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

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 In school, a costume-loving history teacher has been replaced by a boring substitute who assigns essays.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 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018


Certain to steal hearts.

In this follow-up to 2020’s The One and Only Bob, Ruby the elephant is still living at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary.

She’s apprehensive about her Tuskday, a rite of passage for young elephants when she’ll give a speech in front of the rest of the herd. Luckily, she can confide in her Uncle Ivan, who is next door in Gorilla World, and Uncle Bob, the dog who lives nearby with human friend Julia. Ruby was born in an unspecified part of Africa, later ending up on display in the mall, where she met Ivan, Bob, and Julia. The unexpected arrival of someone from Ruby’s past life on the savanna revives memories both warmly nostalgic and deeply traumatic. An elephant glossary and Castelao’s charming, illustrated guide to elephant body language help immerse readers in Ruby’s world. Goofy, playful, and mischievous Ruby is fully dimensional, as she has shown her bravery during the many hardships of her young life. Applegate deftly tempers themes of grief and loss with compassion and humor as Ruby finds her place in the herd. The author’s note touches on climate change, the illegal ivory trade, and conservation efforts, but the highly emotive framing of the story through the memories of a bewildered baby elephant emphasizes the impact of lines such as “ ‘in Africa,’ I say softly, ‘there were bad people,’ ” without offering readers a nuanced understanding of the broader context that drives poaching.

Certain to steal hearts. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9780063080089

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023


The three way chats, in which they are joined by other animals, about web spinning, themselves, other humans—are as often...

A successful juvenile by the beloved New Yorker writer portrays a farm episode with an imaginative twist that makes a poignant, humorous story of a pig, a spider and a little girl.

Young Fern Arable pleads for the life of runt piglet Wilbur and gets her father to sell him to a neighbor, Mr. Zuckerman. Daily, Fern visits the Zuckermans to sit and muse with Wilbur and with the clever pen spider Charlotte, who befriends him when he is lonely and downcast. At the news of Wilbur's forthcoming slaughter, campaigning Charlotte, to the astonishment of people for miles around, spins words in her web. "Some Pig" comes first. Then "Terrific"—then "Radiant". The last word, when Wilbur is about to win a show prize and Charlotte is about to die from building her egg sac, is "Humble". And as the wonderful Charlotte does die, the sadness is tempered by the promise of more spiders next spring.

The three way chats, in which they are joined by other animals, about web spinning, themselves, other humans—are as often informative as amusing, and the whole tenor of appealing wit and pathos will make fine entertainment for reading aloud, too.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1952

ISBN: 978-0-06-026385-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1952

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