A terrific read for fantasy fans.

THE LANGUAGE OF GHOSTS

A young princess in exile rediscovers a forgotten magic in a charming, surprisingly nuanced middle-grade fantasy.

Thirteen-year-old Noa Marchena, along with her elder brother, Julian, and her little sister, Mite, barely escaped from the overthrow of their family’s rule of the Florean Archipelago. Now they plan to retake Julian’s throne from their mobile island base, filled with invisible cats and guarded by a cake-loving sea serpent. Fortunately, Julian is the most gifted mage alive; unfortunately, that very power leaves him vulnerable to becoming an evil Dark Lord—but not if Noa has anything to say about it. Fawcett transforms a fairly conventional premise into a sheer delight with her witty prose and sharply drawn characters. The loving bonds between the bickering Marchena siblings—melodramatic, morally ambiguous Julian; explosive oddball Mite; and brilliant, practical, bossy Noa—are the driving force of the narrative. Minor characters are almost as memorable, and even the villains have complicated, sympathetic motives. The islands make for an interesting setting, with a population representing a range of skin tones (the Marchenas are olive-skinned), gender equality, and a society accepting of different sexualities. The language-based magic system is carefully thought-out, but the Marchenas’ successes rely as much on diplomacy, clever strategy, and meticulous planning. While this volume comes to a satisfying (if not unrealistically triumphant) conclusion, there is (happily) plenty of room left for potential sequels.

A terrific read for fantasy fans. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-285454-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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