Deft stimulus for both brains and funny bones.

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DINOSAUR BOY SAVES MARS

From the Dinosaur Boy series , Vol. 2

Sawyer Bronson’s spiky stegosaurus tail provides both help and hindrance in a rescue flight to the red planet that takes on solar system–wide significance.

As in Dinosaur Boy (2015), Oakes lays a plotline stocked with daft twists atop a foundation of big, serious themes. Thanks to some bad history and simmering racial tensions, the upcoming soccer game between Mars’ Red Razers and the blue-skinned Kuiper Kickers of Pluto is shaping up to be a grudge match, with Pluto’s iffy status as an official planet and its very membership in the Intergalactic Soccer Federation at stake. But even before Bronson arrives on Mars in his grandpa’s flying saucer there are hints that the fix is in—with the Martian Council set to vote the dwarf planet out whatever the final score and a radical Plutonian splinter group dubbed the Brotherhood United for the Restoration of Planetary Status (which yields the delightful acronym BURPSers) plotting to release an experimental bioweapon. Can Bronson find a way to scotch both schemes? Around these plainly metaphorical elements the author weaves subplots including divorce, friendship, polar bear extinction, and the power of classic TV to promote interplanetary harmony. She also again sets up her white, fifth-grade protagonist to display a thoroughly admirable willingness to make peace by shouldering responsibilities that others will not.

Deft stimulus for both brains and funny bones. (appendix of scientific references) (Science fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4926-0540-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A deft mix of chills and chuckles, not quite as sideways as Wayside School but in the same district.

A FRIENDLY TOWN THAT'S ALMOST ALWAYS BY THE OCEAN!

From the Secrets of Topsea series , Vol. 1

A fifth-grader struggles to fit in after he and his recently widowed mother move to a decidedly oddball new town.

As if the seemingly infinite pier, the lighthouse in the middle of town, and the beach teeming with enigmatic cats aren’t strange enough, Davy Jones discovers that his school locker has been relocated to the deep end of the swimming pool, his lunchtime fries are delivered by a “spudzooka,” and no one seems to be able to get his name right. On the other hand, his classmates welcome him, and in next to no time he’s breaking into an abandoned arcade to play pinball against a ghost, helping track down a pet pig gone missing on Gravity Maintenance Day, and like adventures that, often as not, take sinister swerves before edging back to the merely peculiar. Point-of-view duties pass freely from character to character, and chapters are punctuated with extracts from the Topsea School Gazette (“Today’s Seaweed Level: Medium-high and feisty”), bulletins on such topics as the safe handling of rubber ducks, and background notes on, for instance, the five local seasons, giving the narrative a pleasantly loose-jointed feel. Davy presents as white, but several other central cast members are specifically described as dark- or light-skinned and are so depicted in the frequent line drawings; one has two moms.

A deft mix of chills and chuckles, not quite as sideways as Wayside School but in the same district. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-00005-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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CRYSTAL CADETS

From the Crystal Cadets series , Vol. 1

On her birthday, a teenager learns that she is one of the Crystal Cadets, a textbook group of young, magic-wielding heroines charged with saving the world from vague, clichéd darkness.

This series opener introduces Zoe to the other Crystal Cadets: Jasmine, Olivia, Gwen, Liz, Milena, and a sixth, who is used as a plot twist. They ride fabulous creatures like winged horses and giant butterflies and use magical tools to fight off creepy people with black eyes. Zoe seems only momentarily fazed to find her parents evidently possessed before being whisked away. Glib dialogue makes the book feel trite and superficial. “Nonny, nonny boo boo. You can’t catch me!” sings a young cadet as she faces off against what looks like a toothed shadow. Attempts at puns create cringe-worthy moments: “Looks like the crystal's out of the bag!” The story was originally published as a digital comic series, and Toole’s writing offers mostly choppy transitions and is further hampered by poor worldbuilding, logic, and back story. In what feels like a halfhearted stab at grounding the story, Olivia explains, “The darkness has been around forever. It feeds on bad stuff, like fear and greed and bad manners.” If both story and illustrations remind readers of Sailor Moon, that is about par for the course. O’Neill’s depictions are fair and in the vein of manga comics, though at times they look depthless.

Skip and pass. (Graphic fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63140-431-3

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Roar Comics/Lion Forge

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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