FIGGS & PHANTOMS

Except for her beloved Uncle Florence Italy Figg, a 4'6" mail order book dealer who with his niece forms the Figg-Newton monster (a stunt that enables them to reach the rare and unusual books on Ebenezer Bargain's top shelf), Mona Lisa Newton has no use for her kooky relatives. All former performers except for Mona's mother (Sis) who makes up for it by tap-tappity-tap-tapping around the house, the Figgs are without doubt an unusual family, well deserving both the scorn and the attention their fellow citizens of Pineapple express in italicized inserts. Take their ritual of Caprification, based on an ancestor's vision of heaven. As "each one must find his own Capri," Romulus Figg intends to look under the Niagara Falls but his twin Remus thinks Capri is not a place at all but lies in numbers, and Truman Figg the human pretzel expects to get there as soon as he can twist his body into a Moebius band ("I've got it just about worked out except for one elbow"). But Uncle Flo insists that the answer is in books (Read, Mona, read!), and it is indeed through a book, Las Hazanas Fantasticas by one Pirata Supuesto, that he finds his Capri — for Uncle Flo dies, leaving Mona bereft and more withdrawn now than ever. It is not until she follows him to the imaginary island of Caprichos ("floating through swirling nothingness") that Mona realizes that she has "a lot of remembering to do, a lot of living and learning and loving to do" — and is somehow able to return, to life, aided no doubt by the unique bedside encouragements (Sis' tap dancing, Truman's contortions, Remus' fractions, cousin Fido's guilty sympathy) of her frantic relations. As must be evident this is even crazier than Raskin's Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (KR, 1971), but the zaniness here seems more often forced than inspired, and though the answer to the puzzle is made clear when the time comes, the question remains elusive. Still a juvenile novel — however unstrung — that takes such farcical liberties with death, grief and readers' expectations is rare enough to rate a hearing, and the Figgs — all mask and gesture though they are — do come up with a few show-stopping lines.

Pub Date: April 1, 1974

ISBN: 0142411698

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1974

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Sincere and wholehearted.

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I PROMISE

The NBA star offers a poem that encourages curiosity, integrity, compassion, courage, and self-forgiveness.

James makes his debut as a children’s author with a motivational poem touting life habits that children should strive for. In the first-person narration, he provides young readers with foundational self-esteem encouragement layered within basketball descriptions: “I promise to run full court and show up each time / to get right back up and let my magic shine.” While the verse is nothing particularly artful, it is heartfelt, and in her illustrations, Mata offers attention-grabbing illustrations of a diverse and enthusiastic group of children. Scenes vary, including classrooms hung with student artwork, an asphalt playground where kids jump double Dutch, and a gym populated with pint-sized basketball players, all clearly part of one bustling neighborhood. Her artistry brings black and brown joy to the forefront of each page. These children evince equal joy in learning and in play. One particularly touching double-page spread depicts two vignettes of a pair of black children, possibly siblings; in one, they cuddle comfortably together, and in the other, the older gives the younger a playful noogie. Adults will appreciate the closing checklist of promises, which emphasize active engagement with school. A closing note very generally introduces principles that underlie the Lebron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School (in Akron, Ohio). (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15% of actual size.)

Sincere and wholehearted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297106-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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