The Fault in Our Stars

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The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
written for ages 15-18published in 2012 | Dutton Books | 313 pages

If you see blotchy-faced teenagers on the street this week they will have emerged from an early screening of the young adult movie of the year, The Fault in Our Stars. Based on the novel of the same name by John Green, #TFIOS is a recent take on the star-crossed lovers theme involving two young cancer sufferers who refuse to let illness define their lives. It has been a New York Times best-seller for 124 consecutive weeks, and the trailer for the movie has been viewed over 20 million times. (Note: the trailer includes the beginning of a bedroom scene.)

Green’s fierce following of devoted teens grew thanks to his three previous successful novels and the popular YouTube channel vlogbrothers which he co-created with his brother Hank. Green is passionate about inspiring intellectual curiosity in teens and sees reading in particular as a way of teaching… click here to read whole article and make comments



Grandfather inspires courage in young girl

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Small Beauties: the Journey of Darcy Heart O'Hara
by Elvira Woodruff
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2014 (2006) | Knopf Books for Young Readers | 40 pages

Chickens roost in the thatched roofs of Derry Lane, Pobble O'Keefe. We can almost hear the lilting Irish accent in the narrator voicing the background setting to this story as the main character, Darcy, a young Irish girl with a talent for observation, is introduced. The O'Hara family are happy as they gather around the hearth for Grandad's stories "in the glow of the peat fire." His stories would feature "brave heroes...moonlit glens (and)..fairy queens." However, this happiness is short lived when the potatoes turn black and their leaves curl up.

Darcy's family are forced off the land and an agent warns them to accept the government ticket to leave Ireland. They have no choice but to accept the trip to America where there are fresh vegetables, and they have the chance of buying their own land! They have to leave behind Grandma and Grandad and say goodbye to their homeland. Granny encourages Darcy to keep the small beauties so… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 30 MAY 2014

Mercenaries and slaves

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The Dungeon
by Lynne Reid Banks
written for ages 13-16 | recommended
published in 2003 (2002) | HarperCollins | 288 pages

Alan McLennan is a clan laird, driven by revenge against the man who had his family taken away or killed in front of him. He orders the construction of a castle with a dungeon and then spends three years travelling in China as a hired mercenary to take him away from it all. In China, he buys a little girl, Peony, from her family to have as a slave to look after him.

As they travel together, the two become closer but without Alan ever realising it; the kindness he once had is hidden deeply by the emotional scars of his family's murder. Eventually they return to Scotland, where the castle is ready, and McLennan calls his men to attack the McInnes stronghold, an ill-executed plan which has tragic consequences.

This story has just the right amount of pace in an essentially character-driven story. It's made clear to us early on that Alan is a good man who's had all… click here to read whole article and make comments


TUESDAY, 27 MAY 2014

A good read-aloud

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Shadow Chasers
by Elly MacKay
written for ages 2-7 | recommended
published in 2014 | Running Press Kids | 32 pages

A short bedtime story with illustrations created by paper diorama. Golden light reminiscent of a glowing sunset infuses the pages of this book. Light wraps itself around corners creating an edge of mystery and adventure as the children chase the shadows. Shadows are sometimes long and thin, appearing here and there hidden and windswept.

The story goes that three children chase various animal and plant shadows through a forest. As evening approaches the children become tired; settings turn purple and darker; a warm house beckons. The children go to sleep with the thought of awaiting the morning light when they can meet their own shadows once again.

A good story to read aloud to young children for bedtime or to nurture the imagination and sense of play. It features a subject close to children's imagination: shadows.

A former children's librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a full-time mother of two.

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MONDAY, 19 MAY 2014

The worst thing about summer vacation

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written for all ages | highly recommended

As the US heads into Memorial Day Weekend, children around the country begin to count the days until summer vacation. The excitement is somewhat dampened, however, by the distribution of summer assignments, in particular the summer reading list. I thought students would appreciate classics that are humorous and fun, so here are a few books that should make readers laugh:

Ages 7-8

Mr. Bliss by J.R.R. Tolkien: Written and illustrated for his children, this short story proves that even a literary giant can be silly sometimes.

James and the Giant Peach by Raold Dahl: a transatlantic flight and a lesson about insects rolled into one.

Ages 9-10

The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber: a clever spoof on "happily ever after".

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit: be careful what you wish for - it might come true!

Ages 11-12

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene duBois: a twist on the eruption of Krakatoa.

