There are plenty of surprises in this caper with heart.

CONNECT THE DOTS

What are the odds of a life-or-death mystery in Elk Grove Park, Illinois?

Sixth graders Oliver Beane, whose parents divorced last year, and Frankie Figge, whose working parents often leave him in charge of his twin toddler brothers, will never be popular. When a new, weird girl named Matilda Sandoval moves to town and sort of befriends them, it seems a good fit. But she is sure someone is surveilling Oliver. It can’t have anything to do with the mysterious disappearance of Preston Oglethorpe, their middle school’s eccentric-genius namesake, can it? The trio decides to find him themselves and sort things out. Oglethorpe’s research into chaos theory had given him a mechanism to predict—even influence—events using mathematical equations. Some odd things are happening around town: There’s a rock band forming in the old folks’ home and a new man in Oliver’s mother’s life. Is there a pattern? Maybe the kids aren’t the only ones on Oglethorpe’s trail...and the competition may be deadly. Following A Drop of Hope (2019), Calabrese’s smartly written sophomore effort is a Rube Goldberg–ian romp sure to please brainy kid readers with its trio of protagonists. All the kid characters have real-world problems on top of dealing with a possibly evil genius and wannabe supervillains, grounding the narrative nicely. Some Spanish surnames notwithstanding, the cast appears to be a mostly white one.

There are plenty of surprises in this caper with heart. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-35403-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

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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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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