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Are you looking for a rollicking adventure? If you are, the of COURSE you’re looking for a book about pirates. And wouldn’t it be better if the book were full of fun characters, subtle humor, and almost Lewis Caroll-esque absurdism? If you agree with me, this is the book you want.
Hilary has only ever wanted one thing: to be a pirate. But when she sends in her application to The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, not only do they reject her because she’s a girl, but they recommend her for Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies! The horror! Hilary won’t stand for that, and, with her trusty gargoyle at her side, she sets off to make her name working for a “freelance” pirate, who is looking for a treasure that he, rather frustratingly, won’t describe.
But what’s this? Hilary’s governess is after her? And what’s that? Her father, the Admiral of the royal navy, is hunting her down? And worst of all, even Miss Pimm is acting bizarre? Hilary has her work cut out for her in this delightful, semi-epistolary novel, where letters between ship and shore are faithfully delivered, gargoyles want hats, and magic can be located in table spoons.
Even better than the satisfying conclusion is the revelation that this is just the first book in a series. Avast, me hearties! Is that a second book on the horizon?
Posted by: Sarah
As we kick off the holiday season, it feels like a good time for stories about families. Ann M. Martin’s new Family Tree series fits that bill nicely. Ultimately, this will be a four book series spanning four generations of one family. Book one, Better to Wish, opens the series with the story of Abigail (Abby) Nichols in Depression Era Maine. Each subsequent book will follow the lives of the oldest daughter of the main character from the previous book.
When we are first introduced to young Abby she is only eight years old and her family is struggling to make ends meet. Better to Wish follows the Nichols family as Abby’s family and her father’s business grow over the course of 14 years. Abby’s father (Pop) is not an easy man to live with. He is hot-tempered, overbearing, and intolerant. In contrast, however, Abby’s mother is extremely sensitive and caring, but she also struggles with bouts of depression. Over the years Abby experiences the highs and lows of growing up including the simple wonder of going to the carnival as a child, building and losing friendships, the arrival of new siblings, courtship, and the struggle for independence.
While the story alone is quite engaging, listening to the audio is a truly wonderful experience. Narrator Annalie Gernert does a fabulous job delineating characters. Not only does she clearly differentiate the voices of each character, but she also manages to create slight variations in the intonations of the younger characters to indicate that they are growing up. Gernert’s well-paced narration is rich with emotion and brings the story to life.
Better to Wish is both heartwarming and heartbreaking and would make for a wonderful book discussion for a parent and child book club for children in grades four and up, or just for families to share together. If you are taking a road trip this holiday season, consider bringing the audio of this book along to keep your family company on your way to Grandma’s house.
Posted by: Staci
It took me a while to get around to this book, even though I liked the sound of the plot description. Part of the blurb on the back cover compared it to another children’s fantasy series (semi-well known; nothing huge) that I wasn’t crazy about. I didn’t DISlike that other series, but I merely found it ‘fine’. I almost put Jinx back on the library shelf several times, but each time the plot description made me keep it — I’m so glad I did.
As a small boy, Jinx was almost abandoned in the dense, dangerous Urwald by his stepfather, but a wizard named Simon happened upon the situation and adopted him as an assistant. For the next several years, Jinx lives in Simon’s house, first just cleaning up after him, and eventually learning small magics. Jinx thinks that Simon is keeping magical secrets from him, but Jinx is keeping secrets from Simon, too–he has a greater connection to the trees of Urwald than anyone knows. Eventually, Jinx has to strike out on his own into the depths of the forest, to get back something he’s lost, to figure out just what kind of magic he wants to do, and to discover what kind of wizard Simon really is.
This book was a delight: in spite of the fantasy setting, the world is perfectly grounded. The characters feel real, and their relationships and interactions are believable. The domestic setting–Simon’s house, with its kitchen, magic rooms and myriad cats–is a place that a reader would want to see and explore, and the Urwald–peopled by trolls and butter-churn-riding witches–is vividly described.
I’ll go ahead and make some comparisons of my own. Any reader who enjoys Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, or the Patricia C. Wrede Enchanted Forest Chronicles will feel right at home, and will immensely enjoy their journey with Jinx. I can only hope that there will be sequels.
