MONDAY, 29 SEPTEMBER 2014

Master of disguises

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Mister Max: The Book of Secrets
by Cynthia Voigt
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2014 | Knopf Books for Young Readers | 384 pages


Few detectives have the notoriety at age twelve that Max Starling enjoys. Well, technically, Max is not a detective; he's a self-declared “solutioneer”, someone who finds solutions to other people’s dilemmas. He began his profession while trying to find his missing parents, but quickly discovered that it is often easier to solve someone else’s problem than one’s own.

Max and Grammie are growing increasingly concerned that Mr. and Mrs. Starling are in grave danger. Meanwhile, the citizens of Queensbridge are becoming more and more alarmed as a series of fires breaks out among the local shopkeepers. The Mayor approaches “Mister Max” for assistance after the police have exhausted all their leads. Like all of Max’s other clients, the Mayor cannot see through the boy’s disguise and never guesses that this mysterious character with unusual eyes is really just a taller than average pre-teen. Max, for his part, has become somewhat selective about which cases he takes. Having discovered his father’s… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

WEDNESDAY, 24 SEPTEMBER 2014

The origin of the universe

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The Universe Builders
by Steve LeBel
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2014 | Argon Press | 414 pages


It's never easy to be the child of a celebrity. No one knows this better than Bernie. His father is, perhaps, the greatest universe builder the World of gods has ever known. If he hadn't walked out on Bernie's mother, he might have taught his son how to be a successful builder as well.

Most of his teachers find Bernie disorganized and his attitude unconventional. It seems to stem from his theory that all life is sacred, and therefore the gods should not destroy the life forms they create. While most of the gods develop worlds in order to manipulate them, Bernie becomes attached to his creatures. In spite of this, Bernie manages to graduate from builders' school and land a job building new universes.

Bad recommendations are the least of Bernie's problems, though. His arch-enemy, Billy, just happens to be the nephew of the head of Bernie's department, and, as luck would have it, they have adjacent cubicles. Billy… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

MONDAY, 22 SEPTEMBER 2014

The amazing kookaburra

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Jeremy
by Chris Faille and Danny Snell
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2013 | Working Title Press | 32 pages


The illustrator Danny Snell writes that this book is “For all the birds that I tried to save as a child.” Many children have a natural kindness and tendency to want to help a sick or injured animal, and this picture book picks up on the caring, nurturing aspect of pet-keeping.

A cat brings a baby kookaburra into the family's lounge room. The family feed the baby bird every four hours, and watch as it grows. The story ends beautifully as Jeremy returns to his natural environment, finding companions who may be his brother and sister. Endpapers give details about the lifespan, habits and facts to encourage curiosity about Australia's amazing native bird, the kookaburra.

Beautiful, charming illustrations in acrylic on board give the story its beauty and appeal. Children will recognise the understated humour which adds another ‘story’ to the words. Jeremy enjoys learning to fly and even sits determinedly, a small figure on a large recliner chair, in… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

MONDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER 2014

Too much information for children

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Better Nate than Ever
by Tim Federle
written for ages 9-12 | not recommended
published in 2013 | Simon & Schuster | 304 pages


Nate, 13, really wants to be an actor. This is only one of the reasons no one seems to like him. Well, no one except his best friend Libby, who also loves acting. His alcoholic mother seems too wrapped-up in Nate's athletic older brother, Anthony. His father thinks Nate is a wimp. The kids at school pick on him because he is overweight, and they think he is homosexual. Nate has not actually decided what his sexual orientation is, but still resents the name-calling.

Thus, when Nate decides to run away to New York City to audition for the part of Eliot in "E.T.: the Musical", he thinks he is leaving all his problems behind. Armed with a cell phone, his mother's ATM card and hours of Libby's coaching, Nate figures he can make it in the Big Apple. If not, he will enjoy the greatest city in the world before returning to Jankburg, PA and his miserable life.

What… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

FRIDAY, 12 SEPTEMBER 2014

Witness to murder

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Smith: the Story of a Pickpocket
by Leon Garfield
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2013 (1967) | New York Review Children's Collection | 216 pages


Twelve-year-old Smith has little ambition in life. His two sisters, Miss Bridget and Miss Fanny, eke out a meager living for the threesome altering clothes the hangman acquires from his "clients" at the local prison. Nimble fingers must be a family trait, for Smith does his part to supplement their salary with contributions from the pockets of his fellow Londoners. He knows the streets and alleys of the city like the palm of his hand, and his swift, furtive ways have kept him out of trouble - so far.

