The ebullience of an irrepressible female protagonist is occasionally threatened by gender-typing in this otherwise...

THE BECKET LIST

From the Blackberry Farm series , Vol. 1

A (nearly) 10-year-old girl adjusts to country living after moving with her family from the city.

City child Rebecca renames herself Becket when she moves with her family to the country, where her veterinarian parents take over the vet clinic near the farm where her father grew up. Becket is noisy, confident, and full of life, narrating in an enthusiastic first person, present tense. She announces “Beautiful Alerts” when she sees beauty—a sunset, a thunderstorm, Gran—and says something when she sees something, often to amusing effect (“Stranger Danger!” she warns her mother at the country train station, when a man asks the time). In fact, Becket is a regular laundry list of confidently delivered safety sayings, and it’s just one of her many original and sparkling traits. What doesn’t sparkle, however, is the story’s subtle undercurrent of admonition directed at Becket’s boisterousness and confidence. “A little lower,” the camp counselor tells her. “Lower the volume,” her father says. These messages, underscoring the societal notion that girls should be quiet and self-effacing, are not delivered to boy characters and are, thankfully, ignored by Becket. Otherwise, the storyline is warm and amusing as Becket and her two siblings navigate their new life on a farm. A brown-skinned family from Peru on a nearby alpaca farm adds some diversity, as do the black-presenting friends who visit the Branches from the city; the Branches themselves are white. Pham’s energetic spot art enhances Griffin’s characterizations.

The ebullience of an irrepressible female protagonist is occasionally threatened by gender-typing in this otherwise entertaining story. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61620-790-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet!

WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE

From the Ryan Hart series , Vol. 1

Ryan Hart is navigating the fourth grade and all its challenges with determination.

Her mom named her Ryan because it means “king,” and she wanted Ryan to feel powerful every time she heard her name; Ryan knows it means she is a leader. So when changes occur or disaster strikes, budding chef Ryan does her best to find the positive and “make sunshine.” When her dad is laid off from the post office, the family must make adjustments that include moving into a smaller house, selling their car, and changing how they shop for groceries. But Ryan gets to stay at Vernon Elementary, and her mom still finds a way to get her the ingredients she needs to practice new recipes. Her older brother, Ray, can be bossy, but he finds little ways to support her, especially when she is down—as does the whole family. Each episodic chapter confronts Ryan with a situation; intermittently funny, frustrating, and touching, they should be familiar and accessible to readers, as when Ryan fumbles her Easter speech despite careful practice. Ryan, her family, and friends are Black, and Watson continues to bring visibility to both Portland, Oregon, generally and its Black community specifically, making another wonderful contribution that allows Black readers to see themselves and all readers to find a character they can love.

Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet! (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0056-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to...

ESCAPE FROM BAXTERS' BARN

A group of talking farm animals catches wind of the farm owner’s intention to burn the barn (with them in it) for insurance money and hatches a plan to flee.

Bond begins briskly—within the first 10 pages, barn cat Burdock has overheard Dewey Baxter’s nefarious plan, and by Page 17, all of the farm animals have been introduced and Burdock is sharing the terrifying news. Grady, Dewey’s (ever-so-slightly) more principled brother, refuses to go along, but instead of standing his ground, he simply disappears. This leaves the animals to fend for themselves. They do so by relying on their individual strengths and one another. Their talents and personalities match their species, bringing an element of realism to balance the fantasy elements. However, nothing can truly compensate for the bland horror of the premise. Not the growing sense of family among the animals, the serendipitous intervention of an unknown inhabitant of the barn, nor the convenient discovery of an alternate home. Meanwhile, Bond’s black-and-white drawings, justly compared to those of Garth Williams, amplify the sense of dissonance. Charming vignettes and single- and double-page illustrations create a pastoral world into which the threat of large-scale violence comes as a shock.

Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to ponder the awkward coincidences that propel the plot. (Animal fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-33217-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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