Freely embracing the literary principle that, at bottom, evil is better fun than good, this envelope-pushing bonbon may not...

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THE 9 LIVES OF ALEXANDER BADDENFIELD

Adult readers may find themselves desperately searching the subtext of this book for hidden lessons; children will probably just relish it.

Rather like The Bad Beginning, this curious uncautionary tale lays all its cards on the table right up front. To readers expecting growth in the aptly named child’s character arc, the narrator says, “If this were a Hollywood movie, or a fairy tale, or a run-of-the-mill chapter book, this would undoubtedly be the case. But in the real world such things rarely happen.” All of the elder, equally venal generations of Baddenfields having perished young, 12-year-old Alexander decides to have a life transplant, using the eight extra lives of his cat, Shaddenfrood, as a resource—and over the protests of his faithful servant, Winterbottom (as good as Alexander is bad). Lives installed, he goes on to run through them all at a spectacular rate. (Shaddenfrood, purring appropriately, survives.) Blackall’s characteristically knowing illustrations and dramatic design decisions reinforce Marciano’s gleefully morbid humor and bely the seeming amorality of the tale. The purposeful fading of the text during Alexander’s ninth and last demise encourages readers to grapple with it. Adults will be grasping for an obvious point, an impulse reinforced by references to the myth of Icarus and Frankenstein and digs at the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, but child readers will likely be way ahead of them.

Freely embracing the literary principle that, at bottom, evil is better fun than good, this envelope-pushing bonbon may not have an easily discernible moral, but that’s its strength. (Gothic humor. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-670-01406-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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

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REFUGEE

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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An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in...

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NEW KID

From the New Kid series , Vol. 1

Jordan Banks takes readers down the rabbit hole and into his mostly white prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

He may be the new kid, but as an African-American boy from Washington Heights, that stigma entails so much more than getting lost on the way to homeroom. Riverdale Academy Day School, located at the opposite end of Manhattan, is a world away, and Jordan finds himself a stranger in a foreign land, where pink clothing is called salmon, white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, and white classmates ape African-American Vernacular English to make themselves sound cool. Jordan’s a gifted artist, and his drawings blend with the narrative to give readers a full sense of his two worlds and his methods of coping with existing in between. Craft skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable.

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269120-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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