Formulaic, built on well-worn tropes and replete with cheap jabs at grown-ups—destined, in other words, to be an easy sell.

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AWESOME ORIGINS

From the The G-Man Super Journal series

Spun off from Giarrusso’s G-Man comics series, a wannabe superhero’s journal assignment records epic triumphs along with a catalog of middle-grade woes.

Jumping late aboard the Wimpy Kid bandwagon, the author couches young Michael G’s narrative in a mix of “handlettered” text and line-drawn cartoons with punch lines in the dialogue balloons. All on ruled paper, natch. Also predictable are Michael’s exaggerated but drearily familiar battles with a games-obsessed older brother, clueless parents who reflexively blame him for everything whether he’s culpable or not, a repellent rich kid at school, and a particularly loathsome teacher who not only assigns detentions for trumped-up reasons, but laughs in his face when he’s (falsely) accused of cheating on a test. Michael’s superhero ambition isn’t that odd, as this is set in a world well-stocked with costumed crime fighters—seven in his own class—and supervillains. Not only does he ultimately achieve said dream, by cutting a cape from what turns out to be a magic blanket, but he also cleverly sets up his hateful teacher for a fall and even joins his superfriends to take on mind-altering villain/cyborg Mister Mental.

Formulaic, built on well-worn tropes and replete with cheap jabs at grown-ups—destined, in other words, to be an easy sell. (afterword) (Graphic/fantasy hybrid. 9-11)

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4494-5844-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Andrews McMeel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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

WAYSIDE SCHOOL BENEATH THE CLOUD OF DOOM

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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Formula horror from the 1990s still feels formulaic today.

GRAVE SECRETS

From the Deadtime Stories series , Vol. 1

The Deadtime Stories from the mid-1990s are rising again—this time in conjunction with a planned series of live-action TV-movies.

In this lightly edited reboot, preteen Amanda discovers an old doll buried in her backyard and shortly thereafter begins receiving ghostly messages written in sand or bathroom steam along the lines of “I want my baby back—now!” Then the doll disappears. Getting it back entails multiple encounters with Anna, the child ghost from whom it was stolen long ago, and the hostile, spooky old lady next door known to Amanda and friends as “Barnsey.” The shudders here are laboriously manufactured by contrived cliffhangers at each short chapter’s end, an obnoxious character who revels in sharing eerie rumors about Barnsey’s supposed witchy ways, nighttime expeditions into her yard and, particularly, with frequent screams: “And Kevin, who had been screaming his head off over Anna’s appearance, stopped screaming mid-scream the moment he saw Barnsey.” There’s no overt gore or violence, Anna fades away once she’s reunited with her doll and Barnsey, unsurprisingly, suddenly turns into a nice old lady.

Formula horror from the 1990s still feels formulaic today. (Horror. 9-11)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3065-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Starscape/Tom Doherty

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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