A fragmented story that would have served better had it focused on Billie.


From the Dogs of World War II series

The fourth in Larson’s series about the Dogs of World War II shifts between a girl on the homefront and a Navajo Code Talker.

Leo, a young white Marine, has brought his Navajo friend Denny home with him from boot camp. As they hitchhike, Denny senses a whimper that leads him to a wounded stray dog the young men decide to take with them. At Leo’s home, his little sister, Billie, adopts the dog, naming him Bear. After the young men return to duty, the chapters shift between Billie and Denny. Orphan Billie (their mother is dead and their father abandoned them) has become a target for bullying, so she seeks companionship with Bear and her friend Tito, the young Mexican boy whose father manages her aunt’s ranch. Meanwhile, as Denny trains to be a Code Talker, he flashes back to his childhood time at boarding school. Well into the story, a jarring interlude from the dog’s perspective interrupts the story when he senses an old friend is hurt—this is Denny, who has been wounded in battle. The story is mostly Billie’s, and both Denny and Tito come across more as cultural informants than fully fleshed characters. Neither escapes stereotype: Denny sees Bear in a vision during battle, while Tito gives gardening advice and brings tortillas to the gringos.

A fragmented story that would have served better had it focused on Billie. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-545-84075-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Certain to steal hearts.


In this follow-up to 2020’s The One and Only Bob, Ruby the elephant is still living at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary.

She’s apprehensive about her Tuskday, a rite of passage for young elephants when she’ll give a speech in front of the rest of the herd. Luckily, she can confide in her Uncle Ivan, who is next door in Gorilla World, and Uncle Bob, the dog who lives nearby with human friend Julia. Ruby was born in an unspecified part of Africa, later ending up on display in the mall, where she met Ivan, Bob, and Julia. The unexpected arrival of someone from Ruby’s past life on the savanna revives memories both warmly nostalgic and deeply traumatic. An elephant glossary and Castelao’s charming, illustrated guide to elephant body language help immerse readers in Ruby’s world. Goofy, playful, and mischievous Ruby is fully dimensional, as she has shown her bravery during the many hardships of her young life. Applegate deftly tempers themes of grief and loss with compassion and humor as Ruby finds her place in the herd. The author’s note touches on climate change, the illegal ivory trade, and conservation efforts, but the highly emotive framing of the story through the memories of a bewildered baby elephant emphasizes the impact of lines such as “ ‘in Africa,’ I say softly, ‘there were bad people,’ ” without offering readers a nuanced understanding of the broader context that drives poaching.

Certain to steal hearts. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9780063080089

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023

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Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new...

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How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.

Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human—except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery. His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers’ passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.

Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199225-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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