An interesting if imperfect story commendable for its portrayal of a protagonist suffering from anxiety and possibly PTSD.

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THE SPINNER OF DREAMS

“Cursed” Annalise journeys through a labyrinth to reverse it.

A fairy tale–esque preface chronicles the birth of twin princesses in the Mazelands: the hated, pale-skinned Fate Spinner and the beloved, dark-skinned Spinner of Dreams. The story proper opens with the birth of Annalise Meriwether. Her “cursed” left hand, twice as large as her right, bears a broken black heart—the Fate Spinner’s mark—that occasionally shoots fire and is blamed for the town’s persistent miseries. Though her parents are incredibly loving and supportive, the townsfolk are abusive. Understandably traumatized, Annalise uses such mechanisms as counting to cope. Refreshingly, Annalise’s anxiety and coping strategies aren’t portrayed as obstacles or deficits. Hoping for “a normal left hand,” Annalise travels to the Mazelands to face the perils of the Fate Spinner’s labyrinth—and her misbeliefs about herself and her “wicked” hand. The plot itself is labyrinthine and its exploration of fate uneven. Moreover, the Fate Spinner’s evil comes across as simplistic, in contrast to the story’s other, more fully developed villains. The tiresome convention that equates dark with evil is turned on its head with the Spinner sisters’ skin colors, but most everything else, disappointingly, aligns with it. Annalise’s mother has brown skin, but Annalise herself is described only as having straight black hair and purple eyes. Mental health resources are provided in the backmatter.

An interesting if imperfect story commendable for its portrayal of a protagonist suffering from anxiety and possibly PTSD. (author’s note) (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-267395-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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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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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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