An SF–infused tale that proves both entertaining and educational.

PEOPLE OF THE SUN

THE EYE OF RA: BOOK 3

From the The Eye of Ra series

Time-traveling siblings race to save the world’s future by restoring historical events in this third installment of a middle-grade fantasy series.

After discovering the eye of Ra, Sarah and her younger brother, John, traveled through time and space to ancient lands. They embarked on adventures and saved the planet, so now they can be typical kids in California—if their mom scores a teaching gig there. But apparently there’s more for the siblings to do. Two aging, time-traveling strangers show up and ask for their help. In 2049, a solar flare interrupts a demonstration of a time-slowing device. This catastrophic event not only wipes out the future beyond 2049, but also transports people at the demonstration into the past. Toci, a woman in early-16th-century Mexico, plans to lead the Aztecs in defeating Cortés before he slaughters them. Sadly, this tragedy must occur, as it’s a consequential part of history’s “story lines.” Sarah and John travel back in time to stop Toci, but this smart and resourceful Aztec scholar has already anticipated innovative adversaries and is determined to take down Cortés. Gartner wisely simplifies his briskly paced tale, which zeroes in on a single “mission.” Along with lessening potential time-traveling complications, the move paves the way for additional quests in future volumes. This book is primed for younger readers, highlighting real-life customs and places as well as the Aztecs’ Nahuatl language (with helpful phonetic spellings trailing certain words). The author, meanwhile, paints a sublime portrait of old Mexico and its people: “Canoes drifted on canals like the pictures he’d seen of Venice in Italy….Farther out into the lake, men cast nets and brought up flopping silver fish, their scales sparkling in the sun.” As in earlier installments, the author includes a recipe—xocolatl, a spicy, nonsweet hot chocolate Toci deems an “acquired taste.”

An SF–infused tale that proves both entertaining and educational.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-73415-527-3

Page Count: 262

Publisher: Crescent Vista Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 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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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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