Comfortably low-key, character-driven entertainment.

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 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019


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

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

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. 18, 2019


Certain to steal hearts.

In this follow-up to 2020’s The One and Only Bob, Ruby the elephant is still living at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary.

She’s apprehensive about her Tuskday, a rite of passage for young elephants when she’ll give a speech in front of the rest of the herd. Luckily, she can confide in her Uncle Ivan, who is next door in Gorilla World, and Uncle Bob, the dog who lives nearby with human friend Julia. Ruby was born in an unspecified part of Africa, later ending up on display in the mall, where she met Ivan, Bob, and Julia. The unexpected arrival of someone from Ruby’s past life on the savanna revives memories both warmly nostalgic and deeply traumatic. An elephant glossary and Castelao’s charming, illustrated guide to elephant body language help immerse readers in Ruby’s world. Goofy, playful, and mischievous Ruby is fully dimensional, as she has shown her bravery during the many hardships of her young life. Applegate deftly tempers themes of grief and loss with compassion and humor as Ruby finds her place in the herd. The author’s note touches on climate change, the illegal ivory trade, and conservation efforts, but the highly emotive framing of the story through the memories of a bewildered baby elephant emphasizes the impact of lines such as “ ‘in Africa,’ I say softly, ‘there were bad people,’ ” without offering readers a nuanced understanding of the broader context that drives poaching.

Certain to steal hearts. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9780063080089

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023