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A move to the South Carolina countryside brings two unlikely African-American characters together in an ever-deepening friendship that has more consequence than one of them can foretell. Ten-year-old Sylvia Freeman, new to this country road with only three houses, befriends Miz Lula Maye, who is almost 100 years old. Told in Sylvia’s first-person voice, the story reveals a burgeoning fondness between the two, as they spend more and more time together. Despite her age, Lula Maye shares the child’s sense of vivacity and engagement with life. Sylvia, never the dispassionate observer, offers her editorial comments on everything. Most of this is delightful, but debut novelist Flood sometimes has the girl slip from a little girl’s vernacular to a more knowledgeable narrator’s voice, with words like “savory,” or constructions like “As I drifted off into a much needed and deserved sleep.” Meanwhile, the pair’s friendship takes an unexpected turn one morning after Sylvia spends the night at Lula’s, only to find a strange man staying with her momma. It turns out that blood is thicker than tearful water when all is revealed at church that day. Sylvia’s world is temporarily turned upside down, but friendship wins out after all. This story is more complicated than the narrative first suggests and too much must be explained at the end—its abruptness maybe because the momma character has not been developed enough to foreshadow the revelations of the story. Or perhaps, because more of Sylvia’s adventures are planned and the author was concentrating too much on introducing the major recurring characters. Marshall’s pencil drawings dramatically complement this pivotal moment in a young girl’s life. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-87614-204-8

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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From the Kate the Chemist series

A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers.

A fifth grade girl brings her love of chemistry to the school play.

Kate loves science so much she’s determined to breathe fire. Of course she knows that she needs adult supervision, and so, with her science teacher’s help, Kate demonstrates an experiment with cornstarch and a blowtorch that nearly sets her teacher’s cactus on fire. Consequences ensue. Can someone who loves science as much as Kate does find pleasure spending her fall break at drama camp? It turns out that even the school play—Dragons vs. Unicorns—needs a chemist, though, and Kate saves the day with glue and glitter. She’s sabotaged along the way, but everything is fine after Kate and her frenemy agree to communicate better (an underwhelming response to escalating bullying). Doodles decorate the pages; steps for the one experiment described that can be done at home—making glittery unicorn-horn glue—are included. The most exciting experiments depicted, though, include flames or liquid nitrogen and could only be done with the help of a friendly science teacher. Biberdorf teaches chemistry at the University of Texas and also performs science-education programs as “Kate the Chemist”; in addition to giving her protagonist her name and enthusiasm, she also seems represented in Kate-the-character’s love of the fictional YouTube personality “Dr. Caroline.” Kate and her nemesis are white; Kate’s best friends are black and South Asian.

A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11655-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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PLB 0-06-027720-3 A broadly comic, slapstick mystery. Seymour Sleuth is called to Borneo where Dr. Irene A. Tann (an orangutan) is searching for the Black Flower of Sumatra, which will cure hiccups. But her quest is being sabotaged’sand in the sugar bowl, knots in the underwear—and threatening notes are arriving. The intrepid Seymour and his faithful assistant and photographer Abbott Muggs search for clues and interview the other members of the camp: a reporter, a local guide, and Dr. Tann’s assistant. Among the clues: chocolate smudges on the notes, and a pin with someone’s initials. Seymour solves the mystery, accompanies the band through the monkey’s maze where they find the Black Flower and another surprise. All the characters are animals and the text is in Sleuth’s notebook printing, with photographs by Muggs attached along with realia like the map of Borneo and their plane tickets. It’s very lightweight, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and gives readers a funny first taste of some of the well-loved elements of mysteries. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 31, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-027719-X

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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