An uneven but enjoyable-enough adventure.

THE EMPEROR'S RIDDLE

When Aunt Lin goes missing in Fuzhou, 11-year-old Mia might be the only one who can find her—and maybe solve a centuries-old mystery along the way.

Although she hasn’t been to China since she was a very little girl, Mia isn't looking forward to summer there, away from her friends. But Aunt Lin’s excitement about sharing “where their family had come from” is contagious, and Mia loves hearing her old histories of an exiled Ming emperor and his long-lost treasure. After Aunt Lin disappears, Mia realizes, with the help of a family heirloom conveniently–turned–treasure map, that solving the emperor’s riddle is the key to rescuing her kidnapped aunt. Readers will appreciate the portrayal of a second-generation immigrant’s gradual sense of belonging in a distant, inherited home. They may also recall a more humorous and plausible treatment of that experience in Thanhha Lai’s Listen, Slowly (2015)—starring, coincidentally, another Mia. Zhang’s middle-grade debut then takes a turn into a crowded field: puzzle-solving, kid-detective stories. Here, it’s a fresh take; it’s a treat to get a side of ancient Chinese lore and contemporary geography with the standard mystery fare. Readers may wish for historical backmatter and a more-detailed map to flesh out both lore and land, however. Unfortunately, occasionally ponderous writing (“Mia gave Jake a speaking look”) and an abundant-to-the-point-of-distraction use of italics (including, inconsistently, Chinese words) detract from a worthy story.

An uneven but enjoyable-enough adventure. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-7862-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

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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