Pure storytelling at its best.

SPINELESS

A budding young Gilded Age naturalist discovers more than he ever dreamed possible.

Twelve-year-old Algie Emsworth of Chicago has asthma and possibly the tuberculosis that killed his father three years earlier. His mother, hovering and anxious, decides to take him and his 16-year-old brother, Everett, to the Hotel Paraíso in Florida for the winter season. As the steamer is about to dock, Algie sees two men in a boat catch a small octopus. Overhearing one of the men saying he will cut it up for bait, Algie jumps overboard to save the little creature—which he does, only finding out later that the man is a famed naturalist and author whose magazine adventure stories have enthralled him. On his way to the hotel, Algie meets Lulu and Frankie, the rambunctious, highly competent Cuban and White American daughters of the hotel’s owner. Meanwhile, strange things are occurring around the hotel, including odd lights and washed-up sea creatures, and as the three children sleuth, they discover something incredible. Algie (whose name astute readers may figure out holds significance) must come to grips with his physical weaknesses and, in the process, discovers his strengths. This exceptionally well-written story gives a nod to the era's fascination with creepy hauntings and dastardly secrets as it expertly transports readers into the atmosphere of 19th-century Florida, uniting well-drawn, nuanced characters with imaginative and tension-building plot twists. Most characters default to White.

Pure storytelling at its best. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: June 7, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-4549-3762-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Union Square Kids

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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

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REFUGEE

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.

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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