A story with a serious claim to universality again proves that it can bear a carriage full of messages.

CINDERELLA LIBERATOR

With a little help from her fairy godmother, Cinderella takes care of business while learning how to be her “best and freest” self.

With the avowed intention of creating a “kinder” vision of the familiar tale that also gets away from the invidious notion that marrying (preferably marrying up) is the main chance in life for women, Solnit (Call Them by Their True Names, 2018, Kirkus Prize winner in nonfiction) offers younger readers this revisionist Cinderella. She arrives at the ball attended by transformed “footwomen,” befriends Prince Nevermind (who really just wants to be a farmer), and, while her stepsisters take up careers in fashion, goes on to open a cake shop where she harbors refugee children. The author’s efforts to get away from sexist tropes and language aren’t entirely successful (one stepsister becomes a “seamstress,” for instance), and an analytical afterword in cramped type that rivals the tale itself for length further weighs down the wordy, lecture-laden narrative. Still, readers ready to question the assumptions innate in most variants, European ones in particular, will find this one refreshing. The carefully selected Rackham silhouettes, first published a century ago, invest “Ella” with proactive spirit while (as the author notes) sidestepping racial determinations (in skin color at least, if not hair texture).

A story with a serious claim to universality again proves that it can bear a carriage full of messages. (lengthy source note) (Folktale. 8-10)

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60846-596-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Haymarket

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

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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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A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers.

DRAGONS VS. UNICORNS

From the Kate the Chemist series

A fifth grade girl brings her love of chemistry to the school play.

Kate loves science so much she’s determined to breathe fire. Of course she knows that she needs adult supervision, and so, with her science teacher’s help, Kate demonstrates an experiment with cornstarch and a blowtorch that nearly sets her teacher’s cactus on fire. Consequences ensue. Can someone who loves science as much as Kate does find pleasure spending her fall break at drama camp? It turns out that even the school play—Dragons vs. Unicorns—needs a chemist, though, and Kate saves the day with glue and glitter. She’s sabotaged along the way, but everything is fine after Kate and her frenemy agree to communicate better (an underwhelming response to escalating bullying). Doodles decorate the pages; steps for the one experiment described that can be done at home—making glittery unicorn-horn glue—are included. The most exciting experiments depicted, though, include flames or liquid nitrogen and could only be done with the help of a friendly science teacher. Biberdorf teaches chemistry at the University of Texas and also performs science-education programs as “Kate the Chemist”; in addition to giving her protagonist her name and enthusiasm, she also seems represented in Kate-the-character’s love of the fictional YouTube personality “Dr. Caroline.” Kate and her nemesis are white; Kate’s best friends are black and South Asian.

A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11655-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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