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FRIDAY, 16 MAY 2014

Nine-year-old girl solves crime

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Pyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr. Okyoto
by Geoffrey McSkimming
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2013 (2012) | Allen and Unwin | 280 pages

The story of a young girl of nine who likes doing magic tricks, has many friends, a small dog called Daisy and lives in an apartment with her father, Harvey Wong. But Phyllis Wong is more than this. She becomes a brilliant sleuth who helps the Chief Inspector solve some baffling robberies. One of the twin blue Wren bookends - rare and priceless pieces of pottery done by the very esteemed reclusive potter Gladys Reyscombe - has been stolen and replaced with a fake. This has mysteriously happened under the very eyes of the shop-keeper who has no explanation. And a precious Duckworth diamond has been stolen from the museum. Replay of CCT security videos reveals to detectives a seemingly illogical situation: the precious jewelry seems to just disappear before their very eyes, with no ropes and no interference to the video of any kind.

This book captured my interest from the very first pages and managed to keep me… click here to read whole article and make comments


TUESDAY, 13 MAY 2014

Newbery runner-up bewitches readers

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Splendors and Glooms
by Laura Amy Schlitz
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2014 (2012) | Candlewick Press | 400 pages

Neither Lizzie Rose nor Parsefall really likes working for the cruel Grisini. Orphaned a year ago, Lizzie Rose remembers well the happy family life she shared with her parents. She tries to recapture that with Parsefall, treating him as a younger brother. Parsefall has lived longer with the puppeteer, who "rescued" him from the workhouse, and has learned to fear the man. The children know that the alternative is to live on the street, so they make the best of a bad situation. Lizzie Rose strives to maintain her personal dignity and moral uprightness; Parsefall struggles to win Grisini's approval.

When Grisini gives a puppet show at the Wintermute home for Clara Wintermute's birthday, Clara and Lizzi Rose quickly become friends. Parsefall sees an opportunity to "pick-up" some valuables with which he can endear himself to his master. The morning after the party, however, more is missing from the Wintermute home than a few personal items. Clara herself is gone,… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 9 MAY 2014

Adventure and allegory

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The Door Within
by Wayne Thomas Batson
written for ages 11-14 | acceptable
published in 2013 (2005) | Thomas Nelson | 368 pages

Aidan Thomas is a young teenager who resents his family's move across the country until he comes across a set of scrolls in his grandfather's basement. They tell a story in which he mysteriously becomes embroiled, travelling to The Realm to join the elite warriors of King Eliam. Aidan has to undergo intensive training as a warrior and to prove his worth on the journey, helped by Gwenne, a girl of about his age who's already an accomplished warrior.

If you're coming along for a swords-and-sorcery tale with young heroes and gripping battles, then this may leave you satisified. On the other hand, you may just find the Christian elements somewhat overwhelming, and in contrast the slight creakiness of the writing somewhat underwhelming.

King Eliam is betrayed by an honoured friend and gives his life for his people. Aidan's parents and his grandfather recognise this as The Story, a bestselling book which many own but which few have read. Aidan… click here to read whole article and make comments



Queens are people too

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Me, the Queen and Christopher
by Giles Andreae
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2012 | Orchard | 96 pages

An easy first reader this book has two qualities in abundance: humanity and humour. The author has drawn each character in a very real way without sentimentality or superficiality. Characters appear very ordinary especially the Queen who dances the Boogie, makes tea with tea bags and eats baked beans on toast.

Freya is seven years old and receives a letter telling her that she has been randomly chosen out of all the school children of Britain for that year to be the personal guest of the Queen. She will spend one day with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Young girls will enjoy seeing what the Queen is really like and imagining how it could be them spending a day with her.

Their day spent together is an eye opener for Freya. All goes well and towards the end of the day the Queen hears about Freya's little brother Christopher who is wheelchair bound. Despite her lofty position, the Queen looks… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 2 MAY 2014

Simplicity is hard to find

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by John Burningham
written for ages 2-7 | recommended
published in 2014 (2013) | Candlewick Press | 32 pages

A simple bedtime book about "boy" and "girl" who make a picnic. Simplicity in picture books is a valuable and sometimes hard to find commodity these days. Small children see things in terms of black and white, simple and straightforward, and that is why I like this book. It would lend itself well to a read-aloud session with a small group because it is simple and has large enough illustrations.

The scene becomes amusing when pig, sheep and duck join in, dressed in smart casual. Lovely dappled colors and splotched ink effects give a light summery feel to the book. Drama, that necessary ingredient in successful read-aloud stories is present when bull romps into the double page spread. A hide-and-seek element is then introduced as the characters all seek to hide from the bull. Opportunities for reader interaction are plentiful as we are prompted to find various elements in the illustrations. This "Can you find...?" element offers reassuring repetition for… 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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