A sprightly, accessible series opener recommended for those ready for a change of venue from standard-issue, middle-grade...

THE BOOK OF WONDERS

Dipping into the deep plot well of Middle Eastern fairy and folk tales, this buoyant debut offers a fresh plot, brisk pacing and engaging characters.

Zardi’s 13th birthday celebration is cut short when her sister, Zubeyda, is abducted by the cruel sultan to serve as his praisemaker, an “honor” that in 90 days will end in her death. Zardi (short for Scheherazade) sets off to find the sultan’s enemies and obtain help in rescuing Zubeyda, accompanied by her adopted brother, Rhidan, who is on a quest of his own: tracking down Sinbad the sailor, who has clues to Rhidan’s mysterious heritage. Though not entirely reliable, Sinbad proves an ally, as does his mother, Sula, who defies the sultan’s ban on magic and uses her powers to help Zardi and Rhidan discover their own. With Sinbad, they head for the Black Isle, home to powerful sorcerers and possibly Rhidan’s birthplace, but fate has other plans for them. These include rocs, a brass giant, trapped djinn and the fearsome Queen of the Serpents in her snake-filled kingdom. Richards deftly borrows from lesser-known tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights to enrich her complex storyline while keeping style and syntax simple and direct.

A sprightly, accessible series opener recommended for those ready for a change of venue from standard-issue, middle-grade fantasy . (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-201007-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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A fast and funny alternative to the Wimpy Kid.

JAKE THE FAKE KEEPS IT REAL

From the Jake the Fake series , Vol. 1

Black sixth-grader Jake Liston can only play one song on the piano. He can’t read music very well, and he can’t improvise. So how did Jake get accepted to the Music and Art Academy? He faked it.

Alongside an eclectic group of academy classmates, and with advice from his best friend, Jake tries to fit in at a school where things like garbage sculpting and writing art reviews of bird poop splatter are the norm. All is well until Jake discovers that the end-of-the-semester talent show is only two weeks away, and Jake is short one very important thing…talent. Or is he? It’s up to Jake to either find the talent that lies within or embarrass himself in front of the entire school. Light and humorous, with Knight’s illustrations adding to the fun, Jake’s story will likely appeal to many middle-grade readers, especially those who might otherwise be reluctant to pick up a book. While the artsy antics may be over-the-top at times, this is a story about something that most preteens can relate to: the struggle to find your authentic self. And in a world filled with books about wanting to fit in with the athletically gifted supercliques, this novel unabashedly celebrates the artsy crowd in all of its quirky, creative glory.

A fast and funny alternative to the Wimpy Kid. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-553-52351-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs.

WAYSIDE SCHOOL BENEATH THE CLOUD OF DOOM

Rejoice! 25 years later, Wayside School is still in session, and the children in Mrs. Jewls’ 30th-floor classroom haven’t changed a bit.

The surreal yet oddly educational nature of their misadventures hasn’t either. There are out-and-out rib ticklers, such as a spelling lesson featuring made-up words and a determined class effort to collect 1 million nail clippings. Additionally, mean queen Kathy steps through a mirror that turns her weirdly nice and she discovers that she likes it, a four-way friendship survives a dumpster dive after lost homework, and Mrs. Jewls makes sure that a long-threatened “Ultimate Test” allows every student to show off a special talent. Episodic though the 30 new chapters are, there are continuing elements that bind them—even to previous outings, such as the note to an elusive teacher Calvin has been carrying since Sideways Stories From Wayside School (1978) and finally delivers. Add to that plenty of deadpan dialogue (“Arithmetic makes my brain numb,” complains Dameon. “That’s why they’re called ‘numb-ers,’ ” explains D.J.) and a wild storm from the titular cloud that shuffles the school’s contents “like a deck of cards,” and Sachar once again dishes up a confection as scrambled and delicious as lunch lady Miss Mush’s improvised “Rainbow Stew.” Diversity is primarily conveyed in the illustrations.

Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296538-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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