A sweet middle-grade novel about the power of art.


From the Sourland Mountain Series series , Vol. 1

A 13-year-old girl discovers a new passion after a terrible car accident in the first book in the Sourland Mountain series for preteens.

Catalynd “Cat” Hamilton is facing big changes. Her beloved older brother, Buddy, is heading off to college in Florida, far from their home on Sourland Mountain near Princeton, New Jersey, and in order to pay for his education, her parents have rented the barn that was her go-to spot for play and thinking. One day in late summer, an errand run is complicated by a thunderstorm, and the car containing Cat and her mother hits a tree. Now wheelchair-bound for several weeks, Cat finds her life altered as her mother morphs from sunny and productive to barely being able to get out of bed. Curiosity and a school project lead Cat to a friendship with her family’s tenant, Benton Whitman. An artist named for Thomas Hart Benton, Cat’s new pal and mentor helps her with a project on Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World, which depicts a young woman who “had lost almost all of her ability to walk.” As Cat adjusts to using a wheelchair and to missing her brother, she discovers a new love for drawing and painting and a way to channel this passion into her everyday life. Meanwhile, Cat learns to connect with the people around her, particularly her mother, who is feeling her own effects from the fateful car crash. McGlothlin, the author of Andy’s Snowball Story (2010), has degrees in art history and English, and her knowledge of both storytelling and painting is on full display. Though Cat tends to come off as younger than 13 (and her age is not revealed until Page 42), her emotions and challenges feel authentic to the book’s target middle-grade audience. Cat’s mentor Benton radiates kindness, and her mother’s touching battle with depression rings true. In the backmatter, the author lists several resources on related topics ranging from Walt Whitman (whose words appear in the book) to mental health.

A sweet middle-grade novel about the power of art.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73328-650-3

Page Count: 146

Publisher: Sourland Mountain Books

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2020

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.


From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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