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It’s the end of August, and school is starting (or has already started!) everywhere in the country. Starting school can be busy and chaotic, and not a little bit stressful. What’s the best way to combat that? A light, fun, cheerful book!
10-year-old Gladys Gatsby loves to cook — but her parents don’t care ANYTHING about good food. They prefer badly-microwaved things that are simultaneously overcooked, mushy, raw and rock-hard-crunchy. Gladys has to sneak around and cook delectable dishes (like creme brulee!) behind her parents’ backs, but nothing stays a secret forever. When disaster strikes and her parents forbid her to do any cooking (or reading about cooking or watching T.V. shows about cooking) whatsoever, her life seems ruined (and a lot less tasty).
Little does Gladys know it, but things are about to look up for her. A fabulous new teacher, Ms. Quincy, assigns her class at school to write an essay on their hopes for the future, to be submitted to the New York Standard’s state-wide essay contest. Due to a series of misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions, Gladys’ essay is misplaced and is assumed to be an application for a job — the job of restaurant critic for the New York Standard!
How will Gladys — who lives in a suburb an hour away from New York, has no transportation, and, let’s not forget, is forbidden by her parents to have anything to do with cooking — manage to get her reviews written? Who can she rely on to help her? Gladys discovers that she has more friends — young and old — than she thought she did, and makes other friends where she would never have expected to.
All Four Stars is a rollicking good read, with fun characters, a delightful setting, and just enough zaniness to be appealing while remaining realistic. It’s just the sort of book to leave a smile on your face after a long, hard day. If only every copy came with a serving or two of the delicious desserts that Gladys makes — THAT would be perfect!
Posted by: Sarah
Nothing says “Summer” like a good old fashioned family road trip! Now take that family road trip, throw in a reformed juvenile delinquent, a feisty waitress, an ornery auto mechanic, and an introspective border collie, put them on a big yellow school bus, and send them off to rescue a puppy. What do you get? You get Road Trip, a fun summer read by Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen!
Road Trip is the first collaborative effort by prolific author Gary Paulsen and his sculptor son Jim. Similar to a game of Exquisite Corpse, the father-son duo took turns writing chapters and sending them back and forth to one another. As they did, the story and characters grew in ways neither could have expected. Despite what might sound like a disjointed writing method, the Paulsens manage to maintain a cohesive feel to this short novel. Quirky characters abound throughout this madcap story of a father and son struggling to understand one another. Road Trip is a perfect quick read for vacationing 5th graders and up. Perhaps it will even inspire an impromptu road trip or two along the way.
Posted by: Staci
Charlie Joe Jackson is in middle school and he has never read an entire book cover to cover. In fact he does everything he can to avoid reading. Luckily, Charlie Joe’s friend Timmy has been a huge help to his non-reading habits. For the past two years, Charlie Joe buys Timmy an ice cream sandwich and in exchange Timmy explains what happens in the books they are required to read for school. This agreement is perfect for Charlie Joe, until Timmy decides he is no longer happy with their arrangement. To make matters worse, he has a huge position paper due at the end of the school year that involves a lot of research. A lot of research means reading a lot of books. Charlie Joe comes up with a creative scheme to keep his perfect record of non-reading. However, he knows this scheme could get him into a big trouble while also pushing away the girl he has had a crush on since kindergarten.
Tommy Greenwald has written a humorous story about a child who simply does not enjoy reading. I am someone who loves to read so this title immediately caught my attention. Charlie Joe is a likeable character who will appeal to many children. Throughout the book Greenwald includes twenty-five of Charlie Joe’s non-reading tips, though at times Charlie Joe doesn’t follow his own instructions. Comical illustrations are woven throughout the book to further enhance the story’s appeal. This book would be a great choice for any middle school child who is a reluctant reader. If you enjoy this book, you can read more about Charlie Joe’s antics in Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit and Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Summer Vacation.
Posted by: Katie
You probably have deduced from the title that this book has a pet with questionable health and are ready to move on to the next review because you don’t like sad stories about animals…but please don’t! This is a certainly a story that features a very sick cat, but also manages to be a feel good story, a slice of Oakland, CA urban life, a sweeping fairy tale, a love story, and realistic tale about a 10-year-old girl navigating her world.
Oona Armstrong is that 10 year-old girl and her life is a complicated one. Her father passed away after a long battle with cancer, her 5 year-old brother Freddy just recently started talking and eating again after the loss of their father, and her cat, Zook (short for Zucchini) is very old and very sick, and her mother has a new boyfriend named Dylan, but Oona refers to him only has “The Villian.”
