The satire is neither as sharp as Dr. Swift’s nor as comical as Mr. Lear’s, but the fictive author’s discoveries should, as...

THE WONDEROUS JOURNALS OF DR. WENDELL WELLINGTON WIGGINS

The creators of the helpful guide to Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties (2010) now present the equally instructive, long-lost travel journals of a tubby but indefatigable  paleozoologist with an unexcelled genius for unearthing uncanny, if long-extinct, animal and humanoid species.

Systematically journeying to every continent between 1850 and 1885, Wiggins reports on over three dozen fossilized finds. These include “Thunder Vulcusts” (think vulture-locust), massive-limbed but “Pin-Headed Desert Giants,” and “Dreaded Gossip Peacocks” with ears and mouths as well as eyes on their feathers. The “Two-Headed Mammoth Buffalo” has a carnivore at one end and an herbivore at the other (“The whole arrangement reminded me of a marriage,” Dr. Wiggins notes jocularly). He also discusses centipede-like “Land Whales,” such as the one underlying Nantucket Island. The doctor proffers homiletic speculations about how each species came to its unfortunate end (the buffalos, for instance, probably ate themselves, just as we “are always biting off our own heads”) and provides sketched reconstructions of many specimens, with handwritten labels pointing out salient physical features and a human figure, usually tiny, for scale.

The satire is neither as sharp as Dr. Swift’s nor as comical as Mr. Lear’s, but the fictive author’s discoveries should, as he hopes, “enlighten, amuse, appall, and guide” young fans of the biosphere’s imaginary reaches. (Informational fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-375-86850-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

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Mary Downing Hahn fans will enjoy this just-right blend of history and spooky.

SCRITCH SCRATCH

A ghost haunting prompts a Chicago girl to investigate her local history.

Seventh grader Claire loves the predictability of science while her father relishes the paranormal, running a ghost-tour business in Chicago. Their worlds collide when Claire must help out her father at the last minute, and a ghost boy not only becomes an unwanted passenger on the bus, but follows her home and around the city. Currie’s visceral descriptions of the boy’s haunting—scratching behind walls, dripping water, icy air, scrawled notes, and more—exude creepy. Also scary to the middle schooler is losing Casley, her best friend and science fair partner, to Emily, the new girl in school who’s preoccupied with makeup. When Claire can no longer keep the ghost a secret, she recruits her older brother, along with Casley and Emily, to help her discover his identity. As she tries to apply the scientific method to the paranormal mystery, Claire realizes as well that there’s a human story behind every historical event. And as finding the ghost’s story becomes her mission, she researches a true Chicago disaster that killed more lives than the sinking of the Titanic. In the process, she also learns that jealousy hinders female solidarity. The historical details are fascinating, and the lessons Claire learns are lightly delivered. All characters, including the ghost boy, assume the white default.

Mary Downing Hahn fans will enjoy this just-right blend of history and spooky. (author’s note) (Paranormal suspense. 10-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-7282-0972-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Sourcebooks Young Readers

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

INFINITE COUNTRY

A 15-year-old girl in Colombia, doing time in a remote detention center, orchestrates a jail break and tries to get home.

"People say drugs and alcohol are the greatest and most persuasive narcotics—the elements most likely to ruin a life. They're wrong. It's love." As the U.S. recovers from the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, from the misery of separations on the border, from both the idea and the reality of a wall around the United States, Engel's vital story of a divided Colombian family is a book we need to read. Weaving Andean myth and natural symbolism into her narrative—condors signify mating for life, jaguars revenge; the embattled Colombians are "a singed species of birds without feathers who can still fly"; children born in one country and raised in another are "repotted flowers, creatures forced to live in the wrong habitat"—she follows Talia, the youngest child, on a complex journey. Having committed a violent crime not long before she was scheduled to leave her father in Bogotá to join her mother and siblings in New Jersey, she winds up in a horrible Catholic juvie from which she must escape in order to make her plane. Hence the book's wonderful first sentence: "It was her idea to tie up the nun." Talia's cross-country journey is interwoven with the story of her parents' early romance, their migration to the United States, her father's deportation, her grandmother's death, the struggle to reunite. In the latter third of the book, surprising narrative shifts are made to include the voices of Talia's siblings, raised in the U.S. This provides interesting new perspectives, but it is a little awkward to break the fourth wall so late in the book. Attention, TV and movie people: This story is made for the screen.

The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982159-46-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A sensitive, moving debut.

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN

When 11-year-old Eric Harper begins caring for an injured unicorn, his life is changed by the choices he makes, the relationships he forms, and the secrets he uncovers.

Eric lives with his family on land that has belonged to Harpers for generations and shares a special bond with his grandmother. One day, Eric spies what he thinks is a white deer but quickly realizes is a white unicorn. Filled with the “most amazing feeling of comfort and happiness and excitement,” Eric follows the lame unicorn to the farmhouse his ailing grandmother recently sold to Dr. Brancusi, a veterinarian, and her daughter, Allegra. (All three characters appear to be white.) Dr. Brancusi senses Eric’s concern and asks him to help her treat the unicorn. Discovering the unicorn is pregnant with twins, Dr. Brancusi warns Eric they must keep her hidden until the babies are born and hires him to assist. Eric’s affinity to the unicorn deepens, and when she’s threatened and runs away, he frantically searches. In the end, although Eric experiences loss, he gains a special family connection. Despite the presence of supernatural creatures, Eric’s quiet, genuine, first-person voice tells a realistic story of family love and discovering one’s true self, the presence of the unicorn and other magical creatures adding just a touch of whimsy to a story about very real emotions, revealed in Green’s black-and-white illustrations.

A sensitive, moving debut. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-76112-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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