The intriguing premise is undercut by hasty worldbuilding but shows promise nonetheless; perhaps the kinks will be worked...


From the Knights of the Borrowed Dark series , Vol. 1

A teenage orphan living in misery suddenly discovers his magical gifts while being thrust into an epic battle between good and evil…sound familiar?

In lonely Crosscaper Orphanage, the westernmost building in Ireland, 13-year-old Denizen Hardwick retreats into a world of fantasy books, believing that he is thoroughly unremarkable. Summoned by a mysterious aunt, the white lad quickly discovers an ancient war being waged by Knights against nefarious shadow creatures from another world, a war humans must not know exists. Denizen is given a choice: join his aunt’s order of Knights or return to life at the orphanage. The seams of the timeless ordinary-turned-extraordinary–schoolboy narrative poke through in Rudden’s debut, which alternates perspectives between chosen-one Denizen and his best friend, trapped in the orphanage as the shadow creatures lay siege. The best fantasy gradually constructs the rules of its magical world for the protagonists, but Rudden’s readers barely have time to bond with “ordinary” Denizen before he is off on adventures. As a result, he and the Knights never achieve the three-dimensionality necessary for readers to emotionally invest. While the book’s use of magic, which takes a physical toll on the body of the wielder, is one of its finer elements, ungainly metaphors occasionally distract from the narrative.

The intriguing premise is undercut by hasty worldbuilding but shows promise nonetheless; perhaps the kinks will be worked out in Volume 2. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-52297-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.


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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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.


The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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