Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs.


Rejoice! 25 years later, Wayside School is still in session, and the children in Mrs. Jewls’ 30th-floor classroom haven’t changed a bit.

The surreal yet oddly educational nature of their misadventures hasn’t either. There are out-and-out rib ticklers, such as a spelling lesson featuring made-up words and a determined class effort to collect 1 million nail clippings. Additionally, mean queen Kathy steps through a mirror that turns her weirdly nice and she discovers that she likes it, a four-way friendship survives a dumpster dive after lost homework, and Mrs. Jewls makes sure that a long-threatened “Ultimate Test” allows every student to show off a special talent. Episodic though the 30 new chapters are, there are continuing elements that bind them—even to previous outings, such as the note to an elusive teacher Calvin has been carrying since Sideways Stories From Wayside School (1978) and finally delivers. Add to that plenty of deadpan dialogue (“Arithmetic makes my brain numb,” complains Dameon. “That’s why they’re called ‘numb-ers,’ ” explains D.J.) and a wild storm from the titular cloud that shuffles the school’s contents “like a deck of cards,” and Sachar once again dishes up a confection as scrambled and delicious as lunch lady Miss Mush’s improvised “Rainbow Stew.” Diversity is primarily conveyed in the illustrations.

Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296538-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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An immersive and thoughtful historical novel that explores West Africa in 1807.



A trip to the capital helps three boys from the Asante Kingdom learn more about themselves, their culture, and the wider world in this debut historical novel for middle graders.

In 1807, the Asante Kingdom (roughly corresponding to modern-day Ghana) is the most powerful nation in West Africa. The dominant ethnic group is the Akan, who enslave prisoners of war, called nnonko. Two Akan boys—Kwaku, 11, and Kwame, 12—and Baako, 13, an enslaved Gurunsi boy, live in the town of Tanoso, where Kwame’s father is chief. It’s time to learn adult skills: throwing a spear, trading in the marketplace, figuring out how taxes work, repairing a roof, thinking and speaking with care, and more. In their matrilineal society, Kwaku—the chief’s elder sister’s son—could become chief if he proves his worth, and Baako’s hard work could earn him his freedom through being adopted. As part of their leadership education, the boys are invited to make the eight-day trip to the Asante capital, Kumasi, for an important festival. It’s an exciting crossroads where the boys see many new sights, including horses and the written word. When Kwame and Baako are kidnapped to be sold into slavery, they face a frightening ordeal that confronts them with their complicated world. With her novel, Soper makes the rich Akan culture come alive through the boys’ need for an education, a natural way to present captivating details. The morality of slavery is considered from several angles. For example, what happens to enslaved people who are sold to Whites is a question dismissed as unknowable. But the book is slowed down by much repetition, such as reiterating the fact that ceremonial stools are painted black to indicate the owners’ deaths. Cloutier provides numerous, well-composed monochrome illustrations that give useful context for unfamiliar elements. Helpful resources are included.

An immersive and thoughtful historical novel that explores West Africa in 1807.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64388-068-6

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Luminare Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Separate e-book versions of the entire Boxcar Children series are or soon will be available, but this “bundle” makes an economical way to pick up the first 12. The classic (“dated” to use a more cogent term) original line-drawn illustrations have been preserved in each mystery, but the type size and style can be altered to suit, and each opens with an image of a recent color cover. The “enhanced version” adds four professionally produced, two-minute-or-shorter video clips. These feature fulsome appreciations of the books and their original author by employees and volunteers from Connecticut’s Gertrude Chandler Warner Museum, overviews of the museum and some of its memorabilia—plus a 500-or-so–word biography of Warner and 10 photos of the author, her home and the railroad station that inspired the stories. The absence of Gertrude Chandler Warner and The Boxcar Children, the 1997 biography of the author by Mary Ellen Ellsworth, represents a missed opportunity. As it is, the extra content is no more than a lagniappe but provides at least a glimpse of the series’ live-wire creator for both young readers and nostalgic adult fans. (Enhanced e-book. 9-11, adult)

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-4532-1117-5

Page Count: 2813

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

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