Posted by: Sarah
Boy Scout Troop 77 is off for a camping week-end in the remote beach campground of Halape, Hawaii. The boys are various ages – ranging from 11 to 15 and the adult leaders are two of the fathers. Everyone is excited about the week-end which begins early in the morning with a long, hot, grueling hike from the trailhead down to the campsite.
As senior patrol leader for the troop, Dylan has some extra leadership responsibilities that are often complicated by snide comments and actions by Louis, who is the newest and angriest member. Dylan tries to stay as far away from Louis as possible. Halape is a beautiful and serene campsite. The swimming is good, the food is delicious and the stories and legends around the campfire are just scary enough. The first night goes well.
During the second night they experience a massive earthquake which is followed by a tsunami that destroys their campsite and threatens their lives. The fun camping week-end quickly turns into a survival week-end that has the boys not only demonstrating their bravery, but also has Dylan and Louis bonding in ways that will last a lifetime.
This book is based on actual events that took place in 1975. The author’s cousin was one of the boys in Troop 77. The adventure of camping in such a remote area and the ultimate survival make this an exciting and enjoyable book.
Posted by: Wendy
If you’re looking for a charming, fun, early chapter book for Halloween without the spook factor, you might consider conjuring up Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch. The story takes place at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, a boarding school where young witches learn to ride a broomstick, make potions, and craft spells. Mildred is a witch in her first term, and she is at the bottom of her class: the worst witch. But, as the reader learns, Mildred is kind and honorable and resourceful. And she also has a loyal best friend, Maud. So even though Mildred’s spells turn out all wrong, and even though her smug classmate Ethel seems out to get her, and the severe Miss Hardbroom has no patience for her mistakes, and everyone thinks Mildred singlehandedly ruined the school’s Hallowe’en performance, it all turns out alright in the end.
This is a sweet school story that just happens to take place at an academy for witches. It is a good choice for readers transitioning into chapter books, or for older readers just looking for a quick read. The Worst Witch is the first in a series of books that take place at Miss Cackle’s. And, if the premise sounds a bit familiar, please do note that The Worst Witch was published in 1974!
Posted by: Parry
I came to The Grand Plan to Fix Everything backwards. I happened to grab Uma Krishnaswami’s newer book, The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic, off the shelf, and, just planning to flip through it, ended up reading the entire thing. Then, of course, I immediately had to go back and read the first book in the series.
Dini and her friend Maddie love Dolly Singh movies–the dancing and the singing and the fabulous plots are just sooooo . . . ! They have big plans to spend the summer at Bollywood dance camp so that they can dance like Dolly, but Dini’s mother throws a big wrench into their plans: Dini’s family will be moving to India for two whole years, so Dini’s mother can work at a medical clinic in the tiny town of Swapnagiri. Dini will have to leave Maddie, dance camp, and her whole regular life in Maryland to go live in the middle of nowhere: Swapnagiri isn’t even anywhere near Bombay!
The only thing that can save Dini’s year is if she could meet Dolly Singh–but how can she find one movie star in a country the size of India? Well, it might be a little easier than she thinks. . . .
This book is completely adorable. Not only will the reader be captivated by Dini, but they’ll love all the people she meets, from Soli Dustup the movie producer, to Lal the humble postman, not to mention the monkeys and the goats! And I was completely surprised by one thing: I usually cannot stand books written in present tense. I find that it usually knocks me completely out of the story and seems very affected. In this case, I didn’t even notice until I was halfway through the second book that it was written in present tense. I had to flip back to the first one to see if it was written that way as well, and of course it was! The book is constructed so well that the present tense narration is an integral part of the feeling of the book. In combination with that present tense, the plot, zany as it is realistic, sweeps the reader along with propulsive motion.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fun, mad-cap, realistic fiction. Its length means that it is usually recommended for grades 4 and up, but I think it would also work well as a read-aloud for younger children (provided that the reader doesn’t mind the occasional Hindi word!
My only complaint? It doesn’t come with a soundtrack!
