The simple plot uses perfectly believable characterizations to discuss deceptively complex emotions and issues for those who...

WHEN THE CIRCUS CAME TO TOWN

A story taken from real life provides the foundation for a tale of healing through human interconnection.

Ursula is a ten-year-old girl with a big imagination and a love for her small Montana town, finding enough happy magic at home by leading her pirate crew in fanciful adventures in between helping her Pa at his stagecoach station. But when she survives a smallpox scare only to be left with a pitted face, vanity replaces her ebullient spirit and she won’t leave her room. Pa hires Ah Sam, a Chinese cook, to help feed the passengers when the stages arrive. Her “curiosity bump” is larger than her prejudice against him, and the two soon find they share a common loneliness as well as a common love of the circus. She begins once again to help in the kitchen, although she still won’t show her face outdoors. She faces a turning point, however, when a mean-spirited stage passenger harasses Ah Sam, who cannot retaliate because of state law. Ursula decides she must cheer up the now ashamed cook, realizing that they all share what Indian Tom calls “the mark” of outsiders. One kindness leads to another as Ah Sam’s circus relatives arrive to entertain the town with their special magic while Ursula is enlisted to back them up with music. Yep (Newbery Honor, Dragon’s Gate, 1994), has applied his considerable skills to embellish a true story into a moving parable of how people help each other overcome suffering.

The simple plot uses perfectly believable characterizations to discuss deceptively complex emotions and issues for those who would mine its lessons, but Ursula’s own story of healing is rewarding enough for those who read from the younger child’s point of view. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-029325-X

Page Count: 128

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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HOW TO BE COOL IN THE THIRD GRADE

Robbie's somewhat overstated aim is to create a new image for himself by taking steps like avoiding his mother's company on the way to the bus stop each morning, trading in his superhero underwear for plain white, and getting jeans. If his goals seem small and unassuming, so is Robbie; and his solutions—in one instance, simply asking his mother for what he wants instead of expecting her to mind-read—are ingenuously on target. But though Duffey is well tuned in to third-grade cool, she includes a stereotypical bully, held back a year and ready to tangle with anyone who looks at him the wrong way; worse, references to coolness and what kind of year Robbie is having are annoyingly repetitious. Nevertheless, modest aspirations mean modest rewards: readers Robbie's age will be glad to find their own concerns on nearly every page. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-670-84798-4

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1993

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Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to...

ESCAPE FROM BAXTERS' BARN

A group of talking farm animals catches wind of the farm owner’s intention to burn the barn (with them in it) for insurance money and hatches a plan to flee.

Bond begins briskly—within the first 10 pages, barn cat Burdock has overheard Dewey Baxter’s nefarious plan, and by Page 17, all of the farm animals have been introduced and Burdock is sharing the terrifying news. Grady, Dewey’s (ever-so-slightly) more principled brother, refuses to go along, but instead of standing his ground, he simply disappears. This leaves the animals to fend for themselves. They do so by relying on their individual strengths and one another. Their talents and personalities match their species, bringing an element of realism to balance the fantasy elements. However, nothing can truly compensate for the bland horror of the premise. Not the growing sense of family among the animals, the serendipitous intervention of an unknown inhabitant of the barn, nor the convenient discovery of an alternate home. Meanwhile, Bond’s black-and-white drawings, justly compared to those of Garth Williams, amplify the sense of dissonance. Charming vignettes and single- and double-page illustrations create a pastoral world into which the threat of large-scale violence comes as a shock.

Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to ponder the awkward coincidences that propel the plot. (Animal fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-33217-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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