An entertaining tale that will definitely find an audience, but fans of icky, vicious comedy deserve better.

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THE MIDNIGHT GANG

Plucky, sometimes-mean children come together to defeat diabolical hospital administrators and evil headmasters.

When Tom gets hit on the head with a cricket ball, he is sent to a horrible hospital, with clueless doctors, a horrid matron, and a porter with “the most monstrous face he had ever seen.” In the middle of the night, Tom follows the secretive children in his ward and discovers the Midnight Gang, the mysterious society of child patients who have nighttime adventures. With the porter’s help, the children, all apparently white, create a North Pole adventure and a whiz-bang balloon journey. The excited prose, supplemented by a variety of typefaces and Ross’ not-quite–Quentin Blake illustrations, describes disgusting school dinners of “deep-fried otter” and adults who revel in “a touch of cruelty.” Despite clear Roald Dahl parallels, Walliams’ nastiness and yuck aren’t accompanied by Dahl’s charm or wicked wit. The humor is found in “plump-looking” George’s candy eating, Robin’s and Amber’s disabilities, and—unexpected from the author of The Boy in the Dress (2009)—Matron’s cruel insistence on dressing Tom in a pink frilly nightdress. An eventual lesson about bigotry against ugly people is undercut by prose that delights in describing the porter as “pongy” and having “rotten and misshapen teeth.”

An entertaining tale that will definitely find an audience, but fans of icky, vicious comedy deserve better. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-256106-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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It’s not the first time old Ben has paid our times a call, but it’s funny and free-spirited, with an informational load that...

BEN FRANKLIN'S IN MY BATHROOM!

Antics both instructive and embarrassing ensue after a mysterious package left on their doorstep brings a Founding Father into the lives of two modern children.

Summoned somehow by what looks for all the world like an old-time crystal radio set, Ben Franklin turns out to be an amiable sort. He is immediately taken in hand by 7-year-old Olive for a tour of modern wonders—early versions of which many, from electrical appliances in the kitchen to the Illinois town’s public library and fire department, he justly lays claim to inventing. Meanwhile big brother Nolan, 10, tags along, frantic to return him to his own era before either their divorced mom or snoopy classmate Tommy Tuttle sees him. Fleming, author of Ben Franklin’s Almanac (2003) (and also, not uncoincidentally considering the final scene of this outing, Our Eleanor, 2005), mixes history with humor as the great man dispenses aphorisms and reminiscences through diverse misadventures, all of which end well, before vanishing at last. Following a closing, sequel-cueing kicker (see above) she then separates facts from fancies in closing notes, with print and online leads to more of the former. To go with spot illustrations of the evidently all-white cast throughout the narrative, Fearing incorporates change-of-pace sets of sequential panels for Franklin’s biographical and scientific anecdotes. Final illustrations not seen.

It’s not the first time old Ben has paid our times a call, but it’s funny and free-spirited, with an informational load that adds flavor without weight. (Graphic/fantasy hybrid. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-93406-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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A moving exploration of the places we come from and the people who shape us—not to be missed.

SOME PLACES MORE THAN OTHERS

On a birthday trip to New York City, a girl learns about her roots, Harlem, and how to stay true to herself.

Eleven-year-old sneakerhead Amara is struggling to feel seen and heard. A new baby sister is on the way, her mom still wants to put her in dresses, and that birthday trip from the Portland, Oregon, suburbs to New York City that she so desperately wants feels out of reach. When Amara gets a family-history assignment, she is finally able to convince her mom to say yes to the trip, since it will allow Amara to meet her dad’s side of the family in person. In addition to the school project, her mom gives Amara a secret mission: get her dad and grandpa to spend time alone together to repair old wounds. Harlem proves unlike any place Amara has ever been, and as she explores where her father grew up she experiences black history on every street. Watson is a master at character development, with New York City and especially Harlem playing central roles. Through her all-black cast she seamlessly explores issues of identity, self, and family acceptance. Although the ending feels rushed, with no resolution between Amara and her mom, Amara’s concluding poem is powerful.

A moving exploration of the places we come from and the people who shape us—not to be missed. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68119-108-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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