Posted by: Sarah
Lorelei’s life use to be pretty good, until her mom died. Now her father is remarried to the wicked Molly, her brother has grown cold and distant, and her best friend seems to have abandoned her just when she needs her the most. If that isn’t enough, now Lorelei has to start at a strange new school called Splendid Academy that seemed to appear out of nowhere mere days before the old school suspiciously burned down.
Initially, Lorelei thinks Splendid Academy might actually be a good place for her. The principal is extremely welcoming and seems to have a soft spot for Lorelei, the students have a great deal of freedom, the playground is amazing, and the food is to die for. However, Lorelei can’t help but wonder if the school might not be as splendid as it seems. Is it just her imagination, or do all the candy bowls keep replenishing themselves? Why are there candy bowls on the students’ desks, for that matter? Why do the teachers seem so concerned with how much the students are eating? And is that a giant copper kettle hidden in the teachers’ lounge? Only Lorelei and her new friend Andrew seem to think Splendid Academy might be too good to be true and by the time they figure out what really is going on, they may not have a chance to save the other students or themselves.
In The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, author Nikki Loftin puts a contemporary spin on the story of Hansel and Gretel by having the witch run a charter school in suburban America. Loftin does a great job of bringing the classic fairytale elements into the modern world. Similarly to fairytales of old, the story is tense enough to inspire some nail biting, but not so dark as to terrify young readers. The characters are engaging and relatable and the action develops quickly making this a great choice for a read-aloud for 4th through 6th grade. Like children drawn to a candy cottage, it is easy for readers to be pulled into this modern fairytale.
Posted by: Staci
Cut off from the rest of the world by an enormous mountain, secured by a massive gated wall exists the city of Deliverance. The residents of Deliverance are special. They look like everyone on the other side of the mountain, but they all possess a form of telekinesis called psi. The people of Deliverance use their psi for everything including cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, driving, etc. Ocassionally, however, children’s psi powers do not develop and are labeled Freaklings. Of course, it is impossible for Freaklings to exist among the psi wielders; therefore, those children are sent to the nonpsi village outside the walls of Deliverance where they are taught to survive in a world where they must do everything for themselves.
Taemon was not born a Freakling, but he is different from other psi wielders. He has the ability to “mind wander” or see inside objects using his mind – a very dangerous power in the hands of the wrong person. Taemon’s brother, Yens, is extremely gifted at using psi and hungers for fame and power. As Yens starts to realize just how powerful Taemon really is, he begins to feel threatened and attacks Taemon in hopes of scaring him into explaining the root of his power. As a result, Taemon actually loses his ability to control objects with psi and must hide his handicap or be exiled from the city. Ultimately, Taemon must make a decision that will impact everyone in Deliverance and even beyond, but can he trust himself to make the right decision?
Posted by: Staci
Finally, after a long winter of dissatisfying-to-outright-bad novels, a DELIGHTFUL new fantasy has appeared!
Tom is used to living his ordinary (but happy) life with his parents, running their deli and hanging out with his friend Charlie. One day, though he awakens to a shocking discovery: his father is a fairy. A real, live, MAGICAL fairy. Which means that, he, Tom is a demisprite: demisprites are illegal, and the fairy authorities are trying to find Tom and his family to arrest and even execute them!
Tom’s father goes on the run, Tom’s mother is hidden somewhere (hilariously) magical, and Tom himself is spirited away by his surprisingly non-fairy-like godmother, Lorna Mustard, the owner of a scrapyard in Scotland. In the course of just a few days, Tom is introduced to his other (even more non-fairy-like) godmothers, his unexpected cousin Pindar, a number of revolutionary genies, and the hottest new fairy rock star (singer of the smash hit: Old Fairies Suck).
That might be enough to overwhelm an ordinary person, but Tom’s not ordinary (and neither are his friends) and he plans to rescue his family if it’s the last thing he does–even if it means that he has to completely change fairy society.
This book is a delightful romp full of truly original moments and laugh-out-loud characters, and it’s impossible to read it without a huge smile on one’s face. I enjoyed Kate Saunders’ last book, Beswitched, but I LOVED this one, and I hope all of you will, too.
