A compelling story that just might teach young readers something about facing their fears of things that go “bump” in the...

BITTERLY AND THE GIANT PROBLEM

From the Pinkaboos series , Vol. 1

“Pinkaboo” used to be an insult…until Bitterly and her best buds, Belladonna and Abyssma, reclaim and use it to silence the bullies.

Fright School is tough, and it only gets harder for the little vampire when she must deal daily with Vex, the green-faced (literally) bully who blocks the school gates. Bitterly feels even more exposed when her teacher, Miss Viper, a bespectacled, blue-haired serpent, chooses her to enter the dream of her little girl, Molly, to help her defeat a giant that plagues Molly’s dreams nightly. After being sucked into their huge classroom screen, Bitterly attempts to resolve Molly’s fear while her classmates watch from the comfort of their desks. Disappointed at Bitterly’s unconventional and decidedly un-monstrous strategy, Miss Viper expects more and shows her via the screen how she taught her own little girl to defeat dream witches. This enables Bitterly to imagine better strategies for helping Molly, but it also helps her manage her own antagonists. Drawing from a palette of primarily pink and green, Kelly immerses readers in this strange world of not-so-scary monsters, giving a distinctive appearance and personality to each creature. Both the protagonist and the antagonist are dynamic, keeping the story humming along. Companion title Belladonna and the Nightmare Academy publishes simultaneously.

A compelling story that just might teach young readers something about facing their fears of things that go “bump” in the night . (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4494-7831-5

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.

THE MYSTERIOUS MESSENGER

Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Despite missteps, this satisfying follow-up will leave readers hoping for more magical adventures with lovable Jax and...

THE DRAGON THIEF

From the Dragons in a Bag series , Vol. 2

Jaxon and his friends deal with the fallout from the theft of one of the baby dragons in his charge.

As this sequel to Dragons in a Bag (2018) opens, Kavita, the titular dragon thief, introduces elderly Aunty to stolen baby dragon Mo. Thankfully, Aunty knows someone in Queens who can help return Mo to the realm of magic. Meanwhile, and in alternating first-person chapters, Jax is trying to find Kavi and Mo, as Mo’s siblings have grown ill as a result of the separation, as has Ma, Jax’s magical mentor and grandmother figure. Jax again teams up with his best friend and Kavi’s older brother, Vik. A third is added to their crew with “huge” Kenny, “the biggest kid in [their] class.” (Unfortunately, much is made of Kenny’s size, which feels gratuitous and unkind.) Eventually the trio finds Kavi, Aunty, and Mo, who’ve been abducted by a magical con artist. All’s well that ends well when Sis, the powerful guardian of the magic realm, shows up, but readers may wonder why the narrative decides to grapple with her choice not to intervene in injustice in our world. Her argument that human-caused problems are for humans to solve feels undeveloped, especially in the face of a massive injustice like the trans-Atlantic slave trade (mentioned during the climax and at no other point). Jax is black; Vik, Kavi, and Aunty are Indian American (though Aunty has African ancestry as well); and Kenny is white. The rest of the cast is diverse as well.

Despite missteps, this satisfying follow-up will leave readers hoping for more magical adventures with lovable Jax and company. (Urban fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-7049-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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