A winsome tween protagonist steers this fun, quiet fantasy.


In this middle-grade debut and series launch, an orphan girl stuck in a subterranean world searches for a way home.

Sam has an awful lot of responsibilities for a 12-year-old. She cares for her little brother, Darby, who needs meds for recurring fevers, and for their guardian, Aunt C, who seemingly has bouts of dementia. One day, as a storm hits their North American town, the earth shakes, and Sam falls through a crack in the ground. Though initially alone in a gloomy, dank place, she quickly befriends others who tell her she’s in Under-Under. The leader down here, the Great Hildinski, surely can help Sam get back home, but this radiant, wooden-legged woman seems convinced that the tween stranger is a thief. Indeed, someone has stolen a “slice” of Under-Under’s solar-powered sun. Once Sam decides that recovering this sun piece will win over the Great Hildinski, she teams up with new friends as well as Darby and her cat, Gemini, who’ve somehow wound up belowground, too. But the thieves, who are also stealing Under-Under’s precious water, make a frightening bunch. Whatever’s short opening installment has a wonderful young hero. Sam is smart and softhearted, even when her family frustrates her. She’s witty, too, as when a character questions her courage with, “I thought you had some spunk,” and she retorts, in effect: Spunk, yes. Death wish, no. The story spotlights Sam’s journey as she picks up some helpful skills and periodically returns to the world above as an influential general threatens her country. Supporting characters entertain, particularly Darby and Gemini, who make the most of their occasional appearances. The author’s rough, almost childlike artwork flaunts a dark but colorful palette, making simple depictions of wolves and fish catch readers’ eyes. The ending, sadly, is a bit anticlimactic, though a sequel follows.

A winsome tween protagonist steers this fun, quiet fantasy.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77731-968-7

Page Count: 204

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2022

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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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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.


From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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