A sweet but never cutesy story with delightful illustrations.

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HOW TO EAT A PEACH

A squirrel who loves peaches goes up against a gun-toting farmer in this book for early readers.

Farmer Fred has no family, but he does have “Tree,” which he protects behind a wall with a rifle. Tree’s fruit is enormously precious to him: “Tasting a peach just plucked off the branch was as close to eating heaven as you could get.” But no one, other than Fred or the judges at the county fair, has ever eaten them. Squirrel, too, adores peaches; indeed, they’re his passion. When Squirrel spots Tree, he becomes determined to get over the wall. Though other squirrels laugh at him, his hard work making a ladder pays off, and finally he tastes Tree’s fruit, which is “everything Squirrel had dreamed of and hoped for his whole life.” After Farmer Fred catches him, he realizes that the animal must appreciate peaches as much as he does, and he offers to share the fruit if Squirrel will help with guard duty. The two bond over their shared life’s work, but when Girl Squirrel parachutes over the wall next summer, Squirrel finds himself protecting her. Farmer Fred comes to a realization: “Eating peaches, together with Squirrel, made them even sweeter.” He takes down the wall and invites all the squirrels to share the delicious fruit. In this story about determination, following one’s passion, and the joy of sharing, Schaufeld (Larry and Bob, 2016, etc.) avoids obvious didacticism, instead focusing on the sweetness of peaches and companionship as well as the satisfaction of working for a goal. Fred finds real happiness in expanding his idea of family; both man and squirrel convincingly discover that passion shouldn’t become obsession. One quibble: The name “Girl Squirrel” assumes that male is the default. Returning collaborator Schwarz paints with pleasingly rich, saturated hues; the peaches look absolutely luscious, as they should. His realistic, varied illustrations capture expression and drama well, such as Girl Squirrel’s look of determination as she broaches Tree’s enclosure and Fred’s smile as he takes down the wall.

A sweet but never cutesy story with delightful illustrations.

Pub Date: April 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9972299-2-9

Page Count: 57

Publisher: Quidne Press

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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TOUCHING SPIRIT BEAR

Troubled teen meets totemic catalyst in Mikaelsen’s (Petey, 1998, etc.) earnest tribute to Native American spirituality. Fifteen-year-old Cole is cocky, embittered, and eaten up by anger at his abusive parents. After repeated skirmishes with the law, he finally faces jail time when he viciously beats a classmate. Cole’s parole officer offers him an alternative—Circle Justice, an innovative justice program based on Native traditions. Sentenced to a year on an uninhabited Arctic island under the supervision of Edwin, a Tlingit elder, Cole provokes an attack from a titanic white “Spirit Bear” while attempting escape. Although permanently crippled by the near-death experience, he is somehow allowed yet another stint on the island. Through Edwin’s patient tutoring, Cole gradually masters his rage, but realizes that he needs to help his former victims to complete his own healing. Mikaelsen paints a realistic portrait of an unlikable young punk, and if Cole’s turnaround is dramatic, it is also convincingly painful and slow. Alas, the rest of the characters are cardboard caricatures: the brutal, drunk father, the compassionate, perceptive parole officer, and the stoic and cryptic Native mentor. Much of the plot stretches credulity, from Cole’s survival to his repeated chances at rehabilitation to his victim being permitted to share his exile. Nonetheless, teens drawn by the brutality of Cole’s adventures, and piqued by Mikaelsen’s rather muscular mysticism, might absorb valuable lessons on anger management and personal responsibility. As melodramatic and well-meaning as the teens it targets. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2001

ISBN: 0-380-97744-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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