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The Zebra Wall

The Zebra Wall

4.4 5
by Kevin Henkes

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The Vorlob family is getting ready for the new baby, soon to arrive. The preparations include painting a mural in the baby's nursery and making a list of possible names. Since ten-year-old Adine already has four younger sisters, she is used to the routine. This time, however, the routine is broken — in more ways than one. The biggest change is that Aunt Irene


The Vorlob family is getting ready for the new baby, soon to arrive. The preparations include painting a mural in the baby's nursery and making a list of possible names. Since ten-year-old Adine already has four younger sisters, she is used to the routine. This time, however, the routine is broken — in more ways than one. The biggest change is that Aunt Irene will be staying with the Vorlobs until Adine's mother is back on her feet. Aunt Irene arrives, as does the baby, but nothing else goes quite as expected. Especially for Adine!

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The softened watercolor worlds of Henkes's picture books sometimes distract readers from his acute understanding of just how harsh life can be. This awareness is glimpsed in his first novel, Two Under Par, but this new one is even more unflinching and more sensitive. Adine Vorlob doesn't like her Aunt Irene, who has a whiskery moustache and a habit of smoking narrow brown cigarettes, and readers will find it all too easy to dislike Irene, too. But she is moving into Adine's room while the Vorlobs adjust to the new baby, which surprises them all by being a boy (Adine's four other siblings are girls). The arrival of this boy breaks family tradition in many ways, not the least of which is the alphabetical order of the girls' namesAdine, Bernice, Carla, Dot and Effie. This is not another new-baby story; Henkes knows that every worry in a child's life has many layers. He depicts Adine's concerns with depth and sweetly persuasive touches of compassion, treating the thoughts and feelings of a 10-year-old with uncanny justice. Ages 8-up. (April)
Children's Literature - Dr. Judy Rowen
Adine is the quiet, eldest daughter in the Vorlob family. The five girls were named alphabetically; Adine is followed by Bernice, Carla, Dot and Effie. Now the sixth Vorlob is about to arrive, so the family paints the nursery with items that begin with "F". Aunt Irene moves in, into Adine's room, ostensibly to help with the new baby but also to recover from a divorce. Aunt Irene is embarrassing and bossy, and Adine hates the smell of the brown cigarettes she smokes incessantly. The tension between them increases, and things don't go as expected when the new baby arrives. Introspective Adine is a common personality type in large families, and one with whom many readers may sympathize. The Vorlobs' endless smoking is a bit disturbing, but Adine's fears about cancer and Mrs. Vorlob's avoidance of smoking during pregnancy temper this concern somewhat.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6 Henkes' story presents a lov ing, creative family with Adine Vorlob, a sensitive, intelligent youngster as the main character. The arrival of a sixth child provides the catalyst which helps ten-year-old Adine understand her ec centric and bossy Aunt Irene. As the oldest, Adine has participated in the traditional creation of a special nursery wall to celebrate the first initial of each of her five sisters, all named alphabeti cally from B to E. All of the family is convinced that a sixth female will join the line. The title announces a surpris ing change. Aunt Irene comes to care for the girls while their mother is in the hospital and stays to help out after wards, much to the children's dismay. With her sisters, Adine plots to get Aunt Irene to leave, but in the end learns compassion and understanding. Henkes' characters are well drawn and appealingly unusual. As in Two Under Par (Greenwillow, 1987), he writes with humor about a caring family. Fans of Beverly Cleary and Betsy Byars will enjoy this newest Henkes selection. Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, N.J.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.36(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Spaghetti Sauce

The long list of names was fastened to the refrigerator door with a thick, hot pink magnet in the shape of an ice-cream cone. At the top of the list was the name Francine, at the bottom -- Frito. In between was everything from Faye to Florence.

The list on the refrigerator was a sampling of potential names for the new Vorlob baby. There were no boys' names on the list because the Vorlobs were certain that the baby would be a girl. They were positive. And why wouldn't they be? There were five girls in the Vorlob family already -- Adine (age ten), Bernice (age eight), Carla (age seven), Dot (age four), and Effie (age two). It just seemed fitting and logical that the new baby would be a girl and that her name should begin with the letter F.

Everyone in the family could add as many names to the list as they wanted. Then, after the baby was born -- and everyone had had a good look at her -- they would have a family meeting and vote.

Adine had written only one name on the list -- Florinda. She hoped that everyone would vote for Florinda, but she had her doubts. Bernice and Carla were both pulling for Francine, Dot couldn't decide between Flopsy ("After Peter Rabbit's sister!" she'd yell), and Frito ("After my favorite food!" she'd squeal), and Effie was too little to understand. Mr. Vorlob just kept adding names to the list without voicing his opinion. And Mrs. Vorlob kept saying, "I've always loved the name Phyllis -- it's so classy -- but I doubt if I'll ever make it to the letter P. Maybe we could spell it with an F."

