The moral is common, but the unusual setting highlights the message that people aren’t so different from one another; fans...

THE BADGER KNIGHT

Erskine uses the strife of medieval England as a backdrop to explore differences, puberty and the divided loyalties of war.

Narrator Adrian, almost 13, dreams of being an archer and an apprentice to his father, a master bowyer. However, his sickliness and pallor (he suffers from albinism) are too great for his kind but overprotective father to see beyond. While his friend Hugh is preparing to battle the “pagan Scots,” Adrian is scribing recipes, fighting Bessie the ox (oddly, a female) and dodging the barbs of his inaptly named Good Aunt. He brandishes his own slightly bitter wit with droll chapter headings such as “In Which I Write Recipes While Hugh Handles Bessie (and Bess).” Adrian—called Badger for the dirt he smears under his eyes to improve his weak eyesight—sets out to find Hugh and prove himself in battle. His journey into Scotland yields such historical tidbits as the existence of spectacles and the Romans’ invention of flushing latrines, which keep the past relevant. Adrian, too, is a typical boy who plays pranks and swears, though exclamations like “Ockham’s razor!” lose their novelty after a few too many repetitions. War is also a constant, and Adrian matures quickly upon witnessing its horrors and unexpected kindnesses.

The moral is common, but the unusual setting highlights the message that people aren’t so different from one another; fans of Karen Cushman will enjoy this. (glossary, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-46442-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

THE CONSPIRACY

From the Plot to Kill Hitler series , Vol. 1

Near the end of World War II, two kids join their parents in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

Max, 12, lives with his parents and his older sister in a Berlin that’s under constant air bombardment. During one such raid, a mortally wounded man stumbles into the white German family’s home and gasps out his last wish: “The Führer must die.” With this nighttime visitation, Max and Gerta discover their parents have been part of a resistance cell, and the siblings want in. They meet a colorful band of upper-class types who seem almost too whimsical to be serious. Despite her charming levity, Prussian aristocrat and cell leader Frau Becker is grimly aware of the stakes. She enlists Max and Gerta as couriers who sneak forged identification papers to Jews in hiding. Max and Gerta are merely (and realistically) cogs in the adults’ plans, but there’s plenty of room for their own heroism. They escape capture, rescue each other when they’re caught out during an air raid, and willingly put themselves repeatedly at risk to catch a spy. The fictional plotters—based on a mix of several real anti-Hitler resistance cells—are portrayed with a genuine humor, giving them the space to feel alive even in such a slim volume.

It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-35902-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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