MONDAY, 28 JULY 2014

The grass is always greener on the other side of the moat

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The Castle Corona
by Sharon Creech
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2013 (2007) | HarperCollins | 352 pages

Pia and Enzio have spent their short life dreaming of escaping from their cruel mater Pangini. If only they could be a princess and a prince living in a castle. Then their worries would vanish. Their hopes soar when they find a pouch that clearly contains something taken from the Castle Corona. They know they should return it, but surely there is no harm in holding onto the pouch for just a little while?

Meanwhile, the members of the royal family at the castle have concerns of their own. King Guido feels the weight of ruling his kingdom. Prince Gianni, heir to the throne, is more inclined to write poetry than to govern. Princess Fabrizia suffers from the boredom of a truly spoiled little girl. Young Prince Vito desperately needs an outlet for his competitive spirit. And, finally, Queen Gabriella searches for a purpose in her life beyond the superficial, comfortable existence of a noblewoman.

None of these characters expect… click here to read whole article and make comments


MONDAY, 21 JULY 2014

Official advice from doctors: read to your kids!

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Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that its members are going to be encouraged to promote reading aloud to children during well-visits. Studies show that infants and toddlers whose parents read to them enter school better prepared to read themselves.

Listening to books, according to the AAP, develops language and other intellectual skills. With the support of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and donations from Scholastic Books, the nonprofit group Reach Out and Read has been donating books to pediatricians for distribution to low-income families. According to a national survey, parents living below the federal poverty level are much less likely to read to their children. Naturally, as someone who critiques children's literature, I was curious to know which books the organization is promoting. I could not find a comprehensive list on their site.

When I speak… click here to read whole article and make comments


SUNDAY, 20 JULY 2014

Tunnel fever

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by William Mayne
written for ages 13-16 | acceptable
published in 1995 (1965) | Hodder Children's Books | 208 pages

David and Keith are schoolboys who meet a drummer boy on the hillside for whom an hour-long journey down a tunnel has taken three hundred years. He is carrying a mysterious candle which he leaves behind when he returns into the tunnel. David is mesmerised by the candle, and he and Keith see strange things around which others eventually notice: giants on the hillside, extinct wild boar, and King Arthur's army. Then David disappears, presumed dead. Keith realises he must bring him back.

David is a moderate rationalist, applying some spurious reasoning about prayer being telepathy. Apart from that, you've only got the usual standing- stones-and-giants stuff to get through. The writing is very atmospheric and portrays the two boys very well, but shows its age (30 years) and appears a little dated perhaps because of it: David translates the Odes of Horace to calm his mind; the boys wear (presumably uniform) ties while walking on the hillsides. From the… click here to read whole article and make comments



Not exactly kissing cousins

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My Cousin's Keeper
by Simon French
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2014 | Candlewick Press | 240 pages

Cousins, a boy with a weird haircut who doesn't "fit in", and families helping each other make for interesting subjects in this upcoming book by Simon French. The story drew me in and kept me glued to the pages throughout.

How would you react if your cousin came to live with you? If you had to share a bedroom with him? Kieran has never liked his cousin Bon. But when Bon's mother cannot cope, Bon is welcomed into Kieran's family home - and Kieran has to share his bedroom with him! Readers will want to know how Kieran's parents deal with the boys' antagonistic relationship. The tension is upped a notch when Kieran's school friends start to tease and bully Bon. What will Kieran do when his mates make a plan to pin Bon down, put a skirt around him and belittle him?

Reading this story may encourage a child witnessing a bullying situation to take a stand. In Kieran's… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 11 JULY 2014

Like a dog and his bone

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by Roddy Doyle
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2014 | Macmillan Children's Books | 256 pages

Ask a child what depression is, and they most likely won't be able to give you much of a definition. Present it metaphorically in a story as a large snarling, angry black dog who has stolen the people's funny bone, and you may come nearer to the mark. As a metaphor for the effects of despair and depression in society this story is excellent. The plot is quite good but some parts seem a bit lengthy before action takes place so older children may lose interest three quarters of the way through.

The story was originally written for the 2011 St Patrick's Day parade in Ireland. Each float going down the street would tell a different chapter in the story. Booker prize-winning author Roddy Doyle tells more about this in his you-tube video at

The two main characters in the story, Gloria and Rayzer, overhear their Gran saying that the "black dog" of depression has got their Uncle… click here to read whole article and make comments



The boy who never grew up

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Peter and the Starcatchers
by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
written for ages 9-12 | recommended with reservations
published in 2010 | Disney Hyperion | 480 pages

Life for an orphan in the late nineteenth century was no picnic. Peter and his "mates", James, Prentiss, Thomas and Tubby Ted, think that their future could not possibly be worse than living at St. Norbert's Home for Wayward Boys. Boarding the Never Land, however, they realize that the ship they are taking to their new home is manned by a crew of shady characters. Only one thing is worse than the bug infested food: the first mate, Slank, who rules the sailors with an iron fist. If not for a warning from another young passenger, Molly Aster, Peter might have tried to escape this well-guarded vessel. He would not have succeeded.

