Infused with magical realism and some quirky capers but may struggle to find an appropriate audience.



A YA novel about a pet cat with magical powers.

Janson (Mal Practice, 2013) tells the tale of a cat whose instincts and mysterious powers create both havoc and harmony for the family with whom he lives. It all begins with Mildred, who’s surprised to be scratched by Onyx, her otherwise loving cat. The scratch is bad enough to warrant a visit to the hospital, where they are fortuitously able to diagnose her cancer and treat her before the disease can spread. Onyx goes off to live with Mildred’s niece Sally and her grandnieces Bridgette and Renee, who are especially taken with the black cat. Onyx spends a lot of time staring through neighbor Gladys’ window and then, out of the blue, he scratches the poor woman. Once again, a trip to the hospital is in order, and once again, it’s just in the nick of time to save Gladys from cancer. The otherwise friendly cat goes on to scratch unsuspecting folks, along the way solving problems both mental and physical. It’s clear that, more than his hapless owners, the cat seems incredibly aware of what’s going on in the world around him; in his own way, he protects them and their friends and helps make the world a little better. There’s no clear protagonist in this narrative that, despite some uneven pacing, moves along fairly quickly. Described as a YA novel, the episodic story feels more like a middle-grade book, with its 12- and 13-year-old characters often referred to as “young ladies.” However, some strong language—and the fact that about half the book focuses on the lives and interactions of the girls’ parents—means this book doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. At times, 12-year-old Renee acts younger, as when she exclaims, “We had to give them our fingerprints, Dad!” to which her father quips about making sure she gets them back.

Infused with magical realism and some quirky capers but may struggle to find an appropriate audience.

Pub Date: July 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-0578142494

Page Count: 200

Publisher: JM Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2014

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Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new...

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How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.

Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human—except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery. His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers’ passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.

Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199225-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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Hee haw.

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The print version of a knee-slapping cumulative ditty.

In the song, Smith meets a donkey on the road. It is three-legged, and so a “wonky donkey” that, on further examination, has but one eye and so is a “winky wonky donkey” with a taste for country music and therefore a “honky-tonky winky wonky donkey,” and so on to a final characterization as a “spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey.” A free musical recording (of this version, anyway—the author’s website hints at an adults-only version of the song) is available from the publisher and elsewhere online. Even though the book has no included soundtrack, the sly, high-spirited, eye patch–sporting donkey that grins, winks, farts, and clumps its way through the song on a prosthetic metal hoof in Cowley’s informal watercolors supplies comical visual flourishes for the silly wordplay. Look for ready guffaws from young audiences, whether read or sung, though those attuned to disability stereotypes may find themselves wincing instead or as well.

Hee haw. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: May 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-545-26124-1

Page Count: 26

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2018

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