A richly atmospheric page-turner—readers will eagerly anticipate the forthcoming sequel.

THE CLOCKWORK CROW

From the Clockwork Crow series

Young Seren Rhys stands on the cusp of a new life. Unfortunately for her, the train to her new life is late.

Following the death of her aunt, who saved her from her 12-year stay at the orphanage, she receives word that her godfather, Capt. Arthur Jones, will take her in. Seren spends her wait dreaming of the Jones family and their surely bustling, welcoming manor, Plas-y-Fran in Wales. An encounter with a mysterious man and his more mysterious wrapped parcel (containing the eponymous mechanical bird) leaves Seren reeling, and the mysteries multiply when she arrives at Plas-y-Fran. The place is shuttered and cold, nearly deserted but for a few fearful, oppressively unforthcoming servants. The captain and his wife are away; of their young son, Tomos, there is neither sign nor sound. With the Crow as her only, if reluctant, ally, Seren soon finds herself enmeshed in mayhem and magic that may prove lethal. In her characteristic style, Fisher crafts an elaborate fantasy from deceptively simple language. Seren is a sharp, saucy narrator whose constant puzzlement at others’ consternation over her impertinence provides running amusement. Supporting characters are fascinating if ambiguous players, not so much poorly drawn as poorly revealed, perhaps casualties of the quick pace. The deadened manor, however, provides the perfect backdrop for preternatural forces. Characters are presumed white.

A richly atmospheric page-turner—readers will eagerly anticipate the forthcoming sequel. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1491-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth.

EACH TINY SPARK

A nuanced novel about a neurodiverse preteen’s political and social awakening by a Pura Belpré Honor–winning author.

Sixth grader Emilia Rosa Torres sometimes has a hard time keeping up with schoolwork and concentrating on one thing at a time, but her software-developer mother and superinvolved abuelita help her keep on task. Days before her father’s return to their Atlanta suburb from his most recent deployment, her mother goes on a business trip, leaving the middle schooler to juggle his mood swings, her friend troubles, and her looming assignments all on her own. When a social studies project opens her eyes to injustices past and present, Emilia begins to find her voice and use it to make an impact on her community. Writing with sensitivity and respectful complexity, Cartaya tackles weighty issues, such as immigration, PTSD, and microaggressions, through the lens of a budding tinkerer and activist who has ADHD. The members of this Cuban American family don’t all practice the same religion, with Emilia’s Catholic grandmother faithfully attending Mass multiple times a week and the protagonist’s mother celebrating her culture’s Yoruba roots with Santería. Conversations on race and gender crop up through the narrative as Emilia’s grandmother likes to emphasize her family’s European heritage—Emilia can pass as white, with her fair complexion, light eyes and auburn hair. All of these larger issues are effortlessly woven in with skill and humor, as is the Spanish her family easily mixes with English.

A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-47972-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Kokila

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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