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

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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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Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet! (Fiction. 8-10)

WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE

Ryan Hart is navigating the fourth grade and all its challenges with determination.

Her mom named her Ryan because it means “king,” and she wanted Ryan to feel powerful every time she heard her name; Ryan knows it means she is a leader. So when changes occur or disaster strikes, budding chef Ryan does her best to find the positive and “make sunshine.” When her dad is laid off from the post office, the family must make adjustments that include moving into a smaller house, selling their car, and changing how they shop for groceries. But Ryan gets to stay at Vernon Elementary, and her mom still finds a way to get her the ingredients she needs to practice new recipes. Her older brother, Ray, can be bossy, but he finds little ways to support her, especially when she is down—as does the whole family. Each episodic chapter confronts Ryan with a situation; intermittently funny, frustrating, and touching, they should be familiar and accessible to readers, as when Ryan fumbles her Easter speech despite careful practice. Ryan, her family, and friends are black, and Watson continues to bring visibility to both Portland, Oregon, generally and its black community specifically, making another wonderful contribution that allows black readers to see themselves and all readers to find a character they can love.

Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet! (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0056-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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