An entertaining barrel ride past sheaves of middle-grade themes from bullying to racial identity.

DINOSAUR BOY

From the Dinosaur Boy series , Vol. 1

Just getting to his seat in fifth grade becomes an ordeal for Sawyer after he develops the tail and back plates of a stegosaurus over the summer.

Not that it's a surprise, since his family is descended from one of a number of victims of a lab accident years ago that mixed human with dinosaur DNA. But even with tennis balls covering the spikes so he doesn't inadvertently impale anyone, accidents keep happening. Not to mention relentless bullying. In a series debut with more twists than a strand of DNA, Oakes not only presents her frustrated dino-lad with a physical challenge, but a moral one too: Though it seems that the new principal is ruthlessly culling Sawyer's multiple bullies to enforce a zero-tolerance policy, in fact she's collecting them to sell on the interplanetary pet market. Should he even try to rescue them? (To his credit, Sawyer doesn't hesitate to do the right thing.) Ultimately, and with real help from a pair of allies that includes an odd new classmate who's not entirely human either, he stages a dramatic rescue, unmasks (literally) the kidnapper and comes to terms with his differences. Though practically mirroring Bob Balaban’s Boy or Beast (illustrated by Andy Rash, 2012) in premise and even parts of the plot, it’s nevertheless good fun.

An entertaining barrel ride past sheaves of middle-grade themes from bullying to racial identity. (Science fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4926-0537-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

ALMOST SUPER

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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