Some may find this overly sweet, but Bo is an endearing Pollyanna in a parka.

BO AT BALLARD CREEK

A warm tale set in an Alaskan gold-mining town in 1929-30.

Bo, a 5-year-old girl, was adopted as a newborn by two gruff but tenderhearted blacksmiths who’ve toiled in the mining camps of the Yukon for years. These unlikely fathers smoke a bit and swear a bit, but they love Bo with all their hearts. Theirs is an extraordinarily generous, solicitous, close-knit community, comprised of indigenous neighbors and workers from around the world. Events unfold at a leisurely pace in this narrative that’s enriched by authentic details that make the time and place come alive. Readers discover that life in a mining town means surviving brutal winters, handling day-to-day chores in all seasons while still having fun, doing backbreaking labor, and finally, actually extracting the gold from the dirt. (Readers will learn more than they probably ever needed to know about how this is accomplished.) Life in a remote backwater also entails high excitement, such as the townspeople’s first-ever sighting of an airplane and bulldozer. Warmth and love pervade this novel, an Alaskan version of the Little House books, and characters are well-drawn. Some realistically sad and frightening events occur, but the novel ends on a happy, though wistful, note. Final art was not seen, though samples are charming and reinforce the Little House feel.

Some may find this overly sweet, but Bo is an endearing Pollyanna in a parka. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9351-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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