Well-rounded characters and an interesting concept make this a solid read.

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BOY'S BEST FRIEND

George’s beloved dog, Bart, seems to always know when the Cape Cod grade schooler will be returning home and waits eagerly for his arrival.

Encouraged by Banks’ co-author, biologist Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, author of the real-life book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (1999), with whom he exchanges many emails, George decides to begin a scientific investigation of his dog’s skill for a school project. Lester, a new classmate, has just moved into the neighborhood and is really missing his former home in Denver. He’s an upbeat kid who’s determined, most of the time, to try to make the best of his new situation. Lester’s dog also seems able to anticipate when he’ll come home. Coincidentally, George’s best friend, Kyra, recently moved away. While the setup is both convenient and obvious—two needy boys with similar interests who could do much to help each other out but can’t seem to find their way there—it doesn’t diminish the satisfaction of watching that process happen. George and Lester manage their investigation into human-animal telepathy in a way that is both valuable and inspiring. Lester, who spends a lot of his time repeating the mantra “Moving is fun. Change can be positive,” is particularly appealing, but nearly all of the attractively genial characters are convincingly developed.

Well-rounded characters and an interesting concept make this a solid read. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-38008-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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Uneven pacing and clunky writing undermine this examination of trauma and PTSD.

IF WE WERE GIANTS

Matthews, of the Dave Matthews Band, and co-author Smith offer a fantasy that explores the damage done by violence inflicted by one people against another.

Ten-year-old Kirra lives in an idyllic community hidden for generations inside a dormant volcano. When she and her little brother make unwise choices that help bring the violent, spindly, gray-skinned Takers to her community—with devastating results—Kirra feels responsible and leaves the volcano. Four years later, Kirra’s been adopted into a family of Tree Folk that live in the forest canopy. Though there are many Tree Folk, individual families care for their own and are politely distant from others. Kirra, suffering from (unnamed) PTSD, evades her traumatic memories by avoiding what she calls “Memory Traps,” but when the Takers arrive in the forest, she must face her trauma and attempt to make a community of the Tree Folk if they’re to survive. Although Kirra’s struggles through trauma are presented with sympathy and realistically rendered, some characters’ choices are so patently foolish they baldly read like the plot devices they are. Additionally, much preparation goes into one line of defense while other obvious factors are completely ignored, further pushing the story’s credibility. Kirra is brown skinned, as is her first family; Tree Folk appear not to be racially homogenous; and the Takers are all gray skinned.

Uneven pacing and clunky writing undermine this examination of trauma and PTSD. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4847-7871-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Another solid adventure that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but spins it quite well.

SPY SCHOOL GOES SOUTH

From the Spy School series , Vol. 6

The spy kids return for another Spy School adventure.

By now, the students at the CIA’s Academy of Espionage have had multiple exciting encounters with the villainous organization that calls itself SPYDER. The CIA is keen to take advantage of an offer made to them by disgraced ex-spy Murray Hill, a captured SPYDER teen agent. Narrator and agent Ben Ripley, 13, and his partner, Erica Hale, 15, are the only agents Murray will lead to SPYDER’s secret headquarters, so the duo reluctantly follows the traitor’s lead while their fellow students Mike Brezinski and Zoe Zibbell stow away. Things go south quickly, and soon the group is stuck in a strange land with no backup. At this point in the series fans know what they’re getting, and Gibbs doesn’t disappoint. The dialogue crackles, the schemes are clever, and the plotting is tight and efficient. Gibbs doesn’t divulge any of the character’s ethnicities, leaving room for interpretation in a key moment that is gracefully organic to the narrative. The book’s finale leaves room for more adventures, and fans’ interest in the series will be just as rabid after this fast-paced, good-humored entry.

Another solid adventure that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but spins it quite well. (Adventure. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-7785-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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