An inventive and surprisingly coherent mix of monsters, mystery, courtroom drama, and real-life family dynamics.

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Welcome to Monstrovia

From the Tales of Monstrovia series , Vol. 1

In book one of a new fantasy series for middle schoolers, a boy’s sour perspective on life changes during an unexpected encounter with giants, dragons, trolls, and other mythical creatures.

Mom is on a prolonged sales trip in China; Dad is deployed to the Middle East; and Brodie Adkins, age 12 and angry about his parents’ divorce, has been sent to Key West, Florida, to spend the summer with an uncle he’s never met. After Brodie’s plane lands, he is whisked away by a troll cabbie to Monstrovia, a “crazy place not on any map of Florida, the United States or the World.” Uncle Jasper turns out to be a lawyer famous for defending “Monsters, Fictional Folk, etc.” who counts Dracula among his clients and drives a dragon with a bathtub sidecar. Brodie hangs on to his skepticism and keeps his emotional distance until he is caught up in the case of Jack, accused of murdering a giant and stealing certain precious items. Jack’s sister insists he’s innocent, but it doesn’t bode well that the judge and jury are giants. The author deftly weaves these “Jack and the Beanstalk” elements into a parallel world where pixies are pesky reporters, the district attorney is a 14-foot-tall Perry Mason look-alike, the goose with the golden eggs takes the stand, and Jack’s missing father and mother become keys to the verdict. As Brodie becomes invested in the outcome, he puts aside his own grievances and fears (although he’s still not crazy about the giant spiders), assists his uncle in court, and begins to understand the roots of his own anger and mistrust. That the summer will be a life-changer for the troubled youth isn’t hard to predict, but Newhouse (A Bite Before Christmas, 2016, etc.) goes about it with imagination, humor—often the mild, gross-out kind—and a solid awareness of challenges faced by many young adolescents, while avoiding cloying plot strands. How affirmation and positive reinforcement can effect change may be the unsubtle takeaway here, but the author, a former educator, delivers it with informed empathy and gleeful wit.

An inventive and surprisingly coherent mix of monsters, mystery, courtroom drama, and real-life family dynamics.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-51895-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Aim-Hi Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2016

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THE LORAX

The greening of Dr. Seuss, in an ecology fable with an obvious message but a savingly silly style. In the desolate land of the Lifted Lorax, an aged creature called the Once-ler tells a young visitor how he arrived long ago in the then glorious country and began manufacturing anomalous objects called Thneeds from "the bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees." Despite protests from the Lorax, a native "who speaks for the trees," he continues to chop down Truffulas until he drives away the Brown Bar-ba-loots who had fed on the Tuffula fruit, the Swomee-Swans who can't sing a note for the smogulous smoke, and the Humming-Fish who had hummed in the pond now glumped up with Gluppity-Glupp. As for the Once-let, "1 went right on biggering, selling more Thneeds./ And I biggered my money, which everyone needs" — until the last Truffula falls. But one seed is left, and the Once-let hands it to his listener, with a message from the Lorax: "UNLESS someone like you/ cares a whole awful lot,/ nothing is going to get better./ It's not." The spontaneous madness of the old Dr. Seuss is absent here, but so is the boredom he often induced (in parents, anyway) with one ridiculous invention after another. And if the Once-let doesn't match the Grinch for sheer irresistible cussedness, he is stealing a lot more than Christmas and his story just might induce a generation of six-year-olds to care a whole lot.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 1971

ISBN: 0394823370

Page Count: 72

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1971

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Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs.

WAYSIDE SCHOOL BENEATH THE CLOUD OF DOOM

Rejoice! 25 years later, Wayside School is still in session, and the children in Mrs. Jewls’ 30th-floor classroom haven’t changed a bit.

The surreal yet oddly educational nature of their misadventures hasn’t either. There are out-and-out rib ticklers, such as a spelling lesson featuring made-up words and a determined class effort to collect 1 million nail clippings. Additionally, mean queen Kathy steps through a mirror that turns her weirdly nice and she discovers that she likes it, a four-way friendship survives a dumpster dive after lost homework, and Mrs. Jewls makes sure that a long-threatened “Ultimate Test” allows every student to show off a special talent. Episodic though the 30 new chapters are, there are continuing elements that bind them—even to previous outings, such as the note to an elusive teacher Calvin has been carrying since Sideways Stories From Wayside School (1978) and finally delivers. Add to that plenty of deadpan dialogue (“Arithmetic makes my brain numb,” complains Dameon. “That’s why they’re called ‘numb-ers,’ ” explains D.J.) and a wild storm from the titular cloud that shuffles the school’s contents “like a deck of cards,” and Sachar once again dishes up a confection as scrambled and delicious as lunch lady Miss Mush’s improvised “Rainbow Stew.” Diversity is primarily conveyed in the illustrations.

Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296538-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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