Oona copes by telling whoppers; so many whoppers that she has a color coding system for all of the different types of whoppers she tells. The best whoppers are the stories she creates for Freddy. Fairy tales that are crafted from memories their father told her that help explain the world to a 5 year-old, including the four lives prior to the one that their cat Zook is currently living.
Oona’s whoppers get her into some trouble, but they also make her and Freddy’s life much more bearable and the beauty of this book is watching how those whoppers eventually help her family move on from very tough times. We have to experience some sorrow to find joy and this book is a perfect example of that.
Posted by: Kelly
We all know that different countries have different customs that make it an adjustment to travel across borders, and that there’s a famous saying trying to explain how disconcerting it can be to adjust to those different customs: “the past is a foreign country.” But what if each foreign country was in the past? Or more specifically, what if by traveling across borders, you could travel to different times?
In The Glass Sentence, the Great Disruption happened in 1799–the world’s countries came unstuck in time and each settled in a different era. Boston remained in the 18th (and then 19th) centuries, but Canada and northern Europe reverted to the Ice Age, the Italy and western Europe returned to the middle ages, and the western part of America and Mexico has settled in a mixture of many ages, including the distant past and parts of the future!
Sophia lives in Boston with her uncle Shadrack, a famous cartologer–he maps not only the way to get to different countries and eras, but can map sights, smells, and even memories from certain places. Soon after Shadrack shows Sophia his secret map room, filled with maps that seem almost magic, he is kidnapped by thugs working for a terrifying creature who will do anything to find the one map that Shadrack says he doesn’t have. Sophia teams up with a boy escaped from a traveling show to track down Shadrack’s captors, and as she travels into the Baldlands, finds herself farther from Boston–both physically and mentally–than she could have ever imagined.
This book is wholly original and utterly amazing. The imagery and descriptive language is such that I could perfectly see every landscape, every character, every object, no matter how fantastical. The book stood alone perfectly well, but I was thrilled to discover later that it is the first book in a series! I look forward to the continuing adventures of Sophia and Shadrack, and I can’t wait to see what countries and eras they visit next.
Posted by: Sarah
What would you do if your name decided your destiny? Some might be thrilled with the potential of a powerful name. On the other hand, being named after a cow’s rear end would make me feel rather blue. That is the case for Rump who lives in The Kingdom where names mean everything. Rump is constantly picked on due to his name. Rump knows in his heart that his mother gave him a wonderful name, but she died before she was able to communicate it fully.
On his twelfth birthday, Rump discovers an old spinning wheel in his woodpile. The wheel belonged to his mother and he desperately wants to keep the item since it was once hers. Rump tries spinning the wheel against his Gran’s wishes and learns there is a magical outcome. In this land magic can be dangerous and Rump quickly gets himself into a heap of trouble. Rump has to find a way to make things right while he also attempts to learn his whole name.
Many children know the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, but Shurtliff has created a marvelous story that will keep readers engaged as they learn Rump’s side of the classic fairy tale. What really makes this story magical is how the author is able to get readers to root for a normally disliked character.
Posted by: Katie
In case you missed my review of The Year of the Book, I’m back with a review of its sequel, The Year of the Baby. In the first book, Anna discovered the joys (and tribulations) of authentic friendships. In The Year of the Baby, Anna gains new responsibility when her Chinese-American family adopts a baby girl from China. Anna loves her little sister Kaylee, and knows her role as big sister is important. So she feels helpless when the doctor announces that Kaylee isn’t gaining enough weight.
Everyone in the family is worried about Kaylee, and it seems they’ve tried everything to get her to eat, with no results. But Kaylee does finally begin to improve when Anna and her best friends decide to use Kaylee in their science fair project – knowing that Kaylee loves the songs Anna sings to her, the girls use the scientific method to study whether Kaylee will eat more when she’s being sung to. As it turns out, she will! She especially likes the Chinese songs that Anna, Camille, and Laura learned in Chinese language school, and the girls suspect that maybe it’s because they are songs that Kaylee heard before she was adopted by Anna’s family. Once Kaylee begins to eat more, it seems like everything comes together – she says her first words, and even attempts to sing her first song!
Author Andrea Cheng is remarkably good at capturing friendships, family dynamics, and the inner life of a sensitive child finding her place in these realms. As in the first book, The Year of the Baby is dotted with sweet illustrations by Patrice Barton. There’s also a guide to pronouncing some of the Chinese words that come up in the book, and a recipe for making steamed red bean bao zi (stuffed buns). This book, like the last, truly warmed my heart. I would recommend it to readers in 3rd grade and up looking for realistic fiction. The third book, The Year of the Fortune Cookies, will be coming in Spring 2014!
Posted by: Parry
Have you ever felt like something was lurking in the darkness just waiting for a chance to slurp you up into its slimy cavernous mouth? Certainly it was just your imagination…right? Not if you ask Birdie McAdam. She’s a bogler’s apprentice and she knows all-too-well that bogles (monsters to you and me) definitely do exist, and they are devouring children all over London. Working with her mentor Alfred Bunce, Birdie uses her lilting voice to lure the heinous creatures out of their hiding places so that Alfred can destroy them with the help of the legendary Finn McCool’s sword. Birdie is proud to be a bogler’s girl, but a series of curious events is pointing Birdie’s life in a new direction, no matter how hard she tries to fight the change.
How to Catch a Bogle is a delightfully fast paced and fantastical story filled with interesting characters sure to capture the attention of even the most reluctant of readers. The characters, even the bogles, are well-developed and readers will likely find themselves drawn into this surreal version of London in the late 19th century. Jinks does a great job of bringing the ubiquitous imaginary monster-in-the-closet to life without being overly terrifying. Each of the bogles that Birdie and Alfred encounters is unique and grotesque both while alive and in its death. This book would make for a great classroom read aloud for grades 4 through 6. Or, if you have a struggling or reluctant reader in your midst, grab the superbly done audio version, pair it with the text and set him or her off to discover how much fun a book can be.
Posted by: Staci
Some books are special. They have a plot description that sounds like many another book (girl finds herself in a fantastical situation and discovers that she must save the world), but are written in such a otherwordly, atmospheric way that even the adjectives that one might use to describe them aren’t magical enough.
Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard finds herself in a foreign city. Her father is an international expert on swords, and has been called upon to organize a gala Christmas Eve exhibition at the city’s museum. Miss Kaminski, the museum director, is very beautiful, but cold and strange, and Ophelia feels uneasy. She spends her days exploring the museum — from Culture of the Cossacks to Mesopotamian Mysteries and everything (everything) in between. In one room, though, she finds a door. That door hides a boy — a marvelous boy — who says that he has been imprisoned by the Snow Queen, and that he’s waiting for the One Other who will be able to use his sword to defeat her. He needs Ophelia to free him — an act much more complicated than just finding the key to the door.
Foxlee’s book is spellbinding; the world she creates is so compelling that I could see every detail, and what is more, believe every detail. I could see the frozen city, feel the cold in my bones, and believe in the uncanny museum, where wolves might roam the dollhouse exhibit.
Any reader would be enchanted to discover this wonderful book, and many of them might find themselves exploring the museum map on the endpapers. For all the eeriness of the museum, I would like to visit and wander its Gallery of Time, among others. Who knows what I might discover?
Posted by: Sarah
“Holy Unanticipated Occurrences!” is a favorite phrase in Flora and Ulysses and one I uttered after I read it. Perhaps I should have anticipated loving Flora and Ulysses as much as I did. After all, I have enjoyed every other book I have read by this prolific juvenile fiction author, Kate DiCamillo was recently named and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and the book won this year’s Newbery Award. But I had trouble getting excited about reading a book about a squirrel and a girl from a broken home. Was I ever wrong! This book is a delight.
The story begins with a vacuum, a brand new Ulysses Super-Suction Multi-Terrain 2000x vacuum that Mrs. Tickham is exploring in her backyard. When she flips the switch, a squirrel is in the vacuum’s path and is sucked inside. Mrs. Tickham screams until her neighbor and the book’s heroine, Flora Belle Buckman arrives on the scene and rescues the squirrel and changes her and the Tickham’s forever. You see, being vacuumed did something to the squirrel. It made him feel awake, special; it even gave him special powers. He could understand Flora, he had super strength, he could fly, and he could type…poetry! Flora names the squirrel after the vacuum that transformed him, Ulysses. She immediately equates her squirrel’s ability with that of her favorite comic book superhero, The Amazing Incandesto and uses the comic as a guide for maneuvering through life with a super squirrel. Told mostly in prose, the story is enhanced with comic-style vignettes that mostly give a visual depiction of Ulysses accomplishing amazing feats.
