Nickel is a sixth-grader so attuned to animals that he sees them everywhere: first in the clouds—where the mutable shapes in the sky become camels, kangaroos, musk-oxen, and hares—and then in the people he meets in his city, recognizing in each an animal in disguise, bipedal like Miriam, his companion kangaroo rat. Nickel’s concentration is all for the revealing of these animals, with little left for the world itself. His best friend, down-to-earth Inez, tolerantly calls him a bush baby and the image of those big eyes suits Nickel’s observant character. He photographs the clouds and develops the pictures in the darkroom of the college where his mother teaches. The process of capturing and bringing to light pictures on film is carefully, gracefully detailed, and sets the pace for a novel full of revelations and dream-like encounters. The arc of the story is drawn by Nickel’s desire to uncover the mystery of The Beastly Arms and its odd landlord, Julius Beastly. Nickel discovers the Beastly Arms while apartment hunting with his mother. Mr. Beastly is so eager to have them as tenants that he paints the front door and appears in a suit for their return visit to the building. He sets the rent so low that—given what Nickel and his mother both recognize as the man’s essentially benign demeanor, and in spite of the place’s persistent smell of animal dung—they can’t refuse. When Nickel uncovers the mystery, it is less a surprise to the reader than a kind of enchantment: The building is Mr. Beastly’s sanctuary for hundreds of the wild creatures who once lived in the spaces the city now occupies—rooms and rooms filled with small animals (“mice . . . voles, shrews, ferrets, gophers and moles”), along with opossums, foxes, bats, and an owl or two. Mr. Beastly recognizes in Nickel a kindred spirit and enlists him as an apprentice caretaker for his wild charges. Beastly begins to reconnect with the world of humans while bestowing on Nickel a real connection to wild creatures in this richly imagined kind-hearted novel. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-16589-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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

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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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From award winner Telgemeier (Smile, 2010), a pitch-perfect graphic novel portrayal of a middle school musical, adroitly capturing the drama both on and offstage.

Seventh-grader Callie Marin is over-the-moon to be on stage crew again this year for Eucalyptus Middle School’s production of Moon over Mississippi. Callie's just getting over popular baseball jock and eighth-grader Greg, who crushed her when he left Callie to return to his girlfriend, Bonnie, the stuck-up star of the play. Callie's healing heart is quickly captured by Justin and Jesse Mendocino, the two very cute twins who are working on the play with her. Equally determined to make the best sets possible with a shoestring budget and to get one of the Mendocino boys to notice her, the immensely likable Callie will find this to be an extremely drama-filled experience indeed. The palpably engaging and whip-smart characterization ensures that the charisma and camaraderie run high among those working on the production. When Greg snubs Callie in the halls and misses her reference to Guys and Dolls, one of her friends assuredly tells her, "Don't worry, Cal. We’re the cool kids….He's the dork." With the clear, stylish art, the strongly appealing characters and just the right pinch of drama, this book will undoubtedly make readers stand up and cheer.

Brava!  (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-32698-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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