Posted by: Sarah
Sam and Morgan are best friends. Strike that – Sam and Morgan used to be best friends. Now Morgan has declared that he will be kicking Sam’s butt in exactly 33 minutes. How did these life-long friends come to this place? That’s exactly what Sam is trying to figure out in Todd Hasak-Lowy’s 33 Minutes. Told mostly through flashbacks from Sam’s point of view, Hasak-Lowy uses sharp wit to take a bit of the edge off the very real heartache that comes with growing up and growing apart, without sugar-coating the reality of this all-too-familiar situation.
Sam is incredibly bright, but not so popular. Morgan has become quite popular in junior high, but he’s never been the best student. As Morgan’s new friends begin taking up more of his time, Sam can’t help but feel left out and a bit jealous. Over the course of a few months, tensions build between the two best friends, and when everything comes to a head Sam is certain it must be Morgan’s fault. A little reflection over the course of the ever dwindling 33 minutes, however, sheds some light on the reality of Sam and Morgan’s situation, and Sam realizes that maybe he is not completely blameless himself.
In Sam Todd Hasak-Lowy has created a very real and very witty character. Sam’s clever observations will have readers laughing out loud but the humor does not take away from the painful reality of Sam’s situation. It is exactly this mixture of humor and reality that make this book an excellent choice for a book discussion group (particularly for boys) or for a 5th or 6th grade classroom read-aloud.
Posted by: Staci
Lillian lives a contented life with Aunt, deep in the forest, on a farm with chickens, cats, a cow, and the Apple Tree Man, and where Lillian has always hoped to see fairies. Her life is unexceptional–though full of delight–until a day when she is bitten by a snake in the forest. Almost dead, she is saved by the forest cats, who change her into a kitten! Lillian has always wanted to see magic, but she would rather not be a cat, especially since there’s no way for her to tell Aunt what has happened. Lillian embarks on an unbelieveable adventure, involving talking foxes, a possum witch, Lillian’s old friends the Creek boys and their frightening Aunt Nancy, spiders, bear people, and even the Father of Cats.
The story is a compelling one, but the reason the book reaches towards exceptionality is in the marriage of the text and the magical illustrations (by Charles Vess). A hundred years ago, even novels for adults could be heavily illustrated, but over the years, we’ve begun to think of pictures in books as first, ‘just for kids’, and later ‘just for babies’. This book appears to be part of a vanguard of heavily-illustrated novels proving that we can have a thought-provoking, in-depth, novel-length story with illustrations on nearly every page. Unlike those in the works of the more famous Brian Selznik, the illustrations here do not move the story along on their own, but they illuminate it perfectly, bringing characters further to life, and adding a tingle of the unearthly to all the magical elements. Highly recommended for those who like real-world-rooted fantasy, folk-tales, and animal stories.
Posted by: Sarah
If you were eleven years old, would you pass up a trip to India with your parents to visit your relatives and instead choose to stay with an uncle on a small island off the coast of Washington State? The girl in this book, Poppy Ray, does exactly that. Her uncle is a veterinarian and Poppy thinks that she wants to be a vet when she grows up. She even has her own veterinarian medical kit which she takes with her. Unfortunately, when she actually gets there, she finds out that it is a lot tougher than she thought it would be. Her uncle is great and she loves the animals but she finds out that the sight of blood makes her sick and she has some trouble with the owners of the pets.
There are heartwarming moments and heartbreaking moments and some wonderful characters in this book. How do you think Poppy will do with the trials and tribulations of a busy veterinarian’s office? I guess you will have to read it for yourself to find out!
Posted by: Fran W.
Once a year the people of Quill gather together for the purge where it is announced whether each 13 year old is Wanted, Necessary, or Unwanted. The Wanteds are groomed to become the future leaders of Quill. The Necessaries are trained in a trade like food preparation or elder care. The Unwanteds are disposed of, and the people of Quill are instructed never to think of them again. On the day of the purge during Alex’s 13th year of life, no one is surprised when his name is not among those deemed Unwanted. Alex has had numerous infractions over the course of his short life; he has known his fate since he was ten. It is a surprise, however, to hear that his identical twin brother Aaron has been chosen as a Wanted. As Aaron prepares for his new life at Wanted University where he will study to become one of the powerful members of the society of Quill, Alex is transported with the other Unwanteds to be disposed of in the lake of boiling oil, or so he believes. In reality, the Unwanteds are taken to the land of Artimѐ where they will be taught to harness their creative gifts and turn them into magic in preparation for a future battle with the army of Quill.
