School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—Gennifer Choldenko blends fantasy and reality in her thought-provoking, moving, and often humorous novel (Dial, 2011). Finn, India, and Mouse Tompkins are already dealing with the loss of their father, and now their house is foreclosed and they must leave California and move to their uncle's home in Colorado while their mother stays behind. Things become really strange when their plane lands in Falling Bird, an alternate reality where nothing is as it seems, rather than in Colorado. Narrators Becca Batoe, Jessie Bernstein, and Tara Sands are a perfect match for the siblings, bringing each one to life as they literally race against the clock and deal with their own struggles in order to find where they belong. They are all exceptional, but the spotlight belongs to Bernstein as Finn. The boy is a chronic worrier who speaks little but always has a plan, and his grit and determination are captured in Bernstein's vocal portrait. Through the three siblings' alternate points of view, listeners are transported to the sometimes fantastic and sometimes frightening land of Falling Bird via Choldenko's lyrically descriptive text which works ideally in this format. Sure to keep listeners riveted throughout.—Shari Fesko, Southfield Public Library, MI
Each short chapter is narrated by a different sibling: snarky India, worrywart Finn and whimsical "child genius" Mouse. These constant shifts in perspective create suspense and contribute to the novel's eerie, dreamlike quality. The humdinger of an ending helps explain this off-kilter world while leaving much to ponder.
The Washington Post
The author of Al Capone Does My Shirts and Al Capone Shines My Shoes returns with a realistic fantasy about three siblings who must strive hard to save one another from a dream-like alternate reality.
Best known for her Newbery Honor–winning historical fiction, Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) forays into high-concept fantasy with mixed results. Having lost the family home to foreclosure, the widowed schoolteacher mother of three—India, Finn, and Mouse Tompkins—puts them on a plane to Denver to live with an uncle while she finishes out the academic year in California. After some turbulence, the plane lands, but what follows is a hallucinatory journey, which unfolds in alternating first-person chapters narrated by each sibling. The trio is given a rock star welcome by the residents of a city called Falling Bird, chauffeured in a pink, feathered taxi by a 12-year-old, and offered dream homes and—except for six-year-old Mouse—jobs. They sense something's amiss, and after some soul-searching, especially by angry teen India, the children realize all they want is to reach their uncle's place. The revelation of what really happened doesn't quite square with a narrative told in three voices, but Choldenko's pacing is sure and her use of airport argot (white courtesy phones, a missing black box) adds an inventive element to this story of unlikely survival. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)
VOYA - Lynn Evarts
India, Finn and Mouse Tompkins are on a journey from their home in California to their uncle's home in Colorado. Due to financial issues, their mother is forced to suddenly send them by plane to live with their Uncle Red. After some turbulence, the three siblings find themselves in an odd land where twelve-year-olds drive pink taxis which are covered with feathers, and each of them is sent to their own dream home. Unfortunately, the dream lasts a very short time and soon they are on the runto or from what, they are not sure. All they know, or eventually figure out, is that they want to make it to their uncle's home and see their mother again. Crazy chases on Segways, heroic dogs, white courtesy phones, and wrist communication devices further complicate their adventure. Choldenko is best known for her Newbery-honor historical fiction, and here she veers from the historical into the fantastical, with uneven success. The three main characters are drawn from stock (the nerd, the wanna-be jock, and the popularity seeker), but as the story progresses, you find yourself drawn to their personalities and as the excitement builds, you even find yourself rooting for them. The story is a bit didactic, particularly when it comes to India, but readers who can stick with the sometimes-confusing story line may really enjoy the exciting chase scenes as it all comes together and they find the black box. Reviewer: Lynn Evarts
Children's Literature - Peg Glisson
Finn Tompkins is a worrier who knows something is up. His mother, a widow, has not been herself lately and abruptly reveals to Finn, his older snarky sister, India, and young sister, Mouse (a child genius), that their house is being repossessed the next day. The three kids will be boarding a plane to go live with their uncle in Colorado while Mom, a teacher, stays behind to finish up the school year before joining them. After barely making it through security (Mouse has her volcano science kit in her suitcase), the kids settle in on the flight. India is full of teen rage and angst at this sudden turn of events; Mouse has tons of questions; and Finn tries to calm everyone down when the plane suddenly lands and all must disembark. They are picked up by a young driver in a feather-covered taxi and whisked away to the surreal, futuristic city Falling Bird. The children are dropped off at separate houses, each filled with their heart's desire, including the parent each longs for. Finn and Mouse quickly tire of this supposedly idyllic place, but India is lured into wanting to stay. Finn and Mouse try to figure their way out of this mess as India tries to fit into Falling Bird's rules and social structure, eventually realizing being together as a family is most important. The three race against time as they work at unraveling the puzzling clues that (hopefully) will lead them to freedom. Choldenko has done a masterful job creating a world that is slightly off kilter. Since all three children contribute to the narrative, the constant shifts in perspective keep the reader off balance. India, as the selfish and crabby older sister is a bit of a stereotype and the dynamic between the three siblings is familiarself-centered teen, responsible peacemaker, and annoyingly whimsical young genius. What makes this work is how Choldenko brings to life this mysterious dystopia in which the Tompkins children must function as they face their life, family, and home through the lens of survival. Occasionally poignant humor keeps this from becoming too heavy and the swift action propels the reader along. The ending will be a surprise to most and leaves the reader lots to considerand maybe a desire to reread sections to see how it all fit together. (Reviewed from ARC; artwork not available) Reviewer: Peg Glisson
An odd juxtaposition of contemporary reality and surreal fantasy from Newbery Honoree Choldenko. Surly India, worrywart Finn and smartypants Mouse are shipped off to Colorado to live with their uncle after their family home is lost to foreclosure. But too soon after take-off, their plane lands in a strange town named Falling Bird, where they are greeted like long-lost heroes and whisked off to three separate homes, each fully loaded with their heart's desires. Each child is given a clock that is counting down and told that when the time is up, a decision must be made to leave or stay. But leave or stay where? Colorado? Oz? Or somewhere else entirely? As always, the author shines in her characterization of children and their idiosyncratic kidspeak. Each sibling takes a turn in the narration, giving readers front-row seats to their psyches. But the convoluted mystery of Falling Bird isn't revealed until the very last pages, and by then some young readers may have lost interest in trying to interpret a Kafka-esque world with too few clues and a confusing host of secondary characters. Fascinating, if not entirely successful.(Fantasy. 10-14)