9 year old Danny lives with his father in an old gypsy caravan behind his father’s filling station in the English countryside. His father not only tea...more9 year old Danny lives with his father in an old gypsy caravan behind his father’s filling station in the English countryside. His father not only teaches him how to be a first rate mechanic, he also makes Danny wonderful kites and other inventions. The two have such a lovely life together that even though Danny has lots of school friends, he never brings them home. But one day his father reveals a dark, but exciting, secret, changing Danny’s world forever. Danny can’t believe his beloved and “sparky” father could be involved in such secret dealings. But soon Danny and his father hatch a marvelous plan that will have the mean, horrible, and egotistical Mr. Victor Hazell in fits of hysterics.
The mixture of suspenseful and touching moments makes this realistic story, with just a hint of magic and “spark”, a memorable read. Set sometime after WWII, but long before cell phones and computers, this character-driven story is full of humorous descriptions. Imagination, innovation, and ingenuity are celebrated as Danny’s great idea is put into practice. In fact, it’s Danny’s brilliant idea that earns him the label of “champion of the world.” Dahl’s subtly funny narrative takes the reader on a thrilling adventure, a sort of 20th century Robin Hood story. As in many of Dahl's stories, it is the child protagonist who ultimately saves the day. Mr. Hazell holds an annual pheasant hunt to gain the favor of many rich and titled people, but Danny and his father come up with an ingenious method to remove as many pheasants as they can from Hazell’s Wood. Although the plotline features a great poaching scheme, the relationship between father and son is the real highlight of this story. Danny’s father clearly loves his son very much and there are many scenes of father and son enjoying each other’s company in such a simple, but lovely way. Dahl fans will notice that one of the bedtime stories told by Danny’s father is a snippet of The BFG. This is a great recommendation for a read aloud or for a father-son book club.
Ted isn’t sure what to think or feel when his Aunt Gloria and cousin Salim come to visit. They haven’t come to visit for nearly 5 years and Ted is co...more Ted isn’t sure what to think or feel when his Aunt Gloria and cousin Salim come to visit. They haven’t come to visit for nearly 5 years and Ted is concerned because his father refers to his aunt as Hurricane Gloria. Ted’s pretty sure he doesn’t mean a hurricane of the weather sort, which would be far more interesting in his opinion. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Ted is passionate about meteorology. His brain is “wired differently” and it isn’t good at reading body language. However, it is good at thinking in a highly analytical and logical way, which is great for predicting the weather. It turns out it’s also good for solving mysteries. Which is a very, very good thing because on Monday morning at 11:32am Ted and his older sister Kat watch Salim get on the London Eye and then he disappears. How does someone disappear from a glass capsule? Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Is he lost? Ted comes up with several theories, but even if he and Kat figure out which one is correct will that lead them to Salim?
This realistic mystery has an intricate plot that is revealed intriguingly, bit by bit. The pieces are expertly sprinkled throughout the story and come together in an exciting and surprising conclusion. The narrative is written from Ted’s perspective, giving the reader a glimpse into the inner workings of his mind. Although he doesn’t go into detail, Ted accepts that having Asperger’s Syndrome makes him think in a different way. While Ted is trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Salim, he also pushes himself to communicate, listen, and observe the world around him in new ways. Ted is an endearing and earnest protagonist, who will charm readers with his witty comments on common phrases. Slang terms and place names set this clever book in modern day London. Although American readers will encounter cultural differences, the love-hate relationships of Ted’s family members are universal. This quick, but engaging, read is a great recommendation for mystery lovers.
When 11 year old April moves to the Bay Area of California to live with her grandmother she isn’t expecting to stay very long, much less make any fri...more When 11 year old April moves to the Bay Area of California to live with her grandmother she isn’t expecting to stay very long, much less make any friends. But then she meets Melanie, the girl who lives upstairs, and both girls know they have found an imaginative kindred spirit. The new friends and Melanie’s younger brother Marshall create elaborate games of make-believe all around the neighborhood. But the most intriguing game of all is the mysterious and slightly scary Egypt Game. When the friends find a secret entrance into the abandoned backyard of the enigmatic junkshop owner, they just can’t walk away. Soon they combine their love of all things ancient Egyptian and their boundless imaginations to create the best game of all. Soon the Egypt Gang grows to include more friends and everyone is having a great time, until strange things start happening in the neighborhood. Not only that, eerie messages are found in their hidden land of Egypt. Is there someone watching them? Has the game gotten out of hand?
