TWELVE TRAVELERS, TWENTY HORSES

“We were being sold on a green commons in front of a redbrick courthouse of American justice. That fact brought tears to my eyes.” It’s September 1860, and it’s the third time at auction for 13-year-old Jacob Israel Christmas. Bought by The Honorable Mister Clarence Higginboom, Jacob and other slaves are soon heading to California. Jacob begins to suspect a plot by his new owner, a plot to steal gold coming out and stop the Pony Express from delivering election news to California. The news would, most likely, save California for the Union, when there’s a danger it might secede with the South. The gold of California is crucial to either side’s war effort, and all are sure war will come if Lincoln is elected. As the implausible set of events comes together, Jacob ends up in the right place at the right time to dash whatever treasonous plans Honorable Mister may have. The enslaved hero and his simple sidekick Solomon end up “saving California for the Union. What a privilege.” Though readers may not find the story believable, they will learn a lot of history in Robinet’s (Missing From Haymarket Square, 2001, etc.) latest work as she includes most of the important events in the history of slavery: the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law, the Dred Scott decision, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, along with the lesser-known story of California’s role in the march toward civil war. Likable characters put a human face on history in this story of a journey across America at a time when people and news traveled slowly, a journey in which “shackles of mind and body” are thrown off and new responsibilities assumed. Fans of historical fiction might enjoy this work, and the focus on California and the Pony Express may fill a gap in library collections. (map, author’s note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-689-84561-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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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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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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