A sourpuss principal successfully forces a beloved teacher into retirement in this sketchy, unsatisfying import. So fond of giving presents that he’s nicknamed “Santa,” Hubert Noël starts the school year by passing out a set of coupons, each of which can be redeemed for skipping a day of school, eating in class, clowning around, refusing to go to the chalkboard, or some like gift. This goes over like a lead balloon with his new principal, Madame Incarnation Perez, who repeatedly calls him on the carpet, and at last hands him walking papers. Not even getting her own book of coupons (“One coupon for a smile . . . one coupon to make up a poem,” etc.) softens her attitude, so Noël finishes the year and quietly goes off, with a coupon from his students, “for a happy and well-deserved retirement.” The point of view shifts erratically from various children to Perez or Noël, and the plot is little more than a string of teachable moments. Readers hoping for the emotional depth of Secret Letters From 0 To 10 (1998) or an effervescent classroom environment à la Gregory Maguire’s Seven Spiders Spinning (1994) and its sequels, will be disappointed. Occasional, freely drawn cartoons add little to the atmosphere or humor. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-89970-4

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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From the author of the Animorphs series comes this earnest novel in verse about an orphaned Sudanese war refugee with a passion for cows, who has resettled in Minnesota with relatives. Arriving in winter, Kek spots a cow that reminds him of his father’s herd, a familiar sight in an alien world. Later he returns with Hannah, a friendly foster child, and talks the cow’s owner into hiring him to look after it. When the owner plans to sell the cow, Kek becomes despondent. Full of wide-eyed amazement and unalloyed enthusiasm for all things American, Kek is a generic—bordering on insulting—stereotype. His tribe, culture and language are never identified; personal details, such as appearance and age, are vague or omitted. Lacking the quirks and foibles that bring characters to life, Kek seems more a composite of traits designed to instruct readers than an engaging individual in his own right. Despite its lackluster execution, this story’s simple premise and basic vocabulary make it suitable for younger readers interested in the plight of war refugees. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-36765-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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Using the multiple voices that made Bull Run (1995) so absorbing, Fleischman takes readers to a modern inner-city neighborhood and a different sort of battle, as bit by bit the handful of lima beans an immigrant child plants in an empty lot blossoms into a community garden, tended by a notably diverse group of local residents. It's not an easy victory: Toughened by the experience of putting her children through public school, Leona spends several days relentlessly bulling her way into government offices to get the lot's trash hauled away; others address the lack of readily available water, as well as problems with vandals and midnight dumpers; and though decades of waging peace on a small scale have made Sam an expert diplomat, he's unable to prevent racial and ethnic borders from forming. Still, the garden becomes a place where wounds heal, friendships form, and seeds of change are sown. Readers won't gain any great appreciation for the art and science of gardening from this, but they may come away understanding that people can work side by side despite vastly different motives, attitudes, skills, and cultural backgrounds. It's a worthy idea, accompanied by Pedersen's chapter-heading black-and-white portraits, providing advance information about the participants' races and, here and there, ages. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: May 11, 1997

ISBN: 0-06-027471-9

Page Count: 69

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

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