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
What It’s About: Friday Barnes, youngest child of rather eccentric, academic parFirst reviewed on Literaritea
What It Is: middle grades mystery + humor
What It’s About: Friday Barnes, youngest child of rather eccentric, academic parents, solves a crime and earns a whopping $50,000 in reward money. She spends it all on tuition, room, and board at an elite private school, sure that this new school will be a better fit for her own intellect. Friday quickly realizes that private school culture is a world of its own, complete with fashion musts, litigious parents and the money to hire lawyers, and plenty of intrigue and mystery. Her fellow students and teachers quickly realize Friday is the go to girl for solving their little mysteries, so Friday starts to earn some extra cash in return for using her superior reasoning powers on others’ behalf.
What Works/Doesn’t Work: Humor, black-and-white cartoon illustrations sprinkled throughout, and plenty of mini-mysteries keep the reader hooked in this fun novel. Friday and her roommate, Melanie, have a quirky, funny little friendship that leverages both girls’ eccentric talents. The plot is over the top, like most mysteries, and that adds to its charm.
Don’t expect this to be an intellectually stimulating, “deep” novel; it’s not. But it IS very fun reading and offers girls a detective of their own to line up with the humorous boy detectives a la Brixton Brothers, Encyclopedia Brown, and their ilk. If we’re comparing heroines to Sherlock Holmes, I like this gal Friday more than Enola Holmes. Not so much “girl power,” and more sheer skill and pluck.
What I Think: Offer this to your intermediate readers (3rd-5th grade) and up for some fun reading, especially for those who enjoy mysteries, want humor in the mix, and need a bit of illustration power to help them along.
The Father Brown Reader is a collection of four famous Father Brown stories: “The Blue Cross,” “The Strange Feet,” “TFirst reviewed on Redeemed Reader
The Father Brown Reader is a collection of four famous Father Brown stories: “The Blue Cross,” “The Strange Feet,” “The Flying Stars,” and “The Absence of Mr. Glass.” The first three stories feature the famous villain, Flambeau.
“The Blue Cross” shows world famous detective Valentin tracking Flambeau when he notices a short, bumbling priest. His surprise at the end of the story at Father Brown’s subtle cleverness echoes the reader’s similar discovery.
In “The Strange Feet,” Father Brown’s sharp sense of hearing and keen wit discover a crime in progress; his clerical nature allows for Flambeau’s confession and escape (Father Brown never reveals what is said to him in confidence as a priest!).
“The Flying Stars” involves Flambeau once more in what is presumably his final crime. Once more, Father Brown solves the mystery while offering eternal wisdom.
The final story, “The Absence of Mr. Glass,” has Father Brown urging everyone again to look at the facts: How much more interesting the story is than the mere facts!
Father Brown is just as lovable and nuanced in this adaptation as he was in the originals; these four stories are well chosen to provide a nice, round portrait of the wise, humble small priest.
Adapted literary works often suffer from, well, adaptation. Original text, skewered and mangled, results in works that talk down to the young reader or which leave out important philosophical points. Not so in this marvelous collection. Indeed, the length of these stories is not so very different from the length of the original. Slightly simplified language keeps the reading level firmly middle grades. Line drawings and sketches provide young readers with helpful “hooks” on which to hang plot details, and each story is broken up into small chapters, furthering the reader’s ease. Chesterton’s stories are complex affairs, playing with wit and language as much as with plot. These adaptions preserve that complexity nicely and open up the door to a new generation of readers. Many adults find Chesterton difficult reading; they, too, will enjoy these stories.
Another solid work of historical fiction from Avi. I'd bump this up to 4 stars for thought-provoking material, but the voice of the narrator bugged meAnother solid work of historical fiction from Avi. I'd bump this up to 4 stars for thought-provoking material, but the voice of the narrator bugged me. I felt like metaphors and similes and figures of speech were poured over me like waves upon sand, like rain falling from the sky, like a slap in the face. I almost put the book down after the first few chapters....
Thankfully, the plot kicked in and the aforementioned thought-provoking material began to show itself. An interesting choice for readers interested in the 1950s, McCarthy-ism, the Red Scare, this is part mystery, part philosophical exploration of what it means to be loyal to your family, to trust your family, to weigh loyalty to government when/if it conflicts with your family, and similar issues. 12-year-old Pete wrestles with all of these as he learns more about his dad's past, learns what it's like to be unfairly judged and treated because of rumors about you and your family, and is unfairly separated from his best friend when she is sent to boarding school.
