Dated language and slow pacing make a muddle of this tedious title.

MEMOIRS OF A BASQUE COW

A philosophical cow recounts her life and ponders its meaning.

Mo looks back on her long life: her unceremonious birth, dismay at the realization that she’s a cow, humans she befriended or fought, a tumultuous friendship with a fellow cow called La Vache qui Rit, and her dotage with a plucky French nun. Mo’s narration is monopolized by philosophical conversations with The Pest, Mo’s inner voice, an all-knowing, formally prissy conscience. Serenity, danger, and cruelty are all present in Mo’s account. The story is translated from Basque, and the author’s preface provides brief historical context about the Spanish Civil War and the anti-fascist Basque rebels who fought against Franco’s dictatorship after the war. Unfortunately, the text fails to explore these sociopolitical issues. It is also a shame that the translator and publisher did not opt to remove problematically dated terms. Mo shares a saying from “a wise oriental,” and the story’s villain is referred to as “a foreigner”; as Mo cannot understand the latter’s (unidentified) language, it is, regrettably, represented throughout with just one nonsensical word: “Karral.” Human characters seem to be default white. The meandering narrative bounces between past and present, with many digressions in between, punctuated by pithy cow sayings. There’s a monotonous lack of urgency between bits of action and the occasional fight scene.

Dated language and slow pacing make a muddle of this tedious title. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-912868-01-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dedalus Limited

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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Dolphin lovers will appreciate this look at our complicated relationship with these marine mammals.

HOW TO SPEAK DOLPHIN

Is dolphin-assisted therapy so beneficial to patients that it’s worth keeping a wild dolphin captive?

Twelve-year-old Lily has lived with her emotionally distant oncologist stepfather and a succession of nannies since her mother died in a car accident two years ago. Nannies leave because of the difficulty of caring for Adam, Lily’s severely autistic 4-year-old half brother. The newest, Suzanne, seems promising, but Lily is tired of feeling like a planet orbiting the sun Adam. When she meets blind Zoe, who will attend the same private middle school as Lily in the fall, Lily’s happy to have a friend. However, Zoe’s take on the plight of the captive dolphin, Nori, used in Adam’s therapy opens Lily’s eyes. She knows she must use her influence over her stepfather, who is consulting on Nori’s treatment for cancer (caused by an oil spill), to free the animal. Lily’s got several fine lines to walk, as she works to hold onto her new friend, convince her stepfather of the rightness of releasing Nori, and do what’s best for Adam. In her newest exploration of animal-human relationships, Rorby’s lonely, mature heroine faces tough but realistic situations. Siblings of children on the spectrum will identify with Lily. If the tale flirts with sentimentality and some of the characters are strident in their views, the whole never feels maudlin or didactic.

Dolphin lovers will appreciate this look at our complicated relationship with these marine mammals. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-67605-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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