The ALAN Review - James E. Davis
Babcock is an unusual seventh-grade black boy. He likes dragonflies, poetry, and music, probably in that order. He also has only one name, is overweight, andcarries a briefcase. He sits on people who make fun of him, including a skinny, blonde Kirsten. Their becoming friends and adventurous Uncle Earl moving in withthe family change Babcock's life forever. He emerges from his cocoon, loses weight, accepts new people, and learns to accept loss. Against much opposition,primarily from Kirsten's mother, he fights for his friendship with Kirsten. Set in fictional San Puerco, California, which Cottonwood has used before, this comicallyrealistic story of an unlikely hero's challenges and dreams is well-paced, complex, and thought-provoking. It should be of interest to readers in similar situations.
VOYA - Debbie Earl
Some teenagers are easier to make fun of than others. On the surface, Babcock seems pretty geeky. He only has one name because his parents never filled in the blank for his first name on his birth certificate. On top of that, he is overweight, finds insects like sow bugs and dragonflies to be much more interesting than most people, and carries a beat-up briefcase wherever he goes. Underneath the surface, Babcock is a treasure. He is intelligent, observant, and courteous, with a great sense of humor. We follow Babcock through several months of growing up in San Puerco, a fictional town in the Bay area of California. Everyday events like going to school, playing in a garage rock band, falling in love for the first time, learning how to play softball, coping with an unemployed scalawag uncle who comes unexpectedly to visit...all are described through Babcock's narration. Cottonwood is gifted when he portrays humorous events: I laughed out loud when all of Babcock's pets escape the evening his uncle escorts one of Babcock's former teachers to a family dinner. The book is filled with understated, genuine feelings that helped me to remember what it was like to be a teenager on the fringe of becoming an adult. Booktalk this to get circulation started; after that it will fly on its own. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Cottonwood (Danny Ain't, 1992, etc.) returns to the deceptively quiet town of San Puerco, California, for this filling tale of an overweight seventh grader, young love, family, baseball, and rock-'n'-roll. Babcock meets Kirsten by the lake where he's communing with dragonflies and feeding the ducks out of his briefcase and she's turning handsprings. He writes songs for his garage band; she writes poetry. He's black and hefty; she's white and thin. Meanwhile, Babcock's Uncle Earl roars in for an extended stay, taking over the band's garage, falling head over heels for Rosemary Rule, Babcock's take-no-prisoners teacher, and organizing a hopeless Little League team. Clear-eyed, self-possessed, and big-hearted, Babcock makes an appealing narrator, wise for his years but not unbelievably so, and an equal match for the obstacles before him.
Cottonwood takes readers on an eventful ride, from high hilarity when Babcock's large caged menagerieincluding Martin Luther the kingsnake, a barking giant salamander named Malcolm, the mice Frederick and Douglassescapes, to the double shock of learning that Earl has wagered a loan on the wrong Little League team, and finding him shortly thereafter dead of a heart attack. Whether their choices are good or bad, the characters get the benefit of the doubt and the gift of being able to grow and change; it's not all empty calories.