When “Plain Jane” Emma tries to thwart her evil uncle’s scheme to take over a master baker’s shop, a lot of slurping, spewing and brewing ensue.

Mr. and Mrs. Burblee are beautiful, thin and perfect in every way except for one annoying detail: their ordinary daughter. They send Emma to gross Uncle Simon for the summer, but he treats her worse than a servant. She overhears a plot between him and his villainous pal, Maximus Beedy (dressed all in white), to coerce Mr. Crackle, a Supreme-Extreme Master Baker, into making them a magical elixir that will turn any food instantly delicious. They prick him with joobajooba poison, which will rob him of his senses one by one, unless he complies. But Mr. Crackle has a few tricks up his toque, as readers learn when he, Emma and her friend Albie descend into the magic flour barrel to a secret, underground spice shop to round up the ingredients. Will they be able to make the elixir by the deadline? To the list of goofy ingredients (Burberry beans, whingbuzzit legs, biddle hegs, fribs, shick shack shree, etc.) add heaps of preciosity and blend with an overly melodramatic plot—the result is tasteless when compared to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the author of which Hashimoto clearly seeks to emulate. Emma is a tough cookie, but this recipe for a fun fantasy falls as flat as a collapsed soufflé. (Fantasy. 9-11)


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-86822-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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


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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Funny, scary in the right moments, and offering plenty of historical facts.


Catfished…by a ghost!

Harry Mancini, an 11-year-old White boy, was born and lives in Harry Houdini’s house in New York City. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s obsessed with Houdini and his escapology. Harry and his best friend, Zeke, are goofing around in some particularly stupid ways (“Because we’re idiots,” Zeke explains later) when Harry hits his head. In the aftermath of a weeklong coma, Harry finds a mysterious gift: an ancient flip phone that has no normal phone service but receives all-caps text messages from someone who identifies himself as “HOUDINI.” Harry is wary of this unseen stranger, like any intelligently skeptical 21st-century kid, but he’s eventually convinced: His phone friend is the real deal. So when Houdini asks Harry to try one of his greatest tricks, Harry agrees. Harry—so full of facts about Houdini that he litters his storytelling with infodumps, making him an enthusiastic tour guide to Houdini’s life—is easily tricked by his supportive-seeming hero. Harry, Zeke, and Houdini are all just the right amount of snarky, and while Harry’s terrifying adventure has an occasionally inconsistent voice, the humor and tension make this an appealing page-turner. Archival photographs of Harry Houdini make the ghostly visitation feel closer. Zeke is Black, and Harry Houdini, as he was in life, is a White Jewish immigrant.

Funny, scary in the right moments, and offering plenty of historical facts. (historical note, bibliography) (Supernatural adventure. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4515-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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