Adine thought that Phyllis -- spelled with an F or a P, or spelled backward, for that matter -- was anything but classy. In fact, Adine wasn't too fond of any of their names, including her own. Adine. Especially her own. She preferred names like Melissa and Jennifer Rose and Courtney and Heather. When she recently told her mother about this, Mrs. Vorlob said, "Adine, those are such fancy-shmancy names. You and your sisters' names have class, and they're earthy. Sturdy as rock."

I'd rather not be compared to a rock, Adine felt like saying. But she didn't. She knew it wasn't worth getting into. If her mother had her mind set a certain way, Adine doubted if even a Mack truck could budge it.

Determined, was how Mr. Vorlob described his wife. Adine thought that stubborn was a more fitting word. "At least you always know where you stand with me," Adine heard her mother say on the phone once, in her thick, burly voice. "I don't pussyfoot around. And I'm not like some people who let things bottle up inside them. "

Adine was like that. She'd keep things to herself until her stomach felt like a Sunbeam blender on high speed. And that's exactly how she felt right now. She had found out earlier that morning that she would have to share her bedroom with her Aunt Irene. Aunt Irene would be coming to help out with the new baby.

"How long is Aunt Irene staying?" Adine asked her mother, twisting a strand of her hair around and around her finger. Adine's hair was straight, nearly white, and hung down past her waist. Mrs. Vorlob was sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for the large pot of spaghettisauce on the counter to cool. She was going to pour the sauce into her Tupperware containers to freeze for Mr. Vorlob to heat up when she was in the hospital. And for when she came home afterward and wouldn't feel like cooking.

"She'll stay until I get back on my feet after the baby," Mrs. Vorlob replied, a carrot stickdangling out of the corner of her mouth. She was substituting carrot and celery sticks for cigarettes while she was pregnant. She even filled her leather cigarette case with them to bring along if she and Mr. Vorlob happened to be going out. In imitation, Carla and Dot had taken up pretend-smoking with vegetables, too, which Adine thought looked silly.

"How long will that be?" Adine pressed.

"I don't know, Adine," Mrs. Vorlob answered, flicking the carrot stick over an empty ashtray and blowing imaginary smoke. "A week, a month. However long it takes." She took a bite of the carrot, crunching it loudly as she chewed. Mrs. Vorlob was wearing her bright yellow, terry maternity dress. Her short blond hair ended midway down her neck and seemed to melt into the color of the dress. Adine thought that her mother looked pretty in the dress. Adine also thought that her mother looked like a giant pear. Thick and round and swelling.

"I can help out all you need," Adine offered. "I really will."

"I know that, honey," Mrs. Vorlob said, smiling. "You're my biggest helper around the house. But it'll just be nice for me to have my sister here. Understand?"

Adine shrugged.

"I know you don't want Irene to come, but she is my sister. And she's been having a hard time since her divorce. It'll be good for her to be surrounded by family -- day and night -- for a while." Mrs. Vorlob took a long breath and placed her hands on her abdomen. "I know deep down you understand."

"Okay, Mom," Adine said. "I understand."

And she did. Sort of. Adine understood that Aunt Irene was coming and that there was nothing she could do about it. Nothing at all.

"Anyway, Adine, it's more than a month away," Mrs. Vorlob said cheerfully. "Put it out of your mind for now.

The Zebra Wall. Copyright © by Kevin Henkes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Kevin Henkes is the award-winning creator of many books for children, including the Caldecott Medal Book Kitten’s First Full Moon, the Caldecott and Geisel Honor Book Waiting, the Newbery Honor Books The Year of Billy Miller and Olive’s Ocean, and several best-selling books about mice, including Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and Chrysanthemum.


Brief Biography

Madison, Wisconsin
Date of Birth:
November 27, 1960
Place of Birth:
Racine, Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin, Madison

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The Zebra Wall 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Gardenseed More than 1 year ago
This is a warm, funny , make-you-feel-good and tolerate the eccentricities of others story, BUT the mother and Aunt Irene are heavy smokers and father smokes as a way of celebrating the birth of his son.  Both mother and aunt are frequently described as having a cigarette or picking one up, as part of the setting. In light of what we now know about the deadly effect of smoking, I would not give this book to any child or recommend it. Nowhere in the story does the author come out strongly  against smoking or describe the possible consequences. Perhaps the author would rewrite it and give us a new 2016 edition?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is great it has lots of Twists and turns but ends out well. Adine has five sisters and is grtting another one. She thinks her aunt is embarrassing and bossy and hates the smell of cigeretts her and aunt and mom smoke.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is probably one of the coolest books i have ever read it has alot of things to grab your attention and you will never want to put it down!!!my favorite part was when mrs.vorlb had her baby.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a great book and is very funny. I read it when i was 8 and have loved it ever since.