Readers will wish their summers were so eventful.

THE ISLAND OF DR. LIBRIS

Billy Gillfoyle discovers that a powerful imagination can bring characters from books—and comic books, video games and role-playing-game cards—to life.

Unhappily spending the summer with his mother in a lakeshore cabin she’s rented from a university colleague, the 12-year-old finds no Internet or TV but plenty of books in a locked cabinet. (Finding the key is a relatively easy puzzle.) When he reads The Trials of Hercules in Dr. Xiang Libris’ library, he hears the voices of Hercules and Antaeus outside. They’re fighting on an island just offshore. Reading Robin Hood, he hears the sound of swordplay. When he explores the island the next morning, he meets the characters he heard, not only brought to life, but also interacting with each other. Grabenstein’s similarly powerful imagination unfurls a grand series of adventures in which Billy and neighbor Walter Andrews are pursued by the Sheriff of Nottingham, search for buried treasure with Tom Sawyer and save Billy’s parents’ failing marriage. In this entertaining literary romp, the author includes references to over 20 classic tales, from Aesop’s Fables to Holes. For curious readers, he’s listed the titles at the end, but familiarity with these stories is not required to appreciate this fast-paced fantasy.

Readers will wish their summers were so eventful. (Adventure. 9-13)

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38844-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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