Wild and wonderful adventure for middle-graders.

THE EMPTY CITY

From the Survivors series , Vol. 1

In this dog-themed series opener from the team behind the Warriors franchise, dogs must learn to face not only the results of the devastating earthquake that has turned their world upside down, but their own feelings of loyalty and independence.

With the earth swelling beneath them and their cages twisting around them, the dogs in the shelter are trapped and frightened. Familiar with the legend of the "Big Growl," Lucky is able to quickly piece together what has happened. He and another dog, Sweet, manage to escape, only to find themselves in the middle of a city in ruin. With the humans ("longpaws") gone, it is up to Lucky to try to find food and shelter. He is quickly joined by other dogs who are desperately hungry and unprepared for their new world. Lucky is a reluctant leader, eager for a life of solitude, but he feels a kinship and responsibility for this new pack. Weaving together the horrific yet all-too-familiar scenes of natural disaster with the mythical legends of the dogs, Hunter expertly explores the tensions between responsibility and freedom; risk and safety; and loyalty and acceptance. Viewing the unfolding adventure through Lucky’s eyes makes even the most mundane or familiar seem alive with magic.

Wild and wonderful adventure for middle-graders. (Adventure. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-210256-0

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

This slim volume brings to you-are-there life a historical episode often relegated to a sidebar.

THE BOSTON TEA PARTY

It might be said that the American Revolution began with the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.

Crowds of protestors filled Boston’s Old South Church. “Boston Harbor a teapot tonight!” someone yelled. And sure enough, that evening, thousands of pounds of tea from three merchant ships were dumped into the harbor. A wide range of Boston society—well-known citizens, carpenters, printers, blacksmiths and shipwrights, young and old—dressed up to resemble Mohawk Indians, their faces smeared with grease and lampblack or soot, turned out to protest the British government’s tyranny. As always, Freedman demonstrates his skill at telling the story behind the facts, weaving a lively narrative out of the details and voices that shaped one episode of history. Drawing on primary resources as well as scholarly works, he smoothly melds quotations from eyewitnesses and other sources into a lively and engaging narrative. The volume has been lovingly designed, and Malone’s memorable watercolor illustrations are beautifully wrought, adding much to the telling. The Boston Tea Party is often just one of several names and events that students have to memorize in school; here’s a chance to read about it as an exciting story.

This slim volume brings to you-are-there life a historical episode often relegated to a sidebar. (afterword, bibliographic essay, note on tea, timeline, sources, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2266-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Original and winning.

LIAR & SPY

A seventh-grade boy who is coping with social and economic issues moves into a new apartment building, where he makes friends with an over-imaginative home-schooled boy and his eccentric family.

Social rules are meant to be broken is the theme of this bighearted, delightfully quirky tale, and in keeping with that, Stead creates a world where nothing is as it seems. Yet the surprises are meticulously foreshadowed, so when the pieces of the puzzle finally click in, the readers’ "aha" moments are filled with profound satisfaction. When an economic downturn forces Georges’ family to move out of their house and into an apartment, it brings Georges into contact with Safer, a home-schooled boy about the same age, and his unconventional but endearing family—and a mystery involving their possibly evil neighbor, Mr. X. At school, Georges must grapple with another type of mystery: why his once–best friend Jason “shrugged off” their lifelong friendship and suddenly no longer sits with him at lunch. Instead, Jason now sits at the cool table, which is controlled by a bully named Dallas, who delights in tormenting Georges. It would be unfair to give anything away, but suffice it to say that Georges resolves his various issues in a way that’s both ingenious and organic to the story.

Original and winning. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-73743-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

A beautifully evolving story of an indigenous American family.

CHICKADEE

From the Birchbark House series , Vol. 4

Erdrich continues the saga of Omakayas and her family, who now embark in 1866 on a life-changing search that takes them from Minnesota’s North Woods to the Great Plains in this fourth book of The Birchbark House series.

