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 uncomplicated opener, with some funny bits and a clear but not heavy agenda.


From the Here's Hank series , Vol. 1

Hank Zipzer, poster boy for dyslexic middle graders everywhere, stars in a new prequel series highlighting second-grade trials and triumphs.

Hank’s hopes of playing Aqua Fly, a comic-book character, in the upcoming class play founder when, despite plenty of coaching and preparation, he freezes up during tryouts. He is not particularly comforted when his sympathetic teacher adds a nonspeaking role as a bookmark to the play just for him. Following the pattern laid down in his previous appearances as an older child, he gets plenty of help and support from understanding friends (including Ashley Wong, a new apartment-house neighbor). He even manages to turn lemons into lemonade with a quick bit of improv when Nick “the Tick” McKelty, the sneering classmate who took his preferred role, blanks on his lines during the performance. As the aforementioned bully not only chokes in the clutch and gets a demeaning nickname, but is fat, boastful and eats like a pig, the authors’ sensitivity is rather one-sided. Still, Hank has a winning way of bouncing back from adversity, and like the frequent black-and-white line-and-wash drawings, the typeface is designed with easy legibility in mind.

An uncomplicated opener, with some funny bits and a clear but not heavy agenda. (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-448-48239-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


Trisha is ready to start at a new school, where no one will know she has dyslexia. At first, she is heartbroken to be in Miss Peterson’s special-ed class, aka, “the junkyard.” But Miss Peterson treats the children as anything but junk, showing them that everyone has a unique talent. Polacco’s trademark style is fully present here; her sensitively drawn alter ego shines with depth of feeling. When bullying occurs, Miss Peterson proves her students are worthwhile by planning a junkyard field trip, where they find valuable objects to be used in exciting ways. Trisha’s group repairs a plane, and the class buys an engine for it. Then a beloved class member dies, and the children must find a way to honor him. While the plot meanders somewhat, the characters are appealing, believable and provide a fine portrayal of a truly special class. Children will be drawn in by the story’s warmth and gentle humor and will leave with a spark of inspiration, an appreciation of individual differences and a firm anti-bullying message, all underscored by the author’s note that concludes the book. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-399-25078-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet