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

WAYSIDE SCHOOL BENEATH THE CLOUD OF DOOM

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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Two stories, both sketchy, that, while not actually at cross purposes, never really move in tandem.

BLUE BOTTLE MYSTERY

THE GRAPHIC NOVEL

In this graphic version of a 2001 novel, a lad with Asperger syndrome finds the world at least a little easier to navigate after he unearths a magic bottle.

Naturally hoping that there is a genie inside the big blue flask they find in the shrubbery, Ben and his short friend, Andy, engage in a round of wild wishes before passing the discovery on to Ben’s crabby teacher in hopes of softening her up. A few days later, Ben and his widowed dad win big in the lottery, and Andy experiences a sudden, major growth spurt that earns him a coveted spot on the school’s basketball team. But what was that third wish? They can’t remember, until an amusing twist leads to a resolution. Superimposed on this plotline with almost no actual contact is an infotale centered on Ben’s condition that features frequent expository asides (“I feel comfortable when things are the same”) and includes experiences with his teacher’s mood swings and, later, with a pair of bullies. This leads to a diagnostic tally of Asperger causes and symptoms delivered to his clueless father by a doctor—from secondhand descriptions, apparently, since she never actually meets her patient in the book. The block-lettered dialogue and narrative are legibly clear, as are the figures’ actions in the simply drawn sequential panels.

Two stories, both sketchy, that, while not actually at cross purposes, never really move in tandem. (Graphic fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-84905-650-2

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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An edgy, subversive revenge fantasy in which kids speak truth to power.

MRS. RAVENBACH'S WAY

From the Amazing Escapades of Toby Wilcox series , Vol. 1

A tyrannical fourth-grade teacher wreaks havoc in a young boy’s life, until a day of reckoning changes everything.

When Tobias Wilcox transfers to the McKegway School for Clever and Gifted Children, the order-and-discipline–obsessed Mrs. Ravenbach becomes his fourth-grade teacher. Outwardly cheery and self-aggrandizing, this proud product of a German education is also reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s evil Miss Trunchbull from Matilda and Professor Umbridge of Harry Potter fame. Akers employs a mix of grade-school ramblings and complex storytelling strategies to explore censorship, honesty, and the uneven power dynamics among teachers, students, parents, and administrators. Mrs. Ravensbach herself narrates events, and Toby’s perspective is folded in via journals, the minutes of the submarine-enthusiasts club over which Toby presides, and school poetry. Judging by the book’s potent “un-dedication,” Akers, a screenwriter and film-studies teacher, is processing frustrations from his own history with this debut novel, the first in the Amazing Escapades of Toby Wilcox series. The over-the-top kid antics will delight readers with similar challenges. However, while the provocative German stereotypes and occasional violent daydreams may have passed as “for kids eyes only” fare in an earlier era, they may not play as well in today’s environment.

An edgy, subversive revenge fantasy in which kids speak truth to power. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941393-58-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Regan Arts

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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