Fans of quiet, nostalgic stories about team spirit should enjoy this debut effort.


A rambling girl learns the meaning of home.

Home-schooled Derby Christmas Clark, 11, lives and travels year-round with her jovial single dad and 7-year-old brother in their Rambler RV. Every summer the white family returns to the same rural Virginia town, where, outside the run-down baseball stadium, the family sells hamburgers and fries to fans of the local minor league team. Having made this stop for years, the Clarks know the town and its citizens well. Derby is especially close to African-American Marcus, seemingly her age, and grandmotherly June, the box-office manager, also African-American. This particular summer brings unhappy news. Derby resolves to fix problems and effect change with the aid of family and friends; in the process, she uncovers some long-untold secrets. The plot unfolds over the course of two weeks in an unspecified year in June, and Derby recounts events and her thoughts in first person. Her simile-laden voice is genial and humorous, but her aphorisms and epiphanies about herself and others often seem too grown-up and self-aware. While Derby’s well-realized, other characters are drawn more superficially; some seem like stock types. Interpersonal relationships and the novel’s nostalgic sensibility evoke a cozy feel. The unoriginal plot—kid discovers family and home are wherever she is and galvanizes a whole town into helping a beloved neighbor—is satisfying, as is the pat happy ending.

Fans of quiet, nostalgic stories about team spirit should enjoy this debut effort. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-60201-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...


From the Keeper of the Lost Cities series , Vol. 1

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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On equal footing with a garden-variety potato.


The new kid in school endures becoming the school mascot.

Ben Hardy has never cared for potatoes, and this distaste has become a barrier to adjusting to life in his new Idaho town. His school’s mascot is the Spud, and after a series of misfortunes, Ben is enlisted to don the potato costume and cheer on his school’s team. Ben balances his duties as a life-sized potato against his desperate desire to hide the fact that he’s the dork in the suit. After all, his cute new crush, Jayla, wouldn’t be too impressed to discover Ben’s secret. The ensuing novel is a fairly boilerplate middle–grade narrative: snarky tween protagonist, the crush that isn’t quite what she seems, and a pair of best friends that have more going on than our hero initially believes. The author keeps the novel moving quickly, pushing forward with witty asides and narrative momentum so fast that readers won’t really mind that the plot’s spine is one they’ve encountered many times before. Once finished, readers will feel little resonance and move on to the next book in their to-read piles, but in the moment the novel is pleasant enough. Ben, Jayla, and Ben’s friend Hunter are white while Ellie, Ben’s other good pal, is Latina.

On equal footing with a garden-variety potato. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11866-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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