ANY SMALL GOODNESS

Sweet as Mexican dulces, here’s an episodic story about life in the Los Angeles barrio. Picture-book veteran Johnston (Uncle Rain Cloud, not reviewed, etc.) presents her first novel for children, and what a treat it is. Arturo’s close-knit family, who arrived from Mexico only three years ago, stands together against the ugliness of the world. “In L.A. there’s bad. Druggies. Gangs. Thieves, lifting stuff from houses like army ants.” But as Arturo’s father says, “In life there is bueno and there is malo. If you do not find enough of the good, you must yourself create it.” Vivid, poetic language liberally spiced with Spanish introduces a cast of supporting characters who all in their own ways work to create good, including Leo Love, who returns the family’s beloved cat when she gets lost; “Coach Tree,” an unidentified retired NBA player who becomes assistant coach to Arturo’s basketball team; and Ms. Cloud, the librarian who puts just the right books into the children’s hands. When a drive-by shooting threatens all that these people have done, Arturo takes it upon himself to create more good. His personal growth is marked in the opening and closing moments: at the first, he takes back his name from a teacher who tries to “gringo-ize” it; at the last, he works to take the barrio back from the chaos within it. Arturo’s narration is by turns wise, witty, and heart-breakingly innocent. Good spirit pervades this narrative, just like the aroma of Abuelita’s chiles rellenos. ¡Maravilloso! (glossary, not seen) (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-18936-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

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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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Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards.

BEST NERDS FOREVER

Two young ghosts with unfinished business in this world join forces.

Eighth grade cyclist Finn McAllister decides to undertake a search for the supposedly crazed driver who forced him off the road and over a cliff to his death, but he spends far more of his time attending his own funeral, hovering near his grieving family and his four besties to overhear conversations, and floating through school—skipping the girls’ restroom because he still has some standards—and positively hammering on the realization that wasting any of life’s opportunities can only lead to regret. He discovers that he can still taste ice cream, smell farts, skip stones in the local lake, and use a TV remote. He can also share thoughts with both the living and with Isabella Rojas, the ghost of a classmate who vanished several months previously but is still hanging around, although she is not sure why. Eventually, in a massively contrived climax that leaves both souls ready to move on, Finn comes up with a scheme to produce proof of Isabella’s death to bring closure to her mother and also absolves his hit-and-run driver of fault (for a reason readers will see coming). In this outing, the usually dynamic duo throws together an aimless ramble around a set of flimsy mysteries that fail to coalesce. Finn reads as White; Isabella is cued as Latinx. Final illustrations not seen.

Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards. (Paranormal fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-50024-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/HMH Books

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

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