It all works out nicely in the end. Everyone learns a lot, the right people stand up for themselves, and Pete grows up a bit. ...more
Fuzzy Mud refers to a mud that gets fuzzy as potentially deadly microbes mulFirst posted on Literaritea
The author of Holes and The Cardturner is back!
Fuzzy Mud refers to a mud that gets fuzzy as potentially deadly microbes multiply exponentially. If the mud remains uncontained, the results will be catastrophic. And it’s been doing its little multiplying act unnoticed by the neighboring town….
Until two middle school kids flee into the woods in a desperate attempt to escape a big-time bully. When anyone is fleeing into uncharted wilderness in a book–especially when it’s a really desperate flight–the reader knows catastrophe is likely to be just around the corner. Maybe they’ll get lost. Maybe they’ll meet wild animals. Maybe they’ll fall down an unseen cliff. Suspense builds.
In this book, the two kids turn to face their adversary, the conflict escalates to blows, and a girl knocks a guy down. Into the mud. Mud she notices is “fuzzy” and doesn’t look quite right.
In the ensuing days, she comes down with a rapidly spreading mysterious rash. Putting two and two together finally, she rushes back into the woods to find the missing bully. Blinded by the mud, he’s been hobbling around the woods completely lost.
All’s well that ends well. Mad scientist is brought to justice. Bully and victims reconciled. Mud contained. Afflicted persons healed (mostly). A quick, suspenseful read that brings up many issues worth discussing, especially with upper elementary kids. But the main characters? They remain nameless in many ways, a bit removed from the reader. Not unsympathetic, but almost a-sympathetic. ...more
More realistic fiction than mystery, this is a fun middle grades read set in a quirky small New England town. The town seemed almost too quirky and loMore realistic fiction than mystery, this is a fun middle grades read set in a quirky small New England town. The town seemed almost too quirky and lovable to be true, but it made for a satisfying setting nonetheless. Truly's character is appealing and relatable, but the first person narration slowed me down in the beginning. I thought her father's "thaw" from Silent Man back to dad was nicely done (and, of course, dovetailed nicely with the actual "January thaw" that the community finally experienced over Valentine's Day).
Fun cast of characters, fun mystery-as-plot-device happening along the way, and satisfying ending. I love that a large family is the star of the show, and I also enjoyed how Truly's mom hangs in there with Truly's dad even when he's struggling over his recent arm amputation/war experience. ...more
A mystery = + Boy and girl protagonist = + Traveling the world = + Lackluster writing = - Illustrations in a chapter book = + Illustrations that arEnh....
A mystery = + Boy and girl protagonist = + Traveling the world = + Lackluster writing = - Illustrations in a chapter book = + Illustrations that are not awesome = - Intentionally flipped mom/dad roles that feels a bit forced to me = - Stereotypical characters in the good guys/bad guys = -
Not terrible if you're hoping for some basic fluency-building books, but nothing to seek out in particular.
A mystery = + Boy and girl protagonist = + Traveling the world = + Lackluster writing = - Illustrations in a chapter book = + Illustrations that arEnh....
A mystery = + Boy and girl protagonist = + Traveling the world = + Lackluster writing = - Illustrations in a chapter book = + Illustrations that are not awesome = - Intentionally flipped mom/dad roles that feels a bit forced to me = -
Not terrible if you're hoping for some basic fluency-building books, but nothing to seek out in particular. ...more
I really loved this book when I first picked it up (2 weeks ago!), but it started to drag in the middle.... Bindy's voice is pitch perfect and remindeI really loved this book when I first picked it up (2 weeks ago!), but it started to drag in the middle.... Bindy's voice is pitch perfect and reminded me of several close friends. Moriarty has definitely captured the introspective high achiever in Bindy, and she is quite realistic. The way her voice changes in the story in reflection of what is happening to her is also quite well done. The format of the novel is very fun to read and decipher. A collection of letters, memos, Bindy's journal, and similar "evidence" unravels the story of a crime that is being committed against Bindy. I confess that I figured it out, but I'm not sure the average teen reader would. And I didn't figure out all the details of the crime ahead of time, just the main perpetrator. One interesting thing to note about the villain: we see some of his/her thoughts, too, and those thoughts reveal that this person is not pure evil but a person with layers just like the rest of us. Nice touch, that. I haven't read the others in this series, and I should check them out!
