The author of Frindle and The Landry News returns with a touching novel about a boy who is ashamed of the fact that his father is the janitor at his school. Jack Rankin, 11, is a good kid who has always gotten along just fine with his parents. But when Jack starts fifth grade (temporarily located in the town high school in which Jack’s father has been the janitor for many years), the trouble starts. Some of the meaner fifth graders give Jack a hard time about his father’s job. “Must take a lot of talent to clean up a bunch of puke, huh? Sure wish I could learn how to do that,” says one particularly obnoxious classmate. In a misguided attempt to get back at his father, Jack puts the biggest gob of bubble gum known to mankind underneath a desk in one of the classrooms. The culprit is quickly discovered and Jack is sentenced to after-school janitorial gum patrol for three weeks. During his new extracurricular activity, Jack explores the old school building, discovering an underground tunnel with a secret apartment at its end—and also discovering that there are parts of his father’s life that he knows nothing about. But while the first half of this book is great, accurately capturing the voice of an 11-year-old boy, the second half works too hard to show us that Jack’s father is a good man who is more than just a janitor. What would be wrong with being just a janitor, a wonderful father, and a good husband? An enjoyable read and a good jumping-off point for classroom discussions about class and economic status in America, but too heavy-handed to be satisfying. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-81818-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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Donavan's friends collect buttons and marbles, but he collects words. ``NUTRITION,'' ``BALLYHOO,'' ``ABRACADABRA''—these and other words are safely stored on slips of paper in a jar. As it fills, Donavan sees a storage problem developing and, after soliciting advice from his teacher and family, solves it himself: Visiting his grandma at a senior citizens' apartment house, he settles a tenants' argument by pulling the word ``COMPROMISE'' from his jar and, feeling ``as if the sun had come out inside him,'' discovers the satisfaction of giving his words away. Appealingly detailed b&w illustrations depict Donavan and his grandma as African-Americans. This Baltimore librarian's first book is sure to whet readers' appetites for words, and may even start them on their own savory collections. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: June 30, 1994

ISBN: 0-06-020190-8

Page Count: 72

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1994

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Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay.


From the Tía Lola Stories series , Vol. 1

Renowned Latin American writer Alvarez has created another story about cultural identity, but this time the primary character is 11-year-old Miguel Guzmán. 

When Tía Lola arrives to help the family, Miguel and his hermana, Juanita, have just moved from New York City to Vermont with their recently divorced mother. The last thing Miguel wants, as he's trying to fit into a predominantly white community, is a flamboyant aunt who doesn't speak a word of English. Tía Lola, however, knows a language that defies words; she quickly charms and befriends all the neighbors. She can also cook exotic food, dance (anywhere, anytime), plan fun parties, and tell enchanting stories. Eventually, Tía Lola and the children swap English and Spanish ejercicios, but the true lesson is "mutual understanding." Peppered with Spanish words and phrases, Alvarez makes the reader as much a part of the "language" lessons as the characters. This story seamlessly weaves two culturaswhile letting each remain intact, just as Miguel is learning to do with his own life. Like all good stories, this one incorporates a lesson just subtle enough that readers will forget they're being taught, but in the end will understand themselves, and others, a little better, regardless of la lengua nativa—the mother tongue.

Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-80215-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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