Well-drawn characters, an original setting, and a satisfying resolution are the ingredients that make this carefully crafted...

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THE DOOR BY THE STAIRCASE

Will bravery, kindness, and perceptiveness be enough to earn 12-year-old orphan Mary Hayes a permanent home with Madame Zolotaya, the elderly woman who rescues her from a terrible Buffalo orphanage?

Even if readers don't know Baba Yaga, they will probably recognize that Mary’s savior is a witch whose delicious meals are designed to fatten her up for the oven. “I am no one's mother” the wrinkled old woman says. Can she become one? is the underlying question, and the answer will be heartwarming to any reader. Madame Z lives in the woods outside Iris, a town full of people who profess to be masters of the occult: “con artists, fakes, and charlatans” she calls them. But there is real magic there, too, and Mary and her new friend, Jacob Kagan, son of a traveling illusionist, are determined to find it to ensure that they both will have permanent homes. There is suspense throughout and heart-stopping moments early on to draw readers into this immensely satisfying story. Woven into the traditional third-person narrative are intriguing details about magicians’ secrets and mouthwatering descriptions of Russian foods: blini, mushroom and potato dumplings, kulich with farmer’s cheese, and rye bread with holodetz, this last eaten on a peekneek.

Well-drawn characters, an original setting, and a satisfying resolution are the ingredients that make this carefully crafted middle-grade adventure a highly rewarding read. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4231-3499-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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THE ONE AND ONLY BOB

Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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