An upbeat and fun series opener capturing the spirit of the source show.


From the Junior Ninja Champion series , Vol. 1

A group of kids trains together for an obstacle-course game show.

When popular television show National Ninja Champion (a fictional analog to American Ninja Warrior) announces a spinoff competition for preteens, a group of kids starts training and dreaming big. Ty Santiago is the son of the owners of Fit Kidz gym and a glory-hound athletic superstar. He recruits JJ Johnson, a climber from a family of contractors, to modify the gym’s ninja-room equipment (normally reserved for ages 14 and up) for preteen heights. Cancer survivor Kevin Marshall’s another NNC–loving gym regular, but he hides his ninja-team involvement from his overprotective mother. Rounding out the team are Izzy Fitzgerald, a snooty but rebellious rich girl from a family of runners, and Mackenzie Clark, a science geek and superfan blogger (with two dads). Although the obstacle runs grow repetitive and occasional lines are clunky, the competition element and quick pace are reader-friendly. Once the team jells, external conflicts take a back seat to narratives about how the characters challenge themselves. The overall moral is the importance of having a supportive team (and being a supportive teammate) in this otherwise individual, niche sport, reiterated in a backmatter interview with an American Ninja Warrior competitor. Ty is implied Latino; Kevin is black; the other kids seem to be white by default.

An upbeat and fun series opener capturing the spirit of the source show. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-3287-1058-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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