A vivid story for young readers with just the right amount of danger.


A girl on vacation stumbles upon a magical puzzle in this illustrated middle-grade adventure.

Jen is going to her grandmother’s for the summer. Grandma is “adventurous and wild, with a mischievous streak.” It will be a change of pace for the girl, because ever since her father passed away in an accident, her mom has been terribly cautious. Grandma picks up Jen on a motorcycle with a sidecar for the trip to Goose Neck Lane. In the seaside home, Jen feels lighter and happier than she has in months. When she learns that Grandma has an art studio in her shed, the girl asks to visit it; “Perhaps,” Grandma answers, and gives Jen “a tear-shaped pendant made of blue sea glass” before bed. The next morning, they go for a walk on the beach, and Jen spies the neck of a bottle in the sand. As she touches it, she encounters a “milky darkness” and the sensation of falling. A sand fairy named Gleeby coaches her on how to fly and then explains that the glass piece that she touched belongs to his Story Bottle. It’s the Key Piece that “activates the adventure” of finding the rest of the pieces and learning the secret of the Wizard King of Lillimount. The king, however, watches Jen’s progress by making use of another piece of the bottle, and he plans to stop her. Jen, meanwhile, isn’t sure she wants to have this adventure after what happened to her father. However, Gleeby says, “The danger is living an unchallenged life. In not taking risks.”

Baldwin, author of Wipeout the Wave (2017), once again joins illustrator Bell in a sumptuous middle-grade fantasy. On the way to Bottletown, Jen and Gleeby sail on a storm-tossed ocean; the dangerous waves that batter their vessel are the perfect metaphor, for adults and children, of how life happens to us whether we’re ready for it or not. Bell’s scratchy art features figures with round, expressive eyes and wild hair that are reminiscent of Jim Henson’s Muppets, and the backgrounds are full of nature elements, such as flowers and trees. The prose is also very visual: “Drooling bugs as big as dogs hung from [flower] stalks, their sharp jaws and pincers snapping.” Frequent double-page spreads provide long-lasting visual interest. The Bottletown map reveals sand fairies in action as they farm sand, shape bottles, and perform enchanted spells, but the most charming and detailed spread of all is a cross-section of the king’s castle as he chases Jen through its many rooms, including the ghost-filled attic. Throughout the well-paced narrative, valuable lessons shine, such as the importance of doing things that scare you and of not judging someone by their appearance. The latter lesson is exceptionally illustrated with Oggie, a monstrous-looking character. In befriending him, Jen enhances Oggie’s life and her own in ways she doesn’t initially imagine. The king’s secret, and Jen’s response, flips the script of most fairy tales by introducing Prince Chadwick. However, the author and illustrator save their sweetest surprise for the final pages.

A vivid story for young readers with just the right amount of danger.

Pub Date: July 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9791882-1-3

Page Count: 213

Publisher: Decozen Books

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Will extragalactic rats eat the moon?

Can a cybernetic toenail clipper find a worthy purpose in the vast universe? Will the first feline astronaut ever get a slice of pizza? Read on. Reworked from the Live Cartoon series of homespun video shorts released on Instagram in 2020 but retaining that “we’re making this up as we go” quality, the episodic tale begins with the electrifying discovery that our moon is being nibbled away. Off blast one strong, silent, furry hero—“Meow”—and a stowaway robot to our nearest celestial neighbor to hook up with the imperious Queen of the Moon and head toward the dark side, past challenges from pirates on the Sea of Tranquility and a sphinx with a riddle (“It weighs a ton, but floats on air. / It’s bald but has a lot of hair.” The answer? “Meow”). They endure multiple close but frustratingly glancing encounters with pizza and finally deliver the malign, multiheaded Rat King and its toothy armies to a suitable fate. Cue the massive pizza party! Aside from one pirate captain and a general back on Earth, the human and humanoid cast in Harris’ loosely drawn cartoon panels, from the appropriately moon-faced queen on, is light skinned. Merch, music, and the original episodes are available on an associated website.

Epic lunacy. (Graphic science fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-308408-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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