This story, equal parts mystery and friendship tale, celebrates the fun that can be had by giving yourself over to your imagination. Written and set in the 1960’s, the setting reflects a time when children had more freedom to explore their neighborhood without adult supervision. However, even though the story is firmly set in a time before cell phones and computers, young readers will easily relate to April and her friends. Readers will also fall in love with the multicultural cast of characters, including Chinese-American Elizabeth, Japanese-American Ken, and African-American Melanie and Marshall. The neighborhood is also extremely diverse, with families of all backgrounds and skin colors, but race doesn’t factor into the story. The casual and friendly tone of the text allows Snyder to use plot and character to move the story along at a nice clip. In the same manner, Snyder delves into April’s frustrating relationship with her single mother, an aspiring Hollywood actress. The addition of a neighborhood murderer and a spooky Halloween adventure add just enough scary suspense to hook readers.
Cosmo is pretty sure this isn’t how his life is supposed to be. His mom has moved to Australia for a job and he hasn’t gotten over the death of his b...more Cosmo is pretty sure this isn’t how his life is supposed to be. His mom has moved to Australia for a job and he hasn’t gotten over the death of his brother. He also refuses to believe that his massively brilliant Granddad is losing his memory, so he begins to take action using the advice from the Memory Cure website. But even though it helps sometimes, he can’t seem to get Granddad to remember that Cosmo’s brother Brian is dead. Things go from bad to worse when Granddad takes a fall and a social worker arrives to assess his ability to live at home. Cosmo is desperate to help and that’s when his grandfather gives him a small silver key. Although he’s completely skeptical, Cosmo keeps his promise to use the key to unlock the South Gate that leads to Blackbrick Abbey. And that’s when Cosmo realizes he’s traveled into his grandfather’s past. Not only that, he come face to face with his 16 year old Granddad! Maybe now he can fix everything in the past to make the future better. After all, Cosmo is a time traveler, no wait, he’s a massively brilliant Time Legend!
This story, part historical fiction and part science fiction, addresses the importance of memory, past, present, and future. The book begins in modern day Ireland, but soon readers are transported back to the early 1940’s. Cosmo’s grandfather was a stable boy at a once grand estate and he’s deeply in love with the gorgeous Maggie, a girl from a nearby village. Unfortunately, the lord of the manor also takes an interest in the 16 year old girl. Fitzgerald deftly addresses Maggie’s “condition” and the identity of the baby’s father as Cosmo and Kevin come to terms with this heartbreaking situation. Fitzgerald creates believable dialogue and motivations for the characters of the past, which contrasts with Cosmo’s 21st century sensibilities. Written in first person from Cosmo’s point of view, the story is equal parts action and reflection as Cosmo comes to terms with his grandfather’s failing memory. Ultimately, this is the story of his struggle to deal with his emotions about his grandfather’s memory, his mother’s absence, and his brother’s death. These are big issues, but Cosmo, sensitive and funny, keeps the book from becoming depressing. He admits he makes mistakes, but he’s always looking for a way to make things better and that proactive attitude keeps the story compelling and uplifting. In addition, the time travel element of the plot will keep readers wondering what happens to the characters (or if they will even exist in the future/present/whatever).
13 year old Nate Foster is not a fan of Janksburg, PA. No one, except his best friend Libby, understands his love of all things theatre. His family ig...more13 year old Nate Foster is not a fan of Janksburg, PA. No one, except his best friend Libby, understands his love of all things theatre. His family ignores him and his classmates call him names as they shove him into lockers. So when Libby finds out about an upcoming audition for E.T.: The Musical, they both know it’s Nate’s big chance to get out of Janksburg. And that’s why Nate is on a Greyhound Bus to “New York Manhattan City”, armed with his audition materials, his mom’s ATM card, and a couple dozen donuts. If all goes well, he can make it to the city, do his audition, and be home before his parents even notice he’s missing. Of course, things don’t really go as planned, throwing Nate into a whirlwind weekend in the city filled with casting directors, the biggest Applebee’s in the world, a long lost aunt, and maybe, just maybe, the chance to be on Broadway.
Written in first person from Nate’s point of view, this is a hilarious and touching story. Nate has a great voice—innocent, observant, funny, and sensitive—making him an endearingly flawed, yet charming, protagonist. This is a character-driven story, filled with a supporting cast of unique individuals, most notably, Libby and Nate’s mother (a recovering alcoholic). The book humorously touches on Nate’s sexual orientation in an age-appropriate way. His classmates call him a “fag”, but as Nate puts it, “I’m thirteen, leave me alone. Macaroni and cheese is still my favorite food–how would I know who I want to hook up with?” Nate also has the experience of meeting his aunt’s gay best friend and being astounded that two men can kiss in a club and no one punches them. The book is filled with musical theatre references, many of them rather obscure. However, if you give this to a theatre-loving kid they are most likely to be fascinated by these details, rather than put off. Federle is a professional actor and he uses his intimate knowledge of New York City and theatre to create a realistic depiction of the culture. The audition process is not idealized for young readers and Federle leaves the ending open as to whether or not Nate is cast in the show. A great story about being loved and appreciated for being the best version of yourself.
