THE GREAT WHALE OF KANSAS

A quirky wonder about truth, perseverance, and the vagaries of fame. In Melville, Kansas, located at the geographic center of the country, an unnamed 11-year-old boy discovers a fossil unlike any ever excavated before. It appears to be the remains of a garden-variety Cretaceous-era mosasaur—Kansas is littered with the remnants of these denizens of an erstwhile inland sea—contained within the belly of an enormous skeletal whale, whose vastness dwarfs modern whales. Our narrator does not start out in pursuit of fame (his original intent was to dig a pond for a water garden), but he is not unaware of the ramifications of his discovery: “[it] would put me in the natural history books for sure, right alongside Darwin [and] Crichton . . .” What follows is an often-hilarious battle for ownership (and bragging) rights for the fossil, with our hero pitted against Fossil Expert from the State Museum, a fearsome nemesis indeed. Jennings (Orwell’s Luck, 2000) draws a delightful portrait of this remarkably determined and self-contained child, who declares early on, “A hole is an achievement. A great hole is a great achievement. I was going to dig a great hole.” The cast of secondary characters is equally engaging, from the boy’s father (who is ready to sell his backyard to the highest bidder) and the redoubtable Fossil Expert, to Tom White Cloud and Miss Whistle (the sympathetic Native American bookstore owner and the beautiful science teacher) to Phil, the Solitary Duck. (“When it comes to conversation, a duck is every bit as good as a dog.”) There is nothing stale about this book; from start to finish, it is every bit as much of an original as Kansascetus humongous himself. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-10228-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Walter Lorraine/Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

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Moving and poetic.

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PAX

A motherless boy is forced to abandon his domesticated fox when his father decides to join soldiers in an approaching war.

Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death. Peter’s difficult and often harsh father said he could keep the fox “for now” but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption. The battles between warring humans in the unnamed conflict remain remote, but the oncoming wave of deaths is seen through Pax’s eyes as woodland creatures are blown up by mines. While Pax learns to negotiate the complications of surviving in the wild and relating to other foxes, Peter breaks his foot and must learn to trust a seemingly eccentric woman named Vola who battles her own ghosts of war. Alternating chapters from the perspectives of boy and fox are perfectly paced and complementary. Only Peter, Pax, Vola, and three of Pax’s fox companions are named, conferring a spare, fablelike quality. Every moment in the graceful, fluid narrative is believable. Klassen’s cover art has a sense of contained, powerful stillness. (Interior illustrations not seen.)

Moving and poetic. (Animal fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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  • Newbery Honor Book

BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE

A 10-year old girl learns to adjust to a strange town, makes some fascinating friends, and fills the empty space in her heart thanks to a big old stray dog in this lyrical, moving, and enchanting book by a fresh new voice. India Opal’s mama left when she was only three, and her father, “the preacher,” is absorbed in his own loss and in the work of his new ministry at the Open-Arms Baptist Church of Naomi [Florida]. Enter Winn-Dixie, a dog who “looked like a big piece of old brown carpet that had been left out in the rain.” But, this dog had a grin “so big that it made him sneeze.” And, as Opal says, “It’s hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor.” Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal meets Miss Franny Block, an elderly lady whose papa built her a library of her own when she was just a little girl and she’s been the librarian ever since. Then, there’s nearly blind Gloria Dump, who hangs the empty bottle wreckage of her past from the mistake tree in her back yard. And, Otis, oh yes, Otis, whose music charms the gerbils, rabbits, snakes and lizards he’s let out of their cages in the pet store. Brush strokes of magical realism elevate this beyond a simple story of friendship to a well-crafted tale of community and fellowship, of sweetness, sorrow and hope. And, it’s funny, too. A real gem. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7636-0776-2

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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