A twisted tall tale told with verbal and visual bravado.

BAREFOOT HELEN AND THE GIANTS

A spunky girl takes on three fearsome giants in this rousing tale.

Fostered by black bears, a human orphan climbs trees, sleeps in caves, and catches salmon with her fingers. Discovered in the woods by a childless couple who adopt her and name her Helen, the girl learns to talk, eat with a knife and fork, and sleep indoors—but she always remains barefoot. One day Helen happens upon a castle where she spies a trio of infamous “cruel killer-giants” feasting and decides to attack them with her slingshot. She eliminates two of them, but, alas, the third giant—Bulleybummus—captures Helen, coercing her to help him kidnap Princess Antoinette for ransom. Helen, however, cleverly manages to behead him and returns to the woods, leaving Princess Antoinette determined to discover the giant-killer’s identity by opening an all-day, all-night storytelling hotel, hoping it will attract the mystery giant-slayer to tell her story. “Inspired by many versions of similar stories from Newfoundland and Labrador and from all over the world,” according to a concluding note, this earthy, quirky, humorous version blends traditional folktale elements with the contemporary spin of a strong female heroine who lives happily-ever-after with the princess in a “s’blendid family.” What begins as a single story evolves into stories within stories, pulled together in a surprising climax. Striking, original illustrations, worked in black and white as well as vibrant color, capture the fierce dramatic action in a trim more usually seen in picture books than middle-grade fiction. Redheaded Helen is as white as paper, the princess has beige skin and brown hair, and “their seven ten-toed children” are racially diverse.

A twisted tall tale told with verbal and visual bravado. (Folktale. 8-10)

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-927917-29-9

Page Count: 70

Publisher: Running the Goat

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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Though based on a real-life exhibit, this outing lacks the fear factor.

CURSE OF THE DEAD-EYED DOLL

From the Haunted States of America series

Alejandro and his eighth grade classmates take a field trip to visit the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida, where they encounter the titular doll.

The museum hosts a glass-encased exhibit of a “haunted” toy by the name of Robert the Doll. The tour guide shares the story of the doll’s history and his weirdly devoted adult owner. The guide explains that taking Robert the Doll’s photo without permission brings bad luck that will lift only with a written apology. Naturally, Al breaks the rule. Not even a few minutes into the bus ride from the museum begins a string of bad luck for Alejandro. Al ultimately takes his apology letter to the museum to rid himself of this curse. The plot is predictable and, despite its content, lacks real suspense, as the author relies on horror tropes that demand a completely credulous audience for success. In the era of Stranger Things, which amps kid-horror to a captivating level of scary, all but the very newest to the genre will find this story lacking in tension, imagination, and originality. Continuing the series’ tour of actual, supposedly haunted U.S. locales, three other entries publish simultaneously: Phantom of the Tracks (New Jersey), A Starlet’s Shadow (California), and Swamp of Lost Souls (Louisiana).

Though based on a real-life exhibit, this outing lacks the fear factor. (Horror. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63163-348-5

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Jolly Fish Press

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Solid though not remarkable.

THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST

What do you do when you wake up and don’t know who you are?

That happens to the titular boy one day when he awakens on the beach of a seemingly magical island where minor desires, such as food and water, are fulfilled while major desires, such as knowing his identity, are more difficult to meet. The boy is joined by an unknown voice in his head that he nicknames “the bully” because of its sour attitude and, later, by the loving voice of his mother. The island is also home to a monstrous beast, half wolf, half bear, that stalks the boy, and the water seems intent on grabbing the boy and pulling him below the waves. The boy must struggle with both the beast and the boat he fashions in an attempt to locate his parents, who he knows are looking for him. Astute readers who are accustomed to highly metaphorical tales will probably guess the big—and tragic—reveal as the narrative moves back and forth between the boy’s memories and his unsettling present, and they will see how the former inform the latter. The pacing of the story is fair, though possibly a little hurried along in the final act with the introduction of the narrator as a character in the eleventh hour. The narrative studiedly avoids physically describing the boy.

Solid though not remarkable. (Fantasy/mystery. 8-10)

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1255-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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