A gem of a fantasy series, especially for kids who get bogged down in the lengthy tomes usually characteristic of this genre. Crisp prose, terrific4.5
A gem of a fantasy series, especially for kids who get bogged down in the lengthy tomes usually characteristic of this genre. Crisp prose, terrific biblical allusions, good characterization, and an adventuresome plot = win win.
A stay-up-late-because-it's-exciting-and-gripping kind of read. A good choice for kids who love/crave adventure and "drama in real life" stories. ThisA stay-up-late-because-it's-exciting-and-gripping kind of read. A good choice for kids who love/crave adventure and "drama in real life" stories. This one is pretty unbelievable. Nice section of photographs and an epilogue round it out....more
What It Is: A wild fantastic read for middle grades.
What It’s About: Sophie Quire is a quiet book mender who has been seeFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: A wild fantastic read for middle grades.
What It’s About: Sophie Quire is a quiet book mender who has been seeking out and saving fairy tales whilst missing her long-deceased mother, learning the ways of the old city’s winding streets, and helping her father in his bookshop. The city, led by Inquisitor Prigg, is planning for a large celebratory pyre in the coming days, a pyre that will hold all the (now banned) fairy tales and inventive stories Sophie and her father cherish. Peter Nimble and his trusty sidekick Sir Tode show up with a new-to-Sophie magical book in need of repair, and Sophie lands in the adventure of a lifetime. A magical book, truly evil villains, stories that come to life, and Peter’s desperado lifestyle make the book a wild ride.
What Works: Auxier weaves such amazingly intricate and exciting stories. Sophie Quire is a perfect companion book to the first Peter Nimble book with new, nuanced characters and a fantastic expansion of Peter’s original world. Auxier plunges the reader into the middle of the action on the first page, and the story doesn’t rest until the very last page. Friendship and family relationships are tested and hold true, and even a villain or two appears to soften. Auxier’s villains are true villains, though, and he’s not afraid of violence and blood and gore–fairy tale style, that is. Nothing is gratuitous, nothing is happening in our real world, and justice wins out. Perfect for middle grade kids! The theme of the importance of words and stories is nothing new, but Auxier makes it fresh. Additionally, the cover! Auxier gets the best covers for his books.
What Doesn’t Work: not much! The book is a tad long, but most kids who enjoy fantasy are used to hefty tomes.
What I Think/Recommend: Definitely purchase for library collections! For kids who love fantasy, this is a great gift option. There is magic, evil villains, and other usual fantasy material, so if your family is hesitant about fantasy, this may not be the best fit. That being said, the magic in this is not Harry Potter style with kids casting spells right and left. Rather, the magic comes from the books and the villains....more
What It Is: Middle grades historical fiction/mystery
What It’s About: A group of young Roman schoolboys get embroiled in aFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: Middle grades historical fiction/mystery
What It’s About: A group of young Roman schoolboys get embroiled in a mystery when one of their own, Rufus, is accused of writing “Caius is a Dumbbell” on a sacred temple, their schoolmaster (Xanthos) is beaten up and robbed, Rufus is thrown in the notoriously terrible Roman prison, and nothing seems to add up. Set during Ancient Rome’s heyday, the novel covers quite a bit of cultural and historical information along the way as the boys team up with their schoolmaster to solve the mystery of “who dunnit” so that they can secure Rufus’s release from prison before he is sent off as a slave.
What Works: Lively pacing keeps the story moving along, and the mystery isn’t completely clear until the very end. Myriad cultural and historical details are inserted cleverly and casually; the book does not feel like a textbook in the least, but astute readers will learn a lot about Ancient Rome in the process.
What Doesn’t Work: The book was originally written in the 1950s, and it feels like it in parts. Some terms (like “oriental”), some clunky writing and choppy parts, and the near absence of female characters hint at the novel’s age. That’s not necessarily a negative; it depends on the audience! Those who enjoy old-fashioned fiction will likely enjoy this more than those who prefer a more crisp, contemporary style (with more nuanced characters).
What I Think/Recommend: This is a fun addition to any study of Ancient Rome (which is why this title lands on so many curriculum lists that involve Ancient Rome!). It works equally well as a read aloud or independent read, but it won’t hold up to the same level of careful literary study that other novels might. There is one scene where the villain dies a violent death; it is mentioned, but not graphic. At other times, other violence is alluded to (including the death of some children). The complexity of the mystery, especially when coupled with all the Roman names and customs, is another a factor that keeps this book firmly in the middle grades range and not as a read aloud to much younger children, particularly sensitive ones.
Note: This title appears on several Christian homeschool curriculum lists (or informal lists from within the Christian homeschool community). It’s worth pointing out that this is not a Christian title in any sense and would work just as well as part of a public school library collection....more
Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart. Scholastic, 2016. 240 pages.
What It Is: Horses + adventure + Western + voice + diFirst reviewed on Literaritea
Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart. Scholastic, 2016. 240 pages.
What It Is: Horses + adventure + Western + voice + diversity + grit + courage + all. the. feels = a great read. (Or, a fast-paced adventure novel about a boy and his horse (set in Washington state in the 1890s)).
What It’s About: There are plenty of orphan stories, horse and boy stories, and Western adventures. Gemeinhart manages to roll them all up in one along with a young Chinese boy, some bonafide villains, and lots of wilderness survival. Joseph is on his own, bravely tracking down his beloved pony. He befriends a Chinese boy named Ah-Kee. Their friendship is natural and crosses language barriers because they both understand sorrow and longing–not to mention their shared boyishness and humor. The last couple of chapters are a bit over the top, but this is an adventure novel and they flow with the rest. A great read all in all.
What Works: the main character’s moral integrity, the manner in which diversity is handled, and the constant action and adventure.
Joseph’s moral integrity rings true and is clearly based on the teaching he had from his parents. He’s not overly religious; rather, he consciously chooses to the do the right thing (often at great cost to himself), he consistently treats others–no matter their race/gender/appearance/behavior–with respect, and he shows real courage.
Gemeinhart never lets us hear Ah-Kee actually speak because Joseph can’t understand him. I love this: how many young Chinese boys in the 1890s would have spoken English anyway? This lets us see Ah-Kee through the white character’s eyes rather than a 21st century white man’s attempt to understand what Ah-Kee might have been feeling/thinking. Kudos, Mr. Gemeinhart, for walking this delicate tightrope of historical fiction so well. The Native Americans seem to be treated with similar respect, but the section focusing on them is much shorter.
This is a book that will hook readers and keep them on the line until the very last page. The ending is just right, too–happy, but not without its own pathos. This grown-up reader shed some tears. The last couple of chapters are a bit over the top, but this is an adventure novel and they flow with the rest. A great read all in all.
What Doesn’t Work: Not much! Personally, I could have done without the frequent “3rd commandment violations,” but they’re easy to skip over in a read aloud and flow with the Western-sounding talk.
What You Need to Know: towards the end, especially, there’s one fairly violent scene as Joseph confronts an outlaw. Guns are fired, people are wounded, etc. If you have especially sensitive children, perhaps wait on this one a year or so.
What to Use it For: Recommended for 4th grade and up (3rd as a read aloud, depending on your children’s maturity). A good choice for independent reading lists, for “strewing” about the house in hopes someone will pick it up, for working into a historical study, or for class/group discussion....more
A very fun romp in which a resourceful orphan finds herself helping rescue President Taft's niece, revealing a nefarious plot and its masterminds, andA very fun romp in which a resourceful orphan finds herself helping rescue President Taft's niece, revealing a nefarious plot and its masterminds, and befriending a newsboy in Washington, D. C. Solid characterization, great voice (the prose is quite hilarious at times), and a lovable cat-as-sidekick make this a fun read. There isn't as much depth as some of Larson's other novels.... ...more
Great plot, but writing needs some editing. Things like "exactly" occurring 2 sentences in a row and more telling than showing in pla3.5 stars, really
Great plot, but writing needs some editing. Things like "exactly" occurring 2 sentences in a row and more telling than showing in places where it slowed the flow of the narrative down. (Probably many kids won't pick up on these things!). Violence, but talking rabbits and heroic behavior help give this book a wide age appeal. I can see it being a fun family read aloud....more
A silly series just right for intermediate boys (and girls enjoy them, too). Twins Josh and Danny live near a mad scientist neighbor who has inventedA silly series just right for intermediate boys (and girls enjoy them, too). Twins Josh and Danny live near a mad scientist neighbor who has invented a serum that turns them into various animals. In this adventure, the boys and their friend Charlie (who's a girl) are turned into frogs and a newt and, of course, have a near death experience. Some nice facts about the animals woven in…this series reminds me (in a good way) of PBS cartoons-that-teach. Kids enjoy them, and they'll learn something along the way.
