Time-traveling pirates, whimsical humor, a sentient ship, and cliffhanger predicaments deliver generous helpings of quirky,...

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THE MONA LISA KEY

From the Time Castaways series , Vol. 1

In this series opener, three siblings are lured onto a shape-changing ship whose time-traveling pirate captain aims to steal Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece from the Louvre.

Their parents have forbidden Matt, adopted from Colombia, and twins Corey and Ruby, their biological children, to take public transportation—even elevators. The kids’ adventure begins when they disobey and board a subway car that proves to be the shape-changing frigate Vermillion on its way to Paris. Navigating via magical compass, Capt. Vincent leads the successful mission to pre-empt the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa. Mission accomplished, the children are told why they were abducted and—assured they can return the same moment they left—settle in to enjoy time travel and Vermillion’s (mostly) friendly crew of orphans, such as Jia, who keeps the ship running on peanut butter and bubble gum. But Matt begins to suspect undisclosed motives lie behind their abduction. While the siblings learn the startling reason, Matt’s connection to time travel by compass remains a mystery to be solved in future volumes, as do his unexplained seizures. Racially, chronologically, and culturally diverse characters and the convoluted plot, packed with surprising twists and turns, cleverly play on readers’ expectations. Matt’s, Corey’s, and Ruby’s races are unspecified, though on the cover the former appears with brown skin and the latter two with pale; Jia is described as Asian.

Time-traveling pirates, whimsical humor, a sentient ship, and cliffhanger predicaments deliver generous helpings of quirky, retro-tinged entertainment. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-256813-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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