One final note: in a sea of YA books I can't recommend to my more conservative friends, I so much appreciate a witty, intelligent novel for teens that is remarkably clean. Even the bad language of Bindy's friends is rephrased in Bindy's diary because she herself is offended at their vulgarity and poor taste. ...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
Budding engineers and other science- and gadget-lovers will enjoy this charming new series co-written by ScienceReview first posted on RedeemedReader
Budding engineers and other science- and gadget-lovers will enjoy this charming new series co-written by Science Bob, an elementary school science teacher. Nick and Tesla are twins who are sent to live with their very eccentric inventor Uncle Newt whilst their parents are on some mysterious “work” trip. Nick and Tesla are given free rein in Uncle Newt’s lab, and they put their own science skills to the test to solve a mystery. There is also a bit of top secret government action.
Fast-paced and filled with several sets of directions for gadgets and experiments young readers can do at home, this mystery series will delight anyone who enjoys tinkering with household objects and crafting science experiments. The book is much shorter than its 240 page limit indicates; several pages are taken up with diagrams and directions for the experiments. Illustrations also dot the narrative pages. The writing is similar to what you might expect in a formulaic mystery series, but the hands-on experiments add their own charm....more
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing continues the story of plucky (and hilarious) Mo LeBeau. The writing is even sReview originally posted on Redeemed Reader
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing continues the story of plucky (and hilarious) Mo LeBeau. The writing is even stronger in this second story of small Tupelo Landing and its quirky characters. Mo and her best friend, Dale, are still running the Desperadoes Detective Agency, and she is still infatuated with his older brother, Lavender. Sixth grade starts up one day after the opening of the story, and Mo’s favorite teacher is back. For fans of the first book, this second book will deliver even more charm and more quirky characters. For those who are new to Tupelo Landing, this book will easily work on its own.
The mystery this time involves the identity (and reality) of the ghost of the old inn that Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton bought out of spite. The ghost is even in the disclosure statement in the contract! No one believes she is real except Mo and Dale who decide to interview her for their history project. They succeed–this ghost is real–and solve a decades old mystery in the process. The theme in Ghosts of Tupelo Landing is putting ghosts to rest: old relationship issues, old mysteries, old arguments, and the real ghost of Nellie Blake. In the end, much has been resolved (except the identity of Mo’s “Upstream Mother”), and the town has rallied together. Putting so much to rights has been the work of many people together, not just one person.
**Really, this is a 4.5 for me. There's one main thing that knocked it down--kind of dumb, but I couldn't get past it (this will alert people to my total nerd-hood): at one point, when Mo is explaining Buddha's name, she says his name was supposed to be Bubba, but his mom (or whoever) was dyslexic, so it became Buddha. But Buddha has an "h"!! AAGGHH…. Does this bother anyone else? (like I said--I'm a nerd)...more
A weak 4 stars, I confess. I liked this book, and simultaneously I was frustrated by it. The concept is great, but I think perhaps there are too manyA weak 4 stars, I confess. I liked this book, and simultaneously I was frustrated by it. The concept is great, but I think perhaps there are too many characters in the mix. It's hard to really click with any one character because there are so many--Cady is clearly the central character, but we lose some of her story in the myriad other stories going on. Maybe lose one of the other kids? Mr. Asher was sort of a non-event as well, although his presence is needed by his own family. Not sure who to drop. The idea of Talented was an intriguing one. In short, good idea, good execution overall, just a little too complex/too many characters. The mystery angle is fun, and I have no doubt that many kids will enjoy this one. ...more
Ugh. Every single position of power or responsibility is held by a woman (including the president) and every single male is presented as a bumbling idUgh. Every single position of power or responsibility is held by a woman (including the president) and every single male is presented as a bumbling idiot. Unnecessary. Storyline is okay--very much a series book....more
Even before Willy Wonka is mentioned, readers will note the similarities between Mr. Lemoncello and Wonka: both are as quirky and eccentric as they come, and both enjoy creating a mysterious "playground" of sorts for children to explore. The nice ones survive and move ahead; the mean kids are out of luck.
In Mr. Lemoncello's case, it's a new library for a town that's been without for twelve years. Mr. Lemoncello is a famous game maker--both board and video--who's now a billionaire and decides to create the ultimate library + game for this small town that gave him his own beginnings in puzzle making and solving. In true eccentric fashion, his library will open with twelve twelve year olds playing an elaborate game of "escape from the library" in one 24-hour period. Kyle Keeley, game player extraordinaire but NOT a reader, is one of the twelve lucky participants, and he can hardly wait. His other eleven companions are the types of characters that enable the reader to immediately guess who's going to win and who's going to lose. After all, jerks and wimps are pretty easy to recognize, but team players nearly always get ahead--at least in books!
