The Odd Squad: King Karl

illus. by Michael Fry. 208p. (The Odd Squad: Bk. 3). Disney-Hyperion. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781423199588. LC 2014007409.
Gr 3–7—Much like Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books (Abrams), comic strip creator Fry's latest series entry brings readers a middle school student low on the totem pole, with harebrained schemes that play out through a mix of text and imagery. Lead character and narrator, Nick, also has an astronaut who often appears in his reflective comments, acting like a blend of a conscience and a parent, reminding Nick that his ideas usually look better on paper than in practice. In this installment, Nick and his best friend, Molly, both members of the school's "Safety Squad" (part hall monitors, part crossing guards), begin to worry about him, but not because Karl owns a talking bird who wears a top hat and spends much of his time talking to sea monkeys. Instead, they worry that a "secret" group, known as MELZ (after their school's namesake Emily Dickinson) is recruiting him and not them. Nick also worries about state testing; caring for his grandmother after she "breaks her butt" dancing with her boyfriend, the school janitor; and his maybe crush on Molly. The story is a humorous blend of outrageous and believable. The content is young and the text simple, making this most likely a better fit for upper elementary students than for middle school.—Sarah Knutson, American Canyon Middle School, CA
Winning cartoony art grounds this third installment as Nick's harebrained schemes catapult from hilarious to outlandish at frenetic speed. But upper-elementary and young-middle-school readers won't mind: the antics of Molly; Karl; Nick's ever-hilarious grandma, Meemaw; and Meemaw's new boyfriend, school janitor Mr. Dupree, coupled with a mysterious secret society called MLEZ, will no doubt keep them entertained.

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