The L’Engle inspiration is unmissable, but her fans will likely not be deterred; patient readers unfamiliar with her work...

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

A Wrinkle In Time–inspired adventure.

Sasha and her family live at the Cirque Magnifique; they are different from the Islanders with whom they share their town. Formerly home-schooled, fifth-grader Sasha and her little brother, Toddy, are now starting public school. Sasha is responsible for making sure that Toddy isn’t teased or mistreated—he’s different from most other kids—but Sasha’s being bullied herself. As if that’s not enough, the Cirque’s longtime enemy, the mysterious Smoke, is making an appearance, slowly billowing around it. Sasha, who is growing more and more frustrated with her family as she approaches adolescence, is not entirely unhappy about a dark, sullen force slowly overtaking the Cirque—that is, until it engulfs the Cirque during a performance and turns her parents into birds. Sasha and her brother struggle to subsist on their own before setting off on an adventure to rescue their parents. They solve riddles and defeat monsters along the way. Halbrook’s writing is artful, and her portrayals of bullying and child neglect are pointed and troubling. The pacing of the novel is uneven, with the setup taking up disproportionate page space compared to the Where the Wild Things Are–esque seafaring rescue adventure. Sasha and Toddy are biracial, their father dark-skinned and their mother pale.

The L’Engle inspiration is unmissable, but her fans will likely not be deterred; patient readers unfamiliar with her work may find it an entree. (Fantasy. 8-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0504-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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