A solid-enough sequel that slips here and there but leaves readers’ goodwill intact.

THE SLEEPWALKER TONIC

From the Nightmares! series , Vol. 2

Charlie Laird faces a dire threat to the Netherworld and the Waking World.

Having conquered his fears of the Netherworld (Nightmares!, 2014), Charlie has little to worry about besides a summer job and his growing attraction to his best girl friend, Paige. But things in Cypress Creek never stay quiet for long. A mysterious tonic is making residents in the next town over, Orville Falls, walk the Earth like mindless zombies. The solution lies somewhere between the Waking World and the Netherworld, and Charlie, his stepmother, and his little brother, Jack, set out to solve the problem. The authors dutifully shine a light on some of the murky waters left over from the series opener, and this book’s big villain is introduced in a nifty way. Unfortunately the main threat of the novel is a bit of a bust. The zombielike creatures just aren't a very interesting threat. These books are so concerned with the internal lives of its characters that an opponent that has nothing going on emotionally falls flat. Readers will be far more involved with Charlie and Jack's sibling rivalry or Charlie's growing fondness for his stepmother than the zombie element, which is a bit of a drag by comparison. Still, the story finishes strong, wrapping up the central mystery with a smart resolution and supplying a great tease for the next installment. This second installment may be doing little more than killing time, but at least it kills time effectively.

A solid-enough sequel that slips here and there but leaves readers’ goodwill intact. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-74427-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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