THUMB AND THE BAD GUYS

In a hamlet on the coast of British Columbia that is reachable only by air or boat, 12-year-old Thumb is known among the 143 other villagers as the one who plays a trick on newcomers. Along with neighbor Susan, also 12, Thumb finds their lives seem very humdrum compared to those portrayed in the films flown in weekly. Unable to accept the dull routine, Thumb and Susan decide to look for bad guys on the theory that, as universal as they are in film, there must be some around. Adventures that ensue are humorous with a manufactured, slightly scary edge. The arrival of a new teacher who is both weird and enthusiastic adds to the mix-ups. The unusual isolation of the entire village combines with the depth of knowledge its residents have about their neighbors to enhance the underlying sense of safety at the same time it intensifies the danger. Entertaining for children who’ve moved beyond early readers and want some thrills but who are not ready for too much complexity or fright. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-88899-916-0

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice.

FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON

After receiving a letter from her incarcerated father, whom she’s never met, 12-year-old Zoe sets out to prove his innocence.

It’s the summer before seventh grade, and aspiring pastry chef Zoe sets her sights on perfecting her baking skills to audition as a contestant on Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. One day, she receives a letter from her father, Marcus, who was sent to prison for murder right before Zoe was born. She’s never met Marcus, and her mother wants her to have nothing to do with him. So Zoe keeps the letter a secret and begins corresponding with Marcus on a regular basis. He shares his favorite songs and encourages Zoe’s baking-competition dreams. When Marcus proclaims his innocence, Zoe is shocked: How could someone innocent end up in prison? With the help of her grandmother and her friend Trevor, Zoe begins to learn about systemic racism and how Black people like her and Marcus are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than White people. Zoe’s relationship with Marcus is at the center of the novel, but her relationships with her mother, stepfather, grandmother, and Trevor are also richly conveyed. This powerful debut packs both depth and sweetness, tackling a tough topic in a sensitive, compelling way.

An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287585-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids.

THE AMBROSE DECEPTION

A mysterious scholarship contest launches this middle-grade mystery.

The action begins when three Chicago middle schoolers—Bondi Johnson, a black boy; Wilf Samson, a white boy; and Melissa Burris, a white girl—are selected to compete in the Kaplin/Baron scholarship contest. No one at the three students’ schools has heard of this scholarship, and even stranger, none of these students is known for exemplary academics. In fact, they are better known for scheming, daydreaming, and schmoozing. The scholarship rules appear straightforward: untangle the clues, provide a photo of each, and win $10,000. With these guidelines, a provided cellphone, a personal driver, and a no-strings-attached debit card, each student is ready to tackle the task. Bondi attacks his clues with diligence; Melissa, though suspicious, enjoys the chase; Wilf would rather cross items off his bucket list than solve the riddles. When the hunt for clues draws to an end, Bondi, Melissa, and Wilf discover there is another mystery surrounding this scholarship and the money, leading them to band together to unravel the remaining clues and unearth the truth before the $10,000 slips out of their hands. In the tradition of The Westing Game or Chasing Vermeer, this is a plot-driven brainteaser centered on Chicago landmarks and Chicago history. The twists and turns are well-paced and believable, and transcripts of texts, emails, and letters within the chapters add dimension to the strong cast of secondary characters.

A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-8838-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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