A mild-mannered Christmas caper. (Fantasy. 8-12)


From the Castle in the Mist series , Vol. 3

In this sequel to Carnival Magic (2018), a Christmas trip to London tumbles siblings Tess and Max into a mystery frozen in time.

The snowstorms might be keeping Tess and Max’s parents from flying to join them and Aunt Evie at the posh Sanborn Hotel, but they do promise a magical ramble through Hyde Park. A mysterious coachman, his equally mysterious horse, and a well-dressed, soft-spoken boy called Colin are the first of a series of fantastical figures linking the modern world to a Christmas nearly a century past. At first the magic seems benign enough—Colin invites Tess and Max to what seems to be a fancy-dress party on the hotel’s hitherto-nonexistent eighth floor, where he and his family live. When things take a dramatic turn for the worse, however, Tess is left alone, and she must use Max’s logic and her own imaginative wit to save both Max’s and Colin’s lives as well as to discover just what was so important about the events of “December, 1926: Three Days before Christmas.” Ephron’s simply told tale of Christmas magic draws a loving and occasionally turbulent sibling relationship through Tess’ eyes. The plot is gently paced, with several twists working to maintain readers’ interest right up to the end—which, to the book’s discredit, feels somewhat rushed. Characterization is minimal, which might throw readers unfamiliar with the preceding books for a loop, but the characters themselves are likable and suitably quirky. The cast is default white.

A mild-mannered Christmas caper. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9848-1327-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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Dizzyingly silly.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 11

The famous superhero returns to fight another villain with all the trademark wit and humor the series is known for.

Despite the title, Captain Underpants is bizarrely absent from most of this adventure. His school-age companions, George and Harold, maintain most of the spotlight. The creative chums fool around with time travel and several wacky inventions before coming upon the evil Turbo Toilet 2000, making its return for vengeance after sitting out a few of the previous books. When the good Captain shows up to save the day, he brings with him dynamic action and wordplay that meet the series’ standards. The Captain Underpants saga maintains its charm even into this, the 11th volume. The epic is filled to the brim with sight gags, toilet humor, flip-o-ramas and anarchic glee. Holding all this nonsense together is the author’s good-natured sense of harmless fun. The humor is never gross or over-the-top, just loud and innocuous. Adults may roll their eyes here and there, but youngsters will eat this up just as quickly as they devoured every other Underpants episode.

Dizzyingly silly. (Humor. 8-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-50490-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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