A beautifully illustrated patchwork.


Fourteen-year-old Josiah Starbuck of Nantucket becomes marooned on an island with his dog, Zeke.

Extemporizing on Moby-Dick (a work with which the target audience is highly unlikely to be familiar), this story opens with a man who tells Josiah to “Call me Ishmael” showing up at the Starbucks’ house early one morning to deliver the news to Josiah and his mother that the whaler Pequod, on which Josiah’s father shipped out as first mate, went down with all hands except Ishmael. Josiah is understandably upset, but his grief turns (unconvincingly) to anger at Ishmael and his mother. Needing to clear his head, Josiah sets off in his catboat with Zeke and is caught by a storm. Knocked unconscious by the boom, Josiah wakes up to find himself shipwrecked on a tiny, unfamiliar island. He and Zeke eke out their survival on the scrubby island, on which sits a coffin-shaped fisherman’s shack and an arch made of a whalebone’s jaw—which delivers disturbing dreams to Josiah (the strongest portions of the story) whenever he falls asleep against it. The story’s inconsistencies (whether it’s early or late spring, wouldn’t a boy whose mother makes blueberry jam recognize a blueberry bush out of season? How does Josiah know that Ishmael floated on a coffin when Ishmael did not relate that part of the story?) undermine it, and the two narrative sections—the dreams and Josiah’s survival activities—don’t transmute into a whole. The exquisite black-and-white illustrations, however, deliver a rich resonance.

A beautifully illustrated patchwork. (Historical fantasy/fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-61696-350-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Tachyon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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