A niche read at best.



It’s 1989, and in San Francisco, everyone’s attention is focused on the World Series, where the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants are meeting for the first time. However, another event of epic proportion is about to rock everyone’s world, literally.

Jake Milkovsky, a 13-year-old white boy, loves baseball, but the very unusual rock he recently discovered is taking up more of his interest. On his quest to identify it, he makes friends with an older girl, learns a lot about geology, and faces terror when a giant earthquake strikes the Bay Area. All of this should combine for a terrifically engaging story. Unfortunately, it’s a swing and a miss. While the author is clearly eager to share a passion for science with young readers, there is little here to compel interest from those not already science-obsessed. The narrative reads like a textbook masquerading as story. Dialogue has a nostalgic feel, and it constantly veers into unnatural science lessons. Further, the portrayal of diverse side characters leaves much to be desired. The Latinx cultural identity of Jake’s best friend, Tony Trejos, is reduced to one (incorrectly accented) utterance of “¡Que loco!”; Japanese-American science teacher Mr. Hierbayashi is called Mr. H because “none of the kids even tried to pronounce his name,” but “he didn’t seem to mind”; and when amateur geologist Melody, a white girl, merely suggests that Jake share his discovery with professional scientists, Jake throws a fit and she must apologize repeatedly for being “pushy.”

A niche read at best. (teacher’s guide) (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943431-40-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Tumblehome Learning

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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Moving and poetic.

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A motherless boy is forced to abandon his domesticated fox when his father decides to join soldiers in an approaching war.

Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death. Peter’s difficult and often harsh father said he could keep the fox “for now” but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption. The battles between warring humans in the unnamed conflict remain remote, but the oncoming wave of deaths is seen through Pax’s eyes as woodland creatures are blown up by mines. While Pax learns to negotiate the complications of surviving in the wild and relating to other foxes, Peter breaks his foot and must learn to trust a seemingly eccentric woman named Vola who battles her own ghosts of war. Alternating chapters from the perspectives of boy and fox are perfectly paced and complementary. Only Peter, Pax, Vola, and three of Pax’s fox companions are named, conferring a spare, fablelike quality. Every moment in the graceful, fluid narrative is believable. Klassen’s cover art has a sense of contained, powerful stillness. (Interior illustrations not seen.)

Moving and poetic. (Animal fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs.


Rejoice! 25 years later, Wayside School is still in session, and the children in Mrs. Jewls’ 30th-floor classroom haven’t changed a bit.

The surreal yet oddly educational nature of their misadventures hasn’t either. There are out-and-out rib ticklers, such as a spelling lesson featuring made-up words and a determined class effort to collect 1 million nail clippings. Additionally, mean queen Kathy steps through a mirror that turns her weirdly nice and she discovers that she likes it, a four-way friendship survives a dumpster dive after lost homework, and Mrs. Jewls makes sure that a long-threatened “Ultimate Test” allows every student to show off a special talent. Episodic though the 30 new chapters are, there are continuing elements that bind them—even to previous outings, such as the note to an elusive teacher Calvin has been carrying since Sideways Stories From Wayside School (1978) and finally delivers. Add to that plenty of deadpan dialogue (“Arithmetic makes my brain numb,” complains Dameon. “That’s why they’re called ‘numb-ers,’ ” explains D.J.) and a wild storm from the titular cloud that shuffles the school’s contents “like a deck of cards,” and Sachar once again dishes up a confection as scrambled and delicious as lunch lady Miss Mush’s improvised “Rainbow Stew.” Diversity is primarily conveyed in the illustrations.

Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296538-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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