A page-turner with an intrepid protagonist.


Thirteen-year-old Valor is determined to rescue her twin sister, Sasha, from Tyur’ma—a children’s prison resembling Siberian forced-labor camps.

There’s some nice bending of gender tropes right from the start: Valor has the excellent archery skills of her mother—the omnipotent queen’s first huntswoman—and Sasha, poised to be the princess’s adviser, has the intellectual skills and interests of their father—the queen’s top political adviser. Valor’s entire family has been disgraced by Sasha’s imprisonment for allegedly stealing a politically important music box, although the object has not been recovered. In order to free her sister, Valor deliberately gets herself arrested and sent to Tyur’ma. Valor relates the action-packed, suspenseful tale in present tense. Her first hours at the juvenile hall from hell convince her that she must trust a few other inmates to help with her breakout plans. Enormous, tattooed guards called Peacekeepers, a warden whose eyes and personality match the icy landscape, ferocious wolves, heart-racing action scenes, and frequent, impossible brushes with death give the text a feeling of fantasy, although there are no allusions to magic. Valor is both true to her name and resourceful. She also humbly acknowledges her shortcomings, especially errors in judgment, as the plot twists and turns. The satisfying ending includes an easy lead toward a sequel: the real music-box thief has suddenly disappeared. Russian names and words are abundant; the world appears to be populated by light-skinned characters.

A page-turner with an intrepid protagonist. (Fantasy. 8-11)

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68119-131-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Another epic outing in a graphic hybrid series that continues not just to push the envelope, but tear it to shreds.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 12

Pranksters George and Harold face the deadliest challenge of their checkered careers: a supersmart, superstrong gym teacher.

With the avowed aim of enticing an audience of “grouchy old people” to the Waistband Warrior’s latest exploit, Pilkey promises “references to health care, gardening, Bob Evans restaurants, hard candies, FOX News, and gentle-yet-effective laxatives.” He delivers, too. But lest fans of the Hanes-clad hero fret, he also stirs in plenty of fart jokes, brain-melting puns, and Flip-O-Rama throwdowns. After a meteorite transforms Mr. Meaner into a mad genius (evil, of course, because “as everyone knows, most gym teachers are inherently evil”) and he concocts a brown gas that turns children into blindly obedient homework machines, George and Harold travel into the future to enlist aid from their presumably immune adult selves. Temporarily leaving mates and children (of diverse sexes, both) behind, Old George and Old Harold come to the rescue. But Meaner has a robot suit (of course he has a robot suit), and he not only beats down the oldsters, but is only fazed for a moment when Capt. Underpants himself comes to deliver a kick to the crotch. Fortunately, gym teachers, “like toddlers,” will put anything in their mouths—so an ingestion of soda pop and Mentos at last spells doom, or more accurately: “CHeffGoal-D’BLOOOM!”

Another epic outing in a graphic hybrid series that continues not just to push the envelope, but tear it to shreds. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-50492-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet!


From the Ryan Hart series , Vol. 1

Ryan Hart is navigating the fourth grade and all its challenges with determination.

Her mom named her Ryan because it means “king,” and she wanted Ryan to feel powerful every time she heard her name; Ryan knows it means she is a leader. So when changes occur or disaster strikes, budding chef Ryan does her best to find the positive and “make sunshine.” When her dad is laid off from the post office, the family must make adjustments that include moving into a smaller house, selling their car, and changing how they shop for groceries. But Ryan gets to stay at Vernon Elementary, and her mom still finds a way to get her the ingredients she needs to practice new recipes. Her older brother, Ray, can be bossy, but he finds little ways to support her, especially when she is down—as does the whole family. Each episodic chapter confronts Ryan with a situation; intermittently funny, frustrating, and touching, they should be familiar and accessible to readers, as when Ryan fumbles her Easter speech despite careful practice. Ryan, her family, and friends are Black, and Watson continues to bring visibility to both Portland, Oregon, generally and its Black community specifically, making another wonderful contribution that allows Black readers to see themselves and all readers to find a character they can love.

Move over Ramona Quimby, Portland has another neighbor you have to meet! (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0056-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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