A fast-paced, intriguing, and surprising orphan story.

ORPHAN ELEVEN

Fleeing an orphanage, 11-year-old Lucy finds a home with a traveling circus while searching for her older sister.

For the past five years, Lucy has lived at the Home for Friendless Children, where she stood out as an A student with a beautiful voice until chosen for special lessons with a “university lady.” Subjected to constant criticism and humiliation during these lessons, Lucy begins stuttering and eventually stops speaking. One day, when left unattended outside the orphanage fence, Lucy and three other orphans bolt, hitch a ride to Chicago, and connect with a sympathetic dwarf named Jabo, who works for Saachi’s Circus Spectacular. Under Jabo’s guidance, the three other children find apprenticeships with the circus, but no one will take Lucy on unless she speaks. Unaware the orphanage is desperately hunting for her and actively thwarting her sister’s efforts to find her, plucky Lucy must overcome her fear of speaking, earn a place with the circus, and connect with her sister while uncovering the sinister cause of her selective mutism. Set in 1939, Lucy’s dramatic story plays out against the disparate, but carefully researched and authentically rendered, environments of a bleak orphanage eager to exploit its wards and the colorful, dynamic, diverse circus world eager to welcome four homeless orphans (all evidently white). The author’s note reveals the horrifying reality that inspired Lucy’s story.

A fast-paced, intriguing, and surprising orphan story. (glossary) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-74255-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message.

WILLODEEN

An orphan loner’s small town faces a hard future after it unwittingly disrupts a natural cycle.

Willodeen is lucky that elderly retired thespians Mae and Birdie took her in after the wildfire that killed her parents and brother, not only because they’re a loving couple, but because they let her roam the woods in search of increasingly rare screechers—creatures so vile-tempered and stinky that the village elders of Perchance have put a bounty on them. The elders have other worries, though: The migratory hummingbears that have long nested in the area, drawing tourists to the lucrative annual Autumn Faire, have likewise nearly vanished. Could there be a connection? If there is, Willodeen is just the person to find it—but who would believe her? Applegate’s characters speak in pronouncements about life and nature that sometimes seem to address readers more than other characters, but the winsome illustrations lighten the thematic load. Screechers appear much like comically fierce warthogs and hummingbears, as small teddies with wings. Applegate traces a burgeoning friendship between her traumatized protagonist and Connor, a young artist who turns found materials into small animals so realistic that one actually comes to life. In the end, the townsfolk do listen and pitch in to make amends. Red-haired, gray-eyed Willodeen is cued as White; Connor has brown skin, and other human characters read as White by default.

The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message. (Eco-fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-14740-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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