A winning novel that lays bare some painful truths and is sure to nurture empathy among readers.

THE SECRET SHERIFF OF SIXTH GRADE

For white sixth-grader Maverick Falconer, life could hardly be worse.

His father died while serving in Afghanistan; he’s ashamed of his alcoholic mom, who can’t keep a job and attracts abusive boyfriends; he often misses meals and wears worn-out clothes—and, for good measure, he’s friendless, mercilessly bullied in school, and can’t stay out of trouble. He dreams of being a superhero but berates himself for weakness. Some bright spots peek through: Maverick has a loving, supportive aunt, a pet hamster, and a plastic sheriff’s badge his father bought him. This he holds onto to remember his hero dad and to bolster his courage. In fast-paced, breezy, first-person prose that’s by turns laugh-out-loud funny and heart-wrenching, Sonnenblick creates in Maverick an endearing protagonist to root for. Despite daunting obstacles, this terrific boy retains a strong sense of self, a sense of humor, and a big heart that impels him to do what’s right, as when he defends his archnemesis. Other characters are similarly well-realized, in particular the assistant principal who projects a terrifying persona but is actually compassionate and softhearted. A daring confrontation, some startling revelations, and serious injuries lead to an emotionally satisfying ending in which Maverick acknowledges who real heroes are—and that his kindness proves he was one all along.

A winning novel that lays bare some painful truths and is sure to nurture empathy among readers. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-86320-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

ALMOST SUPER

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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