Though clearly well-intentioned, this middle-grade novel seems unlikely to find an enthusiastic audience.

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LOVE, PENELOPE

Fifth-grader Penelope Bach records her thoughts and experiences in a series of letters to her unborn sibling.

Penny, a white girl being raised by two mothers in Oakland, California, tracks the performance of her hometown basketball team, anguishes over a school assignment, struggles with changing friendships, and records the progress of her mother’s pregnancy. As the months pass, she learns a lot about the Ohlone, the local Native American tribe with which her nonbiological mother, Sammy, is affiliated, while simultaneously trying to trace her biological parents’ family histories. She also deals with prejudice because of her two moms and sees firsthand the racism that her Jamaican best friend, Gabby, and Gabby’s older brother (Penny’s secret crush) face. While Rocklin tackles important and topical issues, Penny’s voice and characterization are underdeveloped and thus overwhelmed by the messages she delivers. Other characters are similarly flat, making it difficult to become invested in their interactions, and dialogue is often stilted. Limited description keeps the setting from coming to life, while emotions and reactions are listed rather than evoked. Knisley’s black-and-white spot drawings range from depictions of the developing fetus to Penny’s teacher’s novelty ties. Many add humor and interest but can’t compensate for the text’s flaws.

Though clearly well-intentioned, this middle-grade novel seems unlikely to find an enthusiastic audience. (author’s note, bibliography, list of organizations) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4197-2861-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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The dice are rolling readers’ way in this third outing.

SUNNY ROLLS THE DICE

From the Sunny series , Vol. 3

Sunny, in seventh grade, finds her score on the Groovy Meter taking some wild swings as her friends’ interests move in different directions.

In a motif that haunts her throughout, Sunny succumbs to a teen magazine’s personality quiz and sees her tally seesaw radically. Her BF Deb has suddenly switched focus to boys, clothes, and bands such as the Bee Gees (this is 1977)—dismissing trick-or-treating and wearing galoshes on rainy days as “babyish.” Meanwhile, Sunny takes delight in joining nerdy neighbors Lev, Brian, and Arun in regular sessions of Dungeons and Dragons (as a fighter character, so cool). The storytelling is predominantly visual in this episodic outing, with just occasional snatches of dialogue and pithy labels to fill in details or mark the passage of time; frequent reaction shots deftly capture Sunny’s feelings of being pulled this way and that. Tellingly, in the Holms’ panels (colored by Pien), Sunny’s depicted as significantly smaller than Deb, visually underscoring her developmental awkwardness. Deb’s comment that “we’re too old to be playing games like that” leads Sunny to drop out of the D&D circle and even go to the school’s staggeringly dull spring dance. Sunny’s mostly white circle of peers expands and becomes more diverse as she continues to navigate her way through the dark chambers and misty passages of early adolescence. Lev is an Orthodox Jew, Arun is South Asian, and Regina, another female friend, has brown skin.

The dice are rolling readers’ way in this third outing. (Graphic historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-23314-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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An entertaining continuation to a magical series that celebrates diversity with a magical twist.

WISHED

From the Fairy Tale Reform School series , Vol. 5

With Rumpelstiltskin and his band of villains still on the loose, the students and staff of Fairy Tale Reform School are on high alert as they prepare for the next attack.

Classes are devoted to teaching battle techniques and conjuring new weapons, which narrator Gilly finds preferable to learning history or manners. But Maxine, her ogress friend, has had it with all the doom and gloom. The last straw is when the agenda at the Royal Lady-in-Waiting meeting is changed from “How to Plan the Perfect Fairy Garden Party” to designing flying rocks and creating flower darts. While on a class field trip to the village to investigate their future careers, Maxine finds a magic lamp housing a genie named Darlene. Her wish that everyone be happy works a little too well. War preparations are put on hold as the school fills with flowers, laughter, and plans for a musical production. But when Gilly is tapped to fill in for the local chief of the dwarf police, things really take a turn for the worse. The students, including fairies, ogres, and the part-human/part-beast offspring of Beauty and the ex-Beast, focus on friendship and supporting one another in spite of their differences. Humility, forgiveness, and loyalty are also highly regarded in the FTRS community. Human Gilly is white, but there is racial as well as species diversity at FTRS.

An entertaining continuation to a magical series that celebrates diversity with a magical twist. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-5167-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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