Light entertainment with some vocabulary enrichment for middle graders of all sorts.

PENNYBAKER SCHOOL IS REVOLTING

When their history teacher disappears, students at the Pennybaker School for the Uniquely Gifted stage their own revolution and solve the mystery.

At this unconventional school, every student has an unusual talent and every class, a slightly off-kilter approach. In Pennybaker School Is Headed for Disaster (2017), new student and aspiring magician Thomas Fallgrout had trouble fitting in. Now his word-loving neighbor and best friend, Chip Mason, is a classmate and seems to be far more successful both academically and socially. Chip gets Thomas into trouble, he’s usurping Thomas’ privileges, and he’s stealing Thomas’ friends. Or, at least, that’s the way Thomas sees it, telling his story in an aggrieved first-person past tense. In school, a costume-loving history teacher has been replaced by a boring substitute who assigns essays. The new gym unit is co-ed dance, and Thomas has a scary partner. At home, his daredevil grandmother has been sneaking out at night through Thomas’ window; he discovers she’s been racing cars. These problems provide the humor, much of it distinctly middle-grade, involving such details as pantyhose and cowpies. But the heart of this account is the strain on the boys’ friendship, often seen in stories about girls but rarely about boys. Kissi’s black-and-white illustrations show Thomas as white and Chip as black.

Light entertainment with some vocabulary enrichment for middle graders of all sorts. (Fiction 8-12)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68119-176-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

ALMOST SUPER

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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Plays to Rowling’s fan base; equally suited for gifting and reading aloud or alone.

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THE CHRISTMAS PIG

A 7-year-old descends into the Land of the Lost in search of his beloved comfort object.

Jack has loved Dur Pig long enough to wear the beanbag toy into tattered shapelessness—which is why, when his angry older stepsister chucks it out the car window on Christmas Eve, he not only throws a titanic tantrum and viciously rejects the titular replacement pig, but resolves to sneak out to find DP. To his amazement, the Christmas Pig offers to guide him to the place where all lost Things go. Whiffs of childhood classics, assembled with admirable professionalism into a jolly adventure story that plays all the right chords, hang about this tale of loss and love. Along with family drama, Rowling stirs in fantasy, allegory, and generous measures of social and political commentary. Pursued by the Land’s cruel and monstrous Loser, Jack and the Christmas Pig pass through territories from the Wastes of the Unlamented, where booger-throwing Bad Habits roam, to the luxurious City of the Missed for encounters with Hope, Happiness, and Power (a choleric king who rejects a vote that doesn’t go his way). A joyful reunion on the Island of the Beloved turns poignant, but Christmas Eve being “a night for miracles and lost causes,” perhaps there’s still a chance (with a little help from Santa) for everything to come right? In both the narrative and Field’s accomplished, soft-focus illustrations, the cast presents White.

Plays to Rowling’s fan base; equally suited for gifting and reading aloud or alone. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-79023-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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