Middle-grader Saxby Smart is back in his Thinking Chair for three more stories in this second volume of his mystery series (The Curse of the Ancient Mask and Other Case Files, 2009). Speaking congenially to readers, Saxby invites them to help deduce the clues. In the first case, Saxby must find a rare comic book that’s gone missing from a locked safe, and he uncovers lots of interesting comic-book trivia in the process of discovering the motive—old-fashioned greed—and the perp. The middle is the most engrossing of the three stories, involving an historic mansion with a dark past where Saxby’s friend finds a scroll hidden in the wall that leads them on a brain-teasing hunt to the real “Treasure of Dead Man’s Lane.” Last, Saxby must unravel the enigma of six students who all have two things in common: home intruders and an anti-stress class. Troublemaker Harry Lovecraft makes a reappearance, and his uncle plays a key role in the mystery. Generously dappled with Alley’s breezy line drawings, the cases are timely and twisting enough to keep the light bulb bright in the young sleuth’s mind. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 25, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59643-475-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids.


A mysterious scholarship contest launches this middle-grade mystery.

The action begins when three Chicago middle schoolers—Bondi Johnson, a black boy; Wilf Samson, a white boy; and Melissa Burris, a white girl—are selected to compete in the Kaplin/Baron scholarship contest. No one at the three students’ schools has heard of this scholarship, and even stranger, none of these students is known for exemplary academics. In fact, they are better known for scheming, daydreaming, and schmoozing. The scholarship rules appear straightforward: untangle the clues, provide a photo of each, and win $10,000. With these guidelines, a provided cellphone, a personal driver, and a no-strings-attached debit card, each student is ready to tackle the task. Bondi attacks his clues with diligence; Melissa, though suspicious, enjoys the chase; Wilf would rather cross items off his bucket list than solve the riddles. When the hunt for clues draws to an end, Bondi, Melissa, and Wilf discover there is another mystery surrounding this scholarship and the money, leading them to band together to unravel the remaining clues and unearth the truth before the $10,000 slips out of their hands. In the tradition of The Westing Game or Chasing Vermeer, this is a plot-driven brainteaser centered on Chicago landmarks and Chicago history. The twists and turns are well-paced and believable, and transcripts of texts, emails, and letters within the chapters add dimension to the strong cast of secondary characters.

A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-8838-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A promising, lighthearted beginning.


When the Swampy Woods home of seven siblings is utterly destroyed, the children move to House Number Seven in Lost Cove—and neighbor Desdemona O’pinion tries her hardest to malign, evict, and separate the children.

Both text and illustrations offer a nod to Roald Dahl’s quirky, juvenile heroes and equally quirky, nasty villains. The distinctive flavor comes both from Lloyd’s witty but succinct word mastery and from her unflagging imagination. Each of the titular children was born on a different day of the week, with a name and a personality or appearance that—arguably—parallels the old nursery rhyme “Monday’s child is fair of face.” Here Monday’s child is the lovely but subversive Mona. Tuesday’s child baby Toot’s “grace” is apparently his ability to communicate with highly specialized farts, while Thea—Thursday’s child—moves slowly toward self-confidence during the generally madcap adventure. The story begins with the children gratefully unscathed after their home suddenly blows up and continues with their move to town, where their combined warmth, cooperation, and ingenuity enable them to charm everyone but evil Desdemona. There are ongoing, mysterious discoveries before it concludes with a temporary reprieve on eviction—but plenty of aperture for the next adventure in the series. The family is white; secondary characters include one blind girl and another who is “allergic to air” as well as neighbors of varied ethnicities. Among other novelties, readers will meet circus spiders and revel in “heartspeak.”

A promising, lighthearted beginning. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-242820-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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