EL LECTOR

A poor girl with a gift for storytelling refuses to surrender when her dreams and her family are threatened by labor unrest and political corruption during the Depression. Thirteen-year-old Bella lives with her widowed mother and four siblings in the Cuban-American community of cigar workers in Ybor City, Fla. Bright and ambitious, Bella “always dreamed of being el lector, just like her Grandfather,” who is paid to read novels, political essays and union news to the workers as they roll cigars. But instead of going to high school, Bella takes a job at the cigar factory to help support her family. When her Aunt Lola is arrested with other cigar workers after a union meeting, and the lectores are removed from the factories and replaced by radios, Bella finds a way to preserve her family and her dream. Filled with the uneasy spirit of Ybor City in 1931 with its emerging unions and immigrant workers, Bella’s engaging story shows what can happen when people believe “in the power of stories to enlighten and transform.” (afterword) (Fiction. 10+)

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-74651-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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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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Longing—for connection, for family, for a voice—roars to life with just a touch of magic.

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WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER

A young girl bargaining for the health of her grandmother discovers both her family’s past and the strength of her own voice.

For many years, Lily’s Korean grandmother, Halmoni, has shared her Asian wisdom and healing powers with her predominantly White community. When Lily, her sister, Sam—both biracial, Korean and White—and their widowed mom move in with Halmoni to be close with her as she ages, Lily begins to see a magical tiger. What were previously bedtime stories become dangerously prophetic, as Lily begins to piece together fact from fiction. There is no need for prior knowledge of Korean folktales, although a traditional Korean myth propels the story forward. From the tiger, Lily learns that Halmoni has bottled up the hard stories of her past to keep sadness at bay. Lily makes a deal with the tiger to heal her grandmother by releasing those stories. What she comes to realize is that healing doesn’t mean health and that Halmoni is not the only one in need of the power of storytelling. Interesting supporting characters are fully developed but used sparingly to keep the focus on the simple yet suspenseful plot. Keller infuses this tale, which explores both the end of life and coming-of-age, with a sensitive examination of immigration issues and the complexity of home. It is at one and the same time completely American and thoroughly informed by Korean culture.

Longing—for connection, for family, for a voice—roars to life with just a touch of magic. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1570-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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