired by the author’s own family history.

Warmhearted cross-cultural friendship for a refugee on distant shores: both necessary and kind. (bibliography) (Historical fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-51647-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to...

ESCAPE FROM BAXTERS' BARN

A group of talking farm animals catches wind of the farm owner’s intention to burn the barn (with them in it) for insurance money and hatches a plan to flee.

Bond begins briskly—within the first 10 pages, barn cat Burdock has overheard Dewey Baxter’s nefarious plan, and by Page 17, all of the farm animals have been introduced and Burdock is sharing the terrifying news. Grady, Dewey’s (ever-so-slightly) more principled brother, refuses to go along, but instead of standing his ground, he simply disappears. This leaves the animals to fend for themselves. They do so by relying on their individual strengths and one another. Their talents and personalities match their species, bringing an element of realism to balance the fantasy elements. However, nothing can truly compensate for the bland horror of the premise. Not the growing sense of family among the animals, the serendipitous intervention of an unknown inhabitant of the barn, nor the convenient discovery of an alternate home. Meanwhile, Bond’s black-and-white drawings, justly compared to those of Garth Williams, amplify the sense of dissonance. Charming vignettes and single- and double-page illustrations create a pastoral world into which the threat of large-scale violence comes as a shock.

Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to ponder the awkward coincidences that propel the plot. (Animal fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-33217-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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