Funny duck shenanigans don’t mitigate the concerns the text raises.

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QUACK

A foundling duck becomes an emotional-support animal and brings the whole fifth grade together.

Pouya and Shady’s good deed—reuniting some ducklings with their mama—finds one duckling accidentally returning home with the two boys. Shady’s mom almost makes him return the duckling to its mother, until she sees Shady murmuring and quacking softly to the little bird. Shady has severe anxiety and selective mutism; once his mother realizes the effect the duck has on Shady, she’s converted. The duck, Svenrietta, becomes an emotional-support duck and a “registered service animal” at school. (The multiple kids who share narration duty also share the common misunderstanding that an emotional-support bird has the same legal status as a service animal.) What follow are the sort of charming misadventures one might expect when a diaper-clad waterfowl attends class. Svenrietta makes Shady and Pouya popular for the first time. Wealthy, white Shady sticks up for all the other “underducks”: the ESL kids; the kids who are poor like Pouya, who’s an Iranian refugee in a two-mom family; DuShawn, who is gender-nonconforming. The empowering diversity themes are well-meaning but stand on a shaky underpinning. In addition to the propagation of common myths about domesticating wild animals, service animals, and refugees, there’s an overarching Christmas plot in a story where one of the primary narrators is from a Muslim family (though religion per se goes entirely unmentioned).

Funny duck shenanigans don’t mitigate the concerns the text raises. (author’s note) (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8075-6706-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Funny, silly, and fairly empathetic—and perhaps even consoling to young, impulsive people who hope to be better (someday).

THE BEST OF IGGY

The portrait of a boy as a young rascal: Iggy doesn’t really mean to be “bad,” does he?

A narrator in an amusing direct address and somewhat adult voice serves as both apologist and somewhat bemused observer of three incidents recounted in 20 very short chapters. Iggy Frangi is 9 and in fourth grade. He likes his teacher and tolerates his family—mother, father, sisters Maribel (older) and Molly (younger). Like many people his age, Iggy doesn’t realize that something is wrong with what he is doing until either he is in the middle of doing it (and is reprimanded) or until it’s too late. Ricks’ cartoon illustrations portray Iggy and his family as white-presenting and his lively friends as slim boys with dark skin of various shades. In the first story Iggy defends his own honor and dignity with a strategy involving a skateboard, ladder, and trampoline in a way that only just avoids complete disaster. In the second, Iggy’s flair for going big gets slightly out of hand when he “los[es] his mind” in an incident involving shaving cream and lipstick. The third story involves his teacher and a minor injury and is an incident Iggy regrets “even years later.” Authorial asides combine with amusing cartoons (the universal strikethrough symbol is enlivened by repetitions of “nope” forming the outer circle) to enlist readers as co-conspirators.

Funny, silly, and fairly empathetic—and perhaps even consoling to young, impulsive people who hope to be better (someday). (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-1330-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers.

THE CREATURE OF THE PINES

From the Unicorn Rescue Society series , Vol. 1

Elliot’s first day of school turns out to be more than he bargained for.

Elliot Eisner—skinny and pale with curly brown hair—is a bit nervous about being the new kid. Thankfully, he hits it off with fellow new student, “punk rock”–looking Uchenna Devereaux, a black girl with twists (though they actually look like dreads in Aly’s illustrations). On a first-day field trip to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the pair investigates a noise in the trees. The cause? A Jersey Devil: a blue-furred, red-bellied and -winged mythical creature that looks like “a tiny dragon” with cloven hooves, like a deer’s, on its hind feet. Unwittingly, the duo bonds with the creature by feeding it, and it later follows them back to the bus. Unsurprisingly, they lose the creature (which they alternately nickname Jersey and Bonechewer), which forces them to go to their intimidating, decidedly odd teacher, Peruvian Professor Fauna, for help in recovering it. The book closes with Professor Fauna revealing the truth—he heads a secret organization committed to protecting mythical creatures—and inviting the children to join, a neat setup for what is obviously intended to be a series. The predictable plot is geared to newly independent readers who are not yet ready for the usual heft of contemporary fantasies. A brief history lesson given by a mixed-race associate of Fauna’s in which she compares herself to the American “melting pot” manages to come across as simultaneously corrective and appropriative.

Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers. (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3170-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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