A skilled and witty tale about a boy who would be king that should appeal to children and adults.

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The King of Average

A supposedly average boy realizes that he’s not so mediocre after all in this debut middle-grade novel.

James thinks he’s a typical 11-year-old, which suits him just fine. His father is gone, his mother hates him (she commonly wishes he was never born while on the phone with her friends), and he has no siblings. James, who earns C’s in school, looks rather ordinary (he certainly isn’t handsome). Instead of fighting it, he embraces his mediocrity, declaring himself the best average guy the planet has ever seen. One day in a garden, he meets Mayor Culpa, a talking goat. Following the animal, James finds himself suddenly transported to another world. The chatty creature reveals that he’s a Scapegoat (“As long as I’m to blame, no one else can be burdened. It’s what I was bred for”). He tells James that he can become the Kingdom of Average’s new ruler. But to claim the crown, the boy must first complete a mission—find the old king and discover why he abdicated the throne. Mayor Culpa, professional optimist Monsieur William Roget, and Roget’s pint-sized pessimist, Kiljoy, join James on his journey. They travel from Disappointment Bay to Serenity Spa to the Unattainable Mountains, and as their quest evolves, James begins to learn that maybe he’s not quite so mundane. When they reach the part of the kingdom dubbed Epiphany, James finally grasps who he is—someone extraordinary. While James initially believes that he’s mediocre, Schwartz’s novel assuredly is not. This is a volume that kids and parents can read together because it works on two levels—young ones should love the adventure-packed plot and hilarious characters, and grown-ups should chuckle at the wordplay embedded in every page. Schwartz’s characters are more than clever—they’re ingenious. Mayor Culpa constantly apologizes, and Kiljoy represents that little voice inside people’s heads that attempts to invalidate their intentions. These living, breathing allusions effectively push the narrative forward (although Armitage’s sketchlike illustrations fail to enhance the story—such fanciful places and characters should be left to the imagination). Schwartz’s nicely succinct writing style places the focus on the striking worlds he creates. The book delivers an important lesson—be your own hero. With this debut, the author should soon be a hero to readers everywhere.

A skilled and witty tale about a boy who would be king that should appeal to children and adults.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5137-0331-2

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Updrift

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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ZATHURA

A trite, knock-off sequel to Jumanji (1981). The “Jumanji” box distracts Walter Budwing away from beating up on his little brother Danny, but it’s Danny who discovers the Zathura board inside—and in no time, Earth is far behind, a meteor has smashed through the roof, and a reptilian Zyborg pirate is crawling through the hole. Each throw of the dice brings an ominous new development, portrayed in grainy, penciled freeze frames featuring sculptured-looking figures in constricted, almost claustrophobic settings. The angles of view are, as always, wonderfully dramatic, but not only is much of the finer detail that contributed to Jumanji’s astonishing realism missing, the spectacular damage being done to the Budwings’ house as the game progresses is, by and large, only glimpsed around the picture edges. Naturally, having had his bacon repeatedly saved by his younger sibling’s quick thinking, once Walter falls through a black hole to a time preceding the game’s start, his attitude toward Danny undergoes a sudden, radical transformation. Van Allsburg’s imagination usually soars right along with his accomplished art—but here, both are just running in place. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-25396-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2002

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Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick.

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THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON

An elderly witch, a magical girl, a brave carpenter, a wise monster, a tiny dragon, paper birds, and a madwoman converge to thwart a magician who feeds on sorrow.

Every year Elders of the Protectorate leave a baby in the forest, warning everyone an evil Witch demands this sacrifice. In reality, every year, a kind witch named Xan rescues the babies and find families for them. One year Xan saves a baby girl with a crescent birthmark who accidentally feeds on moonlight and becomes “enmagicked.” Magic babies can be tricky, so Xan adopts little Luna herself and lovingly raises her, with help from an ancient swamp monster and a chatty, wee dragon. Luna’s magical powers emerge as her 13th birthday approaches. Meanwhile, Luna’s deranged real mother enters the forest to find her daughter. Simultaneously, a young carpenter from the Protectorate enters the forest to kill the Witch and end the sacrifices. Xan also enters the forest to rescue the next sacrificed child, and Luna, the monster, and the dragon enter the forest to protect Xan. In the dramatic denouement, a volcano erupts, the real villain attempts to destroy all, and love prevails. Replete with traditional motifs, this nontraditional fairy tale boasts sinister and endearing characters, magical elements, strong storytelling, and unleashed forces. Luna has black eyes, curly, black hair, and “amber” skin.

Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-567-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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