Alex, suddenly thrown into a world where self expression is encouraged and emotions are no longer forbidden as they are in Quill, finds himself missing his brother Aaron terribly. While Aaron, who is on the fast track to a very powerful career at the right hand of the High Priest of Quill, has all but put Alex completely out of his mind. However, both Alex and Aaron struggle with dreams of each other. Alex works diligently to find a way to bring Aaron to Artimѐ, while Aaron fights to stop his forbidden dreams altogether. Will the bond between the twins prove to be stronger than Aaron’s thirst for power? Or are the brothers really not so different from one another? It will take a battle unlike any that Quill has ever seen to uncover the answers to these and other questions.
The Unwanteds is a fast-paced, exciting, and whimsically dystopian journey filled with a variety of delightful characters both human and mythical. Narrator Simon Jones does a wonderful job bringing each of these characters to life in the delightful audiobook edition. Simba, the giant winged cheetah statue, is particularly well done with his deep gravelly tenor effectively conveying the beast’s size and power. Jones’ timing is excellent and fits the pace of the story well. Young fans of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games will enjoy the magic and adventure that this story has to offer. This would make for great listening on a summer road trip for a family with children in grades 4 through 8.
Posted by: Staci
People who know me might be surprised to learn that I like to have my mind changed, especially when it comes to books. I have to admit though, that when it came to Okay for Now, changing my mind was a pretty tall order.
Generally, if a book does not strike a chord with me right away—within the first 100 pages—I’ll put it down for a while or look for it in a recorded format. I had done just that, put Okay for Now away for a year, maybe longer, when I agreed to help a friend do some Rebecca Caudill Young readers Book Award booktalks at a local school in the fall. Okay for Now was on my half of the list to talk about. I was not enthused at the prospects of picking it up again. However, another friend suggested that I give it one more try, maybe on audio this time. I’m glad I agreed.
I learned a lot from the main character, Doug Swietek, especially not to make judgments without facts to back them up. Doug, a “skinny, thug–in-training,” has a lot of problems making assumptions is one of his smaller ones. When thinking about Doug’s world, the phrase “controlled chaos” comes to mind—with the “controlled” part being very tenuous.
The Swieteks are a dysfunctional family. Doug, teetering on the edge of “hoodlumdom,” is seething with rage about being moved from his familiar friends and neighborhood on Long Island to a small, upstate New York town where his father has a new job. They live on the brink of financial ruin in a rented house the Doug refers to as “the dump.” His father is a loud-mouthed bully, his mother tries—unsuccessfully–to keep everyone happy, his older brothers, one of whom chose to fight in Vietnam rather than go to jail, are following in their father’s footsteps and making Doug’s life a misery. He’s a bright boy who has trouble with authority which leads to trouble in school.
Little does Doug realize that a girl named Lil, an Arctic Tern and a librarian, among others, are about to turn his world upside down. Art and beauty just might save Doug’s life.
Okay for Now is not an easy book to read—but, it is worthwhile. One lesson I learned along the way is that you don’t necessarily need to admire someone to learn from them. Like everyone else in his life, I just needed to give Doug a chance to prove himself. It took a bit of patience. Each of us can be stubborn. But, in the end, both Doug and I are more than Okay for Now.
Posted by: Eileen
Kevin Spencer is the most romantic 14-year- old guy you will ever meet – or so he would like to have us believe. He has a crush on Tina Zabinski who, in Kevin’s eyes, is the most beautiful girl in the world. He just knows he would make a perfect boyfriend. He realizes that he must swing into immediate action when the new boy in school, Cash, starts showing attention to Tina.