The game makes this book: it's elaborate, full of tricks like holographic former librarians, and is all being supervised by the actively involved Mr. Lemoncello (albeit from a distance through video cams).
What doesn't make this book are the very things that are probably supposed to make the book: the myriad references to libraries and books. Oh, the books which are referenced! Favorites of this reader, to be sure--grown-up books, kids' books, old books, new books. I had a great time noting the references, some of which are quite obscure. And there's the problem: what twelve year old who really has read enough to get all those references is going to pick this book to read next? And, if you're a gamer like Kyle who doesn't like to read, will you get any of the references? Will you really want to go read all those books?
No, I'm afraid Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, although it's getting lots of praise from professional reviews, is not going to be the crowd pleaser people seem to think it will be. It's a fun read, but it's hard to figure out who the audience will be who really gets into this: grown-up librarians or the type of kids it's about?
I rarely say this, but I think this book--ironically enough--would make a better movie than book. It's high adventure and would beg for terrific special effects. But a good read? Hmm...
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
I really wanted to like this book: a unique setting (homeless shelters in Chicago--not many of THOSE books floating around), a mystery (I'm a big mystI really wanted to like this book: a unique setting (homeless shelters in Chicago--not many of THOSE books floating around), a mystery (I'm a big mystery fan), and a library employee (I'm a wannabee).
But this novel just didn't work for me. It's not a bad read, and no doubt there middle grades students who will enjoy it. I appreciate the unique aspects of the setting and thought the shelter scenes were done well as was the portrayal of the family's experience being homeless in general. Well done.
But the reason they were IN the shelter? And how they managed to get OUT of that lifestyle? Just a little too much for me to swallow. I'm honestly not sure what didn't fit/work: Dash's character? The means Early uses to figure out the mystery? The mystery set-up itself? Or the "clues" throughout that were intentionally vague?
All in all, it felt like Balliett was trying too hard to write this book and make it what it was. I've heard good things about
For some reason, I forgot to review this after I read it. Thus, I don't have details for this :-(. That being said, I remember really enjoying this boFor some reason, I forgot to review this after I read it. Thus, I don't have details for this :-(. That being said, I remember really enjoying this book and remember it better than most. As a high school English teacher, I found the whole concept quite interesting. Boarding school settings can be so interesting--and this one is. Definitely a page turner, too. A good fit for high school kids who are readers themselves. ...more
And One Came Home is definitely one of the former. Did you know there were massive passenger pigeon migrations once upon a time? Huh. Me neither. That there were folks called pigeoners who traveled after these huge flocks hoping to cash on in the big nestings? Huh. Me neither.
A little mystery (or, a lot), some quirky characters, and lots of lovely prose made this a book I thoroughly enjoyed. The ending was a bit tidy in parts--rather quickly wrapped up in a way. But overall, I enjoyed reading this book tremendously. The journey was great....more
I enjoy Feinstein's Final Four mysteries. Baseball fans would get more out of this than I did... I found myself skimming in parts when the technical bI enjoy Feinstein's Final Four mysteries. Baseball fans would get more out of this than I did... I found myself skimming in parts when the technical baseball talk would kick in :-)....more
Oh, so, so, so, so funny. My kids (ages 6-7) seemed to enjoy the book, but much of the humor went over their heads. Maybe better for a middle-upper elOh, so, so, so, so funny. My kids (ages 6-7) seemed to enjoy the book, but much of the humor went over their heads. Maybe better for a middle-upper elementary audience.
Terrific choice for music appreciation, but also a fun choice to demonstrate Lemony Snicket's usual flare for word plays and clever text in general.
I want to give this 4.5 stars really. Still chuckling. And it comes with a CD. ...more
This is just the kind of book I devoured in 4th grade (and thereabouts). Mystery, adventure, potential murder, danger... (which is precisely why I hadThis is just the kind of book I devoured in 4th grade (and thereabouts). Mystery, adventure, potential murder, danger... (which is precisely why I had a steady book diet of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys during that time!). Kids will enjoy it!...more
I really enjoyed the peek into Egyptian daily life as it might have been centuries ago. Good story, great setting--the historical/cultural details areI really enjoyed the peek into Egyptian daily life as it might have been centuries ago. Good story, great setting--the historical/cultural details are thrown in as it they're completely natural with no intrusive authorial explanation....more
I read the first No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency book a few years ago and enjoyed it--very fun. I'm delighted to see the author's foray into early chapI read the first No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency book a few years ago and enjoyed it--very fun. I'm delighted to see the author's foray into early chapter books has also produced a fun read! ...more