TOWNSEND'S WARBLER

In a slim volume whose understated, elegant appearance recalls his Newbery winner (Joyful Noise, 1988), Fleischman recounts the journey of John Kirk Townsend, who left Philadelphia in 1834 to follow the Oregon Trail with fellow-naturalist Thomas Nuttall; and—in alternating vignettes—we see the migration of the warblers that Townsend eventually spotted the next spring. As is still the custom, Townsend shot the first warbler he saw as a specimen; later, Nuttall gave the species his name. Fleischman's telling is clear, graceful, and equipped with a fair number of authentic details, but it lacks the zest that makes Freedman's account of a similar journey so compelling (Indian Winter, p. 464). The problem is partly with the supporting material. The endpaper maps (of the birds' journey, and the men's) are fine, and the small b&w reproductions lend a pleasing 19th-century look—but there's no clue that, e.g., that a 3 1/2" reproduction of a Bierstadt picture of the Rockies represents an enormous painting. Worse is the absence of source notes or bibliography, not just to prove authenticity but to suggest where information like this is found (again, cf. Freedman). How the bird got its name is interesting and exemplary; the narrative structure is a worthy experiment; but the story—like Townsend's specimen—lost its vitality along the way to being memorialized. (Nonfiction. 8+)

Pub Date: May 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-021874-6

Page Count: 52

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1992

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DONAVAN'S WORD JAR

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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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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