Humorous and cleverly constructed, this deserves a “hoof five.” (Fiction. 10-14)

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THE CAPYBARA CONSPIRACY

A NOVEL IN THREE ACTS

A seventh-grader’s play chronicles the rise and demise of a kidnapping plot and the contradictory motives of the conspirators.

In three acts, with scenes that leap back and forth in time, Olive Henry describes a conspiracy to kidnap Edmund Farley Middle School's live mascot, a capybara. The original goal, for Olive and her flamboyant best friend, Reynaldo Delgado, was to earn a reward for the mascot’s return: equal treatment for all students in their sports-happy school. But, as Olive explains to new student Devin Bevins, they were joined and betrayed by Pablo Fuentes, secretly a baseball player wanna-be, and animal rights activist Gabrielle “Brie” Greenberg. Perl makes humor out of middle school traditions and even out of Brie’s animal rights organization (the Pony and Capybara Dignity League), but she’s also making important points about the treatment of both animals and middle school students. The narrative begins as Olive describes the recent events to Dev but quickly flashes back to depict the events, concluding with a scene that will leave readers wondering just how real her “play” might be. As a novel presented as a script, this also includes extensive staging notes as well as a wide-ranging bibliography. The author dedicates the book to Lin-Manuel Miranda and, though the only specific ethnic diversity indicated is Latino, explicitly encourages "inclusive" casting—for the human roles, anyway.

Humorous and cleverly constructed, this deserves a “hoof five.” (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-55171-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in...

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NEW KID

From the New Kid series , Vol. 1

Jordan Banks takes readers down the rabbit hole and into his mostly white prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

He may be the new kid, but as an African-American boy from Washington Heights, that stigma entails so much more than getting lost on the way to homeroom. Riverdale Academy Day School, located at the opposite end of Manhattan, is a world away, and Jordan finds himself a stranger in a foreign land, where pink clothing is called salmon, white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, and white classmates ape African-American Vernacular English to make themselves sound cool. Jordan’s a gifted artist, and his drawings blend with the narrative to give readers a full sense of his two worlds and his methods of coping with existing in between. Craft skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable.

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269120-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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