Comfortably low-key, character-driven entertainment.

THE OTHER, BETTER ME

An amiable fifth grader’s school assignment leads her to seek out the father she’s never known.

Lola and her single mom occupy a mobile home in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, owned by elderly neighbor and friend Ms. Archambault. All Lola knows about her Australian dad is his name and that, having overstayed his tourist visa, he was deported before her birth. Momma’s uncomfortable talking about him and, lately, too tired to do much beyond her evening restaurant job. Lola’s friends include classmates Kiana, her BFF, and friendly Nick (but not unfriendly, universally disliked Mallory). Tiffany, 5, whom Lola reads to on the school bus; Ms. A, who cares for Lola after school; Kiana’s parents; and Nick’s sister, Kat, are Lola fans, too. A class assignment—to imagine who they’d be under different life circumstances—reminds Lola how little she knows of her own history, prompting her to attempt connecting with her father. Kiana, Nick, and Kat are happy to help, but Lola avoids telling Momma, now sidelined by a serious illness. The characters are well drawn and believable, although John avoids naming race or even physical descriptions, reinforcing a white default reading. Cheerful Lola’s refreshing: a well-liked, kind, sensible kid with a droll take on the world. If the ending feels pat, the resolution too easily achieved, the scattered subplots involving class, entitlement, and autonomy leave readers something meatier to ponder.

Comfortably low-key, character-driven entertainment. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-283565-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Plays to Rowling’s fan base; equally suited for gifting and reading aloud or alone.

THE CHRISTMAS PIG

A 7-year-old descends into the Land of the Lost in search of his beloved comfort object.

Jack has loved Dur Pig long enough to wear the beanbag toy into tattered shapelessness—which is why, when his angry older stepsister chucks it out the car window on Christmas Eve, he not only throws a titanic tantrum and viciously rejects the titular replacement pig, but resolves to sneak out to find DP. To his amazement, the Christmas Pig offers to guide him to the place where all lost Things go. Whiffs of childhood classics, assembled with admirable professionalism into a jolly adventure story that plays all the right chords, hang about this tale of loss and love. Along with family drama, Rowling stirs in fantasy, allegory, and generous measures of social and political commentary. Pursued by the Land’s cruel and monstrous Loser, Jack and the Christmas Pig pass through territories from the Wastes of the Unlamented, where booger-throwing Bad Habits roam, to the luxurious City of the Missed for encounters with Hope, Happiness, and Power (a choleric king who rejects a vote that doesn’t go his way). A joyful reunion on the Island of the Beloved turns poignant, but Christmas Eve being “a night for miracles and lost causes,” perhaps there’s still a chance (with a little help from Santa) for everything to come right? In both the narrative and Field’s accomplished, soft-focus illustrations, the cast presents White.

Plays to Rowling’s fan base; equally suited for gifting and reading aloud or alone. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-79023-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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