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TITO THE BONECRUSHER

An uplifting gem.

To rescue his father from prison, 11-year-old Oliver “Spaghetti-O” Jones tries to get a little help from his favorite luchador.

After months of legal woes, Oliver’s father ends up in a Florida correctional center despite his assurances to Oliver and his irritable big sister, Louisa, that “[e]verything was going to be fine.” Now Louisa won’t even talk to their father, but Oliver’s not giving up that easily. Inspired by his favorite luchador-turned–action hero, Tito the Bonecrusher (motto: “Never quit trying!”), Oliver needs to concoct a plan to bust his father out of prison. To do so, he must infiltrate a charity gala to meet the bombastic action star, who holds the know-how required for such a daring caper. Thomson’s excellent middle-grade debut plumbs the absurdity and desperation inherent in a painful situation. Throughout the ordeal, Oliver battles and suppresses his grief and pain in a way that younger readers can recognize and perhaps understand amid the humor; more than anything, it’s this implicit focus that makes this novel a great one. Going along for the tumultuous ride is Oliver’s best friend, Brain (a girl genius), and some unexpected allies. Each scheme (celebrity photos with forged signatures, skipping detention via a decoy) seems more outrageous than the last, but when the day of the gala arrives, will Oliver have what it takes to save the day? A white default is assumed.

An uplifting gem. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-30353-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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MUSTACHES FOR MADDIE

Medically, both squicky and hopeful; emotionally, unbelievably squeaky-clean.

A 12-year-old copes with a brain tumor.

Maddie likes potatoes and fake mustaches. Kids at school are nice (except one whom readers will see instantly is a bully); soon they’ll get to perform Shakespeare scenes in a unit they’ve all been looking forward to. But recent dysfunctions in Maddie’s arm and leg mean, stunningly, that she has a brain tumor. She has two surgeries, the first successful, the second taking place after the book’s end, leaving readers hanging. The tumor’s not malignant, but it—or the surgeries—could cause sight loss, personality change, or death. The descriptions of surgery aren’t for the faint of heart. The authors—parents of a real-life Maddie who really had a brain tumor—imbue fictional Maddie’s first-person narration with quirky turns of phrase (“For the love of potatoes!”) and whimsy (she imagines her medical battles as epic fantasy fights and pretends MRI stands for Mustard Rat from Indiana or Mustaches Rock Importantly), but they also portray her as a model sick kid. She’s frightened but never acts out, snaps, or resists. Her most frequent commentary about the tumor, having her skull opened, and the possibility of death is “Boo” or “Super boo.” She even shoulders the bully’s redemption. Maddie and most characters are white; one cringe-inducing hallucinatory surgery dream involves “chanting island natives” and a “witch doctor lady.”

Medically, both squicky and hopeful; emotionally, unbelievably squeaky-clean. (authors’ note, discussion questions) (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62972-330-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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RACE FOR THE RUBY TURTLE

A wild romp that champions making space for vulnerable creatures and each other.

A boy with ADHD explores nature and himself.

Eleven-year-old Jake Rizzi just wants to be seen as “normal”; he blames his brain for leading him into trouble and making him do things that annoy his peers and even his own parents. Case in point: He’s stuck spending a week in rural Oregon with an aunt he barely knows while his parents go on vacation. Jake’s reluctance changes as he learns about the town’s annual festival, during which locals search for a fabled turtle. But news of this possibly undiscovered species has spread. Although Aunt Hettle insists to Jake that it’s only folklore, the fame-hungry convene, sure that the Ruby-Backed Turtle is indeed real—just as Jake discovers is the case. Keeping its existence secret is critical to protecting the rare creature from a poacher and others with ill intentions. Readers will keep turning pages to find out how Jake and new friend Mia will foil the caricatured villains. Along the way, Bramucci packs in teachable moments around digital literacy, mindfulness, and ecological interdependence, along with the message that “the only way to protect the natural world is to love it.” Jake’s inner monologue elucidates the challenges and benefits of ADHD as well as practical coping strategies. Whether or not readers share Jake’s diagnosis, they’ll empathize with his insecurities. Jake and his family present white; Mia is Black, and names of secondary characters indicate some ethnic diversity.

A wild romp that champions making space for vulnerable creatures and each other. (Adventure. 8-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2023

ISBN: 9781547607020

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

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