The illustrations could definitely be better, but they don't seem to deter kids....more
A silly series just right for intermediate boys (and girls enjoy them, too). Twins Josh and Danny live near a mad scientist neighbor who has inventedA silly series just right for intermediate boys (and girls enjoy them, too). Twins Josh and Danny live near a mad scientist neighbor who has invented a serum that turns them into various animals. In this adventure, they're turtles and, of course, have a near death experience. Some nice facts about turtles woven in…this series reminds me (in a good way) of PBS cartoons-that-teach. Kids enjoy them, and they'll learn something along the way....more
A weak 4 stars I confess--5 stars for the first 2/3 of the book; 3 for the last 1/3.
How do you classify a book like this? Historical fiction? Myth? FaA weak 4 stars I confess--5 stars for the first 2/3 of the book; 3 for the last 1/3.
How do you classify a book like this? Historical fiction? Myth? Fairy tale? Adventure? Magical realism? A little of everything?
I loved the first 2/3 of this book. The last 1/3, I was just sort of "meh" about. I've been mulling over the shift, and I've decided it's because the line between myth and historical fiction gets blurred. Astri tells herself the stories of her Norwegian culture in an attempt to process what's happening to her. This is quite well done, and her life does indeed mirror certain elements of the stories. She's very clear about what's different, though, and her character felt very realistic. Don't so many of us story-lovers do the same thing? Out of hope, especially, we remind ourselves of our stories--perhaps the current situation will turn out like one of those old wonderful stories we cling to. And Astri's life is hard, so hard. It's no wonder she escapes into the land of myth.
But when she and Greta get on the boat--actually, once the horse enters the picture--the line gets fuzzier and fuzzier until the ending is magical realism all over the place. I'm not sure how I wanted the book to end, but it wasn't satisfying as written.
Note for concerned parents: there's one scene about 1/3 the way through the book where the goatherd that Astri has been sold to comes into her bed somewhat aggressively, and Astri uses a knife to defend herself. This may trouble younger, precocious readers. The remaining sinister elements feel very much in keeping with fairy tales and fantasy that many younger readers enjoy....more
I wanted to like this more than I did. In general, it's fairly well written, but the ending felt a touch contrived, and I didn't like some of the artI wanted to like this more than I did. In general, it's fairly well written, but the ending felt a touch contrived, and I didn't like some of the art history speculation. Still, a fun choice for kids interested in art and/or who enjoy mysteries....more
First of all, to what does the title refer? They make a point of saying actuation is what used to be called magic, but no one uses the word "spell" atFirst of all, to what does the title refer? They make a point of saying actuation is what used to be called magic, but no one uses the word "spell" at all. They kind of steal something, but really, they're stealing it back….
Secondly, while I love me a good series, it's nice to read a book that can stand on its own, too. This one is clearly a set up for the rest of the series. As such, there's a bit of back story and explaining to wade through--but it's not overdone, and the explaining of actuation in particular is definitely necessary.
All in all, a great read and one that kids will be clamoring for. I love that magic has become uber scientific in this. There are a few over the top things (like "Dread Cloaks"--from what I could tell, they don't even wear cloaks), but mostly the fact that a kid can cue up a fireball or rainstorm is pretty cool. Ben is a great characters, and it will be fun to see how his story plays out. Sasha and Peter are on the fringe, despite that cover, so I'm not as invested in them yet. And I liked how the name Richter features in, but is slippery--even as a name…. ...more
TenNapel says to think of this as an Easter story, a Resurrection story--and when you have that framework going in, the story takes on a whole new meaTenNapel says to think of this as an Easter story, a Resurrection story--and when you have that framework going in, the story takes on a whole new meaning! On the surface, a story of a kid who loses his dog, goes to live with Grandpa for the summer, and meets up with some bullies. Then… he discovers a T-Rex. The T-Rex becomes his new pet with mixed results initially (after all T-Rexes can be awfully destructive, even if accidentally). The ending shows some subtle clues to the Resurrection/Easter them--at the beginning of the story, Ely asks what eggs have to do with Easter. At the end of the story, Ely and Randy are shown frolicking with the baby dinosaurs that have hatched out of the eggs left behind…. There are lots more details, events, and emotions. This is a great story, one that kids will enjoy (esp the dinosaur's bodily functions!) and with more depth than first meets the eye.
