A fun, inventive, and mostly well-written middle-grade novel.

THE MOST SPECTACULAR TRAVELING BOX

A SOPHIE MAE ADVENTURE

This mashup of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz follows a desperate girl’s escapades.

Young Sophie Mae Bastrop is in a bad way. It’s the middle of not just the Depression, but also the Dust Bowl. After her beloved Grandma Hattie dies, she tries to survive alone on the farm in Drycrop, Oklahoma. A mysterious box arrives, and it transports her to Gardenia, the estate of her late great-aunt in Evenland, Minnesota. Gardenia is a peculiar place under the sway of the alchemist George the Great Cain. Here, magic rules. Thanks to George’s potions, eating is unnecessary, invisibility is commonly practiced, and extraordinary creatures abound, like Mary Louise, the talking elephant, and Leggy, the giraffe. There is also Ernest Wade, a shadowy figure who used to be George’s assistant but is now banished from Gardenia. Something is not right, but who’s the bad guy? George or Ernest? Of course it eventually gets sorted out. Bell is clearly enjoying herself, which is always good. And Sophie Mae is appropriately spirited. One theme that runs through the book is her need for a place to belong, for a real family. Things move along quickly, and there are amusing effects, such as an ex–circus bear that can fly and other thaumaturgies. It should be pointed out that even the putative villains are more misguided than evil (Ernest was not a very good alchemist; he cut corners), an important lesson. There is a Hooverville near Gardenia, and both George and Ernest want to help the unfortunates living there. Cultural touchstones pop up regularly. For example, there is a place in the Gardenia mansion that is very much like Star Trek’s Holodeck, and when Ernest becomes righteously enraged, he resembles, appropriately, the Hulk. Bell deploys delightfully strange verb choices, almost Tom Swift–ian (“ ‘I beg your pardon,’ she flustered”). The subtitle is A Sophie Mae Adventure, so presumably this bodes for more in the series, one that will be welcomed by fans of the fantastic.

A fun, inventive, and mostly well-written middle-grade novel. (acknowledgments)

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73590-720-8

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Two Turkey Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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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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THE FIRST CAT IN SPACE ATE PIZZA

Will extragalactic rats eat the moon?

Can a cybernetic toenail clipper find a worthy purpose in the vast universe? Will the first feline astronaut ever get a slice of pizza? Read on. Reworked from the Live Cartoon series of homespun video shorts released on Instagram in 2020 but retaining that “we’re making this up as we go” quality, the episodic tale begins with the electrifying discovery that our moon is being nibbled away. Off blast one strong, silent, furry hero—“Meow”—and a stowaway robot to our nearest celestial neighbor to hook up with the imperious Queen of the Moon and head toward the dark side, past challenges from pirates on the Sea of Tranquility and a sphinx with a riddle (“It weighs a ton, but floats on air. / It’s bald but has a lot of hair.” The answer? “Meow”). They endure multiple close but frustratingly glancing encounters with pizza and finally deliver the malign, multiheaded Rat King and its toothy armies to a suitable fate. Cue the massive pizza party! Aside from one pirate captain and a general back on Earth, the human and humanoid cast in Harris’ loosely drawn cartoon panels, from the appropriately moon-faced queen on, is light skinned. Merch, music, and the original episodes are available on an associated website.

Epic lunacy. (Graphic science fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-308408-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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