San Souci (The Birds of Killingworth, p. 572, etc.), one of the premier promoters of the folkloric tradition, always provides a careful author’s note detailing the origins of his stories, several of which have recently come from the Caribbean. This tale comes from Guadeloupe and the author states that it “is composited in the main from thirteen variant tales” collected by Elsie Clews Parsons as well as other tales by Philip Sherlock and Lafcadio Hearn. San Souci also mentions that the story has European roots. The motifs in the story, the good brother and the evil brother; the princess who has to be rescued, and the slaying of a monster with the help of magic, are all common enough in many cultures and usually make for an exciting story. The text has its dramatic high points, but unfortunately, the narrative is undermined by the illustrations. With the exaggeration and cartoon-like style of Widener’s (If the Shoe Fits, p. 189, etc.) paintings, this hero tale seems less than heroic. Sure, the princess is rescued, but the beads of sweat all over the hero’s body, when he tries to get out of the ravine into which he has fallen, look like a grade-B comic book. The large eyes and round heads of the characters have a silly, almost stereotypical look that just doesn’t work with this type of serious traditional tale. The clothing and the palace do not belong in the Caribbean. Only when the Bird of Darkness with its seven rainbow-colored heads appears, does the book reverberate with any real power. (author’s note) (Picture book/folktale. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-83343-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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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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A fast and funny alternative to the Wimpy Kid.


From the Jake the Fake series , Vol. 1

Black sixth-grader Jake Liston can only play one song on the piano. He can’t read music very well, and he can’t improvise. So how did Jake get accepted to the Music and Art Academy? He faked it.

Alongside an eclectic group of academy classmates, and with advice from his best friend, Jake tries to fit in at a school where things like garbage sculpting and writing art reviews of bird poop splatter are the norm. All is well until Jake discovers that the end-of-the-semester talent show is only two weeks away, and Jake is short one very important thing…talent. Or is he? It’s up to Jake to either find the talent that lies within or embarrass himself in front of the entire school. Light and humorous, with Knight’s illustrations adding to the fun, Jake’s story will likely appeal to many middle-grade readers, especially those who might otherwise be reluctant to pick up a book. While the artsy antics may be over-the-top at times, this is a story about something that most preteens can relate to: the struggle to find your authentic self. And in a world filled with books about wanting to fit in with the athletically gifted supercliques, this novel unabashedly celebrates the artsy crowd in all of its quirky, creative glory.

A fast and funny alternative to the Wimpy Kid. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-553-52351-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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