A delightful bit of ghoulish escapism.

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MAX HELSING AND THE THIRTEENTH CURSE

From the Max Helsing: Monster Hunter series , Vol. 1

A series opener about a middle school monster hunter.

Max Helsing, of the Van Helsing family, has been raised in the monster-hunting life. Although Max has no problem helping malicious beasts to their eternal rests, he prefers to befriend those creatures that aren’t interested in hurting anyone. Suddenly, on this, his 13th birthday, docile supernatural creatures (and even his own hellhound puppy) are out for his blood. Luckily he has help from his diverse band of friends: his African-American mentor, Latina best friend, and Asian-American neighbor. It turns out a newly resurrected warlock has a grudge against Max’s family—and Max in particular. And if the warlock wins, humankind loses. Chapters usually end either on cliffhangers or with Max’s witty quips, and the narrative is punctuated by annotated pages from a monster reference guide. There are plenty of action sequences—some may go on a touch long—and the best moments involve unorthodox fighting techniques. The gruesome descriptions are limited to the monsters; horrific injuries are mentioned without explicit details. Max’s moral compass, confidence, and knack for getting into awkward situations make him eminently likable. Jobling ably pens a genuinely funny book without allowing the humor to overshadow the horror. While the narration and dialogue occasionally veer into camp, it suits the classic monster-movie vibe. The ending teases a more dangerous foe for the next installment.

A delightful bit of ghoulish escapism. (Horror. 9-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-451-47479-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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