LEONARDO’S HAND

Downing constructs his children's-book debut around an odd, but riveting, premise: a young Colorado orphan finds fame, fortune, and a loving family thanks to a helping hand—literally—from Leonardo da Vinci. Leonard, or "Nard," as he prefers to be called, often finds ingenious ways to cope with his lack of a left hand (he was born that way), but his brain really goes into high gear when a detached hand scuttles up, takes a pencil, and proclaims in mirror writing that it's been waiting 500 years for him to be reincarnated, and now it's time to get down to the business of changing the world. Visions of big bucks and a national tour dance in Nard's head, but the hand, dubbed "Vinci," stubbornly counsels a higher purpose—and displays the speed and cleverness to stay out of Nard's reach until he sees the light. The author surrounds his spirited, basically good-hearted protagonist with an unconventional foster family for a strong, colorful supporting cast, stirs in a generous but not over-ambitious helping of subplots, and brings the tale to a (literally, again) soaring climax in which Nard's human-powered flying machine competes for a hefty prize. The plotting does tend toward the predictable, but it's grand entertainment, with an unalloyed happy ending and a memorable fantasy element to give it a leg up. So to speak. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-07893-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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SEVENTH GRADE TANGO

PLB 0-7868-2427-1 The content and concerns of Levy’s latest is at odds with the young reading level and large type size, which may prevent this novel’s natural audience of middle schoolers from finding a fast and funny read. In sixth grade, Rebecca broke her friend Scott’s toe at a dance. Now, in seventh grade, they are partners in a ballroom dance class, and they soon find they dance well together, but that makes Rebecca’s friend Samantha jealous. She gives a party during which spin-the-bottle is played, kissing Scott and then bullying him into being her boyfriend. While Rebecca deals with her mixed feelings about all this, she also has a crush on her dance instructor. Levy (My Life as a Fifth-Grade Comedian, 1997, etc.) has great comedic timing and writes with a depth of feeling to make early adolescent romantic travails engaging; she also comes through on the equally difficult feat of making ballroom dancing appealing to young teens. The obsession with kissing, pre-sexual tension, and sensuality of the dancing will be off-putting or engrossing, depending entirely on readers’ comfort levels with such conversations in real life as well as on the page. Precocious preteens will find that this humorously empathetic take on budding romance is just right. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7868-0498-X

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2000

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WHAT EVERY GIRL (EXCEPT ME) KNOWS

In this unusual, deeply felt story about a motherless girl, 12-year-old Gabby lives with her painter father and older brother, Ian. She longs not only for a mother to instruct her in the womanly arts, but also for a best friend to share things with. Her wishes are suddenly answered when Cleo, her favorite of all the women her father has dated, becomes engaged to her dad and a wonderful new girl joins her school class. Gabby is relieved and happy that she has finally found females she can connect with, until the unexpected happens. Her father and Cleo break up, and in a heart-wrenching gasp-out-loud moment, Cleo shatters Gabby's hopes for a fairytale family with a real mother at the helm. But Cleo's temporary presence has awoken Gabby's long-dormant curiosity about her own mother. She's particularly interested in probing into her mother's mysterious death, a taboo topic in her household and something she has always felt guilty about. Determined to find out the truth, she talks her older brother into accompanying her on a pilgrimage to New York, hoping a visit to their old home will jog their collective memories. There she learns some hard, though guilt-relieving truths, finally becoming able to have "embraced her [mother's] existence" and say "good-bye." Although slow in spots, Baskin's first person narrative is smoothly engaging overall, and the dialogue rings true. The sympathetic protagonist has reality and dimension, and readers should be squarely in her corner as she goes through the difficult process of becoming a young woman. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-316-07021-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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