Perhaps the most amazing feat is that this book is about more than a superhero squirrel. It is about Flora dealing with her parent’s recent divorce, her parents dealing very badly with their recent divorce and their melancholy daughter, the Tickhams taking in their nephew William Spiver since he cannot deal with this mother’s new boyfriend, and a very wise neighbor dealing with the loss of her husband. All of this is packed into an extremely quick read that would be an appropriate read aloud for the whole family as long as everyone can see the pictures. The plot is exciting, the deeper issues are layered so that they are accessible to mature readers, but not disturbing to younger readers, and the character are easy to identify with. All in all, Flora and Ulysses is not a book to be missed.
Posted by: Kelly
Darling is enjoying a comfortable life as a family’s dog in the farming community of Cosham, England during World War I. He loves his family, especially the children, Katherine and Robert. He has a friend in a stray dog named Rags. Best of all, there are sheep all over Cosham that Darling chases with glee, allowing his herding nature a frequent workout and irritating the neighborhood farmers. When Katherine and Robert’s father is called away to war, another family sacrifice is quick to follow. Because of a steep dog tax, the family can no longer afford to keep Darling. They enlist her into the military in hopes that their beloved pet can help with the war effort. At first, Darling’s happy-go-lucky attitude does not make her a very good soldier, however, when the sergeant who cares for her is injured in a training exercise, Darling rushes to his side and barks until someone helps him. This focus and caring make Darling a perfect fit for the role of Mercy Dog. Darling is trained to find wounded soldiers during battle and stay with them until a medic can help.
This book is action-packed, focusing on Darling’s training as much as her combat experience. There are interesting facts about World War I, military dogs and life in England during the war. This is the first book in a series called Dog Chronicles. This book and the forthcoming sequels are a wonderful way to introduce historical events to young dog lovers in 2nd grade and up. The details are rich, but not gruesome and the conclusion is satisfying so that young readers never are overly stressed emotionally while reading about this lovable dog and the people she cares for.
Posted by: Kelly
Summer Reading is here and we are excited for our “Paws to Read” program! In light of our animal-themed Summer Reading Club, I could not resist reviewing this sweet book about two dogs finding their way in their world. This gentle read will appeal to most dog lovers. Angus and Sadie are two Border collie littermates that are acquired to become farm dogs. The story told with dialogue between the two dogs as well as some from their owners, Missus and Mister. The dogs have very simple interactions when they are puppies and their interactions become increasingly complex as the book goes on. Readers will enjoy hearing the dogs’ point of view and Mister tries to train them to come, stay, and herd the sheep on the farm.
The most endearing part of the book is the development of Angus and Sadie’s distinct personalities. As with any siblings, they develop into very different individuals. Angus’s boundless energy and happy-go-lucky attitude contrast with Sadie’s sweet, quieter disposition throughout the story. While housed in our older fiction section, this story would be a delightful and completely appropriate read for younger children reading slightly above grade level.
If you like this book, do not miss Voigt’s Young Fredle, a companion novel which takes place on the same farm and features a young mouse’s journey to get back to his family after getting ill and being separated from them.
Posted by: Kelly
Billy Miller is about to begin 2nd grade and he is worried. He’s worried that he won’t be smart enough; especially after hearing his dad read the letter from his new teacher saying how 2nd grade will be a “wonderful, exciting challenge.” It’s the word “challenge” that worries Billy.
Billy gets off to what he worries might be a rocky start with his teacher, Ms. Silver, who is wearing red chopsticks in her hair on the 1st day of school. He feels his joke of making “devil’s horns” with red crayons could have been misunderstood and that Ms. Silver might have thought he was making fun of her. After thinking about how he can make things right with her, he comes up with an idea to give her a special gift to show her that he really is a nice boy.
Papa, an artist, is also a stay-at-home Dad who takes care of Billy and his younger sister. Billy struggles with how to tell Papa that he wants to start calling him Dad, instead of calling him by the childish name of Papa. The conversation goes great and Dad takes the name change like a champ! Billy is also somewhat responsible for helping his Father with a much needed breakthrough in his art work.
His sister, Sal, may not be his favorite person, but Billy hopes she will help him with his master plan of staying awake all night. Their parents are away overnight and Billy patiently waits for their babysitter to go to sleep before he quietly creeps into his sister’s room. He wakes her up to be his “stay up all night” partner and entertains her to keep them both awake. They make it to about midnight before drifting to sleep.
Toward the end of the school year, the 2nd graders are going to put on a show about Families and each student will recite or read an original poem that they have written for a special person. Billy struggles with who to write about, but finally chooses his Mother. He discovers that writing a poem isn’t exactly easy. Armed with some advice from his teacher, he spends some wonderful moments with his Mother discovering some things about her that are “poem worthy.” Billy Miller’s poem entitled “Quiet Mom” couldn’t be sweeter and more heartfelt.
