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MERLIN RAJ AND THE SANTA ALGORITHM

From the Marlin Raj series , Vol. 1

A basic but enjoyable STEM-centered novel for young readers.

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In this middle-grade novel, a service dog and his human learn about algorithms in daily life.

Author Priya (who writes for adults as Priya Ardis) introduces readers to Merlin Raj, a sock-loving golden retriever who goes to class with his 10-year-old owner, Matthew, who misses “Mom Raj,” who’s traveling for work. Miss Babbage teaches Matthew’s class about algorithms and assigns the kids to create their own, and Merlin eagerly joins in—devising algorithms for everything from locating a missing recipe to keeping the local bully from snagging the best Christmas tree. Matthew uses the Christmas tree experience for his algorithm assignment, and Merlin realizes that what the boy wants most is to have his mother home for Christmas. So the dog implements a series of his own algorithms to make it happen, leading to a happy holiday for everyone. The book presents a lighthearted approach to introductory STEM lessons, explaining the fundamental concept of an algorithm outside the context of computer programming. However, the examples presented seem insufficiently granular to present the concept effectively. For instance, Merlin’s algorithm for getting Matthew a forbidden box of sugary cereal at the grocery store involves hiding the box in the cart and making puppy-dog eyes at the checkout. However, the more conceptual discussion of algorithms is well done, and the story is satisfying and emotionally resonant overall. Merlin’s narrative voice is child-friendly and distinctive (“Research sounded like a pile of socks fresh out of the laundry,” he notes approvingly at one point). Merlin is described as being a service animal for Matthew, who has some difficulties with walking, and the dog’s description of his role (“I’d been taking care of my best friend for a whole year now”) includes enough detail to make it easy to picture the two making their way through school. A glossary defines scientific terms in the narrative, and Miss Babbage’s pronouncements on algorithms are in bold text, making them stand out. Hampe’s black-and-white illustrations add depth to the story, giving readers another window into Merlin’s determination and creativity.

A basic but enjoyable STEM-centered novel for young readers.

Pub Date: March 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951767-00-6

Page Count: 108

Publisher: Vulcan Ink Media

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

THE WILD ROBOT PROTECTS

From the Wild Robot series , Vol. 3

Hugely entertaining, timely, and triumphant.

Robot Roz undertakes an unusual ocean journey to save her adopted island home in this third series entry.

When a poison tide flowing across the ocean threatens their island, Roz works with the resident creatures to ensure that they will have clean water, but the destruction of vegetation and crowding of habitats jeopardize everyone’s survival. Brown’s tale of environmental depredation and turmoil is by turns poignant, graceful, endearing, and inspiring, with his (mostly) gentle robot protagonist at its heart. Though Roz is different from the creatures she lives with or encounters—including her son, Brightbill the goose, and his new mate, Glimmerwing—she makes connections through her versatile communication abilities and her desire to understand and help others. When Roz accidentally discovers that the replacement body given to her by Dr. Molovo is waterproof, she sets out to seek help and discovers the human-engineered source of the toxic tide. Brown’s rich descriptions of undersea landscapes, entertaining conversations between Roz and wild creatures, and concise yet powerful explanations of the effect of the poison tide on the ecology of the island are superb. Simple, spare illustrations offer just enough glimpses of Roz and her surroundings to spark the imagination. The climactic confrontation pits oceangoing mammals, seabirds, fish, and even zooplankton against hardware and technology in a nicely choreographed battle. But it is Roz’s heroism and peacemaking that save the day.

Hugely entertaining, timely, and triumphant. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2023

ISBN: 9780316669412

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2023

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THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

From the One and Only series , Vol. 1

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

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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. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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