This year, as she turns 10, the expected holiday company varies just enough to feel odd and challenging: The neighboring...

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JUNONIA

Every year, Alice celebrates her birthday week in February with her parents in a cottage on the beach in Sanibel, far from her snowy Wisconsin home.

This year, as she turns 10, the expected holiday company varies just enough to feel odd and challenging: The neighboring Wishmeiers’ grandchildren didn’t come; another neighbor is snowbound in New York; “aunt” Kate arrives with a new boyfriend and his six-year-old daughter in tow. Alice’s longed-for find, a prized junonia mollusk shell, never quite materializes as expected. Henkes’ deceptively economical language is rich and complex, cognizant of the ways that the world of adults reveals itself to children, aware of the emotional weight of objects. The third-person narration offers a sense of depth and story beyond the borders of the novel itself, providing distance enough for readers to draw their own conclusions. The author’s own drawings grace the cover and chapter openings; the overall book design is elegant and supremely comfortable for middle-grade readers. An only child surrounded by affection, routine and attention, Alice has the space to realize that life can be an adventure experienced independently, even while held closely by those one loves.

Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-196417-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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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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Funny and endearing, though incomplete characterizations provoke questions.

THE UNTEACHABLES

An isolated class of misfits and a teacher on the edge of retirement are paired together for a year of (supposed) failure.

Zachary Kermit, a 55-year-old teacher, has been haunted for the last 27 years by a student cheating scandal that has earned him the derision of his colleagues and killed his teaching spirit. So when he is assigned to teach the Self-Contained Special Eighth-Grade Class—a dumping ground for “the Unteachables,” students with “behavior issues, learning problems, juvenile delinquents”—he is unfazed, as he is only a year away from early retirement. His relationship with his seven students—diverse in temperament, circumstance, and ability—will be one of “uncomfortable roommates” until June. But when Mr. Kermit unexpectedly stands up for a student, the kids of SCS-8 notice his sense of “justice and fairness.” Mr. Kermit finds he may even care a little about them, and they start to care back in their own way, turning a corner and bringing along a few ghosts from Mr. Kermit’s past. Writing in the alternating voices of Mr. Kermit, most of his students, and two administrators, Korman spins a narrative of redemption and belief in exceeding self-expectations. Naming conventions indicate characters of different ethnic backgrounds, but the book subscribes to a white default. The two students who do not narrate may be students of color, and their characterizations subtly—though arguably inadequately—demonstrate the danger of preconceptions.

Funny and endearing, though incomplete characterizations provoke questions. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-256388-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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