The didactic plot is further hampered by exposition and too many characters to keep straight.

A FURRY FIASCO

From the Animal Inn series , Vol. 1

A misunderstanding at Animal Inn leads to anxiety.

The Tyler family (Mom, Dad, Jake, Ethan, and Cassie—who all lack racial markers in the text but have light skin in the black-and-white illustrations) once lived in a city apartment but now live out in the country. There they run Animal Inn (a combined pet hotel, school, and spa that offers further animal services, such as puppy birthday parties and reading activities) with their family pets as permanent residents (narrator Leopold the macaw, terrier Dash, chocolate Lab Coco, cats Shadow and Whiskers, and gerbils Fuzzy and Furry). As the story opens, the animals first hear that a wizard is coming but find greater terror in the clarification that the wizard won’t be the guest—the wizard’s dragon will be. The animals’ anxiety levels increase as they deal with the preparations of the inn for the new guest, even though at the halfway point one of the many guests (a miniature poodle, very French) relates an anecdote about unnecessary fear in the face of misinformation and misunderstandings. Finally, the dragon is revealed to be a rescued Komodo dragon and “wizard” the result of young Cassie’s difficulties pronouncing the word “lizard,” and soon all are friends. Here’s hoping the next books will go lighter on the exposition, characters, and heavy-handedness.

The didactic plot is further hampered by exposition and too many characters to keep straight. (preview of next book) (Fiction/animal fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-6224-2

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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A dramatic, educational, authentic whale of a tale.

A WHALE OF THE WILD

After a tsunami devastates their habitat in the Salish Sea, a young orca and her brother embark on a remarkable adventure.

Vega’s matriarchal family expects her to become a hunter and wayfinder, with her younger brother, Deneb, protecting and supporting her. Invited to guide her family to their Gathering Place to hunt salmon, Vega’s underwater miscalculations endanger them all, and an embarrassed Vega questions whether she should be a wayfinder. When the baby sister she hoped would become her life companion is stillborn, a distraught Vega carries the baby away to a special resting place, shocking her grieving family. Dispatched to find his missing sister, Deneb locates Vega in the midst of a terrible tsunami. To escape the waters polluted by shattered boats, Vega leads Deneb into unfamiliar open sea. Alone and hungry, the young siblings encounter a spectacular giant whale and travel briefly with shark-hunting orcas. Trusting her instincts and gaining emotional strength from contemplating the vastness of the sky, Vega knows she must lead her brother home and help save her surviving family. In alternating first-person voices, Vega and Deneb tell their harrowing story, engaging young readers while educating them about the marine ecosystem. Realistic black-and-white illustrations enhance the maritime setting.

A dramatic, educational, authentic whale of a tale. (maps, wildlife facts, tribes of the Salish Sea watershed, environmental and geographical information, how to help orcas, author’s note, artist’s note, resources) (Animal fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299592-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to...

ESCAPE FROM BAXTERS' BARN

A group of talking farm animals catches wind of the farm owner’s intention to burn the barn (with them in it) for insurance money and hatches a plan to flee.

Bond begins briskly—within the first 10 pages, barn cat Burdock has overheard Dewey Baxter’s nefarious plan, and by Page 17, all of the farm animals have been introduced and Burdock is sharing the terrifying news. Grady, Dewey’s (ever-so-slightly) more principled brother, refuses to go along, but instead of standing his ground, he simply disappears. This leaves the animals to fend for themselves. They do so by relying on their individual strengths and one another. Their talents and personalities match their species, bringing an element of realism to balance the fantasy elements. However, nothing can truly compensate for the bland horror of the premise. Not the growing sense of family among the animals, the serendipitous intervention of an unknown inhabitant of the barn, nor the convenient discovery of an alternate home. Meanwhile, Bond’s black-and-white drawings, justly compared to those of Garth Williams, amplify the sense of dissonance. Charming vignettes and single- and double-page illustrations create a pastoral world into which the threat of large-scale violence comes as a shock.

Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to ponder the awkward coincidences that propel the plot. (Animal fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-33217-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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