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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A beautiful, evocative sophomore effort from Newbery honoree Wolk (Wolf Hollow, 2016).

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BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA

This book will make people want to run away to the Elizabeth Islands.

It’s the 1920s. Crow and her adoptive father, Osh, live in a tiny house on a tiny island off Cape Cod, but her descriptions make it seem strange and mysterious. The cottage is “built from bits of lost ships,” and it’s full of found treasures: “a pair of sun-white whale ribs arched over our doorway, a tarnished ship’s bell hanging from their pinnacle.” Every chapter in the book has a new mystery to be solved: why was Crow sent away in an old boat when she was a baby? Why is a fire burning on an abandoned island? Did Capt. Kidd really hide treasure nearby? But some readers will love Wolk’s use of language even more than the puzzles. Crow says her skin is “the same color Osh [makes] by mixing purple and yellow, blue and orange, red and green.” (The race of the characters isn’t always identified, but Osh says, “I came a long, long way to be here,” and his native language and accent make him sound “different from everyone else.”) The pacing of the book isn’t always as suspenseful as it should be. There are a few lulls, which the author tries to fill with heavy foreshadowing. But the mysteries—and the words that describe them—are compelling enough to send readers to the islands for years to come.

A beautiful, evocative sophomore effort from Newbery honoree Wolk (Wolf Hollow, 2016). (Historical fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-99485-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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