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Book Review

New Kid Catastrophes by Bill Myers has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the "TJ and the Time Stumblers" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Thelma Jean (TJ) Finkelstein, her 6-year-old sister, Dorie, 9-year-old sister, Violet, and their father move to a new neighborhood after Mrs. Finkelstein's death. At the same time, two kids from the 23rd century, who want to write a report on TJ because she was a famous leader, crash land and accidentally make contact with her. Because Herby and Tuna have run out of nuclear submarine fuel for their time-travel egg, they follow TJ everywhere, but only she can see them.

Not able to be mere observers, invisible time travelers Herby and Tuna get TJ blamed for breaking the nose of Hesper Breakahart, who is the school beauty and a famous TV star, and they throw a dictionary at dream-teen Chad Steel. When TJ talks aloud to the travelers, Chad thinks she is mentally challenged. TJ's inability to put words into complete sentences around him enhances this impression.

Although only Hesper's nose is broken, Hesper is pictured on TV with her arms in casts and her legs elevated. The next day, Hesper is filmed returning to school in a wheelchair. On camera, she says she wants to forgive her attacker and extends a hand of friendship to TJ in the cafeteria. When TJ tries to shake her hand, the food in her lunch bag, last-night's hamburgers that are similar in consistency to hockey pucks, fly out of her bag and break Hesper's front teeth. TJ is restrained by school authorities and feels worse than ever about her life.

Her lab partner, Doug Claudlooper, completes their science project, a mechanical kitty. Hesper wants her science project to be better than TJ's. She pays some scientists to create a laser beam so she can put it on the mouse in her and Chad's science project.

The science fair turns into a science catastrophe thanks to Herby and Tuna. Hesper's mouse with a laser beam is duplicated, Chad is turned into cheese, Doug fights off mice to protect Chad, the mechanical kitty enlarges and goes after a reporter, and Hesper's mean thoughts are broadcast for everyone to hear. Doug and Naomi, who are the only people who have treated TJ well at the school, save the day by destroying the mice and the mechanical kitten. Only Hesper's self-absorbed and broadcast thoughts remain.

In the end, Chad still thinks TJ is strange, people ignore Hesper because of her mean thoughts, and Doug and Naomi find they have a lot in common. TJ hopes that she can start fresh at school on the following day and that Herby and Tuna will let her. (Herby and Tuna can't return home until they find the nuclear submarine fuel that they need to power their time-travel egg.)

Christian Beliefs

Naomi prays for TJ as TJ makes social blunder after social blunder. Herby and Tuna advise TJ to stop showing favoritism to those who are popular and to treat everyone the same. They stress that she should love others, as it says in the Bible. Herby and Tuna appear to be Christians.

Other Belief Systems

At first, TJ and Dorie think their room is haunted because they hear the voices of the time travelers.

Authority Roles

After their father made hot dogs every day for weeks, Dorie, Violet and TJ started making the meals in their family. TJ's father doesn't realize how horrible TJ feels about her life, but when she leaves the table by making a scene and hurrying to her room, he eventually follows her upstairs to see if she wants to talk.

Because Herby and Tuna have turned TJ into a lamp, they keep the bedroom door closed, and one of them impersonates TJ's voice. When her voice says she is fine, her father doesn't push to speak with her face-to-face. Mr. Beaker the science teacher is indecisive and goes along with whatever Hesper's camera crew wants. He is also said to do what he does best, which is to bore his class.


Although not profane, newly created words are used in sentences for descriptive purposes, such as zweegs, zworked, gur-roid, torked, and quod-quod. Other words used for uncomplimentary descriptions are pants-wetting and geekiest. TJ's classmates have self-descriptive and derogatory last names such as Simpletwirp, Breakahart and Suchasnobb.

A piano that is being moved crashes into a barbeque grill and into TJ. She ends up on top of the piano before it and TJ crash through a privacy fence and land in Chad's family's pool. When TJ pushes a ball away from her during a PE game, the ball makes a U-turn and slams into Hesper's face, breaking her nose. The rumors around the incident build, and people say that TJ beat up Hesper, broke all of her bones and stole an army tank and ran over her. A dictionary flies off a shelf and hits Chad in the back of the head.

TJ's rich classmates get back at her for hurting Hesper by filling her locker with marbles and placing an active fire extinguisher in her hands, which propels her down the hall on marbles until she reaches the stairs and bounces down two flights. Two classmates pour a cage of frogs over her head because they disapprove of her laughing with Chad, who is supposed to be Hesper's boyfriend. At lunch, when Hesper is being nice to TJ for the cameras, TJ's lunch, hamburgers that looks more like hockey pucks, flies out of her bag, hits Hesper in the mouth and breaks two of her teeth.

When Hesper puts a laser beam on a mouse's head and Herby and Tuna accidentally duplicate it, people get hurt by the beam, and many science projects go up in flames. When Chad is turned into cheese, Doug protects him by using a mirrored surfboard to send some of the beams back at the mice and blow them up. When the time travelers enlarge Doug's mechanical kitty, it attacks a reporter and chews on the bleachers.


Herby and Tuna call TJ a major-babe, smoot, gam-gam and dude-ness.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Morphing and time freezes: Herby and Tuna morph TJ into a lamp to keep her from screaming and Chad into a goldfish, leaving him in the toilet until someone has to use the bathroom. They have to freeze time to un-morph him and take him home. Although the travelers fix their cloaking device, TJ can still see them. Herby and Tuna also morph other students into animals such as fish.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12


Bill Myers






Record Label



Tyndale Kids, a division of Tyndale House Publishers


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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