Funny but not groundbreaking, a solid purchase for those looking to diversify their early chapter book collections.

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SAM WU IS NOT AFRAID OF GHOSTS

From the Sam Wu Is Not Afraid series , Vol. 1

Sam Wu has the perfect plan to prove that he’s brave: embark on a bold adventure, get a “trusty companion,” and defeat the ghost in his home!

After an INCIDENT that has people calling him Scaredy-Cat Sam, Sam’s efforts to prove them wrong take on a life of their own. His solo trip to space derailed, Sam finds himself the owner of an enormous snake and the unwitting host to some supernatural activity—probably the Ghost King! But with his best friends, Zoe (the fastest and tallest!) and Bernard (the smartest!), and Lucy (“a pretty good little sister,” sometimes), Sam just might be able to handle it all. Sam’s crises tread a well-worn path, but his authentically funny voice still appeals (while purchasing a KILLER SNAKE: “Oh, there’s no need for me to hold it!…I can tell that is a high-quality snake”). Reluctant readers and fans of the Wimpy Kid series and its ilk will appreciate the book’s dynamic type, graphics galore, cartoonish illustrations, and ironic footnotes. Though some characterizations read a bit rote (athletic Zoe is darker-skinned, while brainy Bernard is white), Sam’s mortification during his Chinese family’s meal of roast duck and turnip cake will resonate with anyone who has ever felt different.

Funny but not groundbreaking, a solid purchase for those looking to diversify their early chapter book collections. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4549-3255-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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Sweetly low-key and totally accessible.

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THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER

Billy Miller’s second-grade year is quietly spectacular in a wonderfully ordinary way.

Billy’s year begins with his worry over the lump on his head, a souvenir of a dramatic summer fall onto concrete: Will he be up to the challenges his new teacher promises in her letter to students? Quickly overshadowing that worry, however, is a diplomatic crisis over whether he has somehow offended Ms. Silver on the first day of school. Four sections—Teacher, Father, Sister and Mother—offer different and essential focal points for Billy’s life, allowing both him and readers to explore several varieties of creative endeavor, small adventures, and, especially, both challenges and successful problem-solving. The wonderfully self-possessed Sal, his 3-year-old sister, is to Billy much as Ramona is to Beezus, but without the same level of tension. Her pillowcase full of the plush yellow whales she calls the Drop Sisters (Raindrop, Gumdrop, etc.) is a memorable prop. Henkes offers what he so often does in these longer works for children: a sense that experiences don’t have to be extraordinary to be important and dramatic. Billy’s slightly dreamy interior life isn’t filled with either angst or boisterous silliness—rather, the moments that appear in these stories are clarifying bits of the universal larger puzzle of growing up, changing and understanding the world. Small, precise black-and-white drawings punctuate and decorate the pages.

Sweetly low-key and totally accessible. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-226812-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers.

THE CREATURE OF THE PINES

From the Unicorn Rescue Society series , Vol. 1

Elliot’s first day of school turns out to be more than he bargained for.

Elliot Eisner—skinny and pale with curly brown hair—is a bit nervous about being the new kid. Thankfully, he hits it off with fellow new student, “punk rock”–looking Uchenna Devereaux, a black girl with twists (though they actually look like dreads in Aly’s illustrations). On a first-day field trip to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the pair investigates a noise in the trees. The cause? A Jersey Devil: a blue-furred, red-bellied and -winged mythical creature that looks like “a tiny dragon” with cloven hooves, like a deer’s, on its hind feet. Unwittingly, the duo bonds with the creature by feeding it, and it later follows them back to the bus. Unsurprisingly, they lose the creature (which they alternately nickname Jersey and Bonechewer), which forces them to go to their intimidating, decidedly odd teacher, Peruvian Professor Fauna, for help in recovering it. The book closes with Professor Fauna revealing the truth—he heads a secret organization committed to protecting mythical creatures—and inviting the children to join, a neat setup for what is obviously intended to be a series. The predictable plot is geared to newly independent readers who are not yet ready for the usual heft of contemporary fantasies. A brief history lesson given by a mixed-race associate of Fauna’s in which she compares herself to the American “melting pot” manages to come across as simultaneously corrective and appropriative.

Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers. (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3170-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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