A series that began as a Wimpy Kid wannabe moves up to a cabin in first class.

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TROLL OVERBOARD

From the Life of Zarf series , Vol. 3

Zarf, middle school troll, is tricked into a quest for magic beans that takes him into—and then out of—the belly of the beast. Blech.

There are pirates involved, too, not to mention monsters, a sea witch named Ursula (no relation to the one in Little Mermaid—really), and a friendly mer-pig. It all starts when royal classmate Prince Roquefort, justly dubbed a “little waste of oxygen,” persuades Zarf’s seagoing grandpa to take him on a short cruise. Suspicious, Zarf comes along. Indeed, it seems that the prince has concocted a scheme to recover the beans from Jack’s beanstalk, which had been dumped in the ocean as an anti-giant measure, and use their magic to make himself…taller. Disasters, of course, ensue as Zarf and the prince are temporarily swallowed by a finny monster, stranded on a small island with Zarf’s histrionic porcine buddy, and then captured by the somewhat-less-fearsome-than-advertised pirate Redbeard the Unapproachable. Harrell plugs cartoon line drawings of comically disgruntled or distraught figures into the narrative on nearly every page to deliver sly gags and punch lines while navigating the plot toward a bean-tastic battle with the outsized witch. The humans, a minority here, look white, though on the colored cover Zarf has light brown skin under a tuft of orange hair.

A series that began as a Wimpy Kid wannabe moves up to a cabin in first class. (Graphic/fantasy hybrid. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8037-4105-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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Fans of R.J. Palacio's Wonder (2012) will appreciate this feel-good story of friendship and unconventional smarts.

FISH IN A TREE

Hunt draws a portrait of dyslexia and getting along.

Ally Nickerson, who’s passed through seven schools in seven years, maintains a Sketchbook of Impossible Things. A snowman in a furnace factory is more plausible than imagining herself doing something right—like reading. She doesn't know why, but letters dance and give her headaches. Her acting out to disguise her difficulty causes headaches for her teachers, who, oddly, never consider dyslexia, even though each notices signs like inconsistent spellings of the same word. Ally's confusion is poignant when misunderstandings like an unintentional sympathy card for a pregnant teacher make her good intentions backfire, and readers will sympathize as she copes with the class "mean girls." When a creative new teacher, Mr. Daniels, steps in, the plot turns more uplifting but also metaphor-heavy; a coin with a valuable flaw, cupcakes with hidden letters, mystery boxes and references to the Island of Misfit Toys somewhat belabor the messages that things aren't always what they seem and everyone is smart in their own ways. Despite emphasis on "thinking outside the box," characters are occasionally stereotypical—a snob, a brainiac, an unorthodox teacher—but Ally's new friendships are satisfying, as are the recognition of her dyslexia and her renewed determination to read.

Fans of R.J. Palacio's Wonder (2012) will appreciate this feel-good story of friendship and unconventional smarts. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-16259-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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