High marks for ambition, middling for delivery.

A WOLF FOR A SPELL

The lives of a wolf, a witch, and an orphan are intertwined in this fantasy.

This story inspired by Russian fairy tales is told in alternating chapters by three characters: the witch Baba Yaga, a young female wolf named Zima, and an orphan girl named Nadya. Nadya, wandering in the forest near the orphanage, is determined to escape her life of drudgery, but she is torn between her need for freedom and her longing for a home. Meanwhile, Zima the wolf is also struggling with feelings of restlessness and insecurity. Her older sibling has told the pack to kill humans, but when Zima comes upon Nadya in the forest, she doesn’t kill her; and worse, Zima brings a younger wolf sibling, injured by a human, to the feared and hated witch, Baba Yaga, to be healed. Baba Yaga agrees on the condition that Zima switch bodies, through a spell, with her. Thus begins the enmeshing of the three main characters’ destinies. The plot’s many interesting twists are, however, undercut by a less-than-clear delivery. Italics rather than quotation marks are used to denote when animals are speaking (why?), which makes things confusing when Zima and Baba Yaga switch bodies and thus modes of speech; moreover, clunky contrivances jar the finer originality of the whole. The theme of the value of family and friends seems too thin and ordinary for such a complicated plot—something more revelatory is expected. The black-and-white illustrations, however, have a stark, effective beauty.

High marks for ambition, middling for delivery. (Fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12165-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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Dolphin lovers will appreciate this look at our complicated relationship with these marine mammals.

HOW TO SPEAK DOLPHIN

Is dolphin-assisted therapy so beneficial to patients that it’s worth keeping a wild dolphin captive?

Twelve-year-old Lily has lived with her emotionally distant oncologist stepfather and a succession of nannies since her mother died in a car accident two years ago. Nannies leave because of the difficulty of caring for Adam, Lily’s severely autistic 4-year-old half brother. The newest, Suzanne, seems promising, but Lily is tired of feeling like a planet orbiting the sun Adam. When she meets blind Zoe, who will attend the same private middle school as Lily in the fall, Lily’s happy to have a friend. However, Zoe’s take on the plight of the captive dolphin, Nori, used in Adam’s therapy opens Lily’s eyes. She knows she must use her influence over her stepfather, who is consulting on Nori’s treatment for cancer (caused by an oil spill), to free the animal. Lily’s got several fine lines to walk, as she works to hold onto her new friend, convince her stepfather of the rightness of releasing Nori, and do what’s best for Adam. In her newest exploration of animal-human relationships, Rorby’s lonely, mature heroine faces tough but realistic situations. Siblings of children on the spectrum will identify with Lily. If the tale flirts with sentimentality and some of the characters are strident in their views, the whole never feels maudlin or didactic.

Dolphin lovers will appreciate this look at our complicated relationship with these marine mammals. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-67605-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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Moving and poetic.

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PAX

A motherless boy is forced to abandon his domesticated fox when his father decides to join soldiers in an approaching war.

Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death. Peter’s difficult and often harsh father said he could keep the fox “for now” but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption. The battles between warring humans in the unnamed conflict remain remote, but the oncoming wave of deaths is seen through Pax’s eyes as woodland creatures are blown up by mines. While Pax learns to negotiate the complications of surviving in the wild and relating to other foxes, Peter breaks his foot and must learn to trust a seemingly eccentric woman named Vola who battles her own ghosts of war. Alternating chapters from the perspectives of boy and fox are perfectly paced and complementary. Only Peter, Pax, Vola, and three of Pax’s fox companions are named, conferring a spare, fablelike quality. Every moment in the graceful, fluid narrative is believable. Klassen’s cover art has a sense of contained, powerful stillness. (Interior illustrations not seen.)

Moving and poetic. (Animal fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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