This book is divided into four separate episodes that are each devoted to a significant person in Billy’s life – Teacher, Father, Sister and Mother. There are many humorous and heartwarming moments that are delightful to read about from the viewpoint of Billy, who is a very sensitive and thoughtful 7-year- old boy. It would be a great read aloud, especially to someone about to enter 2nd grade.
Posted by: Wendy
The books of Diana Wynne Jones were a constant throughout my childhood and teen years. Of the nearly 100 books by her listed in our library system’s catalog, there isn’t a single one that I haven’t read at least once, if not repeatedly.
After Jones passed away in 2011, I naturally thought that I would never again read a new book by her. But first there was the posthumously published Earwig and the Witch, a short, snappy book about an orphan and her curious adoptive ‘family.’ It was definitely appealing, but it had that abrupt, unpolished quality that posthumously published books often have. I would recommend it to a reader, but it didn’t capture my imagination the way so many of Jones’ books had. Yet again, I thought that was that.
Fully three years after her death, though, a full-length novel by Jones has appeared–it was discovered amongst her papers, and polished and completed by Jones’ sister, Ursula Jones, already an author in her own right. This was the final (?) Diana Wynne Jones novel that I had been waiting for–it has a story that sucks a reader in almost instantly, characters who are defined simply but indelibly, and a setting so well-described that one can see it.
Aileen is an apprentice Wise-Woman, cared for by her Aunt Beck, the Wise Woman of Skarr, one of the group of sovereign islands known collectively as the Islands of Chaldea. Aileen has only just attempted her first initiation when she and her aunt–and a prince, and a castle servant–are sent off on a whirlwind quest that requires them to visit every island.
As is typical for Jones, our heroine has more reserves than she believes (but is never a wet blanket about her insecurities), there are wonderful animal companions, and adult authority figures are often Very Cranky.
I hope that it is taken as a compliment when I say that I cannot tell at all where Ursula Jones’ contributions come in–the book hangs together perfectly as a whole, with no disjointed transitions or developments that ring false. I highly recommend the book, both on its own merits, and as a satisfying send-off to Diana Wynne Jones’ magical oeuvre.
Posted by: Sarah
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
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
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
Fourth grade has brought changes for Anna Wang. Her best friend Laura has made new friends, leaving Anna behind. And Anna must attend Chinese school, where she doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t understand anything the teacher is saying. It’s a good thing Anna has books. Anna loves to read, and finds friendship in the characters in books. Friends like Meg, from A Wrinkle in Time; or Sam, from My Side of the Mountain. So when Laura experiences family troubles and reaches out to Anna in need of a friend, it’s tempting for Anna to retreat into her beloved book worlds. But Anna ultimately realizes that, while friendships can be complicated, they really do make life better.
The Year of the Book is a tender story. The book depicts both a loving family and a supportive community of neighbors. Kids will relate to the social challenges that Anna encounters, which are portrayed realistically and with a light touch. Kids will also enjoy all the book references – I was tempted to revisit some old favorites, and also to read some new ones! (But before I start in on the Anna Wang reading list, I’m going to read the sequel to this book, called The Year of the Baby.) Readers will also learn some Chinese words and characters along with Anna. Like peng you (pronounced like pung you), which means “friend.”
Posted by: Parry
A few hundred years ago, “everybody” knew that winter was the best time for reading scary stories. We think of Halloween as perfect for a ghost story, but back then they thought that CHRISTMAS was the best time for it! We’ve passed Christmas, and the days are getting a LITTLE longer, but I still think it’s dark and gloomy enough–and certainly COLD enough–for a good scare.
Constable and Toop is the name over the door of an undertaker’s shop in 19th century London, but the undertakers are not the point of this story. The undertaker’s son, Sam, is: he can see and talk to ghosts, and because of this, he has become aware of a big problem. Certain ghosts in London have been disappearing, leaving their old haunting places infected with a terrible Black Rot. Mr. Lapsewood, a timid clerk from the Ghost Bureau, has begun investigating the problem (though he doesn’t know it), asking the help of a young ghost named Tanner, who, in search of someone with Sam’s abilities, finds himself working with Sam’s uncle Jack, who is not someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley. And we haven’t even mentioned Clara Tiltman, who has begun to notice the strange behavior of her drapes, or the terrifying actions of an exorcist priest.
