I SMELL LIKE HAM

Eleven-year-old Nick has to go to school smelling like the cloves his new stepmother puts into the shampoo, and that’s just the beginning in this humorous yet true-to-life portrayal of family blending and sixth-grade angst. Nick’s mom died two years ago, and even though he’s always wanted a baby brother, he’s less than thrilled when his Dad marries Miriam and she and nerdy third-grader Dwayne move in. Concurrently, Nick’s trying to figure out his place on the basketball team (teammate Carson Jones seems to have locked up the starting point-guard position) and among his own friends. Not only is Carson a threat on the court, he challenges Nick and even Dwayne to try cigarettes on Halloween and lies to the coach about missing a practice. Caught between his newfound responsibility for Dwayne and his own attempts to fit in despite his anger at his friends, Nick must finesse many familiar scenarios: peer pressure, competing for a spot on the team, and negotiating difficult family relations. Nick is a realistic, likable “tween,” neither too squeaky-clean nor an unregenerate troublemaker. First-novelist Hicks gives Dwayne, Miriam, and Dad enough dimensions to avoid creating the familiar stereotypes of the pesky baby brother, evil stepmother, and out-of-touch Dad, which is refreshing. The turning point for Nick nicely completes the story: Dwayne disappears, and Nick figures out where he is. Especially satisfying is the beginning of a real relationship between the two boys, forged while they’re on their own until Nick’s able to convince Dwayne to come home. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-7613-1748-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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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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With young readers diagnosed with anxiety in ever increasing numbers, this book offers a necessary mirror to many.

GUTS

Young Raina is 9 when she throws up for the first time that she remembers, due to a stomach bug. Even a year later, when she is in fifth grade, she fears getting sick.

Raina begins having regular stomachaches that keep her home from school. She worries about sharing food with her friends and eating certain kinds of foods, afraid of getting sick or food poisoning. Raina’s mother enrolls her in therapy. At first Raina isn’t sure about seeing a therapist, but over time she develops healthy coping mechanisms to deal with her stress and anxiety. Her therapist helps her learn to ground herself and relax, and in turn she teaches her classmates for a school project. Amping up the green, wavy lines to evoke Raina’s nausea, Telgemeier brilliantly produces extremely accurate visual representations of stress and anxiety. Thought bubbles surround Raina in some panels, crowding her with anxious “what if”s, while in others her negative self-talk appears to be literally crushing her. Even as she copes with anxiety disorder and what is eventually diagnosed as mild irritable bowel syndrome, she experiences the typical stresses of school life, going from cheer to panic in the blink of an eye. Raina is white, and her classmates are diverse; one best friend is Korean American.

With young readers diagnosed with anxiety in ever increasing numbers, this book offers a necessary mirror to many. (Graphic memoir. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-545-85251-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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