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From the ZomBert Chronicles series

As a stand-alone work, less than satisfying.

Bert, the cat Mellie adopted in series opener Rise of ZomBert (2020), may not be a zombie…but she’s sure he’s special.

Former stray Bert has put on weight, and his fur’s filled in in the month that fourth grader Mellie has been taking care of him. With him, she hopes to win the Best Pet Contest at the Lambert Harvest Festival (sponsored by omnipresent YummCo) so she can pay her parents back for Bert’s vet bill. Her friend Danny’s (kind of) helping with Bert’s training while filming the rough-looking feline for a trilogy of ZomBert movies on social media. Bert has his own plan: to rescue all of his former test-subject companions from YummCo’s labs. Meanwhile, the Big Boss and lab techs Kari and Greg scheme to get Bert (or Y-91, as they call him) back into the lab for more tests. Whose plans will succeed? Perspectives alternate chapter by chapter among Mellie (related in the first person) and Bert (in a third-person cat voice) and the Yumms (third-person bad guy), and the story moves at a nice clip. However, it’s less spooky and mysterious than the first installment and has a truncated feel; it’s definitely a middle chapter in a longer work, leaving little resolved. As seen in the illustrations, Mellie’s family is interracial (she and her mom have brown skin and textured hair, and her dad and younger siblings present White); her friends are racially diverse. Entertaining enough, but young readers might want to wait until the final volume is out before picking up the first.

As a stand-alone work, less than satisfying. (Science fiction. 6-10)

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0107-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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From the Night Frights series , Vol. 1

Lighthearted spook with a heaping side of silliness—and hair.

Fifth graders get into a hairy situation.

After an unnamed narrator’s full-page warning, readers dive right into a Wolver Hollow classroom. Mr. Noffler recounts the town legend about how, every Oct. 19, residents don fake mustaches and lock their doors. As the story goes, the late Bockius Beauregard was vaporized in an “unfortunate black powder incident,” but, somehow, his “magnificent mustache” survived to haunt the town. Once a year, the spectral ’stache searches for an exposed upper lip to rest upon. Is it real or superstition? Students Parker and Lucas—sole members of the Midnight Owl Detective Agency—decide to take the case and solve the mustache mystery. When they find that the book of legends they need for their research has been checked out from the library, they recruit the borrower: goth classmate Samantha von Oppelstein. Will the three of them be enough to take on the mustache and resolve its ghostly, unfinished business? Whether through ridiculous plot points or over-the-top descriptions, the comedy keeps coming in this first title in McGee’s new Night Frights series. A generous font and spacing make this quick-paced, 13-chapter story appealing to newly confident readers. Skaffa’s grayscale cartoon spot (and occasional full-page) illustrations help set the tone and accentuate the action. Though neither race or skin color is described in the text, images show Lucas and Samantha as light-skinned and Parker as dark-skinned.

Lighthearted spook with a heaping side of silliness—and hair. (maps) (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-8089-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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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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