A delightful tale of a perceptive girl and her wonderfully odd family.

THOSE ROYS ON PLANET EARTH

In this middle-grade comedy, a girl comes of age living in Seattle with her little sisters and unorthodox parents. 

From the beginning, Alex Roy designates her quirky story as an “exposé” of her family. She was born in 1971 to Walt and Jillian. They gave their daughters gender-neutral names in hopes of avoiding future job discrimination. But Alex’s parents are also somewhat peculiar, especially Jillian. She claims she’s from the planet Arvon, which is her excuse if a particular recipe doesn’t quite work: “It’s Arvonian Stew.” Alex grows up with two younger siblings: Casey, who routinely stirs up the most trouble, and Sammy, who, for the most part, looks up to her big sisters. The girls occasionally correspond with their chain-smoking great aunt, Hattie, whose letters primarily correct grammar, mostly Alex’s. This family story covers six years, ending just prior to Alex’s teens. During that time, the Roys get family pets; the sisters have their share of spats; and Alex and Casey spend a memorable (for readers, at least) summer with Hattie in Maine. The book ends with Walt and Jillian making a decision that will undoubtedly mean a drastic change for the entire family. Russell’s (Summer Island: A Tiara for the Taking, 2012, etc.) witty series opener consists of letters from every Roy, the girls’ diary entries and short stories, and Alex’s first-person narrative. Alex entertainingly delivers the tale in formats that include one-act family plays and periodic footnotes, which are at their most hilarious when summarizing Walt’s rather mundane letters. Though the author uses distinctive fonts to signify each family member’s voice, Russell’s prose accomplishes this all on its own. Casey’s snarkiness, for example, noticeably differs from Sammy’s general cheerfulness. Humor comes from all sides: Jillian who stubbornly pronounces silent letters, and Hattie pays for her grand nieces’ plane tickets by deducting them from Walt’s inheritance. Nevertheless, Casey is a standout; she’s charmingly defiant, exceedingly bright, and prone to declaring Hattie “positively diabolical.” 

A delightful tale of a perceptive girl and her wonderfully odd family.

Pub Date: May 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5116-0623-3

Page Count: 270

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2019

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KEVIN AND HIS DAD

There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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RAMONA'S WORLD

Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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