Emotional depth, adventure, and puppies—highly satisfying.

MUTT'S PROMISE

Three puppies learn empowering life lessons in this middle-grade tale.

When Mutt, a stray dog, rescues a domestic cat from a predator’s attack, the cat’s owner, Mr. Thomas, grudgingly lets the dog stay. Mutt takes her job as protector seriously and patrols the land daily. Salamon’s third-person narration rotates among Mutt’s and other animals’ points of view, an important stylistic choice when readers meet Gilbert, the Mexican boy who comes to the orchard seasonally with his family to work. In Mutt’s eyes, Gilbert is a kind boy who works hard, not the vilified migrant worker that some human Americans may label him. When Mutt has puppies, Gilbert delights in them, especially the smallest, whom he names Luna. The tale takes a dark turn when Gilbert and his family leave for Florida and Mr. Thomas gives the puppies away. Luna and her brother end up in a horrible puppy mill, where they endure squalor, hunger, and punishment. Their subsequent escape, survival by wits, and determination to each find their “promise” is subtly mirrored by Gilbert’s family’s own immigrant story. Using simple and sturdy phrases that belie the story’s sophistication, Salamon gives the journey-as-a-vehicle-to–self-discovery theme a poignancy that avoids schmaltz (no mean feat with puppies as protagonists). Weber’s primitive-style black-and-white illustrations add their own emotive power.

Emotional depth, adventure, and puppies—highly satisfying. (Adventure. 7-12)

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-525-42778-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

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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The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message.

WILLODEEN

An orphan loner’s small town faces a hard future after it unwittingly disrupts a natural cycle.

Willodeen is lucky that elderly retired thespians Mae and Birdie took her in after the wildfire that killed her parents and brother, not only because they’re a loving couple, but because they let her roam the woods in search of increasingly rare screechers—creatures so vile-tempered and stinky that the village elders of Perchance have put a bounty on them. The elders have other worries, though: The migratory hummingbears that have long nested in the area, drawing tourists to the lucrative annual Autumn Faire, have likewise nearly vanished. Could there be a connection? If there is, Willodeen is just the person to find it—but who would believe her? Applegate’s characters speak in pronouncements about life and nature that sometimes seem to address readers more than other characters, but the winsome illustrations lighten the thematic load. Screechers appear much like comically fierce warthogs and hummingbears, as small teddies with wings. Applegate traces a burgeoning friendship between her traumatized protagonist and Connor, a young artist who turns found materials into small animals so realistic that one actually comes to life. In the end, the townsfolk do listen and pitch in to make amends. Red-haired, gray-eyed Willodeen is cued as White; Connor has brown skin, and other human characters read as White by default.

The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message. (Eco-fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-14740-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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