Omakayas is now a young mother with lively 8-year-old twins named Chickadee and Makoons. When the tribe’s bully, Zhigaag, calls Chickadee a “weakling” who’s “scrawny like his namesake,” grandmother Nokomis reminds him that “[s]mall things have great power.” After Makoons tricks Zhigaag, his oafish sons avenge their father by hijacking Chickadee to the Red River Valley. Chickadee’s family searches desperately until they reach Pembina on the Great Plains. Meanwhile, resourceful Chickadee escapes and survives with help from his wee namesake until he runs into his Uncle Quill driving an ox cart of furs to sell in St. Paul. Quill and Chickadee travel with fellow traders on the Red River ox cart trail, arriving in Pembina to find Makoons seriously ill. Chickadee and Makoons extend Omakaya’s story to the next generation as her Ojibwe family transitions from its native woods culture to life on the plains. Realistic black-and-white spot art provides snapshots of Chickadee’s adventures.

A beautifully evolving story of an indigenous American family. (map, glossary & pronunciation guide of Ojibwe terms) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-057790-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Schlitz’s prose is perfect in every stitch, and readers will savor each word.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2012

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Newbery Honor Book

SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS

Two orphans, a witch and a girl who laughs at death: Each shares the lens of protagonist in Newbery winner Schlitz’s fully satisfying gothic novel.  

Parsefall and Lizzie Rose assist a wicked puppeteer, Grisini, with his London street shows in exchange for board and crumbs in a Dickensian boardinghouse complete with quirky landlady and ill-behaved dogs. Clara Wintermute is a privileged girl living in the shadow of her siblings, who all died from eating diseased watercress (picky Clara made her twin eat hers). Clara demands the puppet show for her birthday, and shortly after the ominous performance, she becomes trapped in some form she can’t fathom. Grisini is suspected, and the orphans are drawn into a dangerous ploy orchestrated by a dying witch who needs a child to steal something precious from her. Each character is a little horrible: Parsefall is a selfish thief, but this neediness gives him a keen empathy and daring. Lizzie Rose is bossy, but her yearning for her lost family keeps them together. Clara is egotistical, but her steely will saves them all. The witch is more horrible than good, but she is a little bit good, like the chocolate in the box that only grown-ups like. The shifting perspective among these characters and cumulative narrative development (echoing Dickens’ serials) create a pleasingly unsettling tension.

Schlitz’s prose is perfect in every stitch, and readers will savor each word. (Historical fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5380-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Middle school mean girls are not uncommon, in fiction or in life, but seldom has an author so successfully defeated them...

THE SECOND LIFE OF ABIGAIL WALKER

When Abby’s one-time friend whispers to her, “You’re dead,” Abby knows it’s true. Maybe not dead physically, but dying inside. 

Avoiding Georgia and Kristen, who make snarky remarks about her weight in the lunchroom, the sixth-grader makes new friends, including two Indian-American boys whose easy tolerance is refreshing. Fleeing a home visit by the two bullying girls, she meets 9-year-old Anders, whose father is also dying inside. The Iraq War veteran is frightened by much of the peaceful world of the family horse farm, where he waits for space in a VA hospital.  For “Tubby Abby,” farm visits are both physically and emotionally helpful. As she did in The Secret Language of Girls (2004) and its sequel, The Kind of Friends We Used to Be (2009), Dowell weaves themes of friendship and personal growth into a rich and complex narrative. A third story strand follows the desert fox Abby meets in the overgrown lot across the street from her house, adding a fantasy element and further connections. Like the fox in the Wendell Barry epigraph, some of Abby’s tracks are in the wrong direction. But her resurrection is satisfying.

Middle school mean girls are not uncommon, in fiction or in life, but seldom has an author so successfully defeated them without leaving her protagonist or her reader feeling a little bit mean herself. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-0593-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Realistic, gritty and uplifting.

MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE

Jamie lives in a bizarre world, where a sister can die in a bombing, and the only way to bring Mum and Dad together is by auditioning for Britain’s Biggest Talent Show.

Five years after her death, Rose remains foremost in his parents’ minds, “living” in her urn on the mantelpiece. His parents barely know Jamie, nor are they able to recognize Rose’s twin, Jasmine, as an individual. Capturing the confusion of an optimistic but sensitive child navigating a tough situation without guidance, Jamie’s narration is by turns comic and painful. His only friend is Sunya, whose headscarf billows behind her like a superhero cape and who helps Jamie fight the class bully. Yet Jamie cannot tell Sunya how his parents have abandoned the family: his mum to an affair; his dad to alcohol. The fact that Sunya is Muslim and therefore, according to Jamie’s dad, responsible for Rose’s death, is a brilliant counterpoint and an issue that Jamie must work through. Each character is believably flawed, and readers anticipate the heartbreaking scene when Jamie’s plans for a family reunion fail. However, the final triumphant chapters of this striking debut demonstrate that even as Jamie’s sorrows increase, so too, does his capacity for understanding, courage and love. Mum is gone, but Dad may recover, and Jasmine and Sunya are in Jamie’s corner.

