Fifth-grade narrator Ritchie Willis tells about the time in 1939 when his mother was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown, his little sister, Rosie, was sick at home with fever, and he himself was terrorized by the school bully and ignored by his cold father. Much of the responsibility for the house and Rosie fell on Ritchie's small shoulders: Every day after school he had to come straight home to look after Rosie and warm supper for his father. One day, however, he sees his reclusive cellist neighbor's dog dead on the road. He goes to tell Thad Grailowsky about his dog, and the two become friends. Ritchie confides in Mr. Grailowsky, talking to him about his mother's absence and Rosie's illness. He also tells him about Rosie's fantasy of a troll living under Mr. Grailowsky's bridge. Suddenly, letters start coming to the house for Rosie from the troll, named pod (spelled the same right side up and upside down). These letters keep Rosie's spirits up, and even Ritchie begins believing in pod's existence. Taking courage from the little troll, Ritchie faces his fears and triumphs over them. His mother comes home and Rosie gets well, but Mr. Grailowsky leaves to join the Canadian army to fight in WW II. Pod's letters become postcards from abroad and then cease entirely—and Thad Grailowsky is reported missing in action. After the war, Rosie receives a final postcard from pod, ``We Won.'' Ritchie then realizes that Mr. Grailowsky will come home one day. McKenzie's (A Bowl of Mischief, 1992, etc.) story is heartwarming, but the reader won't understand why it takes Ritchie so long to figure out the troll's achingly obvious identity. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8050-2614-2

Page Count: 140

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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Playing on his customary theme that children have more on the ball than adults give them credit for, Clements (Big Al and Shrimpy, p. 951, etc.) pairs a smart, unhappy, rich kid and a small-town teacher too quick to judge on appearances. Knowing that he’ll only be finishing up the term at the local public school near his new country home before hieing off to an exclusive academy, Mark makes no special effort to fit in, just sitting in class and staring moodily out the window. This rubs veteran science teacher Bill Maxwell the wrong way, big time, so that even after Mark realizes that he’s being a snot and tries to make amends, all he gets from Mr. Maxwell is the cold shoulder. Matters come to a head during a long-anticipated class camping trip; after Maxwell catches Mark with a forbidden knife (a camp mate’s, as it turns out) and lowers the boom, Mark storms off into the woods. Unaware that Mark is a well-prepared, enthusiastic (if inexperienced) hiker, Maxwell follows carelessly, sure that the “slacker” will be waiting for rescue around the next bend—and breaks his ankle running down a slope. Reconciliation ensues once he hobbles painfully into Mark’s neatly organized camp, and the two make their way back together. This might have some appeal to fans of Gary Paulsen’s or Will Hobbs’s more catastrophic survival tales, but because Clements pauses to explain—at length—everyone’s history, motives, feelings, and mindset, it reads more like a scenario (albeit an empowering one, at least for children) than a story. Worthy—but just as Maxwell underestimates his new student, so too does Clement underestimate his readers’ ability to figure out for themselves what’s going on in each character’s life and head. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-82596-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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