A humbly sophisticated send-up: The boys could be beatniks if they wanted, but they’re too cool for that.

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NOW WE ARE COOL

Two brothers aim to be cool in Opel-Götz’s bemused identity quest.

An older brother tells his younger sibling that it is time to get cool. “What do you mean?” Mug asks Leo. Well, explains Leo, for instance, cool people wear sunglasses all day long. “Even when it rains! Even in the bathroom!” “Why?’ asks Mug. “Because…because then they can imagine it’s a dark and scary night!” Mug is puzzled, but he's still game. Leo goes on. They’ve got to talk cool, sport cool backpacks, listen to loud and angry and cool music, have cool pets like poisonous rats and misbehave—“a lot”—with equally bogus reasoning for each cool act. Finally, being cool sounds like too much work and too much posturing, and the boys go back to being a couple of bony, messy-haired munchkins. From racy, jazzy cool to funky, bohemian cool, Opel-Götz levels a gimlet eye at it all, but with kindly humor, much of it of the visual variety. Her artwork is full of spidery lines and phenomenally expressive faces, and the two boys walk a thin, comic line between earnest and goofy.

A humbly sophisticated send-up: The boys could be beatniks if they wanted, but they’re too cool for that. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55455-235-1

Page Count: 28

Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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Deliberately inspirational and tinged with nostalgia, this will please fans but may strike others as overly idealistic.

STICKS AND STONES

Veteran picture-book creator Polacco tells another story from her childhood that celebrates the importance of staying true to one’s own interests and values.

After years of spending summers with her father and grandmother, narrator Trisha is excited to be spending the school year in Michigan with them. Unexpectedly abandoned by her summertime friends, Trisha quickly connects with fellow outsiders Thom and Ravanne, who may be familiar to readers from Polacco’s The Junkyard Wonders (2010). Throughout the school year, the three enjoy activities together and do their best to avoid school bully Billy. While a physical confrontation between Thom (aka “Sissy Boy”) and Billy does come, so does an opportunity for Thom to defy convention and share his talent with the community. Loosely sketched watercolor illustrations place the story in the middle of the last century, with somewhat old-fashioned clothing and an apparently all-White community. Trisha and her classmates appear to be what today would be called middle schoolers; a reference to something Trisha and her mom did when she was “only eight” suggests that several years have passed since that time. As usual, the lengthy first-person narrative is cozily conversational but includes some challenging vocabulary (textiles, lackeys, foretold). The author’s note provides a brief update about her friends’ careers and encourages readers to embrace their own differences. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Deliberately inspirational and tinged with nostalgia, this will please fans but may strike others as overly idealistic. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2622-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Sweetly low-key and totally accessible.

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THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER

Billy Miller’s second-grade year is quietly spectacular in a wonderfully ordinary way.

Billy’s year begins with his worry over the lump on his head, a souvenir of a dramatic summer fall onto concrete: Will he be up to the challenges his new teacher promises in her letter to students? Quickly overshadowing that worry, however, is a diplomatic crisis over whether he has somehow offended Ms. Silver on the first day of school. Four sections—Teacher, Father, Sister and Mother—offer different and essential focal points for Billy’s life, allowing both him and readers to explore several varieties of creative endeavor, small adventures, and, especially, both challenges and successful problem-solving. The wonderfully self-possessed Sal, his 3-year-old sister, is to Billy much as Ramona is to Beezus, but without the same level of tension. Her pillowcase full of the plush yellow whales she calls the Drop Sisters (Raindrop, Gumdrop, etc.) is a memorable prop. Henkes offers what he so often does in these longer works for children: a sense that experiences don’t have to be extraordinary to be important and dramatic. Billy’s slightly dreamy interior life isn’t filled with either angst or boisterous silliness—rather, the moments that appear in these stories are clarifying bits of the universal larger puzzle of growing up, changing and understanding the world. Small, precise black-and-white drawings punctuate and decorate the pages.

Sweetly low-key and totally accessible. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-226812-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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