Hughes is to be commended, and his book recommended, for balancing its realism with its positive message.

Firefightin' Sam

This debut YA novel about an aspiring firefighter aims to entertain and inform young readers while also keeping them on the straight and narrow.

Author Hughes, himself a firefighter, builds a story around a prank gone wrong. On a dare from his friend Pete Krause, Sam Avery conspires in setting off a fire alarm and gets caught by the police. Due in part to his own code of silence (he won’t rat out Pete), Sam’s punishment is to spend time after school at the nearby fire station—but it quickly becomes no punishment at all. Although he’s continually reminded of the gravity of his prank, the firefighters recognize him for the good kid that he is and adopt him, as it were. Sam is fascinated by the firefighting equipment, the drills, the dispatching procedures—all of it. He even gets the errant Pete, who’s starting down the wrong path in life, to join him in the “maze truck” for a simulation of a house fire that allows trainees to rescue dummies hidden inside. In the end, Sam, of course, sets his sights on being a firefighter himself. Overall, this is a well-written book for its intended audience. It’s hardly nuanced—the good grown-ups, such as Sam’s parents, have stilted dialogue that bolsters the message but makes them seem like cardboard cutouts. On the other hand, the flak that Sam gets from his schoolmates rings true, as does his response to it. One high point of the story is the school’s entertainment night: with the help of the firefighters, Sam and Pete put on a skit demonstrating fire safety that brings the house down. Another highlight, at book’s end, is Sam’s involvement in rescuing a neighborhood curmudgeon, “Pepperhead” Pepperell, from his burning house; just as Pete’s life is set on a new path, the lonely widower is encouraged to rejoin the human race. 

Hughes is to be commended, and his book recommended, for balancing its realism with its positive message.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2002

ISBN: 978-0-595-74546-3

Page Count: 122

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2016

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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THIS BOOK IS ANTI-RACIST

20 LESSONS ON HOW TO WAKE UP, TAKE ACTION, AND DO THE WORK

A guidebook for taking action against racism.

The clear title and bold, colorful illustrations will immediately draw attention to this book, designed to guide each reader on a personal journey to work to dismantle racism. In the author’s note, Jewell begins with explanations about word choice, including the use of the terms “folx,” because it is gender neutral, and “global majority,” noting that marginalized communities of color are actually the majority in the world. She also chooses to capitalize Black, Brown, and Indigenous as a way of centering these communities’ voices; "white" is not capitalized. Organized in four sections—identity, history, taking action, and working in solidarity—each chapter builds on the lessons of the previous section. Underlined words are defined in the glossary, but Jewell unpacks concepts around race in an accessible way, bringing attention to common misunderstandings. Activities are included at the end of each chapter; they are effective, prompting both self-reflection and action steps from readers. The activities are designed to not be written inside the actual book; instead Jewell invites readers to find a special notebook and favorite pen and use that throughout. Combining the disruption of common fallacies, spotlights on change makers, the author’s personal reflections, and a call to action, this powerful book has something for all young people no matter what stage they are at in terms of awareness or activism.

Essential. (author’s note, further reading, glossary, select bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7112-4521-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Frances Lincoln

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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