Book Reviews


Lucky Boy cover


Publishers Weekly 01/28/2002
(a starred review)

This splendidly told dog story finds a pair of neighbors one two-legged, the other four-legged mired in loneliness until chance brings them together. Confined by a high wooden fence to a barren back yard, Boy, a small brown, “kind of stinky” dog, is neglected and bored (“There wasn’t much to look at; he had looked”). Next door lives elderly Mr. Miller, recently widowed and struggling with his loss (“He knew his wasn’t the only broken heart in the world, but it certainly felt like it”). One night Boy digs his way under the fence, and when Mr. Miller discovers him in his yard the following morning seemingly dropped from nowhere, as Boy’s tunnel is disguised by the compost pile it’s love at first sight. A bath reveals Boy to be white, not brown, and he’s allowed to do all manner of new things: come inside, jump on a bed, ride in a car and go for a walk on a leash. It’s hard to say who’s happier: “You and I are lucky to have found each other, Boy!” says Mr. Miller. The warmth and humor of newcomer Boase’s polished prose revitalizes what might otherwise seem a predictable tale, and her sepia pencil drawings underscore the simplicity of her theme. The softly shaded and cross-hatched lines convey the story’s innate tenderness. Ages 4-8. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

San Francisco Examiner 06/03/2002
by Rachel Howard of The Examiner Staff

If there’s one thing single-handedly filtering a never-ending flood of review copies has taught me, it’s that children’s books are a fine and delicate art.

The frothy romps of yesteryear (think “Eloise at the Plaza Hotel”) still dominate. But a handful of authors for the 4- to 9-year-old set are daring to take on serious themes with deep sensitivity. Recently I even saved a handful of exceptionally illustrated, exceptionally written examples from the oblivion of the office book mountain that waits, like Mount Kilimanjaro, to wreak havoc upon my desk with one devastating avalanche.

I don’t have children, but some kids’ books are simply too beautiful not to hang onto; there’s a quiet, moral force within them that refreshes adults and children alike. And if you actually have children, consider yourself fortunate to have a socially sanctioned reason for reading these.

The qualities that make children’s books great are subtle, between the lines, bound into the emotional logic of a laid-bare story. And Susan Boase’s “Lucky Boy” (Houghton Mifflin) is so tastefully understated I fear it will fail to snag the large audience it deserves to achieve classic status.

Boase’s gentle, sepia-tone pencil drawings don’t scream for your attention the way most Technicolor children’s illustrations do. The tale isn’t flashy, either, but it is bold in a way.

“Boy,” a terrier-like, “kind of stinky” brown dog, suffers the punishing summer sun and winter rain in utter desolation; his all-American nuclear family just doesn’t have time between soccer practice and trips to the mall to care for him. It’s a common scenario, and not one many parents would like to see staring down their consciences from the pages of their child’s bedtime story.

I love that Boy’s escape is utterly unpremeditated: One day he innocently begins digging into the cold earth to escape the heat and ends up in the yard of widowed Mr. Miller. The compost pile fills in Boy’s tracks, so Mr. Miller has no idea where he’s come from. But a bath quickly proves that the newly “lucky” Boy is white, and a whirlwind series of neighborhood walks and car rides proves him to be the perfect companion.

The sting of the story is that Boy’s original family doesn’t even miss him – and they don’t recognize him either since, after all, their dog was stinky and brown. Boase’s tender and unfussy prose makes the bittersweet conclusion go down easy.

Boy’s old owners don’t learn the lesson of their inhumane ways, but perhaps “Lucky Boy’s” unforced message will save a few family dogs from similar suffering.


Three Little Robbers cover web

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2007

Like Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers (1962), these are little urban girl thieves with good hearts. Jo is strong, Flo is loud and Mo is quick, and these special talents serve them well. When no one comes on their street anymore, they decide to rob the old lady up the hill. They are shamed when they discover that, despite her poverty, she is happy to share. So they parlay their special talents to provide for the old lady who then offers a special talent of her own. With a generous font, short sentences and a predictable, but entertaining plot, emerging readers will find the perfect balance between interesting story and easily decoded words. Detailed and expressive pencil sketches, especially the sassy body language and the chastised faces of the robbers, define each page with just the right amount of visual information. A terrific offering for new readers. (Fiction. 6-9)

School Library Journal Blog (Practically Paradise, by Diane Chen), Nov. 10, 2007
4 young readers bk 4

My favorite title of these four is Three Little Robbers by Christine Graham with illustrations by Susan Boase (Henry Holt & Co, 2007). I carried this title in my purse for a week making every librarian I know read it.

I believe Susan Boase was peeking in my library windows to find these children for models. The illustrations are perfect. Christine Graham’s writing reflects my population of Flo, Jo, and Mo’s with their “Yo’s!” While the writing is actually easier to read than Maybelle in the Soup, the ideas in this title lend themselves to more deep thinking and discussion with all levels of elementary students. I can’t wait until I put this title in the Language teacher’s hand in fourth grade…

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