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


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


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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