An engrossing, heartwarming, beautifully written debut about building and rebuilding family ties.


A sudden change in vacation plans leads to an unforgettable summer for 11-year-old Cat and her younger brother, Chicken, who has special needs.

Cat and Chicken are the namesakes of characters in their mother’s picture-book series, Caterpillar & Chicken. In the books, Cat looks out for Chicken and does everything she can to make him happy. This is true in real life as well: Chicken has special needs (undefined, but he is sensitive to noise and touch, has difficulty governing himself, and has a tendency toward fixations), and Cat is responsible for taking care of him while their mother works. Cat and Chicken are biracial; their mother is white and their late father was black. Cat can’t wait to visit her best friend, Rishi, in Atlanta during summer vacation. But when Rishi’s parents are suddenly needed in India, Cat and Chicken find themselves staying on Gingerbread Island, North Carolina, with their mother’s parents—grandparents they’ve never met before. Cat’s mother is tight-lipped about why she’s estranged from her parents, but Cat is determined to protect Chicken, like she always does. The poignant story of Cat’s unexpected adventures on Gingerbread Island is told with tenderness and a keen sense of what can make—and break—family bonds. While race isn’t central to the story, it’s also not incidental. Through debut author McDunn’s vivid storytelling, issues related to race and bias are deftly woven into the larger narrative.

An engrossing, heartwarming, beautifully written debut about building and rebuilding family ties. (Fiction. 8-13)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68119-743-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.


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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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...


Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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