Though the description makes the plot sound overly complex, let me reassure you: any reader will be caught up in this compelling story, both by the gripping action of the chase to save London’s ghosts, and by Sam’s almost philosophical, contemplative inner thoughts. And because there ARE so many (well-integrated) characters, any reader can be sure to find one to root for and relate to.
It cannot be denied that the book is frightening–and even sometimes gruesome–so it is probably best read by those of 10 years and up. Those who do read it, though, will be amply rewarded with a wonderful story, perfect for a cold, dark day.
Posted by: Sarah
Comparisons to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events are unavoidable with The Templeton Twins titles, a new series by Ellis Weiner, but there are not many children who will complain about the similarities. Like Snicket’s books, these titles feature an intrusive narrator who adds levity, humor and the occasional educational lesson for the readers. As well as providing important background information and hilarious definitions of vocabulary words featured in the books, the narrator poses nonsensical “Questions for Review” at the end of each chapter that are one of best reasons to read these books.
In addition to the intrusive narrator, the Templeton Twins also contend with a delightfully evil villain like the Baudelaire children do in the Series of Unfortunate Events. The Templeton Twins face Dean D. Dean, a scorned former student of their father’s and master of disguise, who attempts to steal credit for their father’s many fabulous inventions. In book 2, Professor Templeton is working at the Thespian Academy of the Performing Arts and Science (TAPAS) to develop new spotlight technology. The invention is nearly complete when Dean D. Dean swoops in to take credit by wooing the school’s Dean and former stage actress, Gwendolyn Splendide. It is up to the twins (and their ridiculous dog) to prove the spotlight is 100 percent their father’s invention.
The story is enhanced by illustrations that are similar in style to an architect’s blue prints, cryptic puzzles, and many hilarious footnotes by the narrator. While not an entirely new concept, this book will have many fans among elementary-school aged readers and it deserves every one of those fans.
Posted by: Kelly
Siena is not your typical 13-year-old. In fact, her differences are part of the reason that her family is moving from Brooklyn, New York, to a small coastal town in Maine. The other reason is that her three-year-old brother, Lucca, has not spoken in over a year. While Siena and Lucca’s parents are not sure what makes it so hard for Siena to make friends and Lucca to talk, they are hoping the new environment will help them both. Siena is eager to try to start over, but when the family arrives in Maine, the very thing that makes her odd kicks into overdrive. Sometimes, Siena can see the past. Generally, it only happens while she is dreaming, but increasingly she was getting glimpses of the past while awake in things like buildings that are no longer standing in New York or people in out of date clothing. The home the family purchased is right out of one of Siena’s dreams. She is familiar with the layout and can feel what has happened in this house before the family lived there. However, Siena decides this familiarity could be positive and decides to make a go of it in Maine even making some friends before school starts. Lucca loves the beach and the play group his mother found, but he still is not talking. When Siena finds a pen that belonged to one of the previous owners, the story of what happened in the house is reveled, complete with a young girl who also struggles with mutism and Siena begins to wonder if the family’s move really was the best thing for Lucca after all.
This title has historical elements as Siena becomes involved in the lives of the family that lived in the house prior to her family, including a brother entrenched in the World War II battle fields. It also blends modern day realism and supernatural elements in a thoughtful and suspenseful manner. Children who enjoy descriptive text, supernatural stories and historical fiction will enjoy this title.
Posted by: Kelly
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Toulouse, a new kid in school, is from Canada, and though Woodrow doesn’t like it that his classmates say that he is odd, weird, and little, he does have to admit that Toulouse pretty strange (he wears a three-piece suit and bowler hat to school! He sings like a bird!) and REALLY short (“kindergartener short”). But when Woodrow thinks about it, he realizes that he doesn’t mind at all. After all, Woodrow himself is pretty odd himself–he loves ‘duck’ tape, fly fishing, and is prone to stammering. Woodrow doesn’t see anything wrong with his own behavior, and he thinks that Toulouse is pretty cool. The question is: what will Woodrow do about Garrett and Hubcap, the two class bullies who have switched their attention from him to a new sitting duck, Toulouse? And what IS it about Toulouse?–there’s something about him that Woodrow just can’t figure out.
Jennings has written a deceptively slight book that tells a great story, with what I hate to call a ‘lesson’ about bullying, because that makes this book seem prescriptive. It’s not ‘a story about bullying’, so much as it is a story about what it means to be a friend, and who doesn’t like reading about friends? This book is a delightful read for anyone who enjoys school stories.
Posted by: Sarah