THE KINGFISHER’S GIFT

Beckhorn (In the Morning of the World, not reviewed) gives the heartstrings a real workout in a tale replete with characters nursing private grief. Six months after her beloved father’s death, and with her mother off to a European rest cure in the wake of a nervous breakdown, 12-year-old Franny arrives at her Grandma Morrow’s country house. She’s deep in denial, accompanied by the fairies of her father’s tales (visible only to her), and bearing severe burns she got while attempting to rescue those stories after her mother pitched them into a fire. It soon becomes obvious that Grandmother, the widowed chauffeur Henry, and the Irish maid Ida all have sad secrets—which come out in a climactic rush after Franny’s discovery of a display of mounted, all-too-fairy-like luna moths shatters her fragile composure. Ida’s admission of a baby given up for adoption prompts Grandma Morrow, who has a similar experience in her own past, to rush out to reclaim it; she returns with a foundling, which she presents to Ida as hers. It isn’t, but only Franny, her grandma, and Henry, who is in love with Ida, know the truth. This rather cavalier deception doesn’t bear much examination, but there are tender and tearful moments aplenty here. Franny and her mother are reconciled by the end, and though, unlike the Little Folk in Janet Taylor Lisle’s Afternoon of the Elves (1989), Franny’s fairies put in repeat appearances, and readers are still left with the option of believing that they’re real—or not. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-23712-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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