My one complaint is that the sequence showing Ely and the T-Rex first getting acquainted felt choppy to me. There's no evidence of Ely even remotely thinking he should be careful/afraid/cautious or even that he's surprised to see a giant T-rex…. I know it's a graphic novel and all, but I needed a touch more realism for that part I guess....more
The magical car seems to be flying for the last time in this latest installment of her time-traveling adventReview originally posted at RedeemedReader
The magical car seems to be flying for the last time in this latest installment of her time-traveling adventures (following Chitty Bang Bang and the Race against Time, which takes her and the Tooting family back to the prehistoric era). Not only does Chitty fly to the moon and back, but this time, the Tooting family actually meets the original Potts family. There are also instances in which the modern Chitty is in the same time and place with a Chitty from another time and place. The Tootings and Pottses try valiantly to keep the two Chittys from actually seeing each other because they rightly fear an interruption in the space-time continuum. Tiny Jack is his same nefarious self, and everyone gets a glimpse of what the future would be if we went back and tinkered with the past.
Sometimes, hard decisions must be made, and the Tootings and Pottses are faced with a doozie: do they do the right thing, take Chitty back into the past, and undo a wrong? By undoing it, they will also undo the Tootings’ own experiences with Chitty—without even a memory left. This sacrifice on the Tootings’ part would be immense. But, doing the right thing often does call for sacrifice. And community often helps us survive those sacrifices. A terrifically fun read, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon is light sci-fi, full of quirky characters, nicely diverse, and very British. ...more
This book came out on my birthday this year (January 8) along with titles such as Hokey Pokey, Navigating EarlyReview originally posted on Literaritea
This book came out on my birthday this year (January 8) along with titles such as Hokey Pokey, Navigating Early, and The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brockett. Despite the "potential Newbery buzz" for books like Hokey Pokey and Navigating Early (both were on the early "to read" list at Heavy Medal, for instance), my favorite of this group is The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage.
So, why do I like this little chapter book so much? A longheld love affair with Charlotte's Web making me predisposed to like any pig chapter book? A general fondness for talking animal stories? A son who loves all things "pig"? Those are all reasons that helped me pick up this title off the "new" shelf at the library earlier this year. But those are not the reasons that make me like this book better than others I've read this year.
The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage is well written. Pure and simple. Characterization is top notch. We first meet Flora as a piglet who dreams of life beyond the pigpen, befriending the barnyard cat (Luna) in hopes of finding out "stuff." One day: escape! And Flora meets Oscar, a lead sled dog. Henceforward, after being returned to the pigpen, Flora dreams not just of exploration but of joining the sled dog team. After all, she has courage, pluck, strength, a stout heart. What more could you ask for in a sled dog team member?
One day, Flora is taken, along with Oscar and a number of other dogs, on board a ship bound for an Antarctic expedition. The reader will pick up on clues that go over Flora's head: her destiny is clearly for the crew's plates. She and her newest cat friend, Sophia, team up in the ship's hold to conquer the myriad rats, and Flora works hard to build up her strength in preparation for her anticipated sled dog/pig role.
Catastrophe strikes the ship, Flora's stout heart and strong legs help save the day, and she becomes essential to the team's survival. Flora forms an unlikely team with old Oscar, prickly Sophia, and the boy Aleric to help save the day in a heartwarming ending that is not at all saccharine.
The best chapter books for the third-fifth grade crowd feature great friendships, often between unlikely characters. You will find that in spades in this delightful book. Flora seeks adventure and finds it beyond her wildest dreams. Her courage is tremendous. Sophia's begrudging acceptance of the role of team player is well done. The scary and tense situations are just the right level for the target age group. As bizarre as the plot line is, it somehow works: we're rooting for a pig and a cat in the Antarctic and we know they will make it.
This book works on so many levels: plot, characterization, "issues" (survival, friendship, teamwork, etc.), setting (from the farm to the boat to the Antarctic). Illustrations are quirky and effective. But it also works on a sentence level: the text is excellent. A well constructed text can be read aloud easily and to great effect; Kurtz gives us that here. In fact, while this book will delight strong third and fourth grade readers (and younger), I think it's real gift will be as a read aloud so that a group can cheer on Flora together. She would like that; she's a friendly type and a real team player. ...more
When 12-year-old Cat suffers a concussion and brain damage after falling from her bird watching perch, nothReview originally posted on RedeemedReader.
When 12-year-old Cat suffers a concussion and brain damage after falling from her bird watching perch, nothing is quite the same. Her balance is a tad off, her memory a tad off, her concentration…you guessed it…a tad off. So when she and her mom hear about an innovative brain science institution that’s promising full recovery, they are definitely interested. The only problem? When Cat arrives at the specialized institution tucked away in a remote part of the Everglades, she discovers that things aren’t always what they seem. Why, at such a prestigious institution, aren’t there more than a handful of patients? Isn’t it odd that they are all twelve year olds with similar brain damage? Why have some of the patients mysteriously disappeared? What is really going on?
