A timely, well-executed story of a teen journalist’s determination to uncover the truth.

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JUSTICE IN A BOTTLE

A 13-year-old aspiring journalist sets out to prove her elderly neighbor’s innocence of a long-ago crime in this middle-grade mystery.

Middle school student Nita Simmons lives with her mother in Crawford, Virginia. Her mom struggles to make ends meet, so Nita initially hesitates to ask for a $25 fee to join the Junior Journalist Club at school. Later, after an article that Nita writes for her school paper is discredited, the young girl doubts her journalistic abilities despite encouragement from a supportive teacher. Nita, who’s identified in the text as having brown skin, gets to know her elderly African American neighbor, Earl Melvin. She later discovers that he was sent to prison for 20 years for a rape of a white co-worker, but she’s certain that he didn’t commit such a crime. Nita’s mother admonishes her daughter to avoid the ex-convict, but the girl is driven to pursue the story and honor her journalistic pledge: “To seek the truth. Check. To fight injustice. Check.” In the process, she gets to know Melvin, who introduces her to civil rights history and the music of musicians she’s never heard before, such as Nina Simone. In his debut, Fanning makes Nita’s aspirations and commitment to journalism compelling and believable, and her family’s poverty is conveyed via subtle but telling details; for instance, Nita is the only journalism student in her class who must check out a laptop. The young girl watches one present-day protest on television, but the focus of the book is less on the present than on injustices of the past: “She’d read about the bombings in Birmingham and all the awful things that could happen to people because of the color of their skin.”

A timely, well-executed story of a teen journalist’s determination to uncover the truth.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73390-858-0

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Immortal Works LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2020

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There’s nothing exceptional here, but the otherworldly elements and headlong pacing will sweep readers along.

HENRY HUNTER AND THE CURSED PIRATES

From the Henry Hunter series , Vol. 2

In a second brush with the supernatural (following Henry Hunter and the Beast of Snagov, 2016), brainy young sleuth Henry and his faithful chronicler, Adolphus, are kidnapped by undead pirates. Yo ho ho!

News that a friend’s parents have vanished on a cruise in the Caribbean prompts the dapper kid detective (looking ever natty in suit, tie, and fedora in Tankard’s lavishly detailed drawings) to take a quick sabbatical from St. Grimbold’s School for Extraordinary Boys and fly to Barbados to investigate. Hardly has he begun than an ectoplasmic tentacle grabs him and his sidekick, Dolf—depositing both aboard the spectral ship of Blackbeard himself. The legendary pirate is still around courtesy of a curse laid on a certain bit of booty and, since ghosts can’t hold shovels, bent on collecting hapless tourists to dig up buried treasure. Matthews enthusiastically chucks bits of pirate lore, along with the odd skeleton, map, and treasure chest, into the enterprise, and for additional atmosphere, the illustrator strews margins and corners with bugs, fish, stormy seas, and nautical jetsam. Aside from a “Rastafarian” guide, the entire cast, living and otherwise, is evidently white (and, with one minor exception, male). By the end, the curse is broken, the pirates gone, the captives rescued, and Henry himself mysteriously vanished in the wake of an encounter with merpeople. Stay tuned.

There’s nothing exceptional here, but the otherworldly elements and headlong pacing will sweep readers along. (Fantasy/mystery. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-51071-039-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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This tightly packed, powerful fantasy contains resonant truths.

MAÑANALAND

A boy journeys to self-discovery through the power of stories and traditions.

Eleven-year-old Maximiliano Córdoba is ready for an idyllic summer. He plans to work hard as a builder for his father and train for fútbol tryouts. Plus, Max hopes dad will take him to visit the towering ruins of La Reina Gigante, a haunted hideout used in the past by the Guardians to hide refugees as they fled Abismo, a war-torn, neighboring dictatorship. However, when Max must provide his birth certificate to join the team, he feels his dream summer crumble away. The document disappeared years ago, along with his mother, the woman with whom Max shares “leche quemada” eyes. Soon, Papá leaves on a three-week journey to request a new one, and Max finds himself torn between two desires: to know the truth about why his mother left when he was a baby and to make the team. As Max discovers the enchanting stories his grandfather has been telling him for years have an actual foothold in reality, he must choose between his own dreams and those of others. Kirkus Prize winner Ryan (Echo, 2015) beautifully layers thought-provoking topics onto her narrative while keeping readers immersed in the story’s world. Although set in the fictional country of Santa Maria, “somewhere in the Américas,” the struggles of refugee immigrants and the compassion of those who protect the travelers feel very relevant.

This tightly packed, powerful fantasy contains resonant truths. (Fantasy. 7-14)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-15786-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Ghost-story fans won’t be disappointed in the end, if they can slog that far through all the low-wattage civil-service...

THE MINISTRY OF GHOSTS

The threat of imminent shutdown prompts a small government agency to hire a pair of young independent contractors to capture a ghost in this British import.

On the way to a pleasantly tidy ending, Shearer delivers some comical chills and twists, but he takes too long to set them up. Driven by a blustering government cost-cutter’s ultimatum, the four (or five, counting the cat) remaining members of the antique Ministry of Ghosts—originally founded in 1792 to determine whether spirits are bunkum or real—decide a fresh approach is needed. The “help wanted” card they place in the dusty window of their ramshackle building draws two students from the local school: strong-minded Thruppence Coddley, daughter of a fishmonger, and timorous but game classmate Tim Legge, both white. The author salts his tale liberally with subtle clues and oddly quaint characters, and he eventually arrives at some startling (for unobservant readers, at least) revelations. But aside from brief mentions in a prologue, the two young people don’t even show up to get the ghost hunting under way until seven wordy introductory chapters have trundled slowly by, filled with eye-glazing exchanges and daily routines in an office where nothing much has changed in decades.

Ghost-story fans won’t be disappointed in the end, if they can slog that far through all the low-wattage civil-service satire. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5107-0473-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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