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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A promising, lighthearted beginning.

THE PROBLIM CHILDREN

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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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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