A few shipwrecks and less hand-wringing, and you'd have a good story.

THE ISLAND HORSE

Another misunderstood child. Another friendly stallion.

Young Ellie, still grieving her mother's death, is unhappy when her father takes a new job on remote Sable Island. This sand-shifting "Graveyard of the Atlantic," 25 miles long and one mile wide, causes multiple shipwrecks each year, and Ellie's father is joining a group of government rescue workers there. Ellie doesn't want to leave home, but within a few days of reaching Sable Island she's made friends with a wild stallion there. A few days after that, the villagers are holding their annual wild-horse roundup. Terrified that her new friend will be sold, Ellie begs her father for help. He suggests she—at 9 years old—lead the wild stallion to the far end of the island. Ellie does, and the stallion is saved (at least until next year). Hughes does well describing the physical setting but struggles with the temporal aspect. The author's note says the book takes place in the early 1800s, but the story and characters feel more modern than that. It's also hard to find the point—that Ellie doesn't want to leave her home? that the stallion shouldn't be captured?—and the pacing is far too abrupt for the emotional changes to be believable. It's too bad, because Sable Island itself is fascinating. 

A few shipwrecks and less hand-wringing, and you'd have a good story. (Historical fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55453-592-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS

This is rather a silly story, and I don't believe children will think it particularly funny. A paper hanger and painter finds time on his hands in winter, and spends it in reading of arctic exploration. It is all given reality when he receives a present of a penguin, which makes its nest in the refrigerator on cubes of ice, mates with a lonely penguin from the zoo, and produces a family of penguins which help set the Poppers on their feet.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1938

ISBN: 978-0-316-05843-8

Page Count: 139

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1938

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Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to...

ESCAPE FROM BAXTERS' BARN

A group of talking farm animals catches wind of the farm owner’s intention to burn the barn (with them in it) for insurance money and hatches a plan to flee.

Bond begins briskly—within the first 10 pages, barn cat Burdock has overheard Dewey Baxter’s nefarious plan, and by Page 17, all of the farm animals have been introduced and Burdock is sharing the terrifying news. Grady, Dewey’s (ever-so-slightly) more principled brother, refuses to go along, but instead of standing his ground, he simply disappears. This leaves the animals to fend for themselves. They do so by relying on their individual strengths and one another. Their talents and personalities match their species, bringing an element of realism to balance the fantasy elements. However, nothing can truly compensate for the bland horror of the premise. Not the growing sense of family among the animals, the serendipitous intervention of an unknown inhabitant of the barn, nor the convenient discovery of an alternate home. Meanwhile, Bond’s black-and-white drawings, justly compared to those of Garth Williams, amplify the sense of dissonance. Charming vignettes and single- and double-page illustrations create a pastoral world into which the threat of large-scale violence comes as a shock.

Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to ponder the awkward coincidences that propel the plot. (Animal fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-33217-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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