Both a hilarious spoof of a noir novel and a clever comment on modern punctuation misuse

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THE UPPER CASE

TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY

Lazar and MacDonald continue the relentless puns and fun with letters of 7 Ate 9 (2017), framed, like its predecessor, in the style of a mid-20th-century detective novel.

Private I, an actual letter I with little arms and legs, is dozing in his office when Question Mark and a rather shifty-looking Exclamation rush in to inform him that all the uppercase letters are missing, a surprising event in Capital City (geddit?!). No half-wit, I realizes that he is the “last capital letter standing” and resolves to take on the case. Chaos has erupted in the city, and random lowercase letters and punctuation run riot. I discovers that his favorite waitress, B has not shown up for work in the Café Uno—now known as “afé no” due to the dearth of uppercase letters. I takes the train out to Cursive Loop and finds the missing capitals all stuck up on a movie theater’s marquee, placed there by Exclamation, who, according to B, “promised to put us all in the movies.” Exclamation’s explanation is a subtle dig at overuse of this symbol: As he says, “Capital letters are always calling me…YES, HA, OMG!” Exclamation is arrested by the Grammar Police and put away for a “short sentence.” MacDonald’s illustrations, with classic typesets and hints of the Manhattan skyline, perfectly capture the retro mood and comedy of the concept.

Both a hilarious spoof of a noir novel and a clever comment on modern punctuation misuse . (Picture book. 6-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-02765-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.

THE MYSTERIOUS MESSENGER

Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers.

DRAGONS VS. UNICORNS

From the Kate the Chemist series

A fifth grade girl brings her love of chemistry to the school play.

Kate loves science so much she’s determined to breathe fire. Of course she knows that she needs adult supervision, and so, with her science teacher’s help, Kate demonstrates an experiment with cornstarch and a blowtorch that nearly sets her teacher’s cactus on fire. Consequences ensue. Can someone who loves science as much as Kate does find pleasure spending her fall break at drama camp? It turns out that even the school play—Dragons vs. Unicorns—needs a chemist, though, and Kate saves the day with glue and glitter. She’s sabotaged along the way, but everything is fine after Kate and her frenemy agree to communicate better (an underwhelming response to escalating bullying). Doodles decorate the pages; steps for the one experiment described that can be done at home—making glittery unicorn-horn glue—are included. The most exciting experiments depicted, though, include flames or liquid nitrogen and could only be done with the help of a friendly science teacher. Biberdorf teaches chemistry at the University of Texas and also performs science-education programs as “Kate the Chemist”; in addition to giving her protagonist her name and enthusiasm, she also seems represented in Kate-the-character’s love of the fictional YouTube personality “Dr. Caroline.” Kate and her nemesis are white; Kate’s best friends are black and South Asian.

A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11655-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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