PLB 0-06-205181-4 Seidler (Mean Margaret, 1997, etc.) returns to the urbane, slightly distant tone of his older books for this uneven tale of a shy young birder stepping forward to defend a rare species from extermination. Painfully self conscious about her stutter, Katerina Farnsworth spends most of her time after school either alone, or out on the water with her father Robert watching birds—particularly the small, spectacular divers they’ve dubbed “spillbills,” which are not in any reference book and have inspired Farnsworth Aeronautics’s latest prototype jet, the Spillbill Z. The suspense that readers anticipate never develops, despite a plot that includes Robert’s trip to a space station that suddenly falls silent, a budding but rocky friendship between Katerina and a very eligible schoolmate, and her cantankerous CEO grandfather’s decision to poison the spillbills after they twice cause the prototype to crash. Seidler plays many scenes for comedy rather than drama, and typecasts or caricatures his characters, notably, Katerina’s grandfather and her cigarette-puffing, German-psychiatrist mother. Katerina’s versions of terror, grief, and indignation often come across only as mild anxiety. Furthermore, the author frequently bestows point- of-view on one adult or another, and in the end, it’s not Katerina but her mother who argues most persuasively against killing the birds. Seidler is a polished writer, but readers will find stories with similar themes, such as David Klass’s California Blue (1994), more compelling. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-06-205180-6

Page Count: 216

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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Bishop’s spectacular photographs of the tiny red-eyed tree frog defeat an incidental text from Cowley (Singing Down the Rain, 1997, etc.). The frog, only two inches long, is enormous in this title; it appears along with other nocturnal residents of the rain forests of Central America, including the iguana, ant, katydid, caterpillar, and moth. In a final section, Cowley explains how small the frog is and aspects of its life cycle. The main text, however, is an afterthought to dramatic events in the photos, e.g., “But the red-eyed tree frog has been asleep all day. It wakes up hungry. What will it eat? Here is an iguana. Frogs do not eat iguanas.” Accompanying an astonishing photograph of the tree frog leaping away from a boa snake are three lines (“The snake flicks its tongue. It tastes frog in the air. Look out, frog!”) that neither advance nor complement the action. The layout employs pale and deep green pages and typeface, and large jewel-like photographs in which green and red dominate. The combination of such visually sophisticated pages and simplistic captions make this a top-heavy, unsatisfying title. (Picture book. 7-9)

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-590-87175-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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