Quiet humor with dashes of goofiness may offset its problems, but Carson’s tale will still work better as a read-aloud than...



Being the “new kid” in the middle of a school year means all sorts of new experiences for 8-year-old Carson Blum.

When his tax-lawyer father takes a new position in El Cerrito, Calif., Carson packs up his stuffed mammal, Moose, and his ditzy Labrador retriever, Genevieve, and waves a reluctant goodbye to his grandparents, his two best friends and his small private school in Pasadena. Public school is quite different, but his teacher, Mr. Lipman, and Carson’s new classmates make him feel welcome. Carson’s just not sure he’ll have a new friend by his birthday to invite horseback riding. He’s also not sure what to make of his classmate Weston Walker, who gets in trouble a lot and seems to tell a lot of whoppers. Carson likes Nancy, who helps him in computer class. He’s also excited to help Patrick take care of Mr. Nibblenose, the class rat. In her newest, Newbery Honor author Jukes (Like Jake and Me, 1984) depicts a warmly affectionate relationship between Carson and his adoptive father. They’re best friends and have in-jokes and no disagreements. Carson’s emotional life is expertly drawn, and readers who’ve found themselves in approximations of his situation will easily identify. However, the length, abundance of complex sentences and slowish pacing make this problematic for early-elementary children, who are most likely to be interested in a novel starring an 8-year-old.

Quiet humor with dashes of goofiness may offset its problems, but Carson’s tale will still work better as a read-aloud than as an independent read. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-85879-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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Sweetly low-key and totally accessible.

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Billy Miller’s second-grade year is quietly spectacular in a wonderfully ordinary way.

Billy’s year begins with his worry over the lump on his head, a souvenir of a dramatic summer fall onto concrete: Will he be up to the challenges his new teacher promises in her letter to students? Quickly overshadowing that worry, however, is a diplomatic crisis over whether he has somehow offended Ms. Silver on the first day of school. Four sections—Teacher, Father, Sister and Mother—offer different and essential focal points for Billy’s life, allowing both him and readers to explore several varieties of creative endeavor, small adventures, and, especially, both challenges and successful problem-solving. The wonderfully self-possessed Sal, his 3-year-old sister, is to Billy much as Ramona is to Beezus, but without the same level of tension. Her pillowcase full of the plush yellow whales she calls the Drop Sisters (Raindrop, Gumdrop, etc.) is a memorable prop. Henkes offers what he so often does in these longer works for children: a sense that experiences don’t have to be extraordinary to be important and dramatic. Billy’s slightly dreamy interior life isn’t filled with either angst or boisterous silliness—rather, the moments that appear in these stories are clarifying bits of the universal larger puzzle of growing up, changing and understanding the world. Small, precise black-and-white drawings punctuate and decorate the pages.

Sweetly low-key and totally accessible. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-226812-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Young readers will recognize Suds as one of their own and will gladly follow him to fourth grade. Sweet and funny.


Suds Morton is not yet a “Fourth Grade Rat.” In this prequel to Spinelli's 1991 standby, he is a year younger and, according to his school’s traditional chant, he aspires to the sobriquet of “Third Grade Angel.”

When his teacher announces her intention of rewarding angelic behavior with a halo, Suds decides he wants to be the first angel. Between his cool new friend Joey, his wise mom and a little conclusion-jumping, he comes up with a plan. But, of course, his results are just a little off-kilter. Suds, nicknamed for his preference for calming soaks in bubble baths when he gets “chipmunky,” needs all the help he can get to deal with the various disasters and tribulations that threaten to overwhelm him. Along with the angel chase there’s a pesky little sister, a fifth-grade bully and total rejection by the girl he adores. Spinelli doesn’t miss a beat in recreating the characters from the earlier work and never reveals any hint of Suds’ fourth-grade future. He lets readers into Suds’ 8-year-old mind without condescension. His problems and concerns are treated comically but with genuine kindness. Suds is innocent, gullible and trusting; he is also entirely good-hearted.

Young readers will recognize Suds as one of their own and will gladly follow him to fourth grade. Sweet and funny. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-38772-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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