A suspenseful romp through an entertainingly witchy world.

CINDERS & SPARROWS

Although a 12-year-old servant girl doesn’t recall the time before she was an orphan, she remembers her secret, powerful name: Zita Brydgeborn.

When she’s summoned to Blackbird Castle, which is ruled over by the unpleasant Mrs. Cantanker, to take her rightful place as the last of a family of powerful witches, it seems almost like a dream come true. But there is much to learn and no one she can fully rely upon, not even Minnifer, the maid, and Bram, the cook, both of whom are friendly toward her. There’s also the scary matter of her family, bewitched and moldering in the dining room. Mrs. Cantanker gradually reveals herself to be a dark force to be reckoned with. When she trusts to her own resourcefulness—which is ample—Zita is able to begin gathering tools of power: a loyal crow, magical scissors, and, finally, her Anchor. She’ll need them all as the depth of Cantanker’s evil scheme is finally exposed and Zita must fight the battle of her life to save her family and protect the world from a dead witch of undeniable power. Bachmann’s worldbuilding is delightful. The castle is rich with enough ghosts and enchanted staircases to satisfy any fantasy lover, and the cast of characters, all seemingly White, is well developed and engaging, especially intrepid narrator Zita.

A suspenseful romp through an entertainingly witchy world. (Fantasy. 9-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-228995-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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