Middle-grade readers in it for the story alone will gallop through this spellbinder; here’s hoping they go so fast the...

THE MAGICIAN'S FIRE

From the Young Houdini series , Vol. 1

A fast-paced mystery finds Harry, an aspiring magician, and his friends on a quest to find Harry’s mentor, Herbie Lemster, who disappears from his dressing room backstage in a puff of purple smoke.

In this British import, Harry and Billie are street kids, while Arthur is the neglected son of a wealthy businessman who wants to send him away to a boarding school. It’s on Arthur’s birthday that Harry tries his most dangerous magic trick to date, and the three go out to celebrate, intending to wind up at the show in which Herbie performs. Their search begins right after Herbie disappears. The task is made difficult by Harry’s unfortunate habit of leaping into action, trusting that the other two will find him. And there are all too many sinister adults surrounding the three companions. The mystery does get solved, Harry learns a few things about friendship, and Arthur gives Harry his professional name of Houdini. Readers interested in actual information about Houdini should look elsewhere, as except for extremely broad background strokes, this character’s childhood has been entirely fictionalized. Most notably, this character has lived alone in New York after being sent by himself across the Atlantic, instead of spending his boyhood in Wisconsin in an intact family headed by his father, a rabbi.

Middle-grade readers in it for the story alone will gallop through this spellbinder; here’s hoping they go so fast the historical license doesn’t stick. (Adventure. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4926-0332-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice.

FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON

After receiving a letter from her incarcerated father, whom she’s never met, 12-year-old Zoe sets out to prove his innocence.

It’s the summer before seventh grade, and aspiring pastry chef Zoe sets her sights on perfecting her baking skills to audition as a contestant on Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. One day, she receives a letter from her father, Marcus, who was sent to prison for murder right before Zoe was born. She’s never met Marcus, and her mother wants her to have nothing to do with him. So Zoe keeps the letter a secret and begins corresponding with Marcus on a regular basis. He shares his favorite songs and encourages Zoe’s baking-competition dreams. When Marcus proclaims his innocence, Zoe is shocked: How could someone innocent end up in prison? With the help of her grandmother and her friend Trevor, Zoe begins to learn about systemic racism and how Black people like her and Marcus are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than White people. Zoe’s relationship with Marcus is at the center of the novel, but her relationships with her mother, stepfather, grandmother, and Trevor are also richly conveyed. This powerful debut packs both depth and sweetness, tackling a tough topic in a sensitive, compelling way.

An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287585-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids.

THE AMBROSE DECEPTION

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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