Review: Neville by Norton Juster


Neville by Norton Juster, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

This story about a boy moving to a new place will speak to any child who has had to move.  The boy was never asked by his family if he wanted to move, he just got told that they were.  Now he had to move into a new house and go to a new school, and worst of all, find new friends.  His mother suggested that he go for a walk, so he did, very reluctantly.  After he walked for awhile, he turned around and called out:  “Neville!”  Nothing happened.  He did it again and again.  Then another boy joined him and they shouted together.  More children arrived and they all began calling for Neville.  Even the dogs were howling along.  When they stopped to catch their breath, the children started asking about who Neville was.  The children all decided that they quite liked Neville and the boy too.  Then it was time to head home, and the boy felt much better about moving.  That feeling lasted all the way until bedtime, when his mother wished him, “Good night, Neville, pleasant dreams.”

This clever story is written with a graceful simplicity that reads aloud smoothly and easily.  The story is beautifully crafted, with a a solid feel and a strong story arc.  There is also a wining humor about the entire story, from the children joining in so willingly to the twist at the end.  It all makes for a charming book that begs to be shared with a group of children. 

Karas’ illustrations capture the emotions of the characters clearly and with humor.  He also plays with fonts when the boy is calling for Neville.  The word is art in the air, changing and moving.  What I found most lovely was the change from the initial stark white of the new house and community where even the grass was gray.  When the boy starts meeting children, color enters the picture around him and the community is revealed to be welcoming, colorful and warm.

This outstanding picture book conveys the stress of moving in both textual and visual ways, offering a great twist and a clever resolution.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.

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Review: The Cats in the Doll Shop by Yona Zeldis McDonough

cats in the doll shop

The Cats in the Doll Shop by Yona Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Heather Maione

I was a big fan of The Doll Shop Downstairs when it came out in 2009.  Here in the sequel, Anna is two years older at  age 11.  She and her family still live above the doll shop, but their work has changed from that of a doll hospital to building their own dolls.  Anna finds a pregnant cat behind their house and wants to adopt it, but her father insists that they do not need a cat inside.   So Anna and her sisters give the cat food.  Anna is also looking forward to the arrival of her cousin from Russia, who is coming to live with them.  Anna wants to be best friends with her cousin, but Tania arrives and is very shy and has odd traits.  Anna has to figure out how to invite not only a new cousin into her family but maybe some cats too.

Once again, McDonough has captured the lives of a Jewish family at the turn of the century with great detail that brings the time period to life.  It is also a captivating picture of a loving family with three sisters who do not get along all the time.  The writing is simple and honest, creating a world of safety but also exploring more serious issues too.

In both lines of the story, the issue of acceptance and finding one’s place is a focus.  There are the cats who are wild outdoors, cold and even injured.  That parallels very clearly with the storyline of Tania, the cousin from Russia, who is also an outsider, stand-offish and needs nurturing to blossom. 

A great pick for any fan of the first book, these are books that read like classics.  Appropriate for ages 7-10, this book is also gentle enough to work for advanced younger readers looking for appropriate books to read. 

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.