A well-meaning but only partially successful series opener.

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LITTLE CLAWS

From the Animal Rescue Agency series , Vol. 1

The Animal Rescue Agency, helmed by fox Esquire and rooster Mr. Pepper, saves a stranded polar bear cub.

Mother polar bear Big Claws and her baby, Little Claws, emerge from hibernation only to have Little Claws fall into a trap that leaves him stranded on an ice floe. Big Claws’ message for help sets Esquire and Mr. Pepper into action. They hop on a train to Anchorage, then dog-sled to Utqiagvik, Alaska, as the story plunges them into intrigue and action, working against an openly evil wild-animal trafficker. Although the action maintains a steady pace—with captures and escapes aplenty—certain plot elements fall apart under scrutiny. Instead, the focus is on the duo’s dynamic, crotchety and full of good-natured insults. Esquire’s dashing and flashy—down to her fashion statements—while business-minded Mr. Pepper tends toward the practical. Utqiagvik’s description isn’t exactly flattering, even given the vulpine perspective, and readers looking for Alaskan Native representation there will be disappointed. The villain is the only human character, described as “gray” but presenting White and looking like a fur hat–wearing Capt. Hook in the cartoon art. Backmatter includes information on how climate change threatens polar bears, along with Mr. Pepper’s recipe for mushroom jerky (a favorite of Esquire’s, who’s sworn off eating animals). Esquire, unlike the other animals, is highly anthropomorphized in the art, mostly going about on two feet. Only she and Mr. Pepper wear clothing.

A well-meaning but only partially successful series opener. (Animal fantasy. 8-12.)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-298233-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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THE ONE AND ONLY BOB

Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message.

WILLODEEN

An orphan loner’s small town faces a hard future after it unwittingly disrupts a natural cycle.

Willodeen is lucky that elderly retired thespians Mae and Birdie took her in after the wildfire that killed her parents and brother, not only because they’re a loving couple, but because they let her roam the woods in search of increasingly rare screechers—creatures so vile-tempered and stinky that the village elders of Perchance have put a bounty on them. The elders have other worries, though: The migratory hummingbears that have long nested in the area, drawing tourists to the lucrative annual Autumn Faire, have likewise nearly vanished. Could there be a connection? If there is, Willodeen is just the person to find it—but who would believe her? Applegate’s characters speak in pronouncements about life and nature that sometimes seem to address readers more than other characters, but the winsome illustrations lighten the thematic load. Screechers appear much like comically fierce warthogs and hummingbears, as small teddies with wings. Applegate traces a burgeoning friendship between her traumatized protagonist and Connor, a young artist who turns found materials into small animals so realistic that one actually comes to life. In the end, the townsfolk do listen and pitch in to make amends. Red-haired, gray-eyed Willodeen is cued as White; Connor has brown skin, and other human characters read as White by default.

The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message. (Eco-fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-14740-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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