Since romance is based on chemistry, Kevin decides that he must gather information on love and romance by creating a variety of experiments. Some of his experiments are successful and others not so much. He feels that his experiments have him on the right tract to understanding girls and thus becoming the best of the best when it comes to being a boyfriend.
The problem is Kevin tries too hard. His experiments don’t really help him figure how girls think. Nor do they give him the nerve to ask Tina out. Is this romance doomed before it even begins? I suggest you read this clever and funny book to find out.
Other books about Kevin Spencer are Flat Broke and Liar, Liar.
Posted by: Wendy
Sports camp! Fun or intimidation? Maybe a little of both. It is Riley Liston’s first time away at sports camp, Camp Olympia. He doesn’t have any friends at camp and he is the youngest and the smallest. He is eleven and all the other boys are either twelve or thirteen. In spite of these facts, Riley is competitive and he loves sports.
This short story of a two week sports camp experience is chock full of successes and failures, tentative new friendships, and the formation of a team from kids that were just assigned to the same cabin, Cabin 3 – Threshers. There are also pranks and ghost stories, after lights out retaliations and spooky happenings. Looming over all is the threat of Big Joe, a huge snapping turtle which supposedly inhabits Lake Surprise and is capable of biting off a swimmer’s arm or foot. This adds a lot of drama to the last, big swimming competition.
This is a fun, quick read sprinkled with Camp Olympia Bulletins which give the highlights of the sports events of the day and give the standings of the teams. Recommended for boys 5th grade through 7th.
Posted by: Fran
It’s September, so everyone is back in school–and surrounded by a whole student body full of germs! The weather is getting colder, and it seems like there are sniffles and coughs everywhere. We’re all taught to wash our hands constantly, but somehow everyone always gets sick anyway.
What do we need in a situation like this? A funny book about a flu pandemic, that’s what. (Yes, really).
Finn Reeder is annoyed that his teacher, Ms. Westing, is out of school with the flu, especially since she left instructions that the class is supposed to start keeping a journal “with a full page for every single day.” Finn writes dutifully (if not cheerfully) away, and finds that he is unwitting keeping a log of a massive flu pandemic that lays his school, town, and the entire country low.
With his father burning the mail and forcing the family to wear hazmat suits, half the school out sick, and his English class proctored by a mysterious figure in a gas mask, will Finn manage to make it through the month without dying of . . . dodgeball? (Guess which teacher is NOT sick). Check out this hilarious notebook-style semi-graphic novel to find out.
Posted by: Sarah
Joy Wells loves Spooking. It is a dark and spooky town built on a hill and her parents bought a house there because they could get a great big house for the price of a little boxy house in the neighboring bright and modern Darlington. Joy inherited a book when the oldest resident of Spooking died and became fascinated with the author, E. A. Peugeot, and his frightening tales about the Bog Fiend. Joy believes that the bog fiend lives in the bog next to Spooking and is horrified that the good citizens of Darlington want to drain the bog and build a water park. While investigating the bog, Joy meets Madame Portia, the only bog resident.
For Halloween, Joy and her brother Byron go trick-or-treating at one of the most over-the-top houses in Darlington. The evening turns frightening when the smoke machine breaks, the rotting skeleton gets out of the coffin , and the school children panic! After rescuing her brother from the chaos, Joy takes him into the bog to visit Madame Portia in her submarine house on stilts. While there, the Bog Fiend attacks the house with hideous squealing howls and terrible destruction to the house.
This is a good book for a spooky read in October! Recommended for 4th through 6th grades. If you like it there are 2 more books in the series which is called “The Joy of Spooking.”
Posted by: Fran
Humphrey the hamster is the class pet in Room 26 of Longfellow School. Ms Mac, the temporary teacher, purchases Humphrey for the students and she personally takes tender loving care of him by bringing him home with her at night and on the week-ends. He is no ordinary hamster and during the school day he learns lessons along with the students. He even has his own little notebook and pencil.
Life is wonderful for Humphrey until it is time for Mrs. Brisbane, the regular teacher, to return to the class. Mrs. Brisbane does not like him one bit and she is not about to bring him home with her on the week-ends the way Ms Mac did. But there is no need for Humphrey to panic because the room mothers arrange for him to spend time with the family of a different student each week-end. As I mentioned, Humphrey is no ordinary hamster and he finds ingenious ways to help the various families solve their dilemmas during his week-end visits. He is so very remarkable that even Mrs. Brisbane has a change of heart toward him.
