A gentle novel perfect for middle graders looking for a summer read. (Fiction. 10-13)

SUMMER AT MEADOW WOOD

Eleanor Roosevelt and gardening both prove to be unexpected sources of inspiration for 13-year-old Vic, who finds herself reluctantly back at the summer camp she’s attended for years after she learns her parents are having marriage difficulties.

Despite the friends Vic has made over the years at Meadow Wood, she’d hoped to spend a laid-back summer at home with her bestie, Jamie (whose story is told in A Kind of Paradise, 2019, which is not a prerequisite for this stand-alone), and is furious that she and her brother were shipped off as a matter of convenience for her mom. Slowly, with the help of her curmudgeonly but caring counselor Chieko, who is brooding over her own recent breakup with her girlfriend, and the mentoring of diligent camp co-director Earl, Vic begins to see a way through her struggles. If at times these worthwhile life lessons are a bit heavy-handed, many other elements in this warmhearted novel are likely to charm middle-grade readers, including the quirkily funny, brainy younger camper Vera whom Vic takes under her wing and a kind Latinx boy named Angel, who becomes a sweet first love interest when she meets him at the local farmers market. Vic and Vera are white, and there is some realistic ethnic diversity represented in secondary characters, conveyed both via description and naming convention (Chieko is likely of Japanese heritage, for instance).

A gentle novel perfect for middle graders looking for a summer read. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-279545-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

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. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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