Despite the frustrating lack of conclusion, the friendly art and nifty concept will leave readers eager for the next book,...

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SECRET CODERS

From the Secret Coders series , Vol. 1

Hopper’s first day at Stately Academy goes terribly until her “7”-shaped earrings trigger a code in a robot bird, commanding it to display three eyes.

Classmate Eni, whose father is a software engineer, kindly explains the controlling binary code to Hopper. The user-friendly explanation takes advantage of the graphic-novel format, providing a visual alongside the narrative description. The plot makes manipulating binary a game, inviting readers to decode number sequences alongside the characters. When they decode a combination lock on a shed, Hopper and Eni enter it (against the wishes of the villainous, crotchety, old janitor) and uncover its secret content—an adorable robot programmed to clean the sidewalks. This programming too is thoroughly explained visually, then put to an unorthodox application against some kids who bully Hopper. Other villains include an over-the-top creepy visitor to the school making a mysterious demand of the principal and the student-hating principal himself. The school’s coded secrets that the protagonists unravel lead to a showdown that goes straight for cliffhanger without a hint of resolution—right when the story feels like it’s just getting going. Worse, the abbreviated story leaves little room for characterization other than introducing Hopper’s family background as conflict to be addressed in a later installment. Hopper is Asian-American, and Eni appears to be African-American.

Despite the frustrating lack of conclusion, the friendly art and nifty concept will leave readers eager for the next book, which should be able to get off to a rocketing start. (Graphic mystery. 8-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62672-276-7

Page Count: 96

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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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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