Nourishing fare for budding Encyclopedia Browns and even preteen Poirots.



Captions and cartoon drawings offer clues to the solutions of 23 brainteasers, from murders to missing exam questions, in this Spanish import.

Rated (arbitrarily) for difficulty and categorized as needing either “logic” or “imagination” to solve, the haphazardly arranged scenarios each feature a brief setup, two to 10 numbered duotone line drawings of participants (or, more often, suspects) with brief descriptive notes, and a solution hidden behind a glued-on flap. Along with classic posers such as the one about getting a dog, a chicken, and a bag of corn safely across a river, young Sherlocks are tasked with figuring out why only four of five men heading for a cemetery get wet in a sudden shower, how only one of two “mobsters” sharing iced drinks is poisoned, how young Katia is supposed to get a key out of a bottle without breaking glass or removing the cork, and, in several felonious situations, whose alibi doesn’t hold up. A few solutions will be greased with prior knowledge, but most are self-contained and well enough supplied with verbal or visual clues to require only a moment’s head-scratching. The ending comes on abruptly; Gallo compensates, at least in part, by opening with suggestions for turning these exercises into a family or team game and keeping score. Escandell’s caricatured human figures represent uniformly as white as the paper they are printed on.

Nourishing fare for budding Encyclopedia Browns and even preteen Poirots. (Novelty. 7-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4521-7713-7

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.


Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers.


From the Kate the Chemist series

A fifth grade girl brings her love of chemistry to the school play.

Kate loves science so much she’s determined to breathe fire. Of course she knows that she needs adult supervision, and so, with her science teacher’s help, Kate demonstrates an experiment with cornstarch and a blowtorch that nearly sets her teacher’s cactus on fire. Consequences ensue. Can someone who loves science as much as Kate does find pleasure spending her fall break at drama camp? It turns out that even the school play—Dragons vs. Unicorns—needs a chemist, though, and Kate saves the day with glue and glitter. She’s sabotaged along the way, but everything is fine after Kate and her frenemy agree to communicate better (an underwhelming response to escalating bullying). Doodles decorate the pages; steps for the one experiment described that can be done at home—making glittery unicorn-horn glue—are included. The most exciting experiments depicted, though, include flames or liquid nitrogen and could only be done with the help of a friendly science teacher. Biberdorf teaches chemistry at the University of Texas and also performs science-education programs as “Kate the Chemist”; in addition to giving her protagonist her name and enthusiasm, she also seems represented in Kate-the-character’s love of the fictional YouTube personality “Dr. Caroline.” Kate and her nemesis are white; Kate’s best friends are black and South Asian.

A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11655-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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