A well-crafted mix of fact and fantasy filled with surprises and grounded in history and real-world dilemmas.

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THE BLACK ALABASTER BOX

BOOK 1, THE LAST CRYSTAL TRILOGY

From the The Last Crystal Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A young girl’s pioneering trek to the American West is interrupted by danger, tragedy, and a magical quest in the first book in Schoonmaker’s Last Crystal trilogy for middle schoolers.

In mid-19th-century Missouri, the white Willis family is about to follow the Santa Fe Trail to the new state of California. Miserable over leaving home, preteen Grace Willis is distracted by the sudden arrival of Old Shep, a dog from her early childhood. Absent for 10 years, Old Shep looks remarkably fit for a canine of more than 100 dog years. It’s a mystery—or is it magic? Old Shep’s role in Grace’s life is woven into a surprise-filled, absorbing narrative, the first novel in a series that begins with this vivid depiction of life for a pioneer family heading west. The author is a former professor and elementary school teacher, but this is no textbook adventure. Nor is it Little House on the Prairie redux. The fact that wagon train scout Jim Payne, a free black man, teaches Grace tracking and track-covering skills hints that the girl will need them, and she does. Grace is kidnapped and suffers a horrific loss. Her ordeal with the brutal kidnapper and his family is genuinely unsettling; her grueling escape is downright chilling. Fleeing pursuit, aided by Old Shep, Grace is rescued by mysterious Mr. Nichols. And here the narrative slides smoothly and enjoyably into a full-fledged fantasy involving Mr. Nichols’ identity and an object hidden within an alabaster cavern. Locked away, the object has the power to heal humankind’s woes, but it is guarded by a lethal spell. If Grace can find the strength, she must retrieve and guard the object until the spell can be lifted. The eventful passage of time that follows—featuring, in part, two vicious outlaws from Grace’s past, the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of Mr. Nichols and Old Shep, and a new home for the bespelled object—will have readers eager for the next book in this series.

A well-crafted mix of fact and fantasy filled with surprises and grounded in history and real-world dilemmas.

Pub Date: March 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9979607-5-4

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Auctus Publishers

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2020

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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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This tightly packed, powerful fantasy contains resonant truths.

MAÑANALAND

A boy journeys to self-discovery through the power of stories and traditions.

Eleven-year-old Maximiliano Córdoba is ready for an idyllic summer. He plans to work hard as a builder for his father and train for fútbol tryouts. Plus, Max hopes dad will take him to visit the towering ruins of La Reina Gigante, a haunted hideout used in the past by the Guardians to hide refugees as they fled Abismo, a war-torn, neighboring dictatorship. However, when Max must provide his birth certificate to join the team, he feels his dream summer crumble away. The document disappeared years ago, along with his mother, the woman with whom Max shares “leche quemada” eyes. Soon, Papá leaves on a three-week journey to request a new one, and Max finds himself torn between two desires: to know the truth about why his mother left when he was a baby and to make the team. As Max discovers the enchanting stories his grandfather has been telling him for years have an actual foothold in reality, he must choose between his own dreams and those of others. Kirkus Prize winner Ryan (Echo, 2015) beautifully layers thought-provoking topics onto her narrative while keeping readers immersed in the story’s world. Although set in the fictional country of Santa Maria, “somewhere in the Américas,” the struggles of refugee immigrants and the compassion of those who protect the travelers feel very relevant.

This tightly packed, powerful fantasy contains resonant truths. (Fantasy. 7-14)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-15786-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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