A young boy come to terms with the loss of a parent in a smart and compelling novel from award-winning author Jerry Spinelli. Plus: A TV show, a DVD, and a catchy new tune

By EW Staff
May 25, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

A stunning book about loss and healing


By Jerry Spinelli
Nine-year-old David has lost his mother in a freak accident — a slip in a freshly mopped hallway — and he finds himself living with grandmother, who loves him dearly but finds herself helpless in the face of his savage grief.

She said to him at lunch one day, ”We used to have such good times together.” He went on munching his peanut butter and jelly sandwich…. ”You were Nana then.” She stiffened. She stood in front of him, looking down on the top of his head, the brown hair she once loved to muss. ”Then? I still am Nana.” ”No.” ”No?” Something delicate inside her fell from an edge and shattered.

Not only is David’s Nana unable to assauge his unhappiness, his dad isn’t either: His job, 200 miles away, means he commutes home only on weekends, if at all. David is completely adrift, left to follow a byzantine system of his own devising, a collection of rules he must follow at all costs.

Until, that is, the day he meets Primrose, three years older, daughter of the ditzy town psychic. Primrose comes with a lot of baggage of her own — she’s never known her dad, and she’s so distanced herself from her mom that she lives in a junked van in her front yard — but she gives David something no one else has been able to do: unconditional friendship and unspoken sympathy. Together they embark on all sorts of adventures — trash-picking after bedtime (so Primrose can sell the scavenged goods at a weekend fleamarket), watching late-night TV, digging for nightcrawlers, riding bikes. By the end of the book, following their final, most dangerous escapade, Primrose has made peace with her mom, and ”David feels that same love he used to, except now it’s coming from other places, other people, and it’s a good thing the love is coming because he’s beginning to think there aren’t enough rules in the universe to bring his mother back.”

The Newbery Award-winning Spinelli has crafted his tale in simple, vivid prose. Once again, it’s his original, compelling characters that set him so far above most authors writing for this age group: I haven’t come across someone like the eccentric Primrose in quite some time. Kids may well gulp the 220-page novel in one sitting. And parents, try to finish this one without a tear or two welling in your eyes. ATina Jordan
Recommended ages: 8-12


Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman
PBS Kids Go! (Check local listings)
Animated pooch Ruff Ruffman is back for season 2 of this Amazing Race-meets-Apprentice hybrid for tweens, and we’re glad to report thar he hasn’t lost one bit of his signature snark. The first episode finds him pandering for points from the press, and in trying to feed them (What, can we really be bribed with goodie baskets? C’mon!) he accidentally sends a memo about his mold problem, which is promptly misread as a problem of the bacterial (rather than the liver-paté-dog-shapes) kind. Hence, the challenge for the live-action contestants, which is to get all scientific and take samples of toilet water and fish tank water and have them tested to see which contains more bacteria; similar tests are done for a refrigerator handle, a sink catch, and a telephone. (You’ll have to tune in to find out the results.) Other lucky contestants get the more-difficult-than-it-looks job of making candy. In this case, it’s Sweet Sloops, and the girls have their own Lucy-and-Ethel-on-the-conveyor-belt moments of hilarity. Lots of fun with a smattering of science thrown in to boot, Fetch is definitely worth checking out this season. A- Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 6-10


Radio Disney
Friday, May 25, starting at 8 a.m. ET
For all those High School Musical crazies out there, and you know who you are, tune in to Radio Disney throughout the day to hear ”What Time Is It?,” the first song from the sequel, which is set to air on the Disney Channel Aug. 17. Then see how long it takes for said song to appear in end-of-year school shows. Happy summer, Wildcats! —EC


Franklin and the Turtle Lake Treasure
G, 76 mins., 2007
Little Franklin, the subject of the popular Noggin preschool channel show about a turtle and his forest friends, gets his own full-length-movie. In this story about family and secrets, his adventurous Aunt Lucy comes to visit along with her smarty-pants goddaughter Samantha — and it’s all poor Franklin can do to try to keep up with this bossy Betty. When Franklin’s grandmother tells him of a tin box that was buried before her parents perished in a fire, the determined turtle sets out to find it — and along the way, learns how to swallow his pride, make peace, and join forces with Samantha. The beauty of Franklin’s stories (which originated from Paulette Bourgeois’s children’s books) is that kids can see him make mistakes and — more importantly — how he learns to fix them. BEC
Recommended ages: 3-7