It’s fun all the way as wit, daring and theatrical skills restore the archduchy.

Stratton shows impressive versatility in a shift away from his intense teen fare—Chanda’s Secrets (2004), Borderline (2010)—to a playfully dramatic adventure with swashbuckling kids, mountain hermits, avalanche sledding and circus bears.

Infant Hans washes ashore in a wooden chest and is adopted by “a stumpy man of lumps and bumps”—a grave robber. Knobbe raises Hans to follow in his footsteps, though Hans can’t see the honor in it as much as the immorality and ickiness. Nearby, countess Angela (almost 13, like Hans) lives in a castle, developing high-level skill at dramatic play and marionettes. Skirting a forced marriage to corrupt Archduke Arnulf, Angela procures a potion from the sinister local Necromancer to make herself seem dead; she’ll be buried until Arnulf departs, then her parents will unbury her. But the Necromancer informs Arnulf, who kidnaps the parents, leaving Angela stuck in the coffin—until Hans unknowingly breaks in. Together they dodge peril and discover colorful comrades from forest to dungeon across the archduchy. Stratton’s prose is artistic, clever and funny as it shows that even the oldest tropes can feel fresh and cheeky and that wisdom fits fine next to grossouts like poop buckets. The only blot is the Necromancer’s blindness as a symbol of creepy evil.

It’s fun all the way as wit, daring and theatrical skills restore the archduchy. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-197608-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

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

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 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012


A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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