Another upbeat, modern school story sure to please fans and teachers.

THE LOSERS CLUB

There’s no such thing as too much reading…until it gets you in trouble.

Sixth-grader Alec loves to read. For the past five years he has been sent to principal Mrs. Vance’s office multiple times for reading instead of paying attention in class. As sixth grade starts, Mrs. Vance gives the white preteen an ultimatum: stop reading when he should be listening or end up in summer school (which will destroy the annual family trip to New Hampshire). Worse than that, his parents will be spending longer hours at work, so he and his brother have to stay three extra hours in the Extended Day Program at school. According to EDP rules you either do homework in the library or you join a club. Happily, Alec learns he can actually start his own club, which he calls the Losers Club in order to scare kids away and ensure quiet reading time. Former best friend and now popular kid Kent delights in tormenting Alec, especially when the boys realize they both like new girl Nina (co-founder of the Losers Club). Can Alec navigate the rough waters of sixth grade, keep his grades up, and, most importantly, read? Clements adds to his growing oeuvre this tale peopled with likably familiar, mostly white kid characters in realistic situations; black Losers Club recruit Lily provides some diversity. Avid readers will cheer Alec on and wish their school bullies were as easily managed as Kent. Backmatter includes a list of the books, classics and popular, that the kids read throughout the story.

Another upbeat, modern school story sure to please fans and teachers. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-55755-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message.

WILLODEEN

An orphan loner’s small town faces a hard future after it unwittingly disrupts a natural cycle.

Willodeen is lucky that elderly retired thespians Mae and Birdie took her in after the wildfire that killed her parents and brother, not only because they’re a loving couple, but because they let her roam the woods in search of increasingly rare screechers—creatures so vile-tempered and stinky that the village elders of Perchance have put a bounty on them. The elders have other worries, though: The migratory hummingbears that have long nested in the area, drawing tourists to the lucrative annual Autumn Faire, have likewise nearly vanished. Could there be a connection? If there is, Willodeen is just the person to find it—but who would believe her? Applegate’s characters speak in pronouncements about life and nature that sometimes seem to address readers more than other characters, but the winsome illustrations lighten the thematic load. Screechers appear much like comically fierce warthogs and hummingbears, as small teddies with wings. Applegate traces a burgeoning friendship between her traumatized protagonist and Connor, a young artist who turns found materials into small animals so realistic that one actually comes to life. In the end, the townsfolk do listen and pitch in to make amends. Red-haired, gray-eyed Willodeen is cued as White; Connor has brown skin, and other human characters read as White by default.

The young folk and (of course) the animals are engagingly wrought in this tale with a strong ecological message. (Eco-fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-14740-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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