Realistic, gritty and uplifting. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-17690-3

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Far more than a summer romance, this is a tribute to those left behind.

AFTER ELI

Daniel (E.) Anderson looks back on the summer he fell in love and finally came to terms with his soldier brother’s death.

After Eli died in Iraq, Daniel added his initial to his own name and began compiling a Book of the Dead, a binder filled with his research on famous deaths. Three years later, still angry at his brother for joining the Army, the 14-year-old still keeps his book. Relevant entries, ranging from the princes in the Tower to Isadora Duncan and the 9/11 victims, begin each chapter of this poignant novel. Danny’s father is detached and displeased by everything; his mother, silent and withdrawn. But in the course of an idyllic summer spent with the beautiful Isabelle and her younger twin siblings, visiting from New York, Danny comes to terms with his brother’s death, finds a new, true friend in his dorky, formerly despised classmate Walter, and discovers that working on an organic farm is something he’s good at and cares about. Danny’s nostalgic first-person narration includes interestingly quirky information as well as sweet moments. Middle school readers will see the inevitable end of this first love long before Danny faces it, grieving his new loss but grateful for his healing.

Far more than a summer romance, this is a tribute to those left behind. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5810-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

KATERINA'S WISH

Thirteen-year-old Katerina and her little sisters want to believe in their dreams, but life in a Colorado coal camp threatens to turn them into pipe dreams.

Take one maybe-magical carp and three sisters who believe in wishes, stir them together with an evil shopkeeper and add a dash of romance, and you have one dandy first novel. Katerina’s sisters wish for little hair ribbons and plum dumplings when they find a special fish, but big sister has appropriately bigger plans. She wishes that her family could leave the coal town and have the farm they hoped to own when they left Bohemia for America in the late 1800s. But dreams are tricky things, easily dashed when real life interferes. This is a world where the coal company owns everything, pays hardworking immigrants in scrip that can only be used at the company store, separates the workers by nationality so they cannot organize and, worst of all, ignores safety regulations. Weaving rich details of life in a mining town at the turn of the 20th century with the pacing of a good old-fashioned historical romance and conveying it all in Katerina's heartfelt voice, Mobley has constructed a world where one determined teenager with brains for business, the bravery to stand up for herself and the ability to find love help make dreams come true.

Top-notch. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-3343-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Wonderfully apropos pictures, solid information and sheer breadth are sure to make this an elementary-classroom staple. The...

AWESOME AUTUMN

Goldstone departs from his usual math picture books to deliver one of the most comprehensive books about autumn available for kids.

Revolving around the idea that “Autumn is a season of awesome changes,” the text takes readers through some of them: Days get colder and shorter; frost forms; farmers harvest their crops; some animals migrate, hibernate, change color or get ready for the cold in other ways; people play soccer and football, rake leaves and celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving. Sometimes-lengthy paragraphs with vocabulary defined in the text inform readers; the best ones introduce the process of leaves changing color and separating from the tree. Goldstone seamlessly intersperses pages into this discussion that talk about the tastes, sounds, sights, textures and shapes of fall, making this a solid choice for audiences of mixed ages. One- and two-page spreads, as well as collages and vignettes of beautiful photos, evoke fall. Many of the photos are cropped in the shape of leaves or words, as on the sound-sense page—“Hooray” is cut from a photo of fans in a stadium. The final few spreads give photographs of and directions for some fall crafts, including gourd geese, leaf rubbings, roasted pumpkin seeds and a fall mobile.

Wonderfully apropos pictures, solid information and sheer breadth are sure to make this an elementary-classroom staple. The cover blurb says it all: “All kinds of fall facts and fun.” (Nonfiction. 5-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9210-3

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

subscribe
  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.