Wake Up Missing is an adrenaline pumping read that just came out this month. A little bit of brain science, a little bit of potential DNA manipulation, a little bit about the history of some very famous scientists, and a lot of action make this book a quick and exciting read. Guys and girls both will enjoy the mixed cast of characters and the small subplots going on in the background. Anytime a book brings up such murky waters as DNA manipulation, there is much to discuss. This is not a “deep” novel, but there are great issues to pick apart. In this book, it is clear that the way each person was originally created is the way he or she should stay–even if a brain injury has complicated that original design (although Messner doesn’t phrase it quite that way, the point is there)....more
Pros: Lots of fun to read, this book jumps right into the story on the morning of Testing Day when all 12-year-olds fiI'll say this is basically a 3.5
Pros: Lots of fun to read, this book jumps right into the story on the morning of Testing Day when all 12-year-olds find out their rank (3's and up are good to go; below that and you're a nobody; 1's aren't even allowed to marry/have children and no one's ever heard of a zero).
You guessed it: our hero is a zero. Of course, the plot doesn't end there but races along to an ending that would be pretty impressive on the big screen. There is lots more going on than Al first understands when he receives his zero rank mark. Like all good fantasy heroes, he learns as he goes, meets unusual fellow outcasts, reunites with his old friends, hides from those out to kill him, and eventually performs nearly superhuman feats to save the day--all because he is being sacrificial and thinking of others.
Cons: this book would have benefited from a touch more originality (cities named Brighton and Dockside, for one). The supporting characters, especially Al's friends, were a bit unremarkable and stock.
All that to say, this is a fun read and kids will no doubt enjoy it--especially if they're not as jaded as this grown-up who's read a fair number of "testing day" type scenarios in recent years and which all feature the main character NOT landing the mark/rank/station/skill they expect. ...more
3.5, really. Not quite a 4 star, but it feels better than my usual 3 stars...
Review originally posted on Literaritea. Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC!
T3.5, really. Not quite a 4 star, but it feels better than my usual 3 stars...
Review originally posted on Literaritea. Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC!
There's no question that Voigt can write, and write well at that. On the surface, her latest book seemed tailor made for me: I love a good mystery. I enjoy historic time periods and settings. I relish a good, open ending. Quirky characters, a dog, some art, the life of the theater--what's not to like?
When the book opens, Max's parents--both actors and owners of the Starling Theater Company--are planning a monumental trip to India. Max gets to go along. Until the day his parents board the boat and the boat leaves...without him. But, because Max is a quick thinker, he soon finds out that the boat they were supposed to board didn't exist. Therefore, did the whole trip exist? Are his parents in trouble? Did they know about this ahead of time? Is this an elaborate game or some nefarious plot? The reader doesn't know either, and we spend the next several hundred pages working on this mystery along with Max.
Thankfully, Max's grandmother lives close by, so he's not completely alone at the tender age of 12. He also has his painting instructor, a new tutor, and a new spunky girl to help him make sense of life and survive. And survive he does through his newly created "Mister Max" business: he solves minor mysteries for hire. Each time Max shows up for a new job, he's crafted a new disguise using his parents' many costumes. Thus, no one knows it's really a twelve year old boy underneath.
By the end of the book, we've learned a lot about Max and his parents (including where they are, although not how/why they got there), and Max has helped long lost lovers reunite, his painting instructor discover a new technique, and made some good friends. We're nicely set up, too, for the next book in the series.
And yet... Frankly, this book was too long. I finished it several weeks ago and am still mulling over just what didn't work. I enjoyed the characterization both of Max and the supporting cast. I enjoyed the overall dramatic framework of the book ("Act I"). But the length of the book draws out the mystery surrounding the parents' disappearance a little too long. We're bored with where his parents might be by the end and are much more invested in the here and now with Max and his new friends....more
This is a great introduction to the tale of Beowulf: gritty, full of action, high drama. Hinds does a good job with palette and manages to keep the acThis is a great introduction to the tale of Beowulf: gritty, full of action, high drama. Hinds does a good job with palette and manages to keep the action intense without overdoing it; if the blood were always red, it might be too much, but it's simply dark splotches in the first book. The reader knows it's gory, but it's a little easier to take.
All in all, a good overview to the legend--particularly for high school and/or college students struggling to read through it for English class :-). (Like my own students used to have to do!)...more