A clever story set in Africa with a likable hero and a strong message about helping others.

Helping in Action

A wheelchair-bound boy and his brother rescue a lion cub in this cadenced debut picture book.

Nick lives in Addis Ababa, East Africa, with his mom, dad, brother, and a pet lion. Although Nick is pictured in a wheelchair, the text doesn’t immediately call attention to this. Instead, he is shown enjoying things that other kids might like, including reading, swimming, and waterskiing.  “How did Nick get a pet lion?” the text asks, moving from the introduction into the heart of the story. The lost cub found Nick’s mom sleeping on the beach; after bringing the small creature, Sandy, home, the whole family helps to take care of her. But the next morning, Sandy gets into trouble again, and Nick and his brother, Jason, have to rescue the cub from being stranded on a hippo’s back. They take the boat out toward Sandy, and Nick, the expert swimmer, safely hauls the cub back to the boat. Roussos, a motivational speaker who, like Nick, grew up in East Africa and has cerebral palsy, presents the hero’s can-do attitude lucidly and in a way that kids should admire. The repeated refrain “There’s only one thing to do when,” followed by someone being lost, scared, hungry, or in trouble, with the repeated answer, “Help!,” will give young readers plenty of opportunities to chime in with parents reading aloud. Marcus-Bause’s simplistic cartoon illustrations feature only small bursts of color, such as Nick’s superhero cape or the sun’s golden rays. The sun, moon, and stars, however, are also drawn as characters reacting to the story, as are the recurring pelicans, giving a weirdly fantastic sense to the illustrations that doesn’t appear in the text. These odd pictures distract from the tale rather than supporting it. The book offers two distinct sections: Nick’s introduction, which features short, easy-to-read sentences, and Sandy’s rescue, which has the repeated refrain and longer blocks of text. A helpful author’s note reminds children not to approach wild animals and assures readers that the Roussos family’s real-life pet lion was fostered with a wildlife organization so she could learn how to survive on her own. The author’s message of assisting others comes through clearly, and his portrait of a skillful wheelchair-bound protagonist resonates powerfully.

A clever story set in Africa with a likable hero and a strong message about helping others. 

Pub Date: June 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4840-8267-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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


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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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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