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Reviews of selected books by Patrick Jennings

jennings_putnam and pennyroyalPutnam and Pennyroyal
by Patrick Jennings; illus. by Jon J Muth
Intermediate     Scholastic     165 pp.
11/99     0-439-07965-9     $15.95

From the beginning of his narrative, it’s evident that Cora Lee’s Uncle Frank is possessed by a contrary streak. Cora always spends New Year’s with Frank, fishing in one of Arizona’s rare ponds, because he won’t visit her family in Indiana. And when Cora asks for a fish story, Frank instead offers one about a grebe (“It’s a bird . . . but it’s more like a fish”). This adventure — in which the pied-billed grebe Putnam dives too deep and is trapped in a waterlocked cave — forms the bulk of the book, with Cora’s comments and Frank’s rejoinders as humorous commentary. Unlike the other trapped grebes, who endure their imprisonment in silence, Putnam never accepts his fate. He remembers life’s variety up where the sun shines, and knows he’s paying too great a price for safety. Doggedly, he dives ever deeper; but not until Pennyroyal, a late-arriving grebe, almost succumbs to despair does he reach out to another creature. Together, they summon the courage to regain their freedom. In the beginning, Frank’s narrative seems garrulous and self-absorbed, but that’s as it should be. Cora, a no-nonsense nine-year-old, not only sees through his bantering façade (“this is starting to sound like one of those stories that’s supposed to teach me something”) but, insisting that he act on his own message (“don’t be a Putnam”), even persuades Frank to leave his arid solitude and venture back to the family fold next Christmas. A carefully crafted and engagingly offbeat depiction of a prickly, affectionate pair delicately negotiating a family truce. The lively dialogue would make this an especially good read-aloud, while Muth’s pen drawings, with their appealing characterizations of man and bird, contribute nicely to the inviting format. JOANNA RUDGE LONG

From the January/February 2000 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

 

jennings_beastly armsThe Beastly Arms
by Patrick Jennings
Intermediate     Scholastic     314 pp.
5/01     0-439-16589-X     $16.95

Eleven-year-old Nickel likes to photograph clouds. When he looks at them, he doesn’t just see amorphous white masses. He sees “two puffins dancing” or “a potato beetle munching a potato leaf.” Nickel’s ability to picture these enchanting scenarios — he imagines everything and everyone as an animal — helps readers adjust their own eyes to take in the marvelous
surprises quietly awaiting discovery in Jennings’s story. While apartment-hunting downtown, the only neighborhood in the city his mom can now afford, Nickel happens upon something that rivals anything he could ever find in the sky. Behind a door at the end of an alley sits the Beastly Arms apartment building, whose disheveled but kindly landlord is, it turns out, rather particular about whom he accepts as tenants. Readers might guess Mr. Beastly’s secret (that he has turned the entire building into an urban wildlife preserve) before Nickel does, but this doesn’t detract from its allure. “It’s my duty to take care of things,” says Mr. Beastly in explaining why he decided to fill his apartments with foxes, owls, bats, possums, and badgers instead of people. If this modern-day St. Francis doesn’t inspire us to adopt his drastic measures, he at least leaves us with the resolve to pay more attention to our fellow creatures. CHRISTINE M. HEPPERMANN

From the July/August 2001 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

jennings_tornado watches The Tornado Watches: An Ike and Mem Story
by Patrick Jennings; illus. by Anna Alter
Primary     Holiday     64 pp.
8/02     0-8234-1672-0     $15.95

The Weeping Willow: An Ike and Mem Story
by Patrick Jennings; illus. by Anna Alter
Primary    Holiday    56 pp.
11/02     0-8234-1671-2     $15.95

jennings_weeping willowThreat of a tornado provides structure and suspense to the first of these two finely tuned chapter books about big brother Ike and younger sister Mem, first met in The Bird Shadow. For two nights running, Ike keeps himself awake watching old movies on TV, just in case a tornado comes and he has to wake the family. Not only does he nod off in school, prompting a trip to the doctor, but by the time the tornado does hit, on the third night, Ike is fast asleep. Jennings gets much more than heavy weather into his spaciously printed sixty-four pages: Ike’s protectiveness of Mem; his best-friendship with Buzzy (whose house is damaged in the tornado); the dubious attraction of being allowed to watch TV in bed when you’re home sick from school, but the reason you’re home sick is that you’ve been up all night watching TV in bed. The writing is all the more telling in its spareness, as in the resolution to Ike and Buzzy’s friendly running argument about when tornadoes can strike. His mother crying and his roof collapsed, all Buzzy says is “You were right…they come at night.” The less intense Weeping Willow is more vignette than story, but its picture of how best friends fight over nothing (Buzzy and Ike are trying to rebuild their treehouse after the storm) is perceptive, and it’s fun to watch Mem, who gets left out of the rehab effort, patiently get a bit of her own back. Fans of Marvin Redpost and Adam Joshua should not hesitate. ROGER SUTTON

From the January/February 2003 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

jennings_we can't all be rattlesnakesWe Can’t All Be Rattlesnakes
by Patrick Jennings
Intermediate     HarperCollins     121 pp.
1/09     978-0-06-082114-2     $15.99

“Crusher” is the name Gunnar gives the gopher snake he catches and adds to his collection of exotic animals, but he doesn’t know his snake at all, not even its gender. Through Crusher’s wry narration, readers get to know her and to hear her view of “lower life form” Gunnar as she tries to figure out this new and puzzling world. Her fellow prisoners in nearby cages, a tortoise and a lizard, offer advice and warnings telepathically, but Crusher must sort out most of the strange customs for herself. She wonders about the purpose of the “box” Gunnar focuses on nonstop (“maybe the boxes communicated telepathically with one another, maybe at the humans’ behest?”) and is baffled that creatures powerful enough to control nature (by use of refrigerators and windows) are so ignorant and cruel. Crusher’s adventures and her gradual development of compassion for Breakfast, the live mouse in her cage, and even for Gunnar himself work together with the hilarious satire on modern American life to give this terrific child appeal but also a lot of room for discussion. SUSAN DOVE LEMPKE

From the March/April 2009 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

jennings_odd weird and littleOdd, Weird & Little
by Patrick Jennings
Intermediate   Egmont   150 pp.
1/14   978-1-60684-374-1   $15.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-60684-375-8   $15.99

In a first-person narration, ten-year-old Woodrow Schewette tells of the arrival of an unusual new student, Toulouse Hulot, to his class. Extremely short with huge eyes and a pointy nose, Toulouse wears a suit, gloves, and bowler hat and carries a briefcase. Woodrow, an easy target for school bullies, can’t decide if this might be a new, much-needed friend or a good distraction for his tormenters. Ultimately, Toulouse’s interesting point of view and many talents charm not only Woodrow but many others, altering the class dynamic for the better. All the while Toulouse has a secret, and though Woodrow never reveals it, it’s spelled out in big clues throughout the plot as well as over and over in an acrostic of the title and the chapter headings. The voice periodically veers into a heavy-handedness that feels especially artificial for a young narrator (“Trying to be something you aren’t is such a drag”). The actions of the characters perfectly illustrate this already, and, like the title acrostic, spelling it out diminishes its power. Fortunately, there’s genuine humor and heart here, with pacing well suited to elementary chapter-book readers. JULIE ROACH

From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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