The fast-paced, ingenious plot, charismatic hero and highly diverse cast of characters—including the ancient, eternal city...

MARK OF THE THIEF

From the Mark of the Thief series , Vol. 1

Compelled by an ambitious general to retrieve an amulet from Julius Caesar’s treasure, long hidden in a mine outside Rome, Nic—a slave with attitude—more than succeeds, upending his life and escalating conflict among the power brokers of imperial Rome.

Caesar’s bulla (a good-luck amulet given to boys in wealthy families), a gift from his ancestress the goddess Venus, is especially powerful. So is the terrifying but beautiful griffin guarding it, whom Nic names Caela. The two escape the cave only to be recaptured and sent to Rome as players in the city’s brutal blood sports. With the bulla’s help, they survive the games—barely. Caela’s wounded, and Nic flees into the sewers, where he must beg for help from the girl he’s angered. There’s more to Nic than meets the eye—effervescent, hot-tempered, irreverent and funny, he’s a bracing antidote to jaded teen heroes commenting ironically from the sidelines. Getting out of, then right back into, tight situations without losing sight of his goal—reuniting with his enslaved sister—Nic seizes each day with gusto, knowing his future will be short unless he can evade the power brokers—senators, Praetors, general, emperor—determined to make him their pawn.

The fast-paced, ingenious plot, charismatic hero and highly diverse cast of characters—including the ancient, eternal city itself—make this series opener a captivating joy ride. (Historical fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-56154-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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