CHARLIE'S SONG

A powerful tale of a headstrong and compassionate youngster.

A girl in a struggling Appalachian family is overjoyed by a visit from her musician uncle in Koehler’s middle-grade novel.

It’s the 1930s, and 10-year-old Dahlia Harrell and her loved ones in the town of Lothian Mill have had a hard time in recent years. The family’s house burned down, and since then, they’ve been scraping by as tenant farmers. Dahlia is frustrated that others have more than she does; her family can’t afford a radio, for instance. At school, Dahlia’s classmate Rosie Blevins seems to have everything, but she’s still trying to steal Dahlia’s friend Ruby away from her. Then Dahlia’s brother,Charlie, is diagnosed with scarlet fever. Things look up, however, when her beloved uncle Ennis, a traveling musician, shows up with banjo in hand. He never sticks around long, but Dahlia is always happy to see him. Ennis impresses the town with his songs at the Harvest Festival, but then an unexpected problem arises: Ennis is suspected of stealing from Rosie’s father’s hardware store and ends up in jail. Dahlia and her family bring him his banjo to cheer him up, but his situation looks bleak. Charlie’s convinced of Ennis’ guilt, but Dahlia isn’t; she’s sure there must be another explanation. Over the course of this novel, Koehler offers a story that shows particular skill at describing how family ties can hold everything together during the toughest of times: “There was food and laughter and warmth. The warmth of the wood-burning stove in the kitchen, the warmth of the fireplace in the parlor, and the warmth of family gathered close.” The novel also offers a generous message about inequality and forgiveness. Dahlia’s story focuses in large part on things that worry people of her age, but it’s also a moving tale about how family crises can force young people to wrestle with adult problems. It’s a concise novel, but the author’s strong storytelling skills make it a potent one as Dahlia searches for solace in an unpredictable environment.

A powerful tale of a headstrong and compassionate youngster.

Pub Date: April 8, 2023

ISBN: 9781947536173

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Turtle Cove Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2023

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019

GHOSTS

Telgemeier’s bold colors, superior visual storytelling, and unusual subject matter will keep readers emotionally engaged and...

Catrina narrates the story of her mixed-race (Latino/white) family’s move from Southern California to Bahía de la Luna on the Northern California coast.

Dad has a new job, but it’s little sister Maya’s lungs that motivate the move: she has had cystic fibrosis since birth—a degenerative breathing condition. Despite her health, Maya loves adventure, even if her lungs suffer for it and even when Cat must follow to keep her safe. When Carlos, a tall, brown, and handsome teen Ghost Tour guide introduces the sisters to the Bahía ghosts—most of whom were Spanish-speaking Mexicans when alive—they fascinate Maya and she them, but the terrified Cat wants only to get herself and Maya back to safety. When the ghost adventure leads to Maya’s hospitalization, Cat blames both herself and Carlos, which makes seeing him at school difficult. As Cat awakens to the meaning of Halloween and Day of the Dead in this strange new home, she comes to understand the importance of the ghosts both to herself and to Maya. Telgemeier neatly balances enough issues that a lesser artist would split them into separate stories and delivers as much delight textually as visually. The backmatter includes snippets from Telgemeier’s sketchbook and a photo of her in Día makeup.

Telgemeier’s bold colors, superior visual storytelling, and unusual subject matter will keep readers emotionally engaged and unable to put down this compelling tale. (Graphic fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-54061-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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