Begins wonderfully; ends melodramatically.

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A NIGHT DIVIDED

A family is separated overnight when East Berlin erects the Berlin Wall.

Eight-year-old Gerta wakes up on Aug. 13, 1961, to find that a barbed wire fence has been erected around East Berlin. Two days earlier, her father and older brother Dominic had traveled to West Berlin to look for work, and now they can’t get back. Based on historical fact, the story shines a personal light on the many families who were separated by the division of the two cities. Nielsen convincingly paints a chilling picture of repressive, Communist-controlled East Berlin, so much so that when Greta sees her father on the other side of the wall, years later, pantomiming digging, readers easily accept her plan to dig an escape tunnel into West Berlin. As Greta, her other older brother, Fritz, and eventually their mother dig the tunnel, enduring hunger, exhaustion, and risking detection, readers will root for them with every shovelful. However, when the diggers realize the noise they hear is their father digging from the other side and that their tunnels are now only feet apart, instead of pushing through and running to freedom, they decide that they should stop and reinforce the tunnels. This decision seems ludicrous. Further implausible decisions ramp up the tension, but they also ramp up readers’ frustration levels, and a formerly riveting tale of history becomes a melodrama.

Begins wonderfully; ends melodramatically. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-68242-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present

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AS BRAVE AS YOU

Eleven-year-old Brooklynite Genie has “worry issues,” so when he and his older brother, Ernie, are sent to Virginia to spend a month with their estranged grandparents while their parents “try to figure it all out,” he goes into overdrive.

First, he discovers that Grandpop is blind. Next, there’s no Internet, so the questions he keeps track of in his notebook (over 400 so far) will have to go un-Googled. Then, he breaks the model truck that’s one of the only things Grandma still has of his deceased uncle. And he and Ernie will have to do chores, like picking peas and scooping dog poop. What’s behind the “nunya bidness door”? And is that a gun sticking out from Grandpop’s waistband? Reynolds’ middle-grade debut meanders like the best kind of summer vacation but never loses sense of its throughline. The richly voiced third-person narrative, tightly focused through Genie’s point of view, introduces both brothers and readers to this rural African-American community and allows them to relax and explore even as it delves into the many mysteries that so bedevil Genie, ranging from "Grits? What exactly are they?" to, heartbreakingly, “Why am I so stupid?” Reynolds gives his readers uncommonly well-developed, complex characters, especially the completely believable Genie and Grandpop, whose stubborn self-sufficiency belies his vulnerability and whose flawed love both Genie and readers will cherish.

This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present . (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1590-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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