This series spin on the alien-next-door trope gets off to a slow start.

THE NEW KID

From the Alien Next Door series , Vol. 1

Second-grader Harris Walker’s sure something’s odd about the new kid at school, whose family has just moved in next door.

Harris has seen Zeke do impossible things, but no one else has. Meanwhile, Zeke, or Zekelabraxis, is unhappy to be starting over in a new school on a new planet. Due to his scientist parents’ research, the family moves around a lot, and Zeke misses everything about his home, Tragas. It’s hard making friends while hiding your true self. Harris’ best friend, Roxy Martinez, feels sorry for Zeke and includes him when she can, urging Harris to do the same. After a successful play day at Harris’ house, Harris is ready to be friends with Zeke…but not ready to give up trying to prove Zeke’s not of this world. Newton’s first in a series of easy chapter books is largely occupied by setup, simply establishing characters and relationships with very little plot. Mild humor is found in Zeke’s attempts to conceal his true nature, but the alternating third-person focus between Harris and Zeke blunts much of its potential. Human diversity is signaled (Harris may be black; Roxy is evidently Latina) but not explored; in his human form, Zeke appears to be white, though he’s actually fairly squidlike. Sarkar’s cartoon illustrations on every page pair well enough with the text. (Final art not seen.)

This series spin on the alien-next-door trope gets off to a slow start. (Science fiction. 5-9)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4998-0559-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Little Bee Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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A close encounter of the best kind.

FIELD TRIP TO THE MOON

Left behind when the space bus departs, a child discovers that the moon isn’t as lifeless as it looks.

While the rest of the space-suited class follows the teacher like ducklings, one laggard carrying crayons and a sketchbook sits down to draw our home planet floating overhead, falls asleep, and wakes to see the bus zooming off. The bright yellow bus, the gaggle of playful field-trippers, and even the dull gray boulders strewn over the equally dull gray lunar surface have a rounded solidity suggestive of Plasticine models in Hare’s wordless but cinematic scenes…as do the rubbery, one-eyed, dull gray creatures (think: those stress-busting dolls with ears that pop out when squeezed) that emerge from the regolith. The mutual shock lasts but a moment before the lunarians eagerly grab the proffered crayons to brighten the bland gray setting with silly designs. The creatures dive into the dust when the bus swoops back down but pop up to exchange goodbye waves with the errant child, who turns out to be an olive-skinned kid with a mop of brown hair last seen drawing one of their new friends with the one crayon—gray, of course—left in the box. Body language is expressive enough in this debut outing to make a verbal narrative superfluous.

A close encounter of the best kind. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4253-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson/Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Action, clever humor, delightful illustrations and expectation-defying secret identities—when does the next one come out?

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THE PRINCESS IN BLACK

From the Princess in Black series , Vol. 1

Perfect Princess Magnolia has a secret—her alter ego is the Princess in Black, a superhero figure who protects the kingdom!

When nosy Duchess Wigtower unexpectedly drops by Princess Magnolia’s castle, Magnolia must protect her secret identity from the duchess’s prying. But then Magnolia’s monster alarm, a glitter-stone ring, goes off. She must save the day, leaving the duchess unattended in her castle. After a costume change, the Princess in Black joins her steed, Blacky (public identity: Frimplepants the unicorn), to protect Duff the goat boy and his goats from a shaggy, blue, goat-eating monster. When the monster refuses to see reason, Magnolia fights him, using special moves like the “Sparkle Slam” and the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Smash.” The rounded, cartoony illustrations featuring chubby characters keep the fight sequence soft and comical. Watching the fight, Duff notices suspicious similarities between the Princess in Black and Magnolia—quickly dismissed as “a silly idea”—much like the duchess’s dismissal of some discovered black stockings as being simply dirty, as “princesses don’t wear black.” The gently ironic text will amuse readers (including adults reading the book aloud). The large print and illustrations expand the book to a longish-yet-manageable length, giving newly independent readers a sense of accomplishment. The ending hints at another hero, the Goat Avenger.

Action, clever humor, delightful illustrations and expectation-defying secret identities—when does the next one come out? (Fantasy. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6510-4

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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