Goofball comedy with heart



A trio of 11-year-old boys goes on a zany, coincidence-packed journey after one experiences a death in the family.

Fred’s got only his dad and his grandmother, and his dad’s been laid up ever since the accident with the mail truck. His two best mates will soon be away for the summer. Ben’s going to the States and Disney World, which would be brilliant except for Ben’s horrible stepmother, and Charlie’s off to vegan camp because his mother wants him to lose weight. The beginning of the summer holidays takes a turn from merely bad to horrible when Fred’s grandmother dies suddenly. A letter Grams left for him reveals something Fred had assumed he’d never learn: the name and birthplace of his biological father, Alan Froggley, who abandoned his pregnant mother before he was born. (She died shortly after.) In a flash of inspiration that makes complete sense to the grief-stricken Fred, he decides on a quest to find Alan Froggley in Wales. Fred has no intention of replacing his real dad, whom he adores, but he’s seeking…something. Family? Connection? Answers? Ben and Charlie join him for a slapstick adventure across Wales, with cinematic middle school humor marred only by Charlie’s characterization via an endless stream of fat jokes. The boys (seemingly all white) are mistaken for both superheroes and saints by Welsh villagers, and they are chased by a taxi-driving, gun-wielding criminal. By some fluke, all their adventures are connected, as Fred the narrator continuously foreshadows.

Goofball comedy with heart . (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-01133-0

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Norton Young Readers

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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After Daniel’s experiences, readers will want to move there too.


The dull and seemingly ordinary neighborhood in which Daniel fetches up with his newly divorced mom turns out to be anything but.

Daniel’s first impressions of While-a-Way Lane aren’t good, as most of the neighbors are away for spring break, and he’s already in a dark, missing-his-dad mood. But then he spots his next-door neighbor, an older lady named Tilda Butter, apparently talking to the air. Had he looked a bit closer, he would have seen her actually in conversation with a small snake named Isadora. Tilda is very good at looking closer, and as her third-person chapters tend to be much longer than Daniel’s, it’s largely through her eyes and memories that readers will see the wonders of While-a-Way Lane, magical and otherwise, unfold. Wondrous things that happen to Daniel include an exciting encounter with squirrels in Tilda’s attic, landing a role as Lost Boy No. 8 in a school production of Peter Pan (his favorite book), and being followed home one evening by a cloud of fireflies. In Tilda’s view, everyone has a “gift” (hers happens to be talking to animals), and though on the surface Daniel remains rather unappealingly sullen and unobservant until near the end, he ultimately rewards her faith in a way that adds further buoyancy to the upbeat finish. Both Bean’s map and his chapter-head vignettes themselves reward closer looks. The cast defaults to white.

After Daniel’s experiences, readers will want to move there too. (Fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62779-326-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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A summer adventure that determined young readers may enjoy.


Tracy—gratingly—delights in calling her younger brother “Pig Face”; although she has a reasonably amicable relationship with him, she appears oblivious to the hurtful nature of her chronic name-calling.

But, surprisingly, since “Pig Face” comes up over and over, that is not the point of this overlong debut novel for early chapter-book readers. Tracy, 11, her best friend, Ralph, and her astute 9-year-old brother Lester, aka Pig Face, embark on the investigation of a mystery: why was a bag of money left in the detritus under the dugout bench of their small Canadian town’s ballpark? Slightly complicating their investigation is the presence of handsome visitor Zach, whom Tracy is developing a crush on and Ralph (perhaps partly because of that) dislikes. Tracy, Ralph, and Lester, all white, pursue their investigation in a kid-appropriate way, hiding the money and asking around, using a way-too-obvious approach that’s sure to spell trouble later—and it does. There are plenty of red herrings and an unexpected villain in this plot-driven adventure that eventually explores bullying but never, disappointingly, addresses the “pig face” problem. Tracy is a colorful character, dressing in vintage clothing and not ashamed of her intelligence, and Lester is amusingly wise for his years, their well-rounded characters adding authenticity. 

A summer adventure that determined young readers may enjoy. (Mystery. 9-11)

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5107-0621-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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