A doll becomes the vehicle for Polacco's (The Butterfly, 2000, etc.) deeply felt remembrance of her mother, Mary Ellen. Told as a letter from a dying woman to her daughter, the story follows the author's mother from age six to old age, using Betty Doll as an ever-present reference point. "She sat on my dresser in the dorm, and then in Mrs. Borchst's boarding house when I got my first teaching job." This is at its most effective when telling of Mary Ellen as a child: in one sequence, she cuts the skirt of her aunt's best dress for a new dress for Betty Doll; in another, a fallen Betty Doll marks the place where Mary Ellen and her brother are trapped in a blizzard. But as Mary Ellen grows older, the story compresses her life into an obituary of sorts, becoming a recitation of adult events: marriage, divorce, the birth of her children, her mother's death, and finally Mary Ellen's own cancer. Although these events clearly mean much to the author, they are remote from a child's experience and lack the narrative excitement of the earlier episodes, and Betty Doll's presence becomes an almost mechanically noted device. The illustrations are wonderfully evocative of old photographs: the pencil drawings are nearly entirely black-and-white, with Betty Doll almost always the only spot of color on the page. This documentary effect is heightened by the inclusion of electronically reproduced family photographs that let the reader see the actual Mary Ellen growing up even as her story is being told. It is a beautiful, loving treatment of one woman's life, but in the end likely to resonate more with adults than children. (Picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-23638-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An engaging mix of gentle behavior modeling and inventive story ideas that may well provide just the push needed to get some...


With a little help from his audience, a young storyteller gets over a solid case of writer’s block in this engaging debut.

Despite the (sometimes creatively spelled) examples produced by all his classmates and the teacher’s assertion that “Stories are everywhere!” Ralph can’t get past putting his name at the top of his paper. One day, lying under the desk in despair, he remembers finding an inchworm in the park. That’s all he has, though, until his classmates’ questions—“Did it feel squishy?” “Did your mom let you keep it?” “Did you name it?”—open the floodgates for a rousing yarn featuring an interloping toddler, a broad comic turn and a dramatic rescue. Hanlon illustrates the episode with childlike scenes done in transparent colors, featuring friendly-looking children with big smiles and widely spaced button eyes. The narrative text is printed in standard type, but the children’s dialogue is rendered in hand-lettered printing within speech balloons. The episode is enhanced with a page of elementary writing tips and the tantalizing titles of his many subsequent stories (“When I Ate Too Much Spaghetti,” “The Scariest Hamster,” “When the Librarian Yelled Really Loud at Me,” etc.) on the back endpapers.

An engaging mix of gentle behavior modeling and inventive story ideas that may well provide just the push needed to get some budding young writers off and running. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0761461807

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Amazon Children's Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Readers will be waiting to see how Charlie faces his next challenge in a series that marks a lovely change of pace from the...


From the Charlie Bumpers series , Vol. 1

Charlie Bumpers is doomed. The one teacher he never wanted in the whole school turns out to be his fourth-grade teacher.

Charlie recalls third grade, when he accidentally hit the scariest teacher in the whole school with his sneaker. “I know all about you, Charlie Bumpers,” she says menacingly on the first day of fourth grade. Now, in addition to all the hardships of starting school, he has gotten off on the wrong foot with her. Charlie’s dry and dramatic narrative voice clearly reveals the inner life of a 9-year-old—the glass is always half empty, especially in light of a series of well-intentioned events gone awry. It’s quite a litany: “Hitting Mrs. Burke in the head with the sneaker. The messy desk. The swinging on the door. The toilet paper. And now this—the shoe on the roof.” Harley has teamed once again with illustrator Gustavson (Lost and Found, 2012) to create a real-life world in which a likable kid must face the everyday terrors of childhood: enormous bullies, looming teachers and thick gym coaches with huge pointing fingers. Into this series opener, Harley magically weaves the simple lesson that people, even teachers, can surprise you.

Readers will be waiting to see how Charlie faces his next challenge in a series that marks a lovely change of pace from the sarcasm of Wimpy Kid. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-56145-732-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

Did you like this book?