An animated, if uneven, group of inspiring tales.

Code 7

CRACKING THE CODE FOR AN EPIC LIFE

Several children work together and separately to make their small community a better place in this debut middle-grade novel. 

Flint Hill Elementary School may seem run-of-the-mill on the outside, but inside, its fifth-grade students are making serious strides. When Jefferson is invited to dream up and paint a mural on the side of the school, he must look within himself and cut out the “white noise” around him to create the best image. At home, Alec finds that you can only let your parents clean up your room so much, and he learns to take more personal responsibility, with some chuckleworthy results. Samantha wants to try out for Little Shop of Horrors, the school’s yearly musical, but a bully and her own fear of falling off the stage (again) stop her from doing so; however, she gracefully steps into the role in a time of need and channels her fears positively. Talmage, fresh off his search for a mystical fish for his father, learns that perseverance can be its own reward. Genevieve must protect some school projects involving eggs but ultimately learns that it’s hard for one person to do it all. Together, the various friends at Flint Hill have qualities that will help anyone, young or old, “crack the code to an epic life,” as the book puts it. Johnson is a purposeful storyteller, and each of his seven tales embodies a different, important characteristic that a successful person should have. The individual stories, though, vary in quality. Some, like the tales of Talmage’s quest against the “Monster” fish and Alec’s quickly dirtying room, effectively get their messages across. Others, like the story of Genevieve and her eggs, may take a little more explanation, especially for younger readers. But even though they’re not all home runs, any of the seven stories is sure to spawn discussion between adults and children about how can they achieve perseverance, caring, and belief in themselves.

An animated, if uneven, group of inspiring tales.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Candy Wrapper

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2016

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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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A joyful celebration.

FAMILIES BELONG

Families in a variety of configurations play, dance, and celebrate together.

The rhymed verse, based on a song from the Noodle Loaf children’s podcast, declares that “Families belong / Together like a puzzle / Different-sized people / One big snuggle.” The accompanying image shows an interracial couple of caregivers (one with brown skin and one pale) cuddling with a pajama-clad toddler with light brown skin and surrounded by two cats and a dog. Subsequent pages show a wide array of families with members of many different racial presentations engaging in bike and bus rides, indoor dance parties, and more. In some, readers see only one caregiver: a father or a grandparent, perhaps. One same-sex couple with two children in tow are expecting another child. Smart’s illustrations are playful and expressive, curating the most joyful moments of family life. The verse, punctuated by the word together, frequently set in oversized font, is gently inclusive at its best but may trip up readers with its irregular rhythms. The song that inspired the book can be found on the Noodle Loaf website.

A joyful celebration. (Board book. 1-3)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-22276-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Rise x Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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