A zany, rollicking series opener.

A DASTARDLY PLOT

From the Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem series , Vol. 1

An inventor’s daughter must stop a plot targeting New York City’s World’s Fair in 1883.

Molly Pepper and her widowed mother, Cassandra Pepper, both white, live in their pickle shop while Cassandra creates inventions in the back room. They want to debut Cassandra’s flying machine at the 1883 World Fair, but the Inventor’s Guild, which limits its membership to men, has taken all the exhibition spots. A madcap scheme to find a way into the fair results in an impromptu break-in at the guild’s building, where Molly meets Chinese immigrant Emmett Lee—and where she discovers evidence that indicates that Alexander Graham Bell is scheming to attack the fair with a death machine! Molly and Cassandra conclude that the best way to get the attention that Cassandra and her inventions deserve is for them to become heroes by saving the fair, leading them on a ridiculous journey packed with chase scenes, red herrings, mobsters, monologue-prone villains, and inventions. Besides famous real-life male inventors, important female inventors, including African-American Sarah Goode, also appear, in a secret cabal with a punny (and inevitable) name. The humor ranges from clever wordplay to running gags and cartoonish slapstick. Weaving throughout the outlandish mystery and entertaining wackiness, period gender and racial discrimination experienced by women and Chinese people are mined for tension. Molly’s unintentional microaggressions and Emmett’s status in the face of the Chinese Exclusion Act are both timely elements.

A zany, rollicking series opener. (author’s note) (Historical fantasy. 8-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-234197-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

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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