A fun series opener with a feisty protagonist who’ll keep readers on their toes.


From the Aven Green series , Vol. 1

Bowling introduces the outspoken, armless narrator of her Life as a Cactus series to younger readers.

Eight-year-old Aven Green doesn’t need arms to be a good private investigator; her feet work just fine. In fact, all those extra arm cells went to her brain instead—at least, that’s her hypothesis. So when somebody starts stealing food at school, she’s on the case. But then her great-grandma’s dog, Smitty, goes missing, and then new student Sujata arrives—looking mysteriously sad. Can Aven’s “super-powered brain” solve three cases at the same time? The simple plot, peppered with humorous malapropisms and leaps of kid logic, is primarily a showcase for Aven’s precocious personality. Witty, stubborn, and self-confident (“I was shy once. It was on a Wednesday afternoon in kindergarten”), Aven takes her disability in stride; her classmates are also accepting. She and her friends share rowdy and gleefully gross activities, complete with “ninja” chops, flatulence, and “rainbow barf.” Her (adoptive) parents are warmly supportive, but her long-suffering teacher is perhaps too much so; her remarkable tolerance for Aven’s occasionally disruptive antics may raise some eyebrows. Perry’s black-and-white cartoon illustrations energetically depict Aven’s agile feet and mischievous grin. The tidy ending sets up another adventure; a list of Aven’s “sleuthing words” is appended. Most characters, including Aven, appear to be White; Sujata is Indian American.

A fun series opener with a feisty protagonist who’ll keep readers on their toes. (Mystery. 6-9)

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4549-4221-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Sterling Children's Books

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag.


Epistolary dispatches from the eternal canine/feline feud.

Simon the cat is angry. He had done a good job taking care of his boy, Andy, but now that Andy’s parents are divorced, a dog named Baxter has moved into Andy’s dad’s house. Simon believes that there isn’t enough room in Andy’s life for two furry friends, so he uses the power of the pen to get Baxter to move out. Inventively for the early-chapter-book format, the story is told in letters written back and forth; Simon’s are impeccably spelled on personalized stationery while Baxter’s spelling slowly improves through the letters he scrawls on scraps of paper. A few other animals make appearances—a puffy-lipped goldfish who for some reason punctuates her letter with “Blub…blub…” seems to be the only female character (cued through stereotypical use of eyelashes and red lipstick), and a mustachioed snail ferries the mail to and fro. White-appearing Andy is seen playing with both animals as a visual background to the text, as is his friend Noah (a dark-skinned child who perhaps should not be nicknamed “N Man”). Cat lovers will appreciate Simon’s prickliness while dog aficionados will likely enjoy Baxter’s obtuse enthusiasm, and all readers will learn about the time and patience it takes to overcome conflict and jealousy with someone you dislike.

An effective early chapter book conveyed in a slightly overdone gag. (Fiction. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4492-2

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A second scintillating celebration of personal style and dad-daughter DIY.


From the Sparkella series , Vol. 2

Reality puts only a temporary damper on big, glittery plans for a sleepover castle.

New school friend Tam, who shared bánh mi at lunch in The One and Only Sparkella (2021), is arriving in two hours, and before that Sparkella needs to make a castle “fit for two royal highnesses.” Unfortunately, even with Dad’s help, the flimsy cardboard construction collapses as soon as Sparkella climbs inside to test it. What to do? After giving the pouting princess some personal time in the garage, Dad points the way: “I think you have to take what you have and make it SPARKLE like only you can.” And, indeed, by the time brown-skinned “Tam, Queen of Kittens” is dropped off by her grandma, a pair of folding tables have been transformed with paint, wrapping paper, and colorful fabrics into the sparkliest castle ever! Laying on saturated colors and sprays of tiny stars with a lavish hand, Barnes depicts the two young “royals” in flamboyantly decorated settings—even Dad’s motorcycle is a dazzling confection awash in bows, and Dad himself, light-skinned like Sparkella, isn’t the least decorative element considering his fondness for sporting a purple boa and outrageous eyewear when occasion demands. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A second scintillating celebration of personal style and dad-daughter DIY. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-75076-1

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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