TENNYSON

A much-decayed Southern mansion does double duty as setting and silent-but-active character in this semi-gothic comedy. Their mother gone and their father off to look for her, 11-year-old Tennyson and her little sister Hattie find themselves suddenly ensconced in Aigredoux, a dusty, vine-choked old plantation house, with half-batty Aunt Henrietta, her bitter servant Zulma and a peacock whose cries sound like human screams. Sparked by vivid flashback dreams of her family’s ruin in the Civil War, Tennyson pens historical tales that she sends off to a New York magazine her mother Sadie always reads. Instead of luring Sadie back, however, the stories bring editor Bartholomew Prentiss, a larger-than-life buffoon sent to track down the “man” he believes to be the next great American writer. Blume builds her cast with characters kind and cruel, threads in most of the tropes and themes common to tales of this style—the cyclical nature of family history, the War’s enduring inner wounds, the complex relations between races, to name but a few—and in the end indicates that the children will get one parent back, at least. A wry, sensitively written meditation on escaping the grip of the past without losing touch with it. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-375-84703-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2007

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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KEVIN AND HIS DAD

There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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