Picture-book author Best’s first middle-grade novel sparkles and pops like a Fourth of July firecracker

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IN THE COUNTRY OF QUEENS

In Queens during the summer of 1961, a shy 11-year-old white girl finds her voice and learns to use it.

Word-loving aspiring writer Shirley Alice Burns lives with her overprotective single mother and her gentle Russian-immigrant grandmother. Not one to rock the boat, Shirley always goes along with the crowd. But when she finds out the father she thought simply long absent is really deceased, she vows to confront her mother about it. Also on Shirley’s list of things to do once her “courage comes in”: stand up for herself when her teacher accuses her of plagiarism, tell her mother she’s too old for summer camp and that she wants to go to Lake Winnipesaukee (affectionately nicknamed “Lake Winni Pee”) with their large extended family instead, as well as telling her that she hates ballet and following her mother’s restrictive Safe-at-Home Doctrine. As revealed in Best’s precise, evocative third-person narrative, Shirley taps into the courage of her hero Pippi Longstocking and projects memories of her father onto a dead mouse she hides in the freezer. Shirley’s gradual change and just the right amount of lost innocence are punctuated by summer adventures with cousin Phillie; her disdain for her mother’s gassy boyfriend; her strong, loving bond with her grandmother; and her looming first kiss, courtesy of spin the bottle. This Queens neighborhood, with its menagerie of carefully drawn secondary characters, appears to be an all-white one.

Picture-book author Best’s first middle-grade novel sparkles and pops like a Fourth of July firecracker . (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-37052-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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THE ONE AND ONLY BOB

Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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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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