Zeke has a good chance at becoming a popular fad for new readers.

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ZEKE MEEKS VS. THE PUTRID PUPPET PALS

From the Zeke Meeks series

Readers who prefer an easier-to-read option to the Wimpy Kid series will find Zeke Meeks’ comic responses to the tribulations of life as a third grader amusingly familiar.

Silly Bands are a thing of the past for Zeke and his buddies. Fueled by relentless television commercials, a new craze has infiltrated his school: Puppet Pals. Puppet Pals are collectible finger puppets, complete with their own paraphernalia, which keep Zeke’s friends busy during class, on the playground or after school. Zeke is left to play with—shudder—the kissing girls at recess because everyone is busy with puppets. Hilarious first-person narration gets the details of third-grade life right: the illogic of fads, the power of trend setters and the lengths some kids will go to belong. This chronicle of the arc of a grade-school obsession is funny, and readers will laugh when thinking about the trends that are undoubtedly racing through their schools. Brief paragraphs, familiar, humorous situations and frequent cartoon illustrations make this especially easy to read and will lead to laugh-out-loud moments for second- and third-grade readers. Short, choppy sentences and an excess of silly will put this in the same category as Captain Underpants: painful for teachers and parents to listen to, but this book is not for them.

Zeke has a good chance at becoming a popular fad for new readers.   (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4048-6803-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Picture Window Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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Sweetly low-key and totally accessible.

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THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER

Billy Miller’s second-grade year is quietly spectacular in a wonderfully ordinary way.

Billy’s year begins with his worry over the lump on his head, a souvenir of a dramatic summer fall onto concrete: Will he be up to the challenges his new teacher promises in her letter to students? Quickly overshadowing that worry, however, is a diplomatic crisis over whether he has somehow offended Ms. Silver on the first day of school. Four sections—Teacher, Father, Sister and Mother—offer different and essential focal points for Billy’s life, allowing both him and readers to explore several varieties of creative endeavor, small adventures, and, especially, both challenges and successful problem-solving. The wonderfully self-possessed Sal, his 3-year-old sister, is to Billy much as Ramona is to Beezus, but without the same level of tension. Her pillowcase full of the plush yellow whales she calls the Drop Sisters (Raindrop, Gumdrop, etc.) is a memorable prop. Henkes offers what he so often does in these longer works for children: a sense that experiences don’t have to be extraordinary to be important and dramatic. Billy’s slightly dreamy interior life isn’t filled with either angst or boisterous silliness—rather, the moments that appear in these stories are clarifying bits of the universal larger puzzle of growing up, changing and understanding the world. Small, precise black-and-white drawings punctuate and decorate the pages.

Sweetly low-key and totally accessible. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-226812-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers.

THE CREATURE OF THE PINES

From the Unicorn Rescue Society series , Vol. 1

Elliot’s first day of school turns out to be more than he bargained for.

Elliot Eisner—skinny and pale with curly brown hair—is a bit nervous about being the new kid. Thankfully, he hits it off with fellow new student, “punk rock”–looking Uchenna Devereaux, a black girl with twists (though they actually look like dreads in Aly’s illustrations). On a first-day field trip to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the pair investigates a noise in the trees. The cause? A Jersey Devil: a blue-furred, red-bellied and -winged mythical creature that looks like “a tiny dragon” with cloven hooves, like a deer’s, on its hind feet. Unwittingly, the duo bonds with the creature by feeding it, and it later follows them back to the bus. Unsurprisingly, they lose the creature (which they alternately nickname Jersey and Bonechewer), which forces them to go to their intimidating, decidedly odd teacher, Peruvian Professor Fauna, for help in recovering it. The book closes with Professor Fauna revealing the truth—he heads a secret organization committed to protecting mythical creatures—and inviting the children to join, a neat setup for what is obviously intended to be a series. The predictable plot is geared to newly independent readers who are not yet ready for the usual heft of contemporary fantasies. A brief history lesson given by a mixed-race associate of Fauna’s in which she compares herself to the American “melting pot” manages to come across as simultaneously corrective and appropriative.

Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers. (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3170-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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