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A tale with plenty of humor and suspense, memorable characters, and a plot that’s vividly informed by a challenging time in...

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In Waugh and Downing’s middle-grade historical novel set in 1935, a boy with a dangerous secret and an unexpected sidekick flees ruthless enemies.

In Depression-era Pittsburgh, 11-year-old Lewis Carter is among the unhoused, hungry masses on the streets. His chemistry professor father left one day in 1934for a mysterious meeting and didn’t come back, and Lewis was thrown out by their landlady to fend for himself. He’s survived by using his father’s secret “Recipe” of substances that create a harmless but blinding flash of light, distracting shop owners long enough for him to purloin food. The thefts are rumored to be the work of criminals dubbed the “Flash Gang” by local newspapers, but hardened criminals, aware of the existence of the Recipe, want to exploit its potential for lethal violence; the villains manage to track Lewis down; needing more information, they kidnap him and imprison him in a house. At this point, the tense plot takes a seemingly farcical turn: Pearl Alice Clavell, a girl wearing a sparkly pink tutu and ballet slippers, appears and rescues Lewis. It turns out that Pearl equates every danger with an episode of the popular weekly radio show “The Adventures of Lola Lavender,” whose hero she imitates. The authors, however, movingly balance Pearl’s eccentricities with the emerging truth of her plight. Later, the novel provides a startling revelation of who the kidnappers are and how they plan to use Lewis’ father’s Recipe. Lewis is relatably vulnerable throughout: He’s worried about his father’s fate and physically limited by asthma attacks that are made worse by “the thick smog of Pittsburgh,” which settles in his lungs “like soggy grit.” The pair also find allies in a sympathetic reporter and some tough but supportive street kids. The historical underpinnings of the plot—including widespread corruption, local mobsters, and the rise of Hitler sympathizers—are well researched, capturing a crisis-ridden time and place with immediacy. The novel ends with an intriguing teaser for the next book in the series.

A tale with plenty of humor and suspense, memorable characters, and a plot that’s vividly informed by a challenging time in U.S. history.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 978-1646033225

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Fitzroy Books

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2023

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From the Wild Robot series , Vol. 3

Hugely entertaining, timely, and triumphant.

Robot Roz undertakes an unusual ocean journey to save her adopted island home in this third series entry.

When a poison tide flowing across the ocean threatens their island, Roz works with the resident creatures to ensure that they will have clean water, but the destruction of vegetation and crowding of habitats jeopardize everyone’s survival. Brown’s tale of environmental depredation and turmoil is by turns poignant, graceful, endearing, and inspiring, with his (mostly) gentle robot protagonist at its heart. Though Roz is different from the creatures she lives with or encounters—including her son, Brightbill the goose, and his new mate, Glimmerwing—she makes connections through her versatile communication abilities and her desire to understand and help others. When Roz accidentally discovers that the replacement body given to her by Dr. Molovo is waterproof, she sets out to seek help and discovers the human-engineered source of the toxic tide. Brown’s rich descriptions of undersea landscapes, entertaining conversations between Roz and wild creatures, and concise yet powerful explanations of the effect of the poison tide on the ecology of the island are superb. Simple, spare illustrations offer just enough glimpses of Roz and her surroundings to spark the imagination. The climactic confrontation pits oceangoing mammals, seabirds, fish, and even zooplankton against hardware and technology in a nicely choreographed battle. But it is Roz’s heroism and peacemaking that save the day.

Hugely entertaining, timely, and triumphant. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2023

ISBN: 9780316669412

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2023

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From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

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 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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