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TALES OF WONDER WOODS

A heartfelt and entertaining tale of supernatural chums and family drama.

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A youngster befriends a talking tree in a magical California forest in Smith’s debut middle-grade novel.

Ten-year-old Val Martin, an Irish Filipino boy living in the small town of Grass Valley, makes a surprising new friend: Spruce, a tree in Wonder Woods, located near Val’s home. Spruce not only can talk, but also sometimes pulls up his roots to walk around. Val keeps the existence of Spruce a secret from everyone he knows except for his cousins, who visit him regularly. The boys discover other amazing things in the woods, including long-necked dinosaurs they can ride. Spruce protects Val and his cousins from various dangers, including bears, and keeps them from getting lost in the dense forest. But although Wonder Woods is a magical place, it’s not immune to ordinary threats; lumberjacks, for instance, try to clear-cut the area, which Val fights by making a case to the city council. He and his friends also take an active role against deer hunters. Meanwhile, back at home, Val lives with a loving mother but greatly misses his father, who works abroad and sends money home to the family. Much of Smith’s short novel is episodic, featuring Val in a range of adventures and misadventures; at one point, for example, an unpredictable baby donkey wreaks havoc with the Martins’ front-yard holiday manger scene. But for the most part, the stories take place in the woods and involve Spruce, which gives them continuity. This educational, sometimes-profound narrative includes a discussion of the Trail of Tears as well as a rundown of the environmental benefits of trees, which include providing oxygen and reducing the incidence of flash flooding. Some readers, however, may wish that the story had a little more magic in it. For example, it’s revealed that squirrels also talk (at least to Spruce), but there’s only a moderate focus on all the other wonders that the forest may hold. Still, Spruce’s paternal nature further enriches the story of Val’s wish to have his own dad back home.

A heartfelt and entertaining tale of supernatural chums and family drama.

Pub Date: June 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64-471249-8

Page Count: 134

Publisher: Covenant Books

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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THE WILD ROBOT PROTECTS

From the Wild Robot series , Vol. 3

Hugely entertaining, timely, and triumphant.

Robot Roz undertakes an unusual ocean journey to save her adopted island home in this third series entry.

When a poison tide flowing across the ocean threatens their island, Roz works with the resident creatures to ensure that they will have clean water, but the destruction of vegetation and crowding of habitats jeopardize everyone’s survival. Brown’s tale of environmental depredation and turmoil is by turns poignant, graceful, endearing, and inspiring, with his (mostly) gentle robot protagonist at its heart. Though Roz is different from the creatures she lives with or encounters—including her son, Brightbill the goose, and his new mate, Glimmerwing—she makes connections through her versatile communication abilities and her desire to understand and help others. When Roz accidentally discovers that the replacement body given to her by Dr. Molovo is waterproof, she sets out to seek help and discovers the human-engineered source of the toxic tide. Brown’s rich descriptions of undersea landscapes, entertaining conversations between Roz and wild creatures, and concise yet powerful explanations of the effect of the poison tide on the ecology of the island are superb. Simple, spare illustrations offer just enough glimpses of Roz and her surroundings to spark the imagination. The climactic confrontation pits oceangoing mammals, seabirds, fish, and even zooplankton against hardware and technology in a nicely choreographed battle. But it is Roz’s heroism and peacemaking that save the day.

Hugely entertaining, timely, and triumphant. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2023

ISBN: 9780316669412

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2023

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THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 1

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun

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It’s been 42 days since the Monster Apocalypse began, and 13-year-old Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” is on a quest to find and rescue his not-so-secret crush, June Del Toro, whether she needs it, wants it, or not.

Jack cobbles together an unlikely but endearing crew, including his scientist best friend, Quint Baker; Dirk Savage, Parker Middle School’s biggest bully; and a pet monster named Rover, to help him save the damsel in distress and complete the “ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success.” Middle-grade readers, particularly boys, will find Jack’s pitch-perfect mix of humor, bravado, and self-professed geekiness impossible to resist. His sidekicks are equally entertaining, and it doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of oozing, drooling, sharp-toothed monsters and zombies and a host of gizmos and gadgets to hook readers and keep them cheering with every turn of the page. Holgate’s illustrations play an integral role in the novel’s success. They not only bring Brallier’s characters to life, but also add depth and detail to the story, making plain just exactly how big Rover is and giving the lie to Jack’s “killer driving.” The marriage of text and illustration serves as a perfect example of what an illustrated novel can and should be.

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun (. (Graphic/horror hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01661-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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