This middle-grade fantasy deftly and compellingly centers Indigenous culture.

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THE BARREN GROUNDS

From the Misewa Saga series , Vol. 1

Two uprooted Cree children find themselves in a dreamlike adventure in this series opener.

The edginess 13-year-old Morgan feels runs deep. As a First Nations kid whose whole life has been lived in one White foster home after another, she feels little reason to get excited about anything. Two months in to her new foster home placement, she inherits a new foster brother, Eli, a young Cree boy who spends his time quietly drawing in his sketchbook. After a blowup with their earnestly well-intentioned White foster parents, Morgan and Eli shelter themselves in the attic, where a drawing in his pad seems to come to life, creating a portal into the wintry Barren Grounds of Misewa, where the passage of time is, Narnia-like, different from in Winnipeg. After Eli disappears into this world, Morgan is determined to go after him to bring him back. When she finds him, they discover that the Misewa community of animal beings needs their help to survive the White Time. Robertson (Norway House Cree Nation) carefully establishes Morgan’s anger and feelings of alienation, her resentment at their foster parents’ clumsy attempts to connect her to her culture culminating when they awkwardly present a gift of moccasins. The shift into a contemporary Indigenous fantasy is seamless; it is in this world that these foster siblings discover hope and meaning that sustain them when they return to Winnipeg.

This middle-grade fantasy deftly and compellingly centers Indigenous culture. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73526-610-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Puffin/Penguin Random House Canada

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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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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A brisk, buffed-up finish threaded with inner and outer, not to mention sartorial, changes.

THE TOWER OF NERO

From the Trials of Apollo series , Vol. 5

In this tumultuous series closer, Apollo, transformed into a mortal teenager, takes on both a deified emperor in a luxurious Manhattan high-rise and an older adversary.

Lester/Apollo’s coast-to-coast quest reaches its climactic stage as, with help from both eager squads of fledgling demigods from Camp Half-Blood and reluctant allies from realms deep below New York, he invades the palatial lair of Emperor Nero—followed by a solo bout with another foe from a past struggle. Riordan lays on the transformation of the heedless, arrogant sun god to a repentant lover of his long-neglected semidivine offspring and of humanity in general, which has served as the series’ binding theme, thickly enough to have his humbled narrator even apologizing (twice!) to his underwear for having to change it periodically. Still, the author delivers a fast, action-driven plot with high stakes, lots of fighting, and occasional splashes of gore brightened by banter and silly bits, so readers aren’t likely to mind all the hand-wringing. He also leaves any real-life parallels to the slick, megalomaniacal, emotionally abusive Nero entirely up to readers to discern and dishes out just deserts all round, neatly tying up loose ends in a set of closing vignettes. The supporting cast is predominantly White, with passing mention of diverse representation.

A brisk, buffed-up finish threaded with inner and outer, not to mention sartorial, changes. (glossary) (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4645-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2020

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