A brilliant, bushy-tailed bildungsroman.

TOAFF'S WAY

During the first four seasons of his life, the titular gray squirrel learns to embrace his “only-ness.”

This illustrated novel begins with Toaff leaping about treetops, excitedly discovering his innate, gray-squirrel abilities. “Sometimes everything was so wonderful that all you could do was whuffle” (a term used abundantly throughout the book). Toaff’s life has begun in a large, multifamily den on a farm, in an upright, dead tree. A violent winter storm forces him to find new lodgings—by himself. He uses knowledge imparted by his elders to forage, evade and/or escape predators, as well as to build himself a new home. There are many false starts in the latter process, but Toaff cheerfully perseveres. Encounters with other animals, especially with a red squirrel named Nilf, lead him to question some of his accumulated gray-squirrel lore and to become a better person—err, squirrel. With the same agility that Toaff displays in scrambling up his favorite hickory tree, the text intertwines the factual with the fanciful. This includes pervasive, gentle humor, such as these gray-squirrel perceptions: The farm’s humans live in a “big white nest” near their “big red nest.” The text also offers reassurance to young readers that squirrels—unlike humans—likely meet with equanimity such happenstances as the sudden loss of a home—or a mother. The tale’s ending is perfect. The pen-and-ink illustrations support the plotline and the text's borderline realism, and they show the human family of three to be white.

A brilliant, bushy-tailed bildungsroman. (Animal fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6536-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new...

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THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.

Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human—except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery. His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers’ passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.

Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199225-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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