This witty space adventure provides a comical setting for high-quality, entertaining, age-appropriate puzzles.

SPACE CATS TO THE RESCUE

A SOLVE-THE-STORY PUZZLE ADVENTURE

From the Puzzlooies! series

Cats! In! Spaaaaaaaace!

The Earth is about to be destroyed by an asteroid the size of a hockey rink, and with the Interplanetary Defense In Orbit Team out of commission after gorging on irradiated sweets, its only hope is the cat-stronauts. Rags, Sassy, Mittens, and Honeydew aren’t special, intelligent, talking cats; they’re merely common housecats. But they are the only available creatures with the extraordinary talents of the indisposed human astronauts, who always land on their feet, are skilled at squeezing into small spaces, and have “the same annoying habit of knocking things off of tabletops.” The joke-packed space adventure is the entertaining frame for a series of well-crafted puzzles, all but one offering a flawless solving experience. The 16 brainteasers hit a wide variety of different skill sets. A word ladder requires both definitions and letter manipulation, a kibble-themed cipher teaches basic code-breaking, and another puzzle requires simple number skills. Visual-manipulation puzzles, a crossword, a word search, and multiple mazes keep the solving process from getting dull. Puzzles draw on school skills, though the constant wisecracks keep them from feeling educational. Some answers aren’t detailed in the text, requiring a look at the answer key (which doesn’t always explain the method for finding the solution). A multiracial group of children who appear on the cover are not actually characters; the space authorities who narrate the story and recruit the cat-stronauts also appear to have a variety of racial backgrounds. (Note: Revisions made to the book after the publication of this review result in a now 100% flawless solving experience for all puzzles.)

This witty space adventure provides a comical setting for high-quality, entertaining, age-appropriate puzzles. (Science fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-0-525-57206-0

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.

THE MYSTERIOUS MESSENGER

Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to...

ESCAPE FROM BAXTERS' BARN

A group of talking farm animals catches wind of the farm owner’s intention to burn the barn (with them in it) for insurance money and hatches a plan to flee.

Bond begins briskly—within the first 10 pages, barn cat Burdock has overheard Dewey Baxter’s nefarious plan, and by Page 17, all of the farm animals have been introduced and Burdock is sharing the terrifying news. Grady, Dewey’s (ever-so-slightly) more principled brother, refuses to go along, but instead of standing his ground, he simply disappears. This leaves the animals to fend for themselves. They do so by relying on their individual strengths and one another. Their talents and personalities match their species, bringing an element of realism to balance the fantasy elements. However, nothing can truly compensate for the bland horror of the premise. Not the growing sense of family among the animals, the serendipitous intervention of an unknown inhabitant of the barn, nor the convenient discovery of an alternate home. Meanwhile, Bond’s black-and-white drawings, justly compared to those of Garth Williams, amplify the sense of dissonance. Charming vignettes and single- and double-page illustrations create a pastoral world into which the threat of large-scale violence comes as a shock.

Ironically, by choosing such a dramatic catalyst, the author weakens the adventure’s impact overall and leaves readers to ponder the awkward coincidences that propel the plot. (Animal fantasy. 8-10)

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-33217-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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