From the Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine series , Vol. 1

This satisfying slice-of-life story about the permutations of friendship and family resonates.

A 10-year-old girl faces the various challenges of growing up.

For her 10th birthday, Celie Valentine Altman gets a punching bag and a journal from her father, both of which she puts to good use. Her most pressing problem is that her best friend, Lula, has stopped speaking to her. Celie has no idea why, though she knows it’s somehow connected to a fight she overheard between Lula’s parents. Losing a best friend is heartbreaking for a girl of that age, and Celie’s anger and confusion are palpable. Using a diary format and leavening her tale with humor, Sternberg gets Celie’s voice just right, and readers should find her completely credible. Though she’s kind and resourceful, Celie’s overarching trait is an anger that she has trouble controlling. She expresses her frustrations in words and pictures, and Wright’s spot-on black-and-white illustrations perfectly complement Sternberg’s text. Besides Lula’s mysterious defection, Celie must deal with her older and better-balanced sister, Jo; Jo’s new buddy, Trina, whom Celie dislikes; her embarrassing cousin Carla, who comes to babysit when Celie’s mother goes out of town; and her feelings about her suddenly addled grandmother.

This satisfying slice-of-life story about the permutations of friendship and family resonates. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59078-993-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014


Medically, both squicky and hopeful; emotionally, unbelievably squeaky-clean.

A 12-year-old copes with a brain tumor.

Maddie likes potatoes and fake mustaches. Kids at school are nice (except one whom readers will see instantly is a bully); soon they’ll get to perform Shakespeare scenes in a unit they’ve all been looking forward to. But recent dysfunctions in Maddie’s arm and leg mean, stunningly, that she has a brain tumor. She has two surgeries, the first successful, the second taking place after the book’s end, leaving readers hanging. The tumor’s not malignant, but it—or the surgeries—could cause sight loss, personality change, or death. The descriptions of surgery aren’t for the faint of heart. The authors—parents of a real-life Maddie who really had a brain tumor—imbue fictional Maddie’s first-person narration with quirky turns of phrase (“For the love of potatoes!”) and whimsy (she imagines her medical battles as epic fantasy fights and pretends MRI stands for Mustard Rat from Indiana or Mustaches Rock Importantly), but they also portray her as a model sick kid. She’s frightened but never acts out, snaps, or resists. Her most frequent commentary about the tumor, having her skull opened, and the possibility of death is “Boo” or “Super boo.” She even shoulders the bully’s redemption. Maddie and most characters are white; one cringe-inducing hallucinatory surgery dream involves “chanting island natives” and a “witch doctor lady.”

Medically, both squicky and hopeful; emotionally, unbelievably squeaky-clean. (authors’ note, discussion questions) (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62972-330-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017


A wild romp that champions making space for vulnerable creatures and each other.

A boy with ADHD explores nature and himself.

Eleven-year-old Jake Rizzi just wants to be seen as “normal”; he blames his brain for leading him into trouble and making him do things that annoy his peers and even his own parents. Case in point: He’s stuck spending a week in rural Oregon with an aunt he barely knows while his parents go on vacation. Jake’s reluctance changes as he learns about the town’s annual festival, during which locals search for a fabled turtle. But news of this possibly undiscovered species has spread. Although Aunt Hettle insists to Jake that it’s only folklore, the fame-hungry convene, sure that the Ruby-Backed Turtle is indeed real—just as Jake discovers is the case. Keeping its existence secret is critical to protecting the rare creature from a poacher and others with ill intentions. Readers will keep turning pages to find out how Jake and new friend Mia will foil the caricatured villains. Along the way, Bramucci packs in teachable moments around digital literacy, mindfulness, and ecological interdependence, along with the message that “the only way to protect the natural world is to love it.” Jake’s inner monologue elucidates the challenges and benefits of ADHD as well as practical coping strategies. Whether or not readers share Jake’s diagnosis, they’ll empathize with his insecurities. Jake and his family present white; Mia is Black, and names of secondary characters indicate some ethnic diversity.

A wild romp that champions making space for vulnerable creatures and each other. (Adventure. 8-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2023

ISBN: 9781547607020

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

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