Whimsical illustrations cannot mitigate the wandering plot and unimpressive prose.


When Anjali wakes up in the middle of the night, the cold floor makes her wonder if someone has come in the house and left the door open—a thief, perhaps?

While her mother sleeps soundly, Anjali investigates. There is no food missing from the kitchen, but Anjali soon finds that her sparkly skirt, her mother’s silver comb, and a handful of coins are missing. Panicked, Anjali runs into the street screaming, summoning her neighbors and finally waking up her mother. But when she discovers that her river rocks are also missing, Anjali wonders if the thief is a villain or maybe just a lost little girl looking for treasure. When Anjali and her neighbors finally apprehend the thief, it turns out to be someone—or, rather, something—they never would have expected. Eventually, Anjali falls asleep next to her mother, dreaming of befriending the surprise thief. While the book’s illustrations effectively use bold blocks of color to create a fanciful feel, the text leaves much to be desired. The story meanders, often including superfluous details that are either already in the illustrations or read as a rather belabored explanation of the South Asian setting. Several of Anjali’s actions feel age inappropriate, including lighting an oil lamp with no parental supervision, running through her neighborhood alone in the dark, and feeding a wild monkey a banana. These excitements aside, overall, the story is too scattered and the prose too uneven to hold attention. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.4-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at 69.4% of actual size.)

Whimsical illustrations cannot mitigate the wandering plot and unimpressive prose. (Picture book. 2-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4788-6813-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Reycraft Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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Tasty challenges for preteen Poirots, middle-grade Miss Marples, and “Jigsaw Jones” grads.



In the spirit of Donald Sobol, creator of Encyclopedia Brown, 20 writers for young people offer short mysteries for budding sleuths to tackle…solutions in the back.

The MacGuffins range from the usual suspects (missing artworks, fundraising proceeds, and valuable jewelry) to more-unusual engines of mystery, such as whether a supposed ghost is real or not and who stomped out the giant letters “F-A-R-T” in the snow. In each case, one kid or a small group winkles out clues, identifies suspects, and then gathers for a denouement. None of these entries are no-brainers, being either chock full of red herrings, fiendishly tricky, or reliant on coded messages or, for that “ghost,” a knowledge of atmospheric physics. Kate Milford’s locked-room–style camp tale will require some serious thinking outside the box while Steve Hockensmith’s “Possum Man and Janet,” in which a fifth grader reluctantly accompanies her truly dim-bulb superhero uncle on a caper, is one of several entries that are entertaining even without the requisite deductive wizardry. Readers can check their own solutions at the end, where the contributors have laid out all the clues and reasoning. Though character unsurprisingly takes a back seat to mise-en-scène, names and details hint at some cultural and racial diversity in the casts, and Bruce Hale’s young sherlock, Gabriel “Gridlock” Jones, uses a wheelchair.

Tasty challenges for preteen Poirots, middle-grade Miss Marples, and “Jigsaw Jones” grads. (Mystery/short stories. 4-6)

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-288420-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A whimsical sequel.


The ladybug returns to foil another barnyard theft (What the Ladybug Heard, 2010).

Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len (white and brown-skinned respectively, with names that indicate body type) are fresh out of jail and up to their old tricks. Not content simply to steal delicious speckled eggs, the thieves scheme to steal the farm’s fat red hen. Luckily, Donaldson’s ladybug is on the case, and so are the farm’s cow, hog, cat, duck, and other residents. The author employs rhyming couplets to weave her cat-and-mouse, or shall we say thief-and-ladybug, game. Monk returns to illustrate the barnyard, employing googly eyes, bright colors, and crisp compositions. Incorporated elements of photo collage (the hoods’ knitwear, the sheep’s fleece, and selective other fabric highlights) add visual interest to the bright, matte paintings. The silly scheming tone will have little readers giggling with glee. While the book contains larcenous villains, the tale is light and fluffy, flitting here and there and making Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len as threatening as jelly doughnuts. Nevertheless, the choice to cast a fat person and a brown-skinned person as the villains while the kindly farmer is a thin, white man sours the taste somewhat.

A whimsical sequel. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-15652-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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