Flimsy puzzles plus unsolved mystery equals unsatisfying.

THE GAME MASTER

SUMMER SCHOOLED

Sixth grade summer school turns into a scary escape room.

The six kids don’t know why they’re the only ones to show up for summer school today, but the empty building is seriously creeping them out. Can they just leave and enjoy the summer day? But something has happened to their class projects: Frankie’s “Leaning Tower of Cheese-a” has vanished, and so has Becca’s heirloom zoetrope, which is her nana’s prize possession. The classroom door slams shut and locks, and a voice over the loudspeaker tells them they need to solve puzzles if they ever want to leave the school or find the zoetrope. They’re herded by clues and shadowy figures around the building, where they’re repeatedly locked into rooms. Their antagonist escalates the challenges the more they solve: First it’s just a locked door with a code, then a chaotically furniture-filled gym, and eventually buckets of fake blood. Chapters alternate between the third-person points of view of Becca and Matt, the two White children. The other four kids—Vietnamese American Kylie; brown-skinned, bilingual Miguel (who has two moms); brown-skinned Danny; and nonbinary, brown-skinned Frankie—are just as central to the storyline, and there’s no clear narrative benefit to the alternating perspectives of the two blond children in particular. No questions are answered before the setup for the sequel. Most puzzles aren’t provided, so readers can’t join the solving process, and detail-oriented middle school readers will notice many incorrect details.

Flimsy puzzles plus unsolved mystery equals unsatisfying. (Suspense. 9-11)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-302507-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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It’s not the first time old Ben has paid our times a call, but it’s funny and free-spirited, with an informational load that...

BEN FRANKLIN'S IN MY BATHROOM!

Antics both instructive and embarrassing ensue after a mysterious package left on their doorstep brings a Founding Father into the lives of two modern children.

Summoned somehow by what looks for all the world like an old-time crystal radio set, Ben Franklin turns out to be an amiable sort. He is immediately taken in hand by 7-year-old Olive for a tour of modern wonders—early versions of which many, from electrical appliances in the kitchen to the Illinois town’s public library and fire department, he justly lays claim to inventing. Meanwhile big brother Nolan, 10, tags along, frantic to return him to his own era before either their divorced mom or snoopy classmate Tommy Tuttle sees him. Fleming, author of Ben Franklin’s Almanac (2003) (and also, not uncoincidentally considering the final scene of this outing, Our Eleanor, 2005), mixes history with humor as the great man dispenses aphorisms and reminiscences through diverse misadventures, all of which end well, before vanishing at last. Following a closing, sequel-cueing kicker (see above) she then separates facts from fancies in closing notes, with print and online leads to more of the former. To go with spot illustrations of the evidently all-white cast throughout the narrative, Fearing incorporates change-of-pace sets of sequential panels for Franklin’s biographical and scientific anecdotes. Final illustrations not seen.

It’s not the first time old Ben has paid our times a call, but it’s funny and free-spirited, with an informational load that adds flavor without weight. (Graphic/fantasy hybrid. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-93406-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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A kid adventurer with a disability makes this steampunk offering stand out.

BRIGHTSTORM

From the Brightstorm series , Vol. 1

Orphaned twins, an adventurer dad lost to an ice monster, and an airship race around the world.

In Lontown, 12-year-old twins Arthur and Maudie learn that their explorer father has gone missing on his quest to reach South Polaris, the crew of his sky-ship apparently eaten by monsters. As he’s accused of sabotage, their father’s property is forfeit. The disgraced twins are sent off to live in a garret in a scene straight out of an Edwardian novel à la A Little Princess. Maudie has the consolation of her engineering skills, but all Arthur wants is to be an adventurer like his father. A chance to join Harriet Culpepper’s journey to South Polaris might offer excitement and let him clear his father’s name—if only he can avoid getting eaten by intelligent ice monsters. Though some steampunk set dressing is appropriately over-the-top (such as a flying house, thinly depicted but charming), adaptive tools for Arthur’s disability are wonderfully realistic. His iron arm is a standard, sometimes painful passive prosthesis. The crew adapts the airship galley for Arthur’s needs, even creating a spiked chopping board. Off the ship, Arthur and Maudie meet people and animals in vignettes that are appealingly rendered but slight. Harriet teaches the white twins respect for the cultures they encounter on these travels, though they are never more than observers of non-Lontowners’ different ways.

A kid adventurer with a disability makes this steampunk offering stand out. (Steampunk. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00564-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton Young Readers

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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