THE PUPPETS OF SPELHORST

A quiet, comforting fable of identity and belonging.

Puppets yearn for greater things.

In a toy store, a lonely old sea captain named Spelhorst spies a puppet who reminds him of a lost love. He tries to buy her but is told he must purchase the full set—a king, a wolf, an owl, and a boy—as these puppets “are in a story.” The captain agrees, and that night, he mourns and writes a mysterious letter before dying in his sleep. Sold by the rag-and-bone man, the puppets eventually find their way to two sisters. While the older sister begins writing a play for the puppets, misadventures befall them; each engaging escapade is relevant to the story arc of the puppet in question. For instance, some of the wolf’s teeth are yanked out by the younger sister, and after the maid tosses the puppet out, a fox absconds with her—the first devastates the wolf, as her teeth were her pride, yet traveling through the wild woods fulfills her deepest wish. Gentle tension builds as the puppets wonder if they will be reunited. After exploring their desires and identities, the recovered puppets put on the older sister's play, a story that, though she couldn’t have known it, has beautiful symmetry with the puppets’ adventures. Theatrical language prevents the parallels from becoming too heavy-handed. The vaguely Victorian characters present white in charming drawings that set the mood.

A quiet, comforting fable of identity and belonging. (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2023

ISBN: 9781536216752

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

HORRIBLE HARRY SAYS GOODBYE

From the Horrible Harry series , Vol. 37

A fitting farewell, still funny, acute, and positive in its view of human nature even in its 37th episode.

A long-running series reaches its closing chapters.

Having, as Kline notes in her warm valedictory acknowledgements, taken 30 years to get through second and third grade, Harry Spooger is overdue to move on—but not just into fourth grade, it turns out, as his family is moving to another town as soon as the school year ends. The news leaves his best friend, narrator “Dougo,” devastated…particularly as Harry doesn’t seem all that fussed about it. With series fans in mind, the author takes Harry through a sort of last-day-of-school farewell tour. From his desk he pulls a burned hot dog and other items that featured in past episodes, says goodbye to Song Lee and other classmates, and even (for the first time ever) leads Doug and readers into his house and memento-strewn room for further reminiscing. Of course, Harry isn’t as blasé about the move as he pretends, and eyes aren’t exactly dry when he departs. But hardly is he out of sight before Doug is meeting Mohammad, a new neighbor from Syria who (along with further diversifying a cast that began as mostly white but has become increasingly multiethnic over the years) will also be starting fourth grade at summer’s end, and planning a written account of his “horrible” buddy’s exploits. Finished illustrations not seen.

A fitting farewell, still funny, acute, and positive in its view of human nature even in its 37th episode. (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-47963-1

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

CODY HARMON, KING OF PETS

From the Franklin School Friends series

Another winner from Mills, equally well suited to reading aloud and independent reading.

When Franklin School principal Mr. Boone announces a pet-show fundraiser, white third-grader Cody—whose lack of skill and interest in academics is matched by keen enthusiasm for and knowledge of animals—discovers his time to shine.

As with other books in this series, the children and adults are believable and well-rounded. Even the dialogue is natural—no small feat for a text easily accessible to intermediate readers. Character growth occurs, organically and believably. Students occasionally, humorously, show annoyance with teachers: “He made mad squinty eyes at Mrs. Molina, which fortunately she didn’t see.” Readers will be kept entertained by Cody’s various problems and the eventual solutions. His problems include needing to raise $10 to enter one of his nine pets in the show (he really wants to enter all of them), his troublesome dog Angus—“a dog who ate homework—actually, who ate everything and then threw up afterward”—struggles with homework, and grappling with his best friend’s apparently uncaring behavior toward a squirrel. Serious values and issues are explored with a light touch. The cheery pencil illustrations show the school’s racially diverse population as well as the memorable image of Mr. Boone wearing an elephant costume. A minor oddity: why does a child so immersed in animal facts call his male chicken a rooster but his female chickens chickens?

Another winner from Mills, equally well suited to reading aloud and independent reading. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-30223-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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