Snapshots of a tough childhood.


Grinding privation itself is the main character as much as it is the mise-en-scène for the protagonist of Baptist’s debut novel.

Each chapter is a calendar-date vignette of hardship for the eponymous character, a young Black boy living with his 4-year-old sister and their mother, who experiences depression-driven alcoholism. They share a smoke-smelling hotel room, having lost their apartment because Isaiah’s mother couldn’t afford the rent in their working-class neighborhood. Each date details the insults and injuries financial difficulty heaps on poetry-loving Isaiah, from worries over housing insecurity and his family’s visits to the food pantry to the socio-economically insensitive writing prompts the teacher assigns (“My world is a good and happy place”) and Isaiah’s suspension for justifiably lashing out at a tormentor. What steadies Isaiah through this turmoil is his candy-profiteering best friend and the notebook Isaiah’s late father left, in which Isaiah is cast as a superhero who derives his power from bowls of beans and rice. But will they be enough? Expanding the tale from her We Need Diverse Books short story contest winner, “The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn,” Baptist presents the direness of abject poverty with exquisite empathy. She provides Isaiah with a supportive community that helps as his family’s situation fluctuates, giving readers who also experience housing insecurity hope but no promises. She doesn’t, however, give them much actual plot to carry them along.

Snapshots of a tough childhood. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12136-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A humorous homage that will appeal to lovers of quirky friendship stories.


From the Best Babysitters Ever series , Vol. 1

Inspired by The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin, three best friends start a babysitting business. Hijinks ensue.

In her middle-grade debut, Cala introduces readers to a new gang of best friends intent on making fast money by wrangling messy children. Malia (or “Alia,” according to her rebranding campaign) is a sporty girl with her sights set on throwing THE BEST joint birthday party ever with her two best friends, Bree and Dot. The only thing standing in their way is their lack of cash. Luck, or maybe fate (as Dot’s “yogi-slash-tarot-card-reader” mom might claim), leads Malia to a free copy of Kristy’s Great Idea—and inspiration strikes. It’s not all smooth sailing. At one point Malia rallies her friends by telling them “Dreams are everything in life! Without them, we’re just blobs with feet that go to school and do a bunch of stuff we don’t really want to do.” Thanks to witty banter, ample humor and excellent characterization, readers will enjoy following this group of young dreamers as they attempt to gain some independence in their preteen lives. Though at times the storytelling is a bit all over the place (the third-person narration alternates among the three), the characters are sincere and genuine. Cala delves into insecurities and worries that young readers will no doubt find familiar. Malia presents black and Dot presents white; “technically…half Jewish” Bree has “olive” skin and shiny black hair.

A humorous homage that will appeal to lovers of quirky friendship stories. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85089-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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A splendid adventure, hilarious and harrowing in turn and so strongly cast that even the precocious pocket primate doesn’t...


From the Imagination Box series , Vol. 1

Two young sleuths—three if you count the talking marmoset—narrowly avert worldwide disaster after a truly dangerous device and its inventor vanish suddenly.

Ford works twists both funny and terrifying into the notion of wish fulfillment. Being a nosy sort, 10-year-old Tim soon discovers that Professor Eisenstone, a secretive new guest at the hotel his adoptive parents own, has developed a nano-assembler the size of a microwave oven that creates any item that can be visualized strongly enough. It doesn’t take long for the clever white lad to think into existence Phil, a companion “finger monkey” with posh manners and accent, and also an improved Imagination Box of his own. But almost immediately, Eisenstone and the original are snatched by a villainous ex-politician. Tim and Eisenstone’s equally clever granddaughter, Dee, also white, discover this last by following a trail of clues to (wait for it) a secret lab under a former insane asylum…a perfect setting for both weird science and a massively destructive climax. The author cranks up the horror by giving the box the ability to make tangible not just physical items, but fears and nightmares too. Also, by not blinding his characters to the device’s potential, he invites readers to imagine the implications for themselves.

A splendid adventure, hilarious and harrowing in turn and so strongly cast that even the precocious pocket primate doesn’t steal the show . (Science fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93627-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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