Funny, warmhearted, and involving, with a timely ecological message.

BEAR AND THE OXBOW ISLAND GANG

A sixth grade boy and some friends team up to try to foil a poacher/plant thief in this debut middle-grade novel.

Oxbow Island, off the coast of Portland, Maine, is a special place for Berend “Bear” Houtman, 11. He spends summers there with his grandmother Sally Parker, and he loves its natural beauty. But now sixth grade has begun, and Bear is visiting after being suspended from school for acting out in response to bullying and being betrayed by his former best friend. Bear feels disgraced, but kindness from others—plus the island’s magic—soon improves his mood. While exploring in the woods, Bear is dismayed to find that someone has been uprooting, stealing, and destroying delicate orchids—and worse, setting illegal traps. Honey the Wonder Dog, Sally’s pet, is injured by one such trap, and Bear finds a dead beaver in another. It seems the area’s beaver ponds are being targeted, perhaps on behalf of rich summer residents. Bear forms a bold plan with old friends and new to scout out beaver ponds, catch the trapper, and protect his beloved island. In her novel, Chalmers creates a vivid sense of Oxbow Island and its close-knit, year-round residents. They’re a quirky bunch, coming in a wide range of ages, races, and backgrounds: a 90-year-old woman; a middle-aged black professor; a Hispanic wheelchair user and his daughter; a taxi driver; and a newspaper deliveryman. While the rescue plot is compelling and cheerworthy, it has wider effects. Bear’s investigation doesn’t just benefit plants and animals, it also brings the island community closer. In addition, Bear comes to a new, more mature understanding about the conflict with his ex-friend, with some well-earned reflections on growing up. The chapter head illustrations by Hogan are charming additions.

Funny, warmhearted, and involving, with a timely ecological message.

Pub Date: March 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63381-211-6

Page Count: 197

Publisher: Maine Authors Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

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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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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