A fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at a reality cooking show; a must-read for all junior foodies.


From the Next Best Junior Chef series , Vol. 1

The first in a three-part series, this follows four diverse preteen contestants who grapple with their hopes, fears, and dreams as they cook their ways through a reality TV contest.

On arrival day, the contestants meet one another—and their judges—for the very first time. Calm and confident, Oliver is also extremely competitive. Sweet Rae is inspired by her grandma and her multicultural neighbors, and she isn’t afraid to try new flavors. Cooking is in Caroline’s blood—her family owns a French bistro, and her mom is the chef. (She is also the only obviously nonwhite contestant.) Last but not least, Tate is the youngest at 9. He’s a bundle of energy and a little brash, but he has some mean knife skills. During the first round, the contestants take on several challenges, including small warm-ups such as a pantry race to more defining tasks such as creating a vegetable “dessert.” In the beginning, the contestants are cordial to one another and are on par skillwise. However, as elimination day approaches, the pressure mounts and rivalry sets in. Before long, deep-seated emotions are revealed both on and off camera. In the end, this is not just a story about cooking, but also about friendship, discovering one’s strengths, and valuing what matters most—and it’s not always winning. While difficult to track at times, the characters Harper has created are distinct and plausible. Plus she cleverly weaves her amusing storytelling with real cooking techniques for the aspiring young chef.

A fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at a reality cooking show; a must-read for all junior foodies. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-91260-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Dizzyingly silly.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 11

The famous superhero returns to fight another villain with all the trademark wit and humor the series is known for.

Despite the title, Captain Underpants is bizarrely absent from most of this adventure. His school-age companions, George and Harold, maintain most of the spotlight. The creative chums fool around with time travel and several wacky inventions before coming upon the evil Turbo Toilet 2000, making its return for vengeance after sitting out a few of the previous books. When the good Captain shows up to save the day, he brings with him dynamic action and wordplay that meet the series’ standards. The Captain Underpants saga maintains its charm even into this, the 11th volume. The epic is filled to the brim with sight gags, toilet humor, flip-o-ramas and anarchic glee. Holding all this nonsense together is the author’s good-natured sense of harmless fun. The humor is never gross or over-the-top, just loud and innocuous. Adults may roll their eyes here and there, but youngsters will eat this up just as quickly as they devoured every other Underpants episode.

Dizzyingly silly. (Humor. 8-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-50490-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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