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JACOB AND THE STRANGER

An intriguing, beautifully honed allegory concerning Jacob, known by his actions as kind, honest, even smart—yet lazy: ``I don't like to work,'' says he. ``I like to do as I please, to...lie in the grass watching the clouds.'' Still, he finds enough odd jobs to support himself, and one day a mysterious stranger offers him the easiest of tasks: to care for his potted plant for a florin a day, but ``You must return to me all that is mine. If you don't, you will rue the day you were born.'' Soon there emerges from the plant's feathery fronds an entrancing miniature panther that is Jacob's particular companion even after dozens more buds give birth to tiny cats—ocelots, jaguars, cougars—that settle comfortably into his home. When the old man returns, the cats swarm up his clothes and into his pockets—all save the panther, which (in the best outwitting-the-devil tradition) remains with Jacob. Gore, a recent immigrant from the former Soviet Union, makes his US debut with stunning b&w illustrations in ink and acrylic: evanescent, suggestive, with the sinuous cats almost one with their shadowy backgrounds, a dreamlike aura recalling Keeping's brooding art for Garfield's The Wedding Ghost (1986), subtly dramatic characterizations, and, in the end, a sly touch of whimsical humor (this stranger, after all, reveals a benign side). An elegant piece of bookmaking; an enchanting, simple-seeming tale that contrasts provocatively with Aiken's The Shoemaker's Boy (above). (Fiction/Young reader. 6+)

Pub Date: July 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-66897-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1994

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GOONEY BIRD GREENE

Gooney Bird Greene (with a silent E) is not your average second grader. She arrives in Mrs. Pidgeon’s class announcing: “I’m your new student and I just moved here from China. I want a desk right smack in the middle of the room, because I like to be right smack in the middle of everything.” Everything about her is unusual and mysterious—her clothes, hairstyles, even her lunches. Since the second graders have never met anyone like Gooney Bird, they want to hear more about her. Mrs. Pidgeon has been talking to the class about what makes a good story, so it stands to reason that Gooney will get her chance. She tells a series of stories that explain her name, how she came from China on a flying carpet, how she got diamond earrings at the prince’s palace, and why she was late for school (because she was directing a symphony orchestra). And her stories are “absolutely true.” Actually, they are explainable and mesh precisely with the teacher’s lesson, more important, they are a clever device that exemplify the elements of good storytelling and writing and also demonstrate how everyone can turn everyday events into stories. Savvy teachers should take note and add this to their shelf of “how a story is made” titles. Gooney Bird’s stories are printed in larger type than the narrative and the black-and-white drawings add the right touch of sauciness (only the cover is in color). A hybrid of Harriet, Blossom, and Anastasia, irrepressible Gooney Bird is that rare bird in children’s fiction: one that instantly becomes an amusing and popular favorite. (Fiction. 6-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-23848-4

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Walter Lorraine/Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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HOW TÍA LOLA CAME TO (VISIT) STAY

From the Tía Lola Stories series , Vol. 1

Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay.

Renowned Latin American writer Alvarez has created another story about cultural identity, but this time the primary character is 11-year-old Miguel Guzmán. 

When Tía Lola arrives to help the family, Miguel and his hermana, Juanita, have just moved from New York City to Vermont with their recently divorced mother. The last thing Miguel wants, as he's trying to fit into a predominantly white community, is a flamboyant aunt who doesn't speak a word of English. Tía Lola, however, knows a language that defies words; she quickly charms and befriends all the neighbors. She can also cook exotic food, dance (anywhere, anytime), plan fun parties, and tell enchanting stories. Eventually, Tía Lola and the children swap English and Spanish ejercicios, but the true lesson is "mutual understanding." Peppered with Spanish words and phrases, Alvarez makes the reader as much a part of the "language" lessons as the characters. This story seamlessly weaves two culturaswhile letting each remain intact, just as Miguel is learning to do with his own life. Like all good stories, this one incorporates a lesson just subtle enough that readers will forget they're being taught, but in the end will understand themselves, and others, a little better, regardless of la lengua nativa—the mother tongue.

Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-80215-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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