Smith is more child than criminal, however. He steals to survive. Thus, he is aghast when he witnesses the murder of one of his own victims at the hands of two men in brown. How could the document he stole be so valuable as to be worth killing an elderly gentleman to obtain? The two men in brown and their peg-legged employer must know. Smith, on the other hand, does not,… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

WEDNESDAY, 10 SEPTEMBER 2014

A story of friendship and personal tragedy

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Nest
by Esther Ehrlich
written for ages 13-16published in 2014 | Wendy Lamb Books | 336 pages


This is the type of story that, when you reach the end, you wish there were more, yet are relieved it is finished! Many have commented that it is the saddest story they have ever read. Others say there is something broodingly painful in it. It is a story that affects readers and is not easily forgotten.

The story is about 11-year-old "Chirp" Orenstein, a Jewish girl from Cape Cod. Her nickname, Chirp, comes from her hobby of bird watching. Much of the story contains happy moments about Chirp's mother before she gets sick or memories of her afterwards. There is cooking, dancing, trips and laughing. The daughters, Naomi (Chirp) and Rachel, 11 and 13 years, dance together in bikinis, happy, young and vibrant with enthusiasm for all that is life. The writing is descriptive and beautiful, almost poetic at times. Everything revolves around the wonderful mother and her encouragement of her daughters.

However, darkness clouds their horizon. Chirp's mother… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

FRIDAY, 5 SEPTEMBER 2014

Teen romance turns science fiction thriller

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The Starseed Series: Anna
by Meghan Riley
written for ages 15-18 | recommended
published in 2013 | CreateSpace | 374 pages


Anna never thought the handsome and popular captain of the football team, Steve, would ever end up in her physics class. She just did not think he was so academically oriented. When she completely humiliates herself by running into him in the hall and accidentally leaving with his physics notebook and take-home midterm, she decides she'll never impress him. Feeling guilty about preventing him from completing his assignment, she decides, unfortunately with no compunction whatsoever, that she should do it for him. Not only is Steve grateful for the assist, but he asks Anna to tutor him. Could life be more perfect?

Well, actually, yes. Anna's life is more complicated than that of the average high school senior. After her father died in the war in Afghanistan, her mother nearly had a nervous breakdown. Anna does her best not to upset the delicate balance at home, keeping an eye on her mother as well as her video game-addicted younger brother,… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

MONDAY, 1 SEPTEMBER 2014

Eric Carle gets personal

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Friends
by Eric Carle
written for ages 2-7 | acceptable
published in 2013 | Philomel | 32 pages


Eric Carle fans may be a little disappointed in his latest picture book.  While his illustrations capture the reader’s attention with colors that express, with simple strokes, both images and feelings, the theme of Friends may be more than the average pre-schooler can understand.  Reminiscing about a long lost friend from his own pre-school days, Carle describes a close relationship, a sense of loss when the friend moves away and an emotional reunion that leads to marriage. His inclusion of an actual photo of his friend and himself may pull at the heartstrings of adults.  Children, however, may have a hard time relating to this book.

Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher living in Ridgewood, NJ.

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WEDNESDAY, 27 AUGUST 2014

Exiles from Troy discover the New World

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The Kingdom of Patria
by Daniel McInerny
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2012 | Trojan Tub Entertainment


When Oliver Stoop's father is promoted to president of his company, the Republic of Staplers, he decides the family must move to the country where they can have privacy and room enough to build his dream "castle". At age eleven, Oliver does not mind leaving his friends and school behind; he still has his collection of The Chronicles of Odysseus Murgatroyd, Adventurer that he can read in his tent in the middle of their mobile home while construction gets under way.

Living in the middle of nowhere seems the ideal situation for Mr. Stoop's plans, but Oliver is not so sure. He notices people in the nearby woods, and the Stoops quickly find themselves embroiled in a conflict with a clandestine group of settlers. They claim that they have a treaty, signed by Thomas Jefferson, granting them a small portion of the now State of Indiana for their Kingdom of Patria. The Patrians have maintained a lifestyle that resembles… click here to read whole article and make comments


 

MONDAY, 25 AUGUST 2014

An enduring appeal

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Horrid Henry Shows Who's Boss
by Francesca Simon
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended
published in 2010 | Orion Children's Books | 208 pages


Twenty years ago, in 1994, the very first Horrid Henry book hit the shelves. Since then, this amazing little character has sold over fifteen million copies. Author Francesca Simon aptly sums up the reasons for the enduring appeal of Horrid Henry:

    “I often describe the Horrid Henry books as westerns for kids. Henry is an outlaw, who behaves dreadfully, yet often triumphs. Just as adults like reading about people who go against convention, so kids get a thrill from a child who always acts on impulse and never worries about the consequences. Henry is pure ego, while Perfect Peter is an exaggerated version of the impeccably behaved child parents think they want.

There are a variety of Horrid Henry stories, many of which are coming out this year to coincide with the twenty year anniversary. Your library, bookshop or e-reader will have plentiful copies. Children can also find fun activities, jokes and "how to draw" Horrid Henry… 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 jennifer.minicus@mercatornet.com.


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