This book is written from the voice of Humphrey who is simply the smartest and most lovable hamster I have ever encountered. There are other Humphrey books in the series so his antics will continue to entertain you.
Posted by: Wendy
It’s the season for spooky books, and for kids who want a scare, ONLY a spooky book will do. Some children, though, want their creepy books to be creepy with a difference–not just cheap scares and cliffhangers, but something atmospheric that draws a reader fully into the world of the book. Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz is perfect for those readers. Schlitz takes us into the Gothic, foggy 150-years-ago world of Lizzie Rose and Parsifal, two children who work for Grisini, a not-at-all-nice puppeteer. When Grisini is hired to perform for the birthday party of rich Clara, a girl who seems to have everything (except siblings, all of whom have died), Lizzie Rose and Parsifal think their fortunes are looking up. Unfortunately, first Clara, and then Grisini disappear, and their lives take a turn for the desperate.
This book is beautifully, spookily written, with compelling characters and perfectly described settings. It won’t be for children who hate historical fiction, or anyone who wants a quick read, but for kids who want a long spooky night where they can enter another world, this is an excellent choice.
Posted by: Sarah
What is not to love about a book that features high seas adventures AND delicious meals? Climb aboard the Traveling Restaurant! The Traveling Restaurant takes place in a fantastical land that has lost the use of magic after a “great accident.” In fact, the main character, twelve year old Jasper and his baby sister Sabilla have never even seen magic. Ever since the “great accident”, Fontania has been ruled by the Provisional Monarch, Lady Gall, a vain woman that does not take criticism well. Lady Gaill is obsessed with her own beauty and popularity and keeps everyone in the kingdom on pins and needles with her extreme measures to keep order in the kingdom. Jasper finally has his fill of Lady Gall when he discovers that she tried to poison his baby sister Sabilla at an event. When he tells his parents, they decide it is time to tell Jasper the secrets of his family’s past, including why Lady Gall would be threatened by the one-year-old Sabilla. Jasper’s parents also decide it is time to flee the kingdom.
Unfortunately, before Jasper learns very much, the family is separated and Jasper finds himself alone on the boat docks of Fontania. He finds his way to the Traveling Restaurant, a boat manned by the mostly silent Dr. Rocket and his gruff assistant Polly. As the restaurant sets off to reunite Jasper with his family, Jasper starts to notice some strange things about himself as well as Dr. Rocket, Polly and even the ship itself. He does not have very much time to dwell on it as they find themselves confronted by pirates, Lady Gall’s army and several natural (or maybe not so natural) disasters. Filled with action and adventure as well as a lot of heart, this rousing adventure would work really well as a family read aloud for kids in first, second and third grades.
Posted by: Kelly
It is no secret that middle school can be tough, but clearly some kids have a tougher time than others. August “Auggie” Pullman’s first year of middle school would fall under the “tougher” category. Auggie is a normal kid, or at least he would like everyone to see him that way. However, Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity for which he has undergone numerous surgeries. As a result, he has had to be homeschooled…until now. Just as he is about to begin the fifth grade, Auggie’s parents have decided that it is time for him to start attending school outside his home. Among the numerous other challenges of beginning middle school, Auggie is also saddled with the challenging task of convincing his new classmates and teachers that, despite his extraordinary appearance, he really is an ordinary kid. In the novel Wonder, author R.J. Palacio uses multiple first-person narratives to weave an achingly realistic account of the hardships Auggie faces during his first year in middle school as well as how his arrival in his new school affects those around him.
Through the use of a multi-cast recording, the Brilliance Audio recording of Wonder brings an enhanced depth and authenticity to Auggie’s story. If you have never listened to an audiobook, this is a great title to try out. Palacio’s style of first-person narratives lends itself perfectly to an audio recording, particularly one with multiple cast members to represent the book’s various narrators. Each narrator breathes a whole new life into his or her character as we, the listeners/readers, are able to experience more fully the complicated emotions that drive his or her actions throughout the story. Listening to Auggie’s story also adds a whole new level to the humor that Palacio skillfully places throughout the book. It is virtually impossible not to crack a smile when listening to Auggie and his parents joke about the fact that his new principal’s last name is Tushman.