At first, Zeno doesn’t care at all about the sick girl in the bed. After all, Zeno is a “booful briyant” African grey parrot and he has one thing on h...moreAt first, Zeno doesn’t care at all about the sick girl in the bed. After all, Zeno is a “booful briyant” African grey parrot and he has one thing on his mind: banana nut muffins. So when he sees one sitting on the girl’s window sill, he knows it’s meant for him. This chance meeting is the beginning of a long, hopeful, and confusing journey to friendship. Zeno’s owner, a doctor of philosophy, has recently died and now the parrot is trying to figure out how this confusing place called Brooklyn works. More importantly, what kind of trees do banana nut muffins grow on? While Zeno is completely free for the first time in his life, the girl Alya feels like a prisoner in her own house. Alya has leukemia and her body is still struggling to deal with the chemo treatments. Day after day she lies in her bed, exhausted and losing hope. Through many desperate adventures – good and bad, happy and sad – Zeno and Alya find that life is better with a true friend and home. And some banana nut muffins, of course.
This gentle and thoughtful story tackles larger ideas than your average animal story. The importance of hope and how hope can be a gift from one person (or bird) to another, as well as the meanings of friendship and home are explored. Zeno is named after the Greek philosopher of the same name, which allows Kelley to incorporate bits of his wisdom in a graceful manner. Zeno and Alya are unique individuals and it is wonderful to see them develop in this character-driven story. Both characters begin thinking mostly of themselves, but by the end of the book their awareness and caring has expanded to include others. Kelley examines many different kinds of friendship, as Zeno meets new birds and Alya struggles to find common words with her old friends. Although this is a quiet story, short chapters keep the pacing of the story quick. Written in third person, the chapters alternate between Zeno and Alya’s stories in a chronological fashion. Although cancer and death are a part of a the story, the story never becomes depressing as Kelley balances humor and seriousness.
A member of the most legendary thieving family in all the Five Provinces, 12 year old Jaxter Grimjinx is pretty sure he’s an embarrassment to the enti...moreA member of the most legendary thieving family in all the Five Provinces, 12 year old Jaxter Grimjinx is pretty sure he’s an embarrassment to the entire family. They’ve never said anything, but it would be hard to miss Jaxter’s accident prone clumsiness. Bangers!, he’s so horrible at picking locks that his little sister can pick a lock faster than he can! What he really loves to do is work with plants to create magical substances, but he knows this won’t really help him become a better thief. Or will it? To get the family out of jail, his parents create a fake tapestry, a tapestry that supposedly shows the fate of the town-state of Vengekeep. Jaxter’s mother, a master forger, weaves in all manner of disasters showing the Grimjinx family as the saviors. The Grimjinxes think it’s a great joke, until the catastrophic prophecies start coming true! Jaxter has a plan to save Vengekeep, but can he and his spunky best friend Callie gather everything they need before the worst of the prophecies comes true on the first Mooncrux?
Written from Jaxter’s point of view, this thrilling tale takes readers on a fantastic fantasy adventure. From giant men made of lava to floods, sinister allies to cons gone wrong, there’s plenty to keep the plot exciting and fast paced. The book is divided into three parts: The Con, The Quest, and The Prophecy. Farray has created a rich fantasy world populated by colorful characters that are endearing and relatable. It is also notable that males and females are equally strong within the community, as well as in the Grimjinx family. Made up words (“Bangers!” “Zoc!”) are incorporated in the vernacular, giving the story flavor, but never becoming overwhelming or gratuitous. The dialogue flows naturally and Farray’s humorous writing style fits the story well. A great recommendation for a fantasy lover looking for a new world to explore.
