Dickens would enjoy this book, and so will Aiken fans who have been waiting for a full-scale 19th century novel ever since The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and its successors. Here Joan Aiken follows all the conventions of Dickensian fiction with just a little extra to satisfy jaded contemporary tastes. The Grimsby mansion at Midnight Court houses not one, but two unjustly disinherited orphans, Lucas Bell and the French-speaking Anna-Marie (she a daughter of Midnight Court's talented, but improvident former owner, Sir Denzil Murgatroyd who "while still at college. . . constructed a scientific instrument for measuring the depth of potholes"). And the source of Grimsby's fortune, the Midnight Mill boasts, in addition to the usual horrors of child labor and workers' oppression, a peculiarly nasty feature known as the pressing room, where a giant press sticks wool to inferior grade carpets and occasionally crushes children too slow to get out of its way. Of course, after Midnight Court and the churlish Sir Randolph Grimsby go up in flames one night, Anna-Marie is reduced to working in the mill where she clashes with the extortion ring leader Bludward (who gets around in a steam driven wheelchair). Lucas is forced to muck about in the Blastburn sewers scavenging for valuables. The kindly tutor Mr. Oakapple (who has a mysterious history and two fingers missing from his violin-playing hand) is incapacitated in the town infirmary. Lady Murgatroyd is discovered living incognito in the icehouse where she has been overlooked by everyone for the past ten years. And Grimsby's henchmen are on the loose hoping to line their own pockets. Lucas and Anna-Marie are two innocents in a world grotesquely distorted by greed, and while the evil get their comeuppance, the riches the children were due to inherit have already been squandered by Grimsby and his ilk. It must be admitted that Ms. Aiken's staging of the human comedy ("this great dark town". . . "a m-moocky old place but he loved it") owes a lot to her literary predecessors and, perhaps, more to the modern reader's need to approach innocence with tongue in cheek. But it works beautifully on more than one level, and Midnight Court earns its place in the landscape of humorous fiction.

Pub Date: April 22, 1974

ISBN: 0618196250

Page Count: 307

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1974

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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


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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