THE BOXES

Sleator (The Beasties, 1997, etc.) offers a strained mix of aliens and time travel in this tepid work of science fiction. When Annie, 15, is entrusted with two mysterious boxes by her secretive, young-looking Uncle Marco, her reaction is entirely understandable: She opens both. The first crate releases a crab-like creature that asexually reproduces in the basement of her Aunt Ruth’s house; the second, in her bedroom, reveals a clock-like device that can slow the flow of time. Of course, the boxes are somehow connected—the clock, which the crab-creatures refer to as “Lord,” enables them to erect a miniature palace within a very short time. Rather than focus on the aliens, the story shifts to the evil Crutchley Development Corporation, which, while buying up local houses to erect a super mall, discovers the secret in Annie’s basement, and steals the clock device. With her friend, Henry, Annie escapes the clutches of Crutchley employees and relatives, and returns with the clock, which, Uncle Marco divulges, is the key to his youthful appearance. As the Crutchley team bursts in, the crab creatures create a vortex through which the three humans escape. That lets Sleator off the hook for the moment, without providing any real explanation, and negates all chances for a satisfying ending. Readers will have to wait to see if there’s a sequel. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-525-46012-8

Page Count: 189

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1998

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A WEEK IN THE WOODS

Playing on his customary theme that children have more on the ball than adults give them credit for, Clements (Big Al and Shrimpy, p. 951, etc.) pairs a smart, unhappy, rich kid and a small-town teacher too quick to judge on appearances. Knowing that he’ll only be finishing up the term at the local public school near his new country home before hieing off to an exclusive academy, Mark makes no special effort to fit in, just sitting in class and staring moodily out the window. This rubs veteran science teacher Bill Maxwell the wrong way, big time, so that even after Mark realizes that he’s being a snot and tries to make amends, all he gets from Mr. Maxwell is the cold shoulder. Matters come to a head during a long-anticipated class camping trip; after Maxwell catches Mark with a forbidden knife (a camp mate’s, as it turns out) and lowers the boom, Mark storms off into the woods. Unaware that Mark is a well-prepared, enthusiastic (if inexperienced) hiker, Maxwell follows carelessly, sure that the “slacker” will be waiting for rescue around the next bend—and breaks his ankle running down a slope. Reconciliation ensues once he hobbles painfully into Mark’s neatly organized camp, and the two make their way back together. This might have some appeal to fans of Gary Paulsen’s or Will Hobbs’s more catastrophic survival tales, but because Clements pauses to explain—at length—everyone’s history, motives, feelings, and mindset, it reads more like a scenario (albeit an empowering one, at least for children) than a story. Worthy—but just as Maxwell underestimates his new student, so too does Clement underestimate his readers’ ability to figure out for themselves what’s going on in each character’s life and head. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-82596-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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BEOWULF

“Hear, and listen well, my friends, and I will tell you a tale that has been told for a thousand years and more.” It’s not exactly a rarely told tale, either, though this complete rendition is distinguished by both handsome packaging and a prose narrative that artfully mixes alliterative language reminiscent of the original, with currently topical references to, for instance, Grendel’s “endless terror raids,” and the “holocaust at Heorot.” Along with being printed on heavy stock and surrounded by braided borders, the text is paired to colorful scenes featuring a small human warrior squaring off with a succession of grimacing but not very frightening monsters in battles marked by but a few discreet splashes of blood. Morpurgo puts his finger on the story’s enduring appeal—“we still fear the evil that stalks out there in the darkness . . . ”—but offers a version unlikely to trouble the sleep of more sensitive readers or listeners. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7636-3206-6

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2006

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