Beautiful writing cannot compensate for weaknesses in worldbuilding.

A boy, accompanied by ghosts and a bald-faced pony, sets out to rescue his father.

Silas Bird, 12, his father, a Scottish immigrant bootmaker and experimental photographer, and Mittenwool, a ghost only Silas can see, live near the fictional Ohio town of Boneville in 1860. One night, three armed strangers on horseback insist that Pa come do some sort of business with them. Pa promises he’ll return in a week, but the next morning, when a pony one of the men was leading returns to the farm, Silas decides to ride after him, though it means braving the ancient and terrifying Woods, more ghosts, and his own fears. Palacio writes smoothly, with engaging details, but narrator Silas sometimes seems far younger than 12 and other times too adult. The presentation of the ghosts is also inconsistent: Some can see each other, others can’t; Silas recognizes some as ghosts but thinks others are living people. A conversation between Silas and a White settler, following a scene in which Silas encounters the ghosts of Native people massacred by the U.S. government, plays into unfortunate tropes of Indian nations no longer existing. The eponymous Pony drives several plot points but doesn’t come across as a real equine. Among other horse-related slip-ups, novice rider Silas manages a 12-hour day without either himself or the pony dropping from exhaustion. Atmospheric daguerreotypes front each chapter. All characters are White.

Beautiful writing cannot compensate for weaknesses in worldbuilding. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-553-50811-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021


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


A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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