3 Quirky Middle Grade Titles on Bullying, Pizza Rats, and Beetles | March 2018 Xpress Reviews

Beetle Boy returns to save the day; the "Pizza Rat" meme for middle graders; and a bilingual title about a fourth grader with a heart of gold.

Leonard, M. G. Revenge of the Beetle Queen. 304p. Scholastic. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545853484.

Gr 5-8 –This sequel to Beetle Boy continues the high-octane adventure. Thanks to the efforts of main character Darkus, his friends Virgina and Bertoltz, and their clever pet beetles, Darkus’s father, Dr. Bartholomew Cutter, is rescued from the evil beetle queen, Lucretia Cutter. All seems well and happy until Dr. Cutter is shown Beetle Mountain, where the rest of the special beetles have been living since their own escape from Lucretia. Expecting his father to be pleased, Darkus is horrified when his father reacts with alarm and forbids Darkus and his friends from having anything further to do with the beetles. Never ones to shy away from intrigue, the three friends begin investigating Dr. Cutter’s early project work on beetles and the disappearance of an employee. Meanwhile, Lucretia is planning to overtake the world with her genetically engineered servant-beetles. Uncle Max, Novak Cutter (Lucretia’s daughter), and the bumbling miscreants Pickering and Gamble make return appearances. As in the first story, Leonard keeps the plot moving at a satisfyingly quick pace while effortlessly inserting a fair amount of entomology information along the way. VERDICT Fans of the first novel will certainly want to read the sequel and will look forward to what the future holds for Darkus and his brave friends.–Anne Jung-Mathews, Plymouth State University, NH

Resnick, Jacqueline. Raffie on the Run. 320p. Macmillan. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781626728660.

Gr 3-6 –Raffie is an undersized, pizza-loving rat who spins oversized tales while foraging for food in a Brooklyn subway station. When an energetic child on the subway platform abducts his younger brother Oggie for a school class pet competition, Raffie must embark on a frightening quest through New York City to get him back, encountering a pigeon with a stubby wing, a pampered lapdog, and a vengeful, acquisitive squirrel along the way. Resnick’s tale hinges on the idea that children can empathize with a rat, a pigeon, a possum, or even a genteel cockroach. She also humorously acknowledges the fact that at every turn there are adults who feel the opposite. VERDICT Young fans of the infamous “Pizza Rat” viral YouTube video will find this entertaining. An additional purchase.–Abigail Garnett, Brooklyn Public Library

Vicente, Alidis. The Shameless Shenanigans of Mister Malo/Las terribles travesuras de Mister Malo. 259p. Piñata Books. Oct. 2017. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781558858534. BL

Gr 3-6 –In this bilingual book, fourth grader Lance García, of Puerto Rican descent, dons a secret identity as Mister Malo, the avenger of wrongs, and especially of bullying, at school. After receiving a plea for help in his hidden mailbox, he begins contemplating the best way to end false farting accusations toward classmate Madeline. For Lance, this mission is personal, given his own experiences with cousin Manuel over the years. Yet the discovery that loving actions can solve some types of bullying does not translate into his first attempt to solve Madeline’s problem, which results in an all-school food fight rather than a reduction in the teasing. The plot winds its way through a great deal of farting, a slumber party, the consumption of his mother’s poor cooking, emissions of “Perfume de frank and beans,” and a sneak run to Taco Bell. The boys have a humorous evening that spurs a new idea for Lance about how to solve the bullying issue and also fulfill a healthy habits homework project. This first-person narrative, with subtle cultural themes, has a specific message for readers and at times skips a bit randomly between episodes, leaving some themes unresolved, and female characters flat or helpless. The Spanish and English text versions present fairly equivalent reading levels. VERDICT Humorous vignettes, realistic conflicts, and a male protagonist bent on doing the right thing make this first title in a new series stand on its own alongside other popular series for this age group.–Ruth Quiroa, National Louis University, Lisle, IL

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