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


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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A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot.


In sixth grade, Izzy Mancini’s cozy, loving world falls apart.

She and her family have moved out of the cottage she grew up in. Her mother has spent the summer on Block Island instead of at home with Izzy. Her father has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan partially paralyzed and traumatized. The only people she can count on are Zelda and Piper, her best friends since kindergarten—that is, until the Haidary family moves into the upstairs apartment. At first, Izzy resents the new guests from Afghanistan even though she knows she should be grateful that Dr. Haidary saved her father’s life. But despite her initial resistance (which manifests at times as racism), as Izzy gets to know Sitara, the Haidarys’ daughter, she starts to question whether Zelda and Piper really are her friends for forever—and whether she has the courage to stand up for Sitara against the people she loves. Ferruolo weaves a rich setting, fully immersing readers in the largely white, coastal town of Seabury, Rhode Island. Disappointingly, the story resolves when Izzy convinces her classmates to accept Sitara by revealing the Haidarys’ past as American allies, a position that put them in so much danger that they had to leave home. The idea that Sitara should be embraced only because her family supported America, rather than simply because she is a human being, significantly undermines the purported message of tolerance for all.

A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-30909-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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On equal footing with a garden-variety potato.


The new kid in school endures becoming the school mascot.

Ben Hardy has never cared for potatoes, and this distaste has become a barrier to adjusting to life in his new Idaho town. His school’s mascot is the Spud, and after a series of misfortunes, Ben is enlisted to don the potato costume and cheer on his school’s team. Ben balances his duties as a life-sized potato against his desperate desire to hide the fact that he’s the dork in the suit. After all, his cute new crush, Jayla, wouldn’t be too impressed to discover Ben’s secret. The ensuing novel is a fairly boilerplate middle–grade narrative: snarky tween protagonist, the crush that isn’t quite what she seems, and a pair of best friends that have more going on than our hero initially believes. The author keeps the novel moving quickly, pushing forward with witty asides and narrative momentum so fast that readers won’t really mind that the plot’s spine is one they’ve encountered many times before. Once finished, readers will feel little resonance and move on to the next book in their to-read piles, but in the moment the novel is pleasant enough. Ben, Jayla, and Ben’s friend Hunter are white while Ellie, Ben’s other good pal, is Latina.

On equal footing with a garden-variety potato. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11866-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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