Whether you read it, listen to it, or read along while listening to it, Wonder is perfect for any middle schooler or those of us who remember what it was like to be one…but if you ask me, you really should try giving it a listen.
Posted by: Staci
It starts out like every other Christmas for Lily and Liam – they are going to stay with their Grandma and Grandpa in the country, where they plan to read, bake cookies, and head into town to buy Christmas presents using the money they earned through babysitting and doing odd jobs. But everything changes when sensitive and thoughtful Liam notices that Gran and Grandpa’s cow is now standing all alone in the meadow that he used to share with the donkey (who has since gone back to live with his owner). Liam knows that White Cow must be very lonely, and he cannot stop thinking about it. He is determined to help White Cow, even though it won’t be easy and it will disrupt all of their Christmas plans. Liam finally enlists the reluctant Lily to help him, and they find a way to give White Cow a gift, which really turns out to be a gift for them all.
This is a very gentle story, told in gentle, simple prose and illustrated with soft pencil drawings. The book’s calm and quiet atmosphere, as well as its message which celebrates generosity, empathy, thoughtfulness and courage, make it a perfect choice for the Christmas season. This short chapter book would make a good holiday read for any independent reader or as a read aloud for the whole family.
Posted by: Parry
Peter and Thea live in two separate worlds, and neither has any idea of the ways that they are connected. Peter is a resident of New York City, where he lives in an apartment building and can easily satisfy his love of Chinese food. Thea lives in a home almost entirely made of sealed ice, in a city under the icy surface of Greenland, where her people have created a viable life for themselves underground after they were persecuted generations ago.
When Peter’s father, a scientist who studies global warming, takes the family to Greenland on an expedition, Peter’s mother becomes increasingly withdrawn, and the mysterious headaches Peter has been experiencing worsen. Meanwhile, Thea’s desire to experience the larger world brings her very close to danger but also brings forth long hidden truths, which reveal her connection to Peter and his family. Their two lives come together in a story which involves science, mystery, family drama, and adventure.
Readers of fantasy will enjoy the vividly drawn underground world Thea lives in, and science enthusiasts will be fascinated by the way Rebecca Stead weaves global warming, molecular biology, and genetics into her story. Recommended for grades 5 and up.
Posted by: Parry
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Living on an island off of Maine is idyllic to eleven-year-old Tess. She likes to ride her bike, read, swim, and to build things. She especially loves going lobstering with her Dad and attending the one room school where her Mom is the only teacher. She likes knowing all the year-round islanders, as well as the summer-only islanders. When the State of Maine threatens to close down the school due to a low student enrollment, Tess worries about how life would change for her and her family if they would have to move to the mainland.
After much talk of how to save the school, the solution is to simply increase the number of school children on the island. To achieve this goal, families are asked to consider taking in a foster child and Tess’s close knit family decides they have room in their hearts and home for another child. They look forward to the arrival of thirteen-year-old Aaron and Tess and her sister are excited about the prospect of a brother.
The smallness of living on an island can be somewhat overwhelming to an outsider, especially one who has been bounced around from foster family to foster family. Aaron is not charmed by island life and clearly resents the fact that he is unable to live with his mother. His only comfort comes from playing his trumpet and the piano. In time, he also comes to enjoy going out on the lobster boat with Tess and her Dad.
Tess, who is a very superstitious girl, worries that if Aaron doesn’t stay on the island, then she also will not be able to stay due to her school closing. “Touch blue and your wish will come true” is one of her sayings about luck. She tries hard to show Aaron the simple joy of her everyday life and she tries to help him cope with his past disappointments. She hopes that her belief in good omens will hold true and Aaron will find a way to fit in both her family and the island community.
This often touching story shows how children can find ways to help one another when faced with adversity. I found it a most enjoyable read and would heartily recommend it.
Posted by: Wendy