POPPY'S RETURN, by Avi
Book Five of the Poppy Stories.
Ages 8 to 12
Avi's intrepid deer mouse sets out for a visit home in this fifth Dimwood Forest adventure, taking along her mutinously adolescent son Ragweed Junior in hopes of promoting some bonding. The ominous news that a bulldozer (owned by the "Derrida Deconstruction Company,") has been parked next to Gray House, the ramshackle farmhouse where Poppy's pompous father and his multitudinous descendants still live, prompts the trip. Thanks to her previous exploits, Poppy arrives to a hero's welcome, but barely has time to do more than organize a frantic evacuation before, in a slapstick climax, Junior, his (literally) unsavory buddy Mephitis the skunk and trash-mouthed Ereth the porcupine manage to start up the 'dozer and convert the house into a pile of kindling-which is to say, a mouse condo. The plot, though, takes second fiddle to the author's proposition that parents too can be "Sick," (i.e., cool) and teens, despite unappealing personal habits, not quite as hopeless as they might seem. Well, it's a worthy thought, and, well supplied with Floca's ground-level vignettes, agreeably presented.
Avi's latest addition to his animal adventure series is a thinly-disguised fable about human relationships. Poppy, the heroine of earlier stories, is a mouse beyond prejudice. Her best friend, after all, is a rather smelly, profane porcupine. But when her posturing adolescent son, Ragweed, Junior, makes best friends with an even smellier skunk, Poppy finds her limits strained. Enter Lilly—Poppy's straight-laced sister—with a summons home. What to do but drag a protesting Junior and his skunk buddy along on the journey out of Dimwood Forest? The challenges of the journey and the homecoming stretch Poppy. They also make for a neat truce between mother and son. Of course, bulldozers, ornery Papa Lungwort presiding from his boot throne, and "doing the stinky red" play their parts as well. Kids will probably gloss over all the touchy-feely stuff and go for the action. —Kathleen Karr.
School Library Journal:
In this latest installment in the series, Avi gives his animal characters an uncomfortable humanity. Poppy, now the mother of 11, faces middle age with sighs and regrets while her troublesome son Ragweed Jr. suffers the pangs of adolescence. When humans threaten to destroy Poppy's parents' home, she and Ragweed make the journey together, developing respect for one another's courage. This book lacks the delightful charm of the previous books. The deer mouse's midlife crisis and her son's adolescent rantings aren't well suited to their animal natures and won't be understood by the target audience, and the dialogue ranges from trite to grating. Avi devotes over half the book to the family conflict and very few pages to the attempted destruction of the farm, which, when it does come, is too facilely resolved. While Ereth the porcupine's colorful metaphors will please readers, there is little else to hold this book together. Unless series readers demand it, look to other titles such as M. I. McAllister's Urchin of the Riding Stars (Hyperion, 2005) for animal adventure. —Caitlin Augusta.
In the fifth book in the series that began with Poppy (1995), mouse Lilly urgently requests that her sister, Poppy, join her in visiting their childhood home, Gray House. Poppy travels with her rebellious teenage son, Junior, and his enigmatic friend, Mephitis, a skunk. Soon after her arrival, Poppy is hailed as the new family leader and saddled with the seemingly impossible task of saving the rundown house from destruction by the bulldozer that sits nearby. One of the book's main achievements (and an odd one it is, for a children's book) is the portrayal of Poppy's position as a member of the "sandwich generation," caught between the demands of mothering a smoldering teenager and managing an unreasonable father. Whether children will find this challenge of interest is questionable, but series fans will probably read this book just for the pleasure of keeping up with Poppy; they'll enjoy the occasional humor as well. Carolyn Phelan.
The Horn Book:
In her previous adventures, heroic Poppy, a deer mouse, killed a tyrannical owl (Poppy) and battled territorial beavers (Poppy and Rye). In this fifth tale, Poppy again confronts challenging situations–this time involving her own family. Poppy’s son Ragweed Junior has become a rude and rebellious teenager and a constant source of worry to his parents; in addition, Poppy’s father, Lungwort, is ailing, and she is summoned back to the her childhood home where a bulldozer threatens to demolish Gray House. Surrounded by old friends and family (including the bombastic Lungwort), Poppy gains a new perspective on her son’s behavior as she navigates her own complicated feelings about seeing her family again. Avi gives his animal characters dimension, even surly Junior. Although Poppy spends most of the story reacting to events, there’s still enough external drama to keep readers turning the pages, and bad-boy Junior is hard to resist. As usual, Floca’s attentive pencil drawings are a fitting accompaniment to the story.