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Lucky Hart, ten, lives in the fictional 19th-century town of Cobtown, a village peopled with colorful characters. The story, told through Lucky’s diary, tells the tale of the day the Adapulgus, a horrifying, bloodthirsty monster came to town. Captain Ragg, a slick con man, and his sidekick Short Tooth announce to the town that they have captured a fearsome beast that they will display to the town for the small fee of 25 cents per person in a tent erected for just that very purpose. The excitement in Cobtown builds all day until most of the townspeople, some considerably nervous, are sitting inside the tent listening to frightening noises emanating from behind the curtain. Just as Captain Ragg is about to introduce the beast, a commotion occurs backstage and Captain Ragg, feigning panic, tells the crowd that the beast has disappeared and is on the loose and urges everyone to run for their lives. The people flee in terror and Lucky takes refuge in her friend Fliberty Jibbert’s shed. Unfortunately for Captain Ragg and Short Tooth, the two swindlers also decide to hide out at Fliberty’s, where Lucky overhears the two crooks gloating about how they’ve fleeced the townsfolk. But ever resourceful and creative, Fliberty has a plan of his own—he performs his famous hand shadows, creates a terrifying shadow monster on the wall, and scares the bejeezus out of the two rapscallions. Thinking the monster is real, Ragg and Short Tooth flee in fright, leaving behind the bag of coins they’ve cheated from the gullible townspeople. The title page and the last page with the hand shadows on it are the most visually interesting and attractive pages, more interesting than the rest of the illustrations, which are overly slick and clearly owe a great deal to Disney animation. Lengthy text makes this a fun story that works as a read-aloud for younger children and which older children will enjoy reading themselves. (Picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-32565-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.

Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A mystery, a school story, sibling rivalry and the loss of a pet blend surprisingly well in this engaging chapter book. Charmingly awkward fifth grader Edgar Allan decides to solve a series of minor thefts that are plaguing his teacher, Ms. Herschel. Clues are plentiful—and rhymed—but the competition to solve them is fierce. Edgar’s nemesis, Patrick Chen, seems to have the inside track since his dad works in forensics. Edgar, however, finds that the friends he makes along the way provide the winning edge. Including transcripts of Edgar’s ingenuous interviews as well as poems written by a number of class members in her narrative, Amato provides a clear picture of both social and family dynamics while keeping the story moving smoothly along. The author’s characteristic humor is somewhat muted, but examples of amusing wordplay abound. Some readers may guess the identity of the culprit more quickly than Edgar and his friends do, but whodunit is not really the point. Solving puzzles, making friends and learning to see the world more clearly are the true aims of this adventure. (Mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2271-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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