Balliett delivers a loosely constructed tale about a modern lad who discovers an exciting connection between himself and Charles Darwin. In a box dropped off by his sociopathic father, Zoomy finds a battered old notebook whose unidentified author was—like Zoomy—compulsive about making lists of tasks and methodically checking off each item in succession. The word “Galapagos” and other clues in the book prompt visits to the local library, where Zoomy makes a high-energy new friend in summer visitor Lorrol. Together the two immerse themselves in a study of Darwin’s life and plan a series of broadsheets (reproduced within) containing extracts from the scientist’s writings. Around these and other info-dumps the author wraps an engaging picture of Zoomy’s life with loving, sensitive grandparents. But a rococo chain of events that begins with the notebook’s theft and climaxes in a contrived fire seems inserted just to move the plot along while providing a demonstration of small-town values in action. Unlike the author’s previous outings, here her enthusiasm for historical research seems to outweigh her interest in creating a well-founded story. (Mystery. 11-13)


Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-439-85209-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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The play’s the thing, on the boards and…beyond.


The Plattsfield-Winklebottom Memorial Sixth-Grade Players tackle Hamlet—and not the bowdlerized “No-Trauma Drama” version, either.

To be sure, “Hamlet, the Tale of a Gritty Prince Who Learns To Be Patient,” is what the inexperienced young players are handed—but hardly has oddly elusive new director Mike stepped in to sub for the annual event’s customary one (who has, with fine irony, broken her leg) than every script magically reverts to the Bard’s original and they find themselves plunged into a bloody, complicated, and much cooler scenario. But who is Mike, and how is it that he can apparently not only appear and vanish at will, but conjure elaborate sets and costumes out of thin air? Taking a cue from his erstwhile literary hero Nate the Great, Noah (aka Marcellus, Gravedigger One, Rosencrantz, and Fortinbras) sets out to solve this double mystery. Electrifyingly, Mike turns out to be a renowned stage director…who died in 2014. That’s far from the only twist that Freeman delivers on the way to a triumphant performance—and a rush of family revelations. Her characters quote Shakespeare at one another as immersive rehearsals lend hard-won insights into the play’s linguistic and thematic slings and arrows. Noah, who is Jewish, describes Plattsfield as predominantly White; there are a few students of color, including Fuli, a girl cast as Hamlet who emigrated from Nepal. Color-blind casting and race are explored to some degree.

The play’s the thing, on the boards and…beyond. (Paranormal mystery. 11-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6290-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Extraneous elements, rampant psycho-symbolism and multiple point-of-view switches turn this into a loosely woven grab-bag,...


Having narrowly avoided becoming dinner in The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children (2009), sibs Sol and Connie face another folkloric fate in this equally gothic sequel.

Hoping to leave child-eating neighbor Fay Holaderry far behind, Sol and Connie board a departing bus—but then incautiously step off while the driver fixes a flat and are immediately lost in a justly ill-reputed forest. Fortunately, they run into Monique, a friendly forester who leads them to her cabin. Unfortunately, Monique is another evil witch, who transforms the children into animals for her bespelled huntsman, David, to hunt down and convert into taxidermy exhibits. McGowan infuses his tale with Brothers Grimm–style motifs and atmosphere, but obscure riddles, Sol’s homemade computer and several other elements turn out to clutter the story rather than contribute to it. Furthermore, David’s fatalistic ruminations on his curse (recorded in multiple journal entries) are likely to leave even adult readers cold, and his relationship with Monique comes off as, at best, ambiguous. Tanaka’s scenes of androgynous-looking children gradually acquiring animal parts ably abet the atmosphere.

Extraneous elements, rampant psycho-symbolism and multiple point-of-view switches turn this into a loosely woven grab-bag, but the resolution does provide some satisfaction. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9324-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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