A singularly appealing group of kids populates this nifty mystery for readers ready for a challenge

SMASHIE MCPERTER AND THE MYSTERY OF ROOM 11

From the Smashie McPerter Investigates series , Vol. 1

Smashie McPerter has made her distaste for Patches, Room 11’s new class hamster, abundantly clear—so when he is stolen from his cage, she immediately becomes a prime suspect.

It’s been a particularly terrible day. Room 11 is suffering under the thoroughly incompetent attentions of sub Mr. Carper, a rank narcissist. One of their number has begun booby-trapping objects with glue so when they are picked up, hand and item are fused. Principal Anderson is positively “ILL” at the mayhem. So when Patches goes missing, Smashie and her best friend, Dontel, turn detective; it will take all of Smashie’s wildly intuitive imagination and Dontel’s contemplative smarts to restore peace and hamster to Room 11. Though Smashie’s quirky ebullience can’t be disputed, she is no Ramona/Junie B./Clementine clone. Deeply concerned with justice, she is also sweetly empathetic in the face of her classmates’ distress. The levelheaded Dontel makes a splendid foil. Griffin writes a consistently smart book, layering subplots and red herrings on her central mystery and unapologetically using $20 vocabulary. She carefully provides context clues that will help her young middle-grade audience understand challenging words, introducing Smashie’s discomfort at “the weight of [her classmates’] unjust censure” with the crystalline observation that they “were angrier at her than ever!”

A singularly appealing group of kids populates this nifty mystery for readers ready for a challenge . (Mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6145-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.

THE MYSTERIOUS MESSENGER

Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to...

ESCAPE FROM BAXTERS' BARN

A group of talking farm animals catches wind of the farm owner’s intention to burn the barn (with them in it) for insurance money and hatches a plan to flee.

Bond begins briskly—within the first 10 pages, barn cat Burdock has overheard Dewey Baxter’s nefarious plan, and by Page 17, all of the farm animals have been introduced and Burdock is sharing the terrifying news. Grady, Dewey’s (ever-so-slightly) more principled brother, refuses to go along, but instead of standing his ground, he simply disappears. This leaves the animals to fend for themselves. They do so by relying on their individual strengths and one another. Their talents and personalities match their species, bringing an element of realism to balance the fantasy elements. However, nothing can truly compensate for the bland horror of the premise. Not the growing sense of family among the animals, the serendipitous intervention of an unknown inhabitant of the barn, nor the convenient discovery of an alternate home. Meanwhile, Bond’s black-and-white drawings, justly compared to those of Garth Williams, amplify the sense of dissonance. Charming vignettes and single- and double-page illustrations create a pastoral world into which the threat of large-scale violence comes as a shock.

Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to ponder the awkward coincidences that propel the plot. (Animal fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-33217-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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