This series opener promises zany fun, but by placing cruel and nonhuman people of color in opposition to lovely white...



From the Bella Broomstick series , Vol. 1

A self-described “hopeless witch” finds a warm and welcoming home.

Belladonna Broomstick is chronically challenged when it comes to magic. When she fails the entrance exam to the Creepy Castle School for Witches and Wizards, her misanthropic aunt Hemlock decides to send her to the mythic Person World as a foster child. Filled with misinformation about the Person World, Belladonna is initially apprehensive, but once Aunt Hemlock and Belladonna travel through the Curtain of Invisibility that conceals the Magic Realm from the Person World, they find the adorable town of Merrymeet and a charming couple in a sweet cottage. Belladonna, now Bella, loves Uncle Martin and Aunty Rose on sight and observes striking comparisons between her new family and neighborhood and her old ones. Bella basks in her new family’s creature comforts: hot water, bubble baths, trendy clothes, and more delectable breakfasts. She also notes how much more attractive Persons are in comparison to the community she comes from…no more visible warts! It doesn’t take long before Bella disobeys Aunt Hemlock’s warnings and performs magic; hijinks ensue. Notably, Belladonna and cruel, ugly, smelly Aunt Hemlock are the only people of color depicted in the book, while the kindly Persons of Merrymeet are white. Beneath the surface tale of a lonely child who finds an accepting family lies a mire of comparisons that reinforces harsh stereotypes.

This series opener promises zany fun, but by placing cruel and nonhuman people of color in opposition to lovely white humans, it does all readers a disservice . (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6780-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.


Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Both cozy and inspiring, this eco-fable conveys both grim truths and a defiant call to action.


The best birthday present is a magical train full of talking animals—and a new job.

On Kate’s 11th birthday, she’s surprised by the arrival of rich Uncle Herbert. Uncle Herbert bears a gift: a train. Not a toy train, a 102.36-ton steam engine, with cars that come later. When Kate and her brother, Tom, both white, play in the cab of the Silver Arrow, the train starts up, zooming to a platform packed with animals holding tickets. Thus begins Kate and Tom’s hard work: They learn to conduct the train and feed the fire box, instructed by the Silver Arrow, which speaks via printed paper tape. The Silver Arrow is a glorious playground: The library car is chockablock with books while the candy car is brimful of gobstoppers and gummy bears. But amid the excitement of whistle-blowing and train conducting, Kate and Tom learn quiet messages from their animal friends. Some species, like gray squirrels and starlings, are “invaders.” The too-thin polar bear’s train platform has melted, leaving it almost drowned. Their new calling is more than just feeding the coal box—they need to find a new balance in a damaged world. “Feeling guilty doesn’t help anything,” the mamba tells them. Humans have survived so effectively they’ve taken over the world; now, he says, “you just have to take care of it.” (Illustrations not seen.)

Both cozy and inspiring, this eco-fable conveys both grim truths and a defiant call to action. (Fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-53953-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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