Middle graders will shiver over this angst-y collection of school verses.

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MONSTER SCHOOL

While the subjects and daily schedule may look familiar, the students at Monster School are a bit different.

Take Stevie, for example. He’s a zombie, and he’s always losing things. Sharp-eyed readers may be able to spy his homework—still at the end of his arm in the corner—or maybe his missing eye. And “multicultural” has a rather different connotation when trolls, elves, witches, and boggarts make up your family tree. But many of the topics Coombs writes about seem more like middle school probs than those of picture-book readers: a girl other students moon over, an introvert, a queen-bee mummy who secretly wishes to be a commoner so she could play, a nerdy “Computer Wizard,” hair care (the individual strands are snakes), and a poor “Ghost Girl’s Lament” (she cries in the coat closet from loneliness and failure to haunt anyone). Other poems are typical of school collections: a gross-out one about cafeteria food; one about baseball (albeit with a few extra obstacles—avoid the ghouls and don’t trip on tombstones); and the requisite poem about homework—when one is dead, there’s not much incentive for doing it. Gatlin’s illustrations play up the gross and macabre in the small details—monkey in the middle with a head for a ball—and he certainly can’t be said to fail at portraying diversity.

Middle graders will shiver over this angst-y collection of school verses. (Picture book/poetry. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4521-2938-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Chronicle

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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A poor performance, “[s]ans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” (introduction, indexes) (Poetry. 8-11, adult)

ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE

Like the old man’s hose, Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” speech is “a world too wide” to be well-served by this paltry selection of 21 poems, three per “age.”

Hopkins tries to inject some color into the mix with Walt Whitman’s “When I heard the learn’d astronomer,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love thee?” and Lewis Carroll’s “You are old, father William.” Unfortunately, these, combined with passages from the speech itself, only make his other choices look anemic. To the “infant, / Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms,” for instance, Rebecca Kai Dotlich offers a bland “Amazing, your face. / Amazing”; on the facing page, a “traditional Nigerian lullaby” is stripped of music: “Sleep my baby near to me. / Lu lu lu lu lu lu.” Along with Joan Bransfield Graham’s “A Soldier’s Letter to a Newborn Daughter,” which ends with a condescending “I’m coming home / to my girls… / With All My Love, / DAD,” most of the rest are cast in prosaic free verse. Hopkins’ “Curtain,” probably written for this collection, closes the set with theatrical imagery. Billout supplies pale, distant views of small figures and some surreal elements in largely empty settings—appropriate, considering the poetry, but they lack either appeal for young audiences or any evocation of the Shakespearean lines’ vigorous language and snarky tone.

A poor performance, “[s]ans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” (introduction, indexes) (Poetry. 8-11, adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-56846-218-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Creative Editions/Creative Company

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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