August 28, 1854 seemed like a normal day in London to 13 year old Eel. As always he had to keep his secret well hidden, dodge the villainous Fisheye B...moreAugust 28, 1854 seemed like a normal day in London to 13 year old Eel. As always he had to keep his secret well hidden, dodge the villainous Fisheye Bill, and work hard to earn his keep as a message boy at a pub. But a new problem makes itself known on that hot Monday. The first resident of Broad Street dies of the Blue Death, otherwise known as cholera, and so begins the epidemic that takes the lives of over 600 people. Orphaned Eel feels powerless to help his friends and neighbors, until he shares his worries with the esteemed Dr. Snow. The doctor has an unpopular theory that cholera is spread through contaminated water, rather than through the air. Using his powers of observation, reasoning, and intelligence Eel helps the doctor investigate the epidemic, find important clues, and uncover the truth. But can Eel and Dr. Snow come up with enough proof in time to save lives?
Based on real events, this well researched story makes for a compelling, as well as educational, read. Hopkinson’s non-fiction background is evident in her tone and style of writing. Her descriptions are precise, painting an accurate and detailed depiction of the time period. Readers will walk away with a great deal of knowledge of the events before, during, and after the epidemic. Extensive notes at the back of the book include more information on the real life people and events that inspired the story. This includes short biographies of historical figures used as characters in the book, as well as a timeline of the progress of the epidemic. Hopkinson also provides a list of recommended books and websites for young readers. The characters, many of them based on real people, are believable and relatable. This is especially true for Eel, who is a sensitive, observant, and responsible protagonist. The symptoms of cholera are accurately described, but never in a graphic manner. Additionally, even though many of Eel’s friends die, the story does not become depressing, nor does it dwell on the subject of death too deeply. This is a great fiction recommendation for kids who prefer non-fiction or for those interested in science and medicine.
It’s time for Billy Miller to start 2nd grade. He’s excited to be in Room 2, but worried that he might not be smart enough to please his teacher Ms. S...moreIt’s time for Billy Miller to start 2nd grade. He’s excited to be in Room 2, but worried that he might not be smart enough to please his teacher Ms. Silver. He’s looking forward to sitting at the desk right next to his best friend Ned, but Ms. Silver assigns seats and the annoying know-it-all Emma Sparks gets his seat! And that’s just the first day! From creating dioramas to writing poetry, from learning about volcanoes to Chinese New Year, Billy’s year is full of new, wonderful, sad, strange, and beautiful experiences. What a crazy and wonderful year! Good thing Mama, Papa, and his little sister Sal are there to love and support him no matter what.
This sweet and funny story is divided into four parts, each one focusing on a special person in Billy’s life (Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother). Written in third person, short chronological chapters explore the small moments that make up a 2nd graders life. Young readers will easily identify with Billy’s daily dilemmas at school and at home. Billy is a likeable protagonist who sometimes acts and speaks without thinking things through. But he also has the ability to reflect on the impact of his actions and words and then to do his best to do the right thing. The members of Billy’s family are unique and fully developed from his artist father to his college professor mother. Like Billy, they have good and bad days, and Henkes expertly weaves this into the story. A variety of vocabulary words are introduced throughout (habitat, mesmerized, enveloped). Henkes is careful to define these words through context, but without patronizing the reader. A great recommendation for a reader transitioning to chapter books or a family read aloud.
Flora Belle Buckman, a self-described cynic, has a life that was far from extraordinary until the day she sees a squirrel get sucked up by a vacuum cl...moreFlora Belle Buckman, a self-described cynic, has a life that was far from extraordinary until the day she sees a squirrel get sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. Holy bagumba! But the vacuum, the Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X, does something to the small squirrel. He doesn’t just get sucked up, he manages to pull himself out and throw the vacuum! Flora, who has spent her entire life reading about superheroes in The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! knows that this is no ordinary squirrel. This squirrel has superpowers! Holy unanticipated occurences! And it’s true, Ulysses (named after that fateful machine), has super strength, the ability to fly, communicate with humans, and even type poetry! With the help of a cast of quirky, but loveable characters, the two friends rely on one another to get out of sticky situations, escape the clutches of the arch-nemesis, and ultimately find their places in the world.
This hybrid chapter book/graphic novel explores different types of friendship and love as the two main characters try to figure out where they belong. Each of the characters is remarkable and unique, making for humorous dialogue and situations. Flora herself is an introspective, sensitive child who doesn’t often get to express her thoughts and feelings to the adults in her life. Written in third person, the text and illustrations allow readers into the minds of both Flora and Ulysses. The text and illustrations are seamlessly interwoven; both are needed to tell the full story. Campbell’s pencil illustrations, presented in comic book-ish panels, help to push the plot forward with visual humor. They also provide context and make clever use of speech and thought bubbles. The plot is interwoven with symbolism and foreshadowing, that allows DiCamillo to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion through a series of coincidences (or are they?). Using a wide and varied vocabulary the story is divided into very short chapters, each one leaving the reader hanging and yearning for more.
