While offering a vibrant ancient world, this middle-grade adventure lacks strong narration.

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The Silver Coin

From the Ancient Elements Series series , Vol. 3

Teenagers chase family secrets and political intrigue in the ancient Mediterranean.

In this third book of her Ancient Elements series, Sontag (The Alabaster Jar, 2015, etc.) follows her characters through Egypt, Crete, and Tyre as they pursue missing relatives, revenge, and redemption. Although the volume opens with a prologue set in 300 B.C., the rest of the novel takes place 1,400 years earlier, with 15-year-old Samsuluna still mourning the death of his adoptive father, Balashi. Carrying a silver coin Balashi gave him, Samsuluna leaves Egypt on a ship with his friend Keret to search for a relative. “They say it takes about seven days to sail from Egypt to the Phoenician city of Tyre,” Samsuluna tells Keret. “Once we get to Tyre, I’ll finally be able to complete my quest and reunite with my Uncle Zim-ri-lin.” An encounter with pirates leads to a detour to Crete, where Samsuluna falls in love with Princess Ari-adné. Meanwhile, Samsuluna’s father, Dagon, just released from prison, also heads to Tyre, where he plans to steal his brother’s treasure and take revenge on his family. In Egypt, Samsuluna’s adoptive sister, Amata, ends up in the midst of a coup attempt. All the characters eventually reunite in Tyre, seeking to resolve loose ends, including Samsuluna’s feelings of responsibility for the death of Balashi. An appendix provides curriculum-related questions for each chapter. Sontag’s Mediterranean world is a vivid one, and the story makes clear that even thousands of years ago, residents of the region were well traveled and knowledgeable about their realm. The book’s narration is less effective, with heavy-handed asides (“If I cut my scraggily hair and trimmed my long beard, I might look as respectable as this fellow”) and awkward metaphors (“He compared it to the difference between eating a piece of flatbread, and eating a piece of flatbread dripping in honey”). The book’s informational goals are at times too obvious (“Our peaceful society here on Crete thrives because of our excellent seamanship and extensive trading businesses”), and stilted dialogue (“I realize now that my need to treat your arm and relieve your physical pain is greater than my need to lessen my emotional pain”) can pull the reader out of the story. But individuals looking for curriculum-based fiction may find the book a valuable tool.

While offering a vibrant ancient world, this middle-grade adventure lacks strong narration.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Sunbury Press

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

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Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires.

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK'S VALENTINE

Little Blue Truck feels, well, blue when he delivers valentine after valentine but receives nary a one.

His bed overflowing with cards, Blue sets out to deliver a yellow card with purple polka dots and a shiny purple heart to Hen, one with a shiny fuchsia heart to Pig, a big, shiny, red heart-shaped card to Horse, and so on. With each delivery there is an exchange of Beeps from Blue and the appropriate animal sounds from his friends, Blue’s Beeps always set in blue and the animal’s vocalization in a color that matches the card it receives. But as Blue heads home, his deliveries complete, his headlight eyes are sad and his front bumper droops ever so slightly. Blue is therefore surprised (but readers may not be) when he pulls into his garage to be greeted by all his friends with a shiny blue valentine just for him. In this, Blue’s seventh outing, it’s not just the sturdy protagonist that seems to be wilting. Schertle’s verse, usually reliable, stumbles more than once; stanzas such as “But Valentine’s Day / didn’t seem much fun / when he didn’t get cards / from anyone” will cause hitches during read-alouds. The illustrations, done by Joseph in the style of original series collaborator Jill McElmurry, are pleasant enough, but his compositions often feel stiff and forced.

Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires. (Board book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-27244-1

Page Count: 20

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A witty addition to the long-running series.

THE DEEP END

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 15

The Wimpy Kid hits the road.

The Heffley clan has been stuck living together in Gramma’s basement for two months, waiting for the family home to be repaired, and the constant togetherness has been getting on everybody’s nerves. Luckily Greg’s Uncle Gary has a camper waiting for someone to use it, and so the Heffleys set off on the open road looking for an adventurous vacation, hoping the changing scenery will bring a spark back to the family unit. The winding road leads the Heffleys to a sprawling RV park, a setting teeming with possibilities for Greg to get up to his usual shenanigans. Greg’s snarky asides and misadventures continue to entertain. At this point the Wimpy Kid books run like a well-oiled machine, paced perfectly with witty lines, smart gags, and charming cartoons. Kinney knows just where to put a joke, the precise moment to give a character shading, and exactly how to get the narrative rolling, spinning out the oddest plot developments. The appreciation Kinney has for these characters seeps through the novels, endearing the Heffleys to readers even through this title, the 15th installment in a franchise boasting spinoffs, movies, and merchandise. There may come a time when Greg and his family overstay their welcome, but thankfully that day still seems far off.

A witty addition to the long-running series. (Humor. 7-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4868-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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