THREE SWORDS FOR GRANADA

A turgid animal fantasy features Spanish cat musketeers crossing swords with thuggish dog invaders. Fearful but resolute Askia, chubby but loyal Paco, and fearless but female Lacy find themselves in an elite circle of cat conspirators plotting resistance to the foul-breathed Fidorean Guards. The wise and ancient Pietro is the heart and soul of the cat underground, and he sets the three friends to a series of tasks that test them and their fitness to take part in the cat revolution. The tasks seem curiously unrelated to the goal—busy work accomplished easily despite narrative bluster—and the inevitable and eventual defeat of the Fidorean Guards is assured when an enormous cat host masses against the inept hounds, begging the question, how was is it that the Fidorean Guards managed to mount a successful invasion in the first place? Actually, many questions go begging in this slim volume that never seems to end: Where did the Fidorean Guards come from? Why does Pietro, Spanish patriot, have an Italian name? How is it that Speirs’s (The Little Boy’s Christmas Gift, not reviewed, etc.) busy pen-and-ink washes depict costumes from a time 200 years after the 1420 setting? How is it that Myers (Patrol, p. 663, etc.), so sure a wordsmith most of the time, can produce the clunky prose that causes the narrative to trip on itself with almost every turn of the page? “Askia was angry when he left Omar, but he knew that his anger would not be enough to save Lacy. Tava had called him young and hot-blooded, but now was the time for him to be more, to reach inside himself and discover who he really was.” Is it possible that the chapter-book crowd is secretly crying out for a medieval animal fantasy? This, alas, cannot possibly be what they are hoping to get. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-8234-1676-3

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers.

THE CREATURE OF THE PINES

From the Unicorn Rescue Society series , Vol. 1

Elliot’s first day of school turns out to be more than he bargained for.

Elliot Eisner—skinny and pale with curly brown hair—is a bit nervous about being the new kid. Thankfully, he hits it off with fellow new student, “punk rock”–looking Uchenna Devereaux, a black girl with twists (though they actually look like dreads in Aly’s illustrations). On a first-day field trip to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the pair investigates a noise in the trees. The cause? A Jersey Devil: a blue-furred, red-bellied and -winged mythical creature that looks like “a tiny dragon” with cloven hooves, like a deer’s, on its hind feet. Unwittingly, the duo bonds with the creature by feeding it, and it later follows them back to the bus. Unsurprisingly, they lose the creature (which they alternately nickname Jersey and Bonechewer), which forces them to go to their intimidating, decidedly odd teacher, Peruvian Professor Fauna, for help in recovering it. The book closes with Professor Fauna revealing the truth—he heads a secret organization committed to protecting mythical creatures—and inviting the children to join, a neat setup for what is obviously intended to be a series. The predictable plot is geared to newly independent readers who are not yet ready for the usual heft of contemporary fantasies. A brief history lesson given by a mixed-race associate of Fauna’s in which she compares herself to the American “melting pot” manages to come across as simultaneously corrective and appropriative.

Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers. (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3170-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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Moving and accessible.

BEAR AND FRED

A WORLD WAR II STORY

A bear and his boy survive the Holocaust.

A stuffed bear tells the story of his life with a young Dutch Jewish boy as World War II engulfs the Netherlands. The bear’s words are never maudlin or precious. Rather, he is an observer with keen eyes and ears and a loving heart. Fred, the boy, lives with his parents and brothers in Delft but is then taken to Amsterdam to stay with his grandfather. Fred is warned to keep silent about his family. After Grandpa sews a yellow star onto Fred’s coat, Mama returns, rips off the star, and takes Fred to live with a “nice lady.” The war ends, and Fred and his family are all happily united. In her author’s note, Argaman describes how she saw the bear at Yad Vashem, Israel‘s Holocaust museum, and exchanged letters with Fred Lessing, now living in America, because she wanted to share the story. Translated from Hebrew, it reads seamlessly and beautifully presents a family caught up in war as seen from the perspective of a caring but historically naïve eyewitness. Without in any manner diminishing the actual horrors of World War II or any current fighting, the author enables a child to grasp in some small manner the impact of conflict on a family. Loose-lined, simply colored illustrations focus attention on the titular characters.

Moving and accessible. (author’s note, photograph) (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1821-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Amazon Crossing Kids

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

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