Readers familiar with the classic will probably be dissatisfied with this vision of it; readers unfamiliar with it will be...


Six characters from a classic work of light British fantasy are resurrected, then two of them are sent to the trenches of World War I.

If that doesn’t sound like a surefire recipe for success, that’s because it isn’t. The six characters are E. Nesbit’s titular Five Children and It, “It” being the irascible, wish-granting Psammead, discovered in 1903 by Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane, and baby “the Lamb.” After an ominous prologue, the story begins in 1914 as a sixth child, 9-year-old Edie, and the Lamb, now 11, dig the Psammead up again. He stays with the family throughout the war, as Cyril and Robert go off to fight, Anthea becomes a nurse and falls in love, Jane struggles against convention to become a doctor, and Edie and the Lamb grow into adolescence. Saunders gives the Psammead a convoluted back story and sins to atone for, which mysteriously trigger spectral visits to the front. He is a thoroughly denatured Psammead, cranky but also soggy and sentimental. Saunders does not attempt to emulate Nesbit's direct narrative address, but she does lard the dialogue with “brick”s and “bounder”s to evoke the period. As the Nesbit classic is not much read in the United States these days and World War I has little resonance with U.S. middle-graders, it’s hard to say who the stateside audience is.

Readers familiar with the classic will probably be dissatisfied with this vision of it; readers unfamiliar with it will be mystified. (Historical fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-49793-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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


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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Dizzyingly silly.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 11

The famous superhero returns to fight another villain with all the trademark wit and humor the series is known for.

Despite the title, Captain Underpants is bizarrely absent from most of this adventure. His school-age companions, George and Harold, maintain most of the spotlight. The creative chums fool around with time travel and several wacky inventions before coming upon the evil Turbo Toilet 2000, making its return for vengeance after sitting out a few of the previous books. When the good Captain shows up to save the day, he brings with him dynamic action and wordplay that meet the series’ standards. The Captain Underpants saga maintains its charm even into this, the 11th volume. The epic is filled to the brim with sight gags, toilet humor, flip-o-ramas and anarchic glee. Holding all this nonsense together is the author’s good-natured sense of harmless fun. The humor is never gross or over-the-top, just loud and innocuous. Adults may roll their eyes here and there, but youngsters will eat this up just as quickly as they devoured every other Underpants episode.

Dizzyingly silly. (Humor. 8-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-50490-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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