RODZINA

Young, self-reliant, resilient Rodzina (from the Polish for “family”) Brodski is an orphan at age 12 in the winter of 1881—her father, mother, and young brothers all dead. She is gathered up in Chicago with other orphans and street children and sent west on one of the “orphan trains” that took children to be placed out on the farms and in the towns of the prairies and mountain states. Among her companions are several younger children Rodzina has known from her days on the street and in the orphanage. As the eldest girl, she is put in charge of these children on the train, and demonstrates her warmth and competence through her grudging attention to them. Along the way, Rodzina goes twice, unwillingly, to unsuitable new homes: once to a couple of women who plan for her to be not only a nursemaid but a farmhand as well, and once to the father of a large hardscrabble family—his wife is dying and he plans to make Rodzina his new wife. Each time Rodzina resourcefully makes her escape and returns to the train. As she continues westward, Rodzina gradually befriends the formidable lady doctor who accompanies the orphans, and begins to long for a new home for herself. The story is undemanding and engaging, rolling along with the journey, subtly letting readers into Rodzina’s memories of the home she once had and of her immigrant parents and her Polish heritage. Trina Schart Hyman’s intriguing cover art depicts a stocky, fierce young girl—prickly Rodzina with her “stink face” on—and the younger child she shelters. Cushman (Matilda Bone, 2000, etc.) as usual conveys a contemporary feel without anachronism, and the conclusion of Rodzina’s journey, though unsurprising, is an agreeable one. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 24, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-13351-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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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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KEVIN AND HIS DAD

There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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