E.D. Applewhite can’t believe it. Not only does she have to deal with being the untalented member of the endlessly talented, dedicated, and artistic...more E.D. Applewhite can’t believe it. Not only does she have to deal with being the untalented member of the endlessly talented, dedicated, and artistic Applewhite family, she also has to deal with a known juvenile delinquent! Along with E.D. and her siblings, he’ll be a student of the Creative Academy, the homeschool the Applewhite’s have created to allow their children complete artistic freedom. 13 year old Jake Semple doesn’t want to be there either, but he has no other choice. He’s been kicked out school after school and his family just wants to be rid of him. But soon, no matter how hard E.D. and Jake resist, Jake is absorbed into the Applewhite way of life and living. Over the course of just a few months, the two reluctant schoolmates find themselves raising butterflies, herding rampant goats, learning to meditate, and putting their hearts and souls into an untraditionally wonderful production of The Sound of Music. Jake and E.D. might manage to survive the Applewhites, but they’ll never be the same!
Named a Newbery Honor book, this fast paced story is written in third person. The narrative alternates between Jake and E.D.’s perspectives, allowing the reader to understand the motivations of the two protagonists. The Applewhite family and their extended family are eccentric characters that brim with artistic passion and temperament. Although they are larger than life in many ways, Tolan is able to ground the story in reality. Tackling life with passion is a major theme. Jake begins his stay with the Applewhites with absolutely no interest in anything in life. By the end of the book, he not only sees the passion of those around him, but resolves to live his life with the same vigor. Jake’s gradual transformation, the result of introspection, is reflected in his outward appearance and behaviors. A great recommendation for intelligent and creative readers who have read a lot and are looking for lesser known, but equally stellar, books.
“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.” Anna lives with there in a big house with her African father, Canadian mother, twin baby brothers (Do...more“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.” Anna lives with there in a big house with her African father, Canadian mother, twin baby brothers (Double and Trouble), paternal grandparents, and countless uncles, aunties, and cousins. Her wishes, dreams, curiosities, worries, and triumphs are told in a series of short stories. Whether it’s dreaming of snow, a visit from Auntie Comfort, or a vacation at the beach, you can count on Anna Hisbiscus to make the most of the situation!
This short book features a rambunctious and inquisitive protagonist. Anna doesn’t just observe, she makes mistakes, tries new things, and learns lessons about the world outside her familly’s compound. Each chapter is an episodic story full of cultural markers that evoke “Amazing Africa”, including foods, cultural customs, and clothing. The text and images illustrate how Anna’s culture is a mix of old and new, traditional and modern. Her family wears traditional clothing to church on Sundays. Everyone’s clothing is cut from “the one same cloth” to show they are “one same family.” On the other hand, Anna’s mother shows her how to send a text message to her Auntie Comfort in America. Tobia’s greyscale illustrations are playful and lively, using many different angles to bring Anna’s bustling world to life. Atinuke is an international storyteller who grew up in Nigeria. So it is no surprise that this book is a great read aloud. A good recommendation for a parent looking for a read aloud for the whole family. It’s also a great book for readers transitioning into chapter books. Although the stories are in chronological order, they could easily stand alone.
You might think that Steve Brixton is just an ordinary kid who would rather read all 59 books in the Bailey Brothers mystery series instead of write a...moreYou might think that Steve Brixton is just an ordinary kid who would rather read all 59 books in the Bailey Brothers mystery series instead of write an 8 page research paper on early American needlework. But that’s where you’d be wrong. Steve is actually a detective or at least he will be after he figures out the whereabouts of a valuable piece of American history. In the meantime, he has to dodge Rick the less-than-bright policeman who is dating his mother, a squad of secret government agents (aka librarians), and the mysterious Mr. E. Will Steve and his best friend Dana be able to solve this tricky case and finish their research papers by Monday morning? With the help of The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook they just might be able to save the day (no guarantees on the papers though)!
The first in the Brixton Brothers series this action-packed story is a tongue-in-cheek spin on classic Hardy Boys stories. In short chapters, Barnett creates a world in which the ridiculous is taken seriously making for some truly outlandish and funny situations. Written in third person, the plot has plenty of twists and completes with a satisfying ending in which Steve reveals the most unlikely suspect to be the villain. Rex’s pen and ink illustrations, done in classic mystery series style, add context and humor to the story. Gloriously dated bits of the fictional detective handbook are included along with illustrations demonstrating how to identify a bad guy or tie a rope from bed sheets. This quick read is great for reluctant or below level readers.