CHANGING TUNES

A ten-year-old girl confronts the reality of her parents’ divorce in this bittersweet novel from Napoli (For the Love of Venice, p. 584, etc.). In the wake of her parents’ recent separation, Eileen is prepared for her father’s things to be gone, but is stunned to discover the piano missing as well. This is just the latest change: With her mother working full-time, Eileen arrives home after school to an empty house, and sees her father only every other weekend. In spite of the riot of anger and sadness within her, Eileen just can’t bring herself to tell her best friend, Stephanie, that her parents have split up. The only thing that seems to be the same, the one constant in Eileen’s chaotic experience, is her piano practice sessions, which now take place in the auditorium after school. During these sessions, Eileen befriends the kindly janitor, Mr. Poole, who tells Eileen that even though his family was poor, he enjoyed playing the piano—and the one song he knew—when he was a kid. Eileen realizes that she can’t control the family she was born into. Eventually, she starts to work out the anger and pain she feels toward her parents, and finally shares the truth with an extremely sympathetic Stephanie. Although the structure of the novel, shifting between piano practice and the rest of Eileen’s life, seems a bit inelegant and contrived, Napoli succeeds in creating a reassuringly bewildered character in Eileen. (Fiction. 10- 12)

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-525-45861-1

Page Count: 130

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1998

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A WEEK IN THE WOODS

Playing on his customary theme that children have more on the ball than adults give them credit for, Clements (Big Al and Shrimpy, p. 951, etc.) pairs a smart, unhappy, rich kid and a small-town teacher too quick to judge on appearances. Knowing that he’ll only be finishing up the term at the local public school near his new country home before hieing off to an exclusive academy, Mark makes no special effort to fit in, just sitting in class and staring moodily out the window. This rubs veteran science teacher Bill Maxwell the wrong way, big time, so that even after Mark realizes that he’s being a snot and tries to make amends, all he gets from Mr. Maxwell is the cold shoulder. Matters come to a head during a long-anticipated class camping trip; after Maxwell catches Mark with a forbidden knife (a camp mate’s, as it turns out) and lowers the boom, Mark storms off into the woods. Unaware that Mark is a well-prepared, enthusiastic (if inexperienced) hiker, Maxwell follows carelessly, sure that the “slacker” will be waiting for rescue around the next bend—and breaks his ankle running down a slope. Reconciliation ensues once he hobbles painfully into Mark’s neatly organized camp, and the two make their way back together. This might have some appeal to fans of Gary Paulsen’s or Will Hobbs’s more catastrophic survival tales, but because Clements pauses to explain—at length—everyone’s history, motives, feelings, and mindset, it reads more like a scenario (albeit an empowering one, at least for children) than a story. Worthy—but just as Maxwell underestimates his new student, so too does Clement underestimate his readers’ ability to figure out for themselves what’s going on in each character’s life and head. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-82596-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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BEOWULF

“Hear, and listen well, my friends, and I will tell you a tale that has been told for a thousand years and more.” It’s not exactly a rarely told tale, either, though this complete rendition is distinguished by both handsome packaging and a prose narrative that artfully mixes alliterative language reminiscent of the original, with currently topical references to, for instance, Grendel’s “endless terror raids,” and the “holocaust at Heorot.” Along with being printed on heavy stock and surrounded by braided borders, the text is paired to colorful scenes featuring a small human warrior squaring off with a succession of grimacing but not very frightening monsters in battles marked by but a few discreet splashes of blood. Morpurgo puts his finger on the story’s enduring appeal—“we still fear the evil that stalks out there in the darkness . . . ”—but offers a version unlikely to trouble the sleep of more sensitive readers or listeners. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7636-3206-6

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2006

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