Befriended by Molly, a member of the "starcatchers", Peter and his friends learn the secret of star dust, a magical and immensely powerful substance that falls to earth. Molly and her father have been charged with protecting a chest of stardust from men with evil intentions. Black Stache… click here to read whole article and make comments


MONDAY, 30 JUNE 2014

The joys of a simple life

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Little Boy Brown
by Isobel Harris, illustrated by Andre Francois
written for ages 2-7 | acceptable
published in 2013 (1949) | Enchanted Lion Books | 48 pages

In this recently rediscovered short story, little boy Brown describes a day in the country with his family's maid, Hilda. Little boy Brown usually spends his time with Hilda and the various employees of his New York City apartment building while his parents go to work. His day in the country with Hilda and her family is filled with warmth and domestic tasks that are novelties to little boy Brown. He gravitates naturally to the kind adults who befriend him, enjoying special attention and family life, remembering it as the "nicest time in all my life." Readers cannot help but feel that something essential is missing from this child's own home.


The highlight of the book is André François' artwork. His illustrations resemble a child's drawings with details and perspectives that small children observe. The reader has the sense that little boy Brown is a good-natured fellow who almost feels sorry for his parents who are so wrapped up… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 20 JUNE 2014

Great book for reluctant readers

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Ricky Ricotta's Might Robot Series
by Dav Pilkey
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2014 (2000) | Scholastic Press | 112 pages

What can I give to my children to get them interested in reading? Go no further than the wonderful Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot series (Books 1-9) by Dav Pilkey. The story would not win a "good writing" award, but for sheer interest and appeal it is a sure winner - especially for reluctant or beginner readers. Boys in particular will enjoy the mighty robot tales. The series of nine books has become an Amazon bestseller.

Ricky is a young mouse who is bullied at school and is waiting for something BIG to happen. The mighty robot is the BIG thing, invented by Dr Stinky McNasty to destroy all of Squeakyville. The mighty robot is reminiscent of The Iron Giant as he battles to outwit the evil Dr Stinky and the bullies who are taunting the mouse. In the process he makes friends with Ricky's classmates and finally overcomes Dr Stinky. Young ones can easily relate to the robot, which is… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 13 JUNE 2014

Does gender matter?

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written for all ages

Once upon a time, a mother asked Albert Einstein what she should read to her son to help him grow up as brilliant and intelligent as the famous scientist.

"Fairy-tales," he said, nodding his head.

"Then what?" the mother asked.

"More fairy-tales," Einstein replied.

A good place to start for instilling values of resilience, imagination  and truth in children is Hans Christian Andersen. “The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories (168 Tales in the chronological order of publication) by HCA and translated by H.B. Paull (2013) Centaur, available as an e-book, is widely regarded as faithful to the original version (only $1!) and will delight children. It takes us far away from the watered down, superficial, Disneyfied versions that overwhelm the marketplace. There are multiple other HCA selections that are good to use with children but be wary of some retellings that radically alter the original tales.

Parents will have to decide which tales are appropriate based on their child’s… click here to read whole article and make comments



A must-read for young and not-so-young adults

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The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
written for ages 13-16 | highly recommended
published in 2007 (2005) | Alfred A. Knopf | 576 pages

The nine-year-old daughter of allegedly communist parents, Liesel Meminger is taken to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann soon after her younger brother's death. Hans is as gentle and good-humored as Rosa is rough, and he helps Liesel transition to her new home. Hans begins by teaching Liesel to read at night when she wakes from nightmares about her brother. Using a book she has stolen from the young man who dug her brother's grave, the two spend many hours at their secret lessons. Liesel grows to love her new father and becomes adept at avoiding Rosa's wrath, most of the time.

Thus Liesel embarks on a "life of crime", taking discarded or unwanted books, sometimes with the tacit permission of the owner and the help of her best friend Rudy. The two youngsters share sports and stories of wartime deprivation. Life becomes dangerous when a young Jew named Max arrives at the Hubermann home one night. Liesel then learns… click here to read whole article and make comments


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Reading Matters is MercatorNet’s blog about children’s literature. Our goal is to enable parents and educators to find quality books for young people. For an explanation of our evaluation system, click here. We welcome reader input and new reviewers. We love comments on the book reviews. Write to us at

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