There’s no place like school, “grimy, gargoyle-encrusted walls” and all.



From the Maudlin Towers series , Vol. 1

Odd doings at the Maudlin Towers School for the Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy.

First young Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork spot (to quote the title of Chapter 1) “A Viking in the Ha-Ha.” Shortly thereafter the school’s prized Spoon is stolen (twice), and rumors of an arm-waving ghost give way to the arrival of a beautiful, arm-waving new Latin teacher. The lads decide to do a bit of “detectivating” (Mildew, explaining “red herring” to his dim associate: “Something that seems relevant at first but turns out not to be. Like algebra”)—and hardly have they begun than they come upon a time machine built by former physics instructor Mr. Particle before his recent gruesome death. Decorating his “unfortunate events”–style narrative with gothic ink drawings of the all-white (even corpselike) students, faculty, and occasional slavering monster, Priestley sends his bumbling but resourceful detectivators crisscrossing back and forth from their present to Viking times, Roman Britain, and even into the future (where cookies are shockingly expensive and which readers will find quite familiar). By the end all mysteries are sorted (more or less), and Sponge and Mildew are left gloomily poised for another outing.

There’s no place like school, “grimy, gargoyle-encrusted walls” and all. (Gothic farce. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68119-932-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)


From the Plot to Kill Hitler series , Vol. 1

Near the end of World War II, two kids join their parents in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

Max, 12, lives with his parents and his older sister in a Berlin that’s under constant air bombardment. During one such raid, a mortally wounded man stumbles into the white German family’s home and gasps out his last wish: “The Führer must die.” With this nighttime visitation, Max and Gerta discover their parents have been part of a resistance cell, and the siblings want in. They meet a colorful band of upper-class types who seem almost too whimsical to be serious. Despite her charming levity, Prussian aristocrat and cell leader Frau Becker is grimly aware of the stakes. She enlists Max and Gerta as couriers who sneak forged identification papers to Jews in hiding. Max and Gerta are merely (and realistically) cogs in the adults’ plans, but there’s plenty of room for their own heroism. They escape capture, rescue each other when they’re caught out during an air raid, and willingly put themselves repeatedly at risk to catch a spy. The fictional plotters—based on a mix of several real anti-Hitler resistance cells—are portrayed with a genuine humor, giving them the space to feel alive even in such a slim volume.

It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-35902-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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