Captivating and with great potential as a read-aloud.

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THE WONDERLING

A young groundling, or animal hybrid, escapes a horrible orphanage to discover his past.

The shy, foxlike groundling known as No. 13 has only the faintest memory of a song and the far-off sounds he can hear with his single furry ear to keep him wondering why he exists. He’s imprisoned along with dozens of other unwanted groundlings in a former monastery–turned–grim workhouse where food and comfort are scarce. The seemingly human headmistress has dark secrets, and her assistants are cruel to the orphans. When a clever and resourceful new friend springs Arthur, as she calls No. 13, and herself from the institution, the two embark on an epic journey that will eventually bring them back to free the other orphans. Bartók’s language is full of rich description and effulgent inventories of food and places. Her world includes Christmas and Beethoven, along with homes in hollow trees, clockwork beetles, police patrols on flying bicycles, and allusions to ancient magic, both good and evil. Arthur, sweetly innocent throughout his journey, must make his way in Lumentown, where groundlings are at best second-class citizens and High Hats control everything. Arthur’s harrowing encounters with cruelty, hunger, and filth are interspersed with gentle humor and kindness. Though the origins of the groundlings are never explored (perhaps saved for the planned sequel), the worldbuilding otherwise has an impressive level of conviction and credibility. Bartók’s lovely, detailed illustrations and drawings throughout support the sense of enchantment in this imaginative adventure.

Captivating and with great potential as a read-aloud. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7636-9121-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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Moving and poetic.

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PAX

A motherless boy is forced to abandon his domesticated fox when his father decides to join soldiers in an approaching war.

Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death. Peter’s difficult and often harsh father said he could keep the fox “for now” but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption. The battles between warring humans in the unnamed conflict remain remote, but the oncoming wave of deaths is seen through Pax’s eyes as woodland creatures are blown up by mines. While Pax learns to negotiate the complications of surviving in the wild and relating to other foxes, Peter breaks his foot and must learn to trust a seemingly eccentric woman named Vola who battles her own ghosts of war. Alternating chapters from the perspectives of boy and fox are perfectly paced and complementary. Only Peter, Pax, Vola, and three of Pax’s fox companions are named, conferring a spare, fablelike quality. Every moment in the graceful, fluid narrative is believable. Klassen’s cover art has a sense of contained, powerful stillness. (Interior illustrations not seen.)

Moving and poetic. (Animal fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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