Bugs and boys sound twin themes in this unvarnished debut. Amidst pranks, horselaughs, and who-likes-whom conversations, Megan scours her Houston neighborhood for the 25 different insects she needs for a sixth-grade biology assignment. Infuriatingly, after her bug-loving little brother Alexander sends her back to square one by reverently burying the specimens she’s managed to gather, obnoxious classmate Charlie dubs her “Beggin’ Megan” and subjects her to a series of buggy puns and practical jokes. Though Megan makes a few wrong turns, such as sneaking into the lunchroom kitchen after hours (only to discover that it’s not infested, despite the usual rumors about school food), in general she sticks to the straight and narrow, mending fences with Alexander, and even using the newfound insight that Charlie is mortally afraid of insects constructively—helping him with the assignment rather than torpedoing his standing with the other lads by blabbing. A friendship is born. Zollman has a tendency to spell out lessons and characters’ feelings rather than let readers pick them up from context, but Megan, despite her temper, is more of a peacemaker than a soldier in the gender wars, and bugs are always a surefire grossout motif in preteen fiction. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: June 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-8234-1584-8

Page Count: 134

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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From the author of the Animorphs series comes this earnest novel in verse about an orphaned Sudanese war refugee with a passion for cows, who has resettled in Minnesota with relatives. Arriving in winter, Kek spots a cow that reminds him of his father’s herd, a familiar sight in an alien world. Later he returns with Hannah, a friendly foster child, and talks the cow’s owner into hiring him to look after it. When the owner plans to sell the cow, Kek becomes despondent. Full of wide-eyed amazement and unalloyed enthusiasm for all things American, Kek is a generic—bordering on insulting—stereotype. His tribe, culture and language are never identified; personal details, such as appearance and age, are vague or omitted. Lacking the quirks and foibles that bring characters to life, Kek seems more a composite of traits designed to instruct readers than an engaging individual in his own right. Despite its lackluster execution, this story’s simple premise and basic vocabulary make it suitable for younger readers interested in the plight of war refugees. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-36765-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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A moving exploration of the places we come from and the people who shape us—not to be missed.


On a birthday trip to New York City, a girl learns about her roots, Harlem, and how to stay true to herself.

Eleven-year-old sneakerhead Amara is struggling to feel seen and heard. A new baby sister is on the way, her mom still wants to put her in dresses, and that birthday trip from the Portland, Oregon, suburbs to New York City that she so desperately wants feels out of reach. When Amara gets a family-history assignment, she is finally able to convince her mom to say yes to the trip, since it will allow Amara to meet her dad’s side of the family in person. In addition to the school project, her mom gives Amara a secret mission: get her dad and grandpa to spend time alone together to repair old wounds. Harlem proves unlike any place Amara has ever been, and as she explores where her father grew up she experiences black history on every street. Watson is a master at character development, with New York City and especially Harlem playing central roles. Through her all-black cast she seamlessly explores issues of identity, self, and family acceptance. Although the ending feels rushed, with no resolution between Amara and her mom, Amara’s concluding poem is powerful.

A moving exploration of the places we come from and the people who shape us—not to be missed. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68119-108-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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