THE BARN

Once again, the ever-resourceful Avi (The Bird, the Frog, and the Light, p. 391, etc.) explores new ground. Ben is nine when his teenage sister, Nettie, fetches him from school, where he'd been sent to honor his dead mother's wishes. Their father has had a "palsy" (a stroke), and Ben's help is needed on the 300-acre family claim in Oregon Territory. Ben, intellectually gifted and a natural leader, soon determines the most efficient division of labor: He'll care for Father while Harrison, 13, and Nettie farm. (Some of this stretches credulity: Paralyzed and incontinent, Father requires more lifting than a nine-year-old could credibly manage; and, although Avi suggests the difficulties in one poignant scene, dealing with the necessary laundry is never mentioned.) Desperate to reclaim Father, Ben pins his hopes on the idea that if they can build a barn, as Father had planned, then he will recover. The three children do build a sizable, sturdy barn (without even the traditional help of neighbors, stretching credulity still more). Though the effect of the barn's completion doesn't literally match Ben's dream, it's a gift from the three to their dying father and enables him to give them a gift as well: understanding. Ben's spare narrative is lovingly honed, the interaction of the characters drawn with sensitivity and skill. A small, quiet book that may appeal to perceptive readers. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-531-06861-7

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Orchard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1994

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

HOW TÍA LOLA CAME TO (VISIT) 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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NIM'S ISLAND

A child finds that being alone in a tiny tropical paradise has its ups and downs in this appealingly offbeat tale from the Australian author of Peeling the Onion (1999). Though her mother is long dead and her scientist father Jack has just sailed off on a quick expedition to gather plankton, Nim is anything but lonely on her small island home. Not only does she have constant companions in Selkie, a sea lion, and a marine iguana named Fred, but Chica, a green turtle, has just arrived for an annual egg-laying—and, through the solar-powered laptop, she has even made a new e-mail friend in famed adventure novelist Alex Rover. Then a string of mishaps darkens Nim’s sunny skies: her father loses rudder and dish antenna in a storm; a tourist ship that was involved in her mother’s death appears off the island’s reefs; and, running down a volcanic slope, Nim takes a nasty spill that leaves her feverish, with an infected knee. Though she lives halfway around the world and is in reality a decidedly unadventurous urbanite, Alex, short for “Alexandra,” sets off to the rescue, arriving in the midst of another storm that requires Nim and companions to rescue her. Once Jack brings his battered boat limping home, the stage is set for sunny days again. Plenty of comic, freely-sketched line drawings help to keep the tone light, and Nim, with her unusual associates and just-right mix of self-reliance and vulnerability, makes a character young readers won’t soon tire of. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-81123-0

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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