A moving, well-written tale about an unusual friendship.


A middle-grade boy finds comfort and emotional growth in his friendship with an older woman in this novel.

Summer vacation isn’t starting out well for Russell, called Rusty. He failed fifth grade math and now has to go to summer school. His closest pal, Walter, is at sleepaway camp for six weeks. But worst of all, his mother is temporarily gone, being treated for depression; it’s unknown when she’ll return. Rusty takes his mind off things by fixing up an old catboat. One day, Hazel Perkins, an older woman in a wheelchair, asks him to take her sailing. Rusty puts her off but later agrees to earn money by doing chores at her house. They settle into a comforting routine, starting with a snack and math homework, then chores. Besides the money, Rusty appreciates Hazel’s agreeably cluttered house, her seaside paintings, and her friendly cat, Marigold. The day before his mother’s return, Rusty finally takes Hazel for a joyous sail. Though sorrow follows, Rusty gains a firmer sense of what’s important. In his third book for children, Loizeaux sensitively evokes his narrator’s pain and confusion as well as his insights. Rusty realizes he can repair his boat, “unlike some of the other things that I couldn’t do anything about.” Poetically striking details make scenes come alive, as with Hazel’s house, filled with “books, shells, pottery, dried seaweed, lacy snake skins…and an entire standing skeleton of what might have been a fox.” That Rusty allows himself to be changed by Hazel’s friendship and guidance speaks well of him in a subtle way, and it’s touching to see their mutual caring and compassion. Throughout, the author effectively employs maritime metaphors to tie everything together. Jacobsen’s lively, well-composed pencil illustrations nicely capture the book’s emotions.

A moving, well-written tale about an unusual friendship.

Pub Date: March 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-947159-42-6

Page Count: 186

Publisher: One Elm Books

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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This can’t be the last we ever hear of the Legendary Alston Boys of the purely surreal Logan County—imaginative,...


From the Legendary Alston Boys series , Vol. 1

Can this really be the first time readers meet the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County? Cousins and veteran sleuths Otto and Sheed Alston show us that we are the ones who are late to their greatness.

These two black boys are coming to terms with the end of their brave, heroic summer at Grandma’s, with a return to school just right around the corner. They’ve already got two keys to the city, but the rival Epic Ellisons—twin sisters Wiki and Leen—are steadily gaining celebrity across Logan County, Virginia, and have in hand their third key to the city. No way summer can end like this! These young people are powerful, courageous, experienced adventurers molded through their heroic commitment to discipline and deduction. They’ve got their shared, lifesaving maneuvers committed to memory (printed in a helpful appendix) and ready to save any day. Save the day they must, as a mysterious, bendy gentleman and an oversized, clingy platypus have been unleashed on the city of Fry, and all the residents and their belongings seem to be frozen in time and place. Will they be able to solve this one? With total mastery, Giles creates in Logan County an exuberant vortex of weirdness, where the commonplace sits cheek by jowl with the utterly fantastic, and populates it with memorable characters who more than live up to their setting.

This can’t be the last we ever hear of the Legendary Alston Boys of the purely surreal Logan County—imaginative, thrill-seeking readers, this is a series to look out for. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-46083-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Versify/HMH

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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A heartfelt, somber story skillfully infused with magic and adventure.


Helped by a deck of cards that comes to life, a boy learns to cope with loss, displacement, and bullying in this debut middle-grade novel.

Twelve-year-old Alexander Finn lives in Ridge Park, New York. He is a star lacrosse player and learns magic tricks from his father—a famous magician. Life is good. But when his dad is killed during a performance, Alex and his mom have to relocate to Orchard, a small town in Maine. Still grieving, Alex is plunged into a new and miserable life. He hates his new house and the apple-obsessed Orchard with its small-town ways. Most of all, he hates his new school—a hotbed of bullying and football (no lacrosse). Just when Orchard seems truly unbearable, Alex discovers a pack of cards his father left him. These are no ordinary cards. In Alex’s presence, they come to life. He meets King Anton and Queen Olivia (the King and Queen of Hearts); their nervous son, Jack; and the mischievous Joker as well as all the Spade, Club, and Diamond families. Only Alex can see them—to anyone else, they appear as ordinary cards—but they lift his spirits and encourage him to pursue magic. Alex even wins a magic contest. But when criminals steal his cards, Alex’s life goes from bad to worse. Can he save his new friends and make a home for himself in Orchard? Whereas the book’s title might suggest a lighthearted, invented-world fantasy, Kutscera has written a serious work of magic realism exploring relevant and contemporary themes. The prose and dialogue are polished, and the plot, though straightforward, builds steadily toward an age-suitable climax. Though the bullying Alex suffers is of the endemic, senseless variety, it is not too distressing. Young readers are invited to relate to Alex—to his troubles and feelings—and yet allowed to delight in the courtly good nature and whimsy of the cards. The minor characters (particularly Alex’s mom and his classmate Lindsay) are given deft touches of individuality. The author’s full-page pencil drawings effectively capture Alex’s washed-out despair.

A heartfelt, somber story skillfully infused with magic and adventure.

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73289-354-2

Page Count: 177

Publisher: Blue Whale Press

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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