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Monday, July 16, 2018

The Tale of Angelino Brown, written by David Almond and illustrated by Alex T. Smith. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"When Betty and Angelino get home after school, Betty starts making Bert's favourite: shepherd's pie with carrots and cabbage and lots of gravy. It's not the kind of food for Angelino, so she makes him a little bowl of raspberry jelly with banana yogurt and three mini gumdrops on top. It's dark when Bert comes through the door, and the stars are starting to shine. Bert kisses Betty. He pats Angelino's little head."

I'm reading some terrific middle grade novels this week. This is one of them.
I have great admiration for David Almond's writing. He is adept at character development and creating stories that draw young readers into this world that can be quite magical. Such is the case with Angelino Brown, and his very supportive 'family.'

Bert Brown is a grumpy bus driver, not much enjoying his passengers, his route or his daily grind, when he experiences a strange feeling in his chest. Thinking the worst, he supposes he is having a heart attack until he reaches into his shirt pocket and finds a tiny angel there. Bewildered by the turn of events and knowing that he should take the angel straight to his wife, he takes the tiny mite home with him. Betty opens her arms and welcomes the tiny angel into their home with love, food, and a place to sleep. The two, who lost their own young son, have love to share. They name him Angelino and he quickly becomes part of their family.

Betty takes him to the school where she works preparing food for staff and students. The children take to him immediately, and Angelino has a home away from home. The Acting Head of the school is not nearly as pleased as she is doing her best to keep a low profile and win back favor with higher authorities. Never mind that, the children do their best to teach him to communicate and to play soccer.

No one knows that two scoundrels are watching Angelino's every move; they have plans to kidnap  and sell him. The opportunity arises and Angelino disappears, leaving the Browns and his school friends overcome with worry and emotion. They do everything they can to find him and get him back. In the meantime, readers learn something about the two who have kidnapped him. They have not had easy lives. Bullied and abandoned, they are working hard to better themselves. Readers will feel empathy for their plight, and for their run-in with Basher.

Mr. Almond's storytelling hits at the heart, showing that every one of us is influenced by our upbringing and environment. A little love and understanding (with an angelic touch) can make all things more promising, and bring a change of circumstance for almost everyone involved.

Humorous, heartfelt, kind and magical. 

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