This light tale is weighted down by mediocre storytelling and a convoluted plot.

THE MYSTERY OF THE BIRTHDAY BASHER

From the The Magical Land of Birthdays series , Vol. 2

Amirah restores birthday magic to the neighborhood.

Strange things are happening in Amirah’s neighborhood. She missed her friend’s birthday party because she didn’t receive the invitation. She discovers that her brother missed a friend’s birthday for the same reason. Then her magical book of birthday-cake recipes starts to fade in her hands, and when she visits the Magical Land of Birthdays in her dreams, it doesn’t feel right—the magic is missing. With some good advice from an elderly friend, Amirah knows she must trust her heart, which tells her to return to the Magical Land of Birthdays to figure out what is going on. Her B-Buds—birthday buddies who share her birthday—are hesitant, but they trust Amirah enough to follow her around as she picks up clues. She eventually solves the mystery with her own birthday magic and is crowned princess of the Magical Land of Birthdays. Amirah is a likable-enough protagonist with an enviable family and cloyingly adoring friends. Her obsession with birthdays to the exclusion of any other interests feels a bit hollow and unsatisfying. The mystery of fading books and disappearing invitations is enough to draw readers in, but the multiple trips to and from the Magical Land, both in dreams and while awake, feel disruptive enough to take readers out of the story. The multicultural cast includes children who are Mexican, Jamaican, and Japanese; Amirah’s name is Arabic.

This light tale is weighted down by mediocre storytelling and a convoluted plot. (Fantasy. 6-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4028-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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If not as effervescent as Roz’s first outing, it is still a provocatively contemplative one.

THE WILD ROBOT ESCAPES

Roz, a robot who learned to adapt to life among wild creatures in her first outing, seeks to return to the island she calls home.

Brown’s sequel to The Wild Robot (2016) continues an intriguing premise: What would happen to a robot after challenges in an unexpected environment cause it to evolve in unusual ways? As this book opens, Roz is delivered to a farm where she helps a widower with two young children run a dairy operation that has been in his family for generations. Roz reveals her backstory to the cows, who are supportive of the robot’s determination to return to the island and to her adopted son, the goose Brightbill. The cows, the children, and finally Brightbill himself come to Roz’s aid. The focus on Roz’s escape from human control results in a somewhat solemn and episodic narrative, with an extended journey and chase after Roz leaves the farm. Dr. Molovo, a literal deus ex machina, appears near the end of the story to provide a means of rescue. She is Roz’s designer/creator, and, intrigued by the robot’s adaptation and evolution but cognizant of the threat that those achievements might represent to humans, she assists Roz and Brightbill in their quest. The satisfactory (if inevitable-feeling) conclusion may prompt discussion about individual agency and determination, whether for robots or people.

If not as effervescent as Roz’s first outing, it is still a provocatively contemplative one. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-38204-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Though the lessons weigh more heavily than in The One and Only Ivan, a potential disappointment to its fans, the story is...

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CRENSHAW

Applegate tackles homelessness in her first novel since 2013 Newbery winner The One and Only Ivan.

Hunger is a constant for soon-to-be fifth-grader Jackson and his family, and the accompanying dizziness may be why his imaginary friend is back. A giant cat named Crenshaw first appeared after Jackson finished first grade, when his parents moved the family into their minivan for several months. Now they’re facing eviction again, and Jackson’s afraid that he won’t be going to school next year with his friend Marisol. When Crenshaw shows up on a surfboard, Jackson, an aspiring scientist who likes facts, wonders whether Crenshaw is real or a figment of his imagination. Jackson’s first-person narrative moves from the present day, when he wishes that his parents understood that he’s old enough to hear the truth about the family’s finances, to the first time they were homeless and back to the present. The structure allows readers access to the slow buildup of Jackson’s panic and his need for a friend and stability in his life. Crenshaw tells Jackson that “Imaginary friends don’t come of their own volition. We are invited. We stay as long as we’re needed.” The cat’s voice, with its adult tone, is the conduit for the novel’s lessons: “You need to tell the truth, my friend….To the person who matters most of all.”

Though the lessons weigh more heavily than in The One and Only Ivan, a potential disappointment to its fans, the story is nevertheless a somberly affecting one . (Fiction. 7-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-04323-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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