FRIDAY, 17 JULY 2015

This story strikes a blow for female independence

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The House in Norham Gardens
by Penelope Lively
written for ages 13-16 | recommended
published in 2004 (1974) | Jane Nissen Books | 153 pages

In the recent edition I read, a preface by Philip Pullman points out that this is a book about time. He was referring to Clare's awareness of the differences between her own environment and that of her great-aunts and great-grandfather, and of the contrast between the time-aware cultures of the West and the timelessness of the tribal way of life in New Guinea. Interestingly, from the perspective of 21st-century readers of a book written just before the last quarter of the 20th century, there is another temporal contrast: between Clare's world and our own. It may be because I was growing up in the 1970s but I find books set and written in that time especially interesting. (In passing, these same books I find fascinating now are in some cases the very ones I found boring and opaque at school, something I keep having to remind myself when reviewing from the perspective of a young reader). The 1970s strikes… click here to read whole article and make comments



The book was better than the movie

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl
written for ages 9-12 | highly recommended
published in 2007 (1964) | Puffin Books | 176 pages

Charlie Bucket lives with his family and both sets of grandparents in a small, very uncomfortable house. They are very poor, and the family experience hunger and poverty. Charlie daily sees other children at school take out chocolate bars to munch on while he has none, which is "pure torture". Even worse, he can see an enormous chocolate factory from his house. This is owned by Mr Willy Wonka, and as his bedridden grandad tells stories about the chocolate factory to the young Charlie, it takes on a mystery and wonder in his imagination. Then one day Mr Wonka advertises that five lucky children will be allowed to visit his factory with a personal tour and a behind the scenes look at the magical factory. Five golden tickets are to be found hidden inside the ordinary wrapping paper of five ordinary bars of chocolate. The lucky child will also be granted a lifetime supply of chocolates and sweets.

The story… click here to read whole article and make comments



Toy canoe sails the St. Lawrence

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Paddle-to-the Sea
by Holling Clancy Holling
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 1980 (1941) | HMH Books for Young Readers | 64 pages

A young boy from the Nipigon country in Canada longs to travel to the sea. Since he cannot go himself, he carves a canoe with a Native American like himself in it. Naming the little man "Paddle-to-Sea", the boy sets it loose on the melting snow that runs into a mountain stream with a message carved on the bottom about the canoe's origin and destination. Paddle-to-the Sea makes his way through the Great Lakes, down the Niagara Falls and the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic, where his adventure continues.

This Caldecott Honor book is a perfect read-aloud companion for young students of North American geography. Holling describes landscapes, wildlife, the spring thaw, currents on the Great Lakes and a variety of industries associated with lake country. His illustrations are detailed and show the drama of the little toy's exciting journey.

A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is a full-time wife and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.

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Everything tastes better on a waffle

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Everything on a Waffle
by Polly Horvath
written for ages 11-14 | acceptable
published in 2008 (2001) | Square Fish | 176 pages

Primrose Squarp refuses to believe her parents are dead. Nearly everyone in Coal Harbour thinks her mother was irresponsible when she went out in a skiff to find her fisherman husband in a typhoon. When they first disappeared, Primrose stayed with a Miss Perfidy. Now that the town council has decided that the Squarp estate can no longer afford a babysitter, they have called in the girl's long lost Uncle Jack to take custody of her. As far as Primrose is concerned, her parents will return soon, so any arrangement is only temporary.

Uncle Jack, despite his sketchy past, makes a compassionate custodian. He manages to sidestep the advances of Miss Honeycut, school guidance counselor, and the poorly masked resentment of Miss Bowzer, local restaurateur. As the only person in Coal Harbour who respects Primrose's conviction that her parents are still alive, Miss Bowzer becomes the child's confidante and mentor. Primrose loves to cook, and Miss Bowzer teaches her to… click here to read whole article and make comments


FRIDAY, 26 JUNE 2015

Boy nearly dies after bee attack

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The Sign of the Beaver
by Elizabeth George Speare
written for ages 9-12 | recommended
published in 2011 (1983) | HMH Books for Young Readers | 135 pages

Soon after the French and Indian War, thirteen-year-old Matt and his father leave their family in Massachusetts to build a cabin on their new land in Maine. When the cabin is finished and the crops planted, Matt's father heads south to retrieve Matt's mother and sister while Matt minds their new home.

At first all goes well. Matt develops a routine for chores and grows accustomed to the silence of the forest. