An engaging, challenging, and thoughtfully balanced adventure.

OLIVER MARIS

This middle-grade novel stars a shy boy who escapes into a fantasy to cope with bullies and his mother’s illness.

To pass the sixth grade, Oliver Maris must earn extra credit. His teacher, Ms. Nordfane, allows him to perform in the upcoming school production of Adam and the Whale as one of the jellyfish. This nonspeaking role is perfect for the reticent boy, who’s ridiculed frequently by three bullies: Buck, Turin, and Eugene. Oliver is so timid that he doesn’t stand up for himself despite being a fourth-year judo student. At home, Oliver enjoys rousing escapades as a pirate captain alongside his brothers, 8-year-old “Lil Nicky” and 3-year-old “Kid Gross.” Oliver’s best friend and classmate, Sabrina Flores, often joins the boys aboard the imaginary ship Wind Fury, battling other vessels and even aliens. When “Captain Maris’s” mother is taken, he doesn’t hesitate to board an extraterrestrial craft to rescue her. There, the Captain and his cohorts meet Grumpus, a man who looks like Santa Claus and who gives them a map. “To get to your mother,” the man says, “you have to cross into the Parallel Dimension.” The Captain does so as the Wind Fury approaches a mirror image of itself, crew included. He takes on the identity of the boy across from him, Oliver, keeping his true nature as a pirate a secret. The Captain then starts upgrading Oliver’s life by trouncing the bullies and auditioning for the play’s lead role. But the knowledge of his mom’s cancer and some slips back into the role of Captain make the adventurer’s path a rocky one.

Bravo’s inventive tale possesses a tricky structure that should draw in his target audience. After the informative first chapter, readers plunge into a lengthy fantasy section that seemingly abandons Oliver, the student, and his various problems. The Captain’s confidence is noticeable and stirring to behold. He tells Lil Nicky: “Each moment is an opportunity to make things better.” Grumpus later advises the Captain: “To become the boy, you must forget who you are,” a line that sounds playful enough but contains hefty emotional weight for adult readers who realize that childhood, usually full of light and innocence, is so difficult to recapture even in the imagination. A further narrative shift occurs as multiple chapters of Adam and the Whale appear in the text. The author’s creative approach shows younger readers the directions in which fiction can stretch, preparing them for classics like Bram Stoker’s epistolary Dracula. Most importantly, Oliver’s bullying does not happen in a vacuum. Readers see that Buck lives in an emotionally abusive home and believes—sweetly and naïvely—that starring in the play is a steppingstone to a professional acting career and a better life. He and the Captain eventually come to understand each other—after some questionable brawling, of course. The plot of Adam and the Whale offers an extended metaphor about looking deeper at cause and effect while allowing Bravo to deliver some sublime moments. In one scene, Madame Maura, a soothsayer, wears “an evil grin” that “oozed out onto her aged and leathery face.” A solution to the mystery of Grumpus rounds out the heartwarming tale.

An engaging, challenging, and thoughtfully balanced adventure.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-73619-861-2

Page Count: 124

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

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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Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun

THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 1

It’s been 42 days since the Monster Apocalypse began, and 13-year-old Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” is on a quest to find and rescue his not-so-secret crush, June Del Toro, whether she needs it, wants it, or not.

Jack cobbles together an unlikely but endearing crew, including his scientist best friend, Quint Baker; Dirk Savage, Parker Middle School’s biggest bully; and a pet monster named Rover, to help him save the damsel in distress and complete the “ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success.” Middle-grade readers, particularly boys, will find Jack’s pitch-perfect mix of humor, bravado, and self-professed geekiness impossible to resist. His sidekicks are equally entertaining, and it doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of oozing, drooling, sharp-toothed monsters and zombies and a host of gizmos and gadgets to hook readers and keep them cheering with every turn of the page. Holgate’s illustrations play an integral role in the novel’s success. They not only bring Brallier’s characters to life, but also add depth and detail to the story, making plain just exactly how big Rover is and giving the lie to Jack’s “killer driving.” The marriage of text and illustration serves as a perfect example of what an illustrated novel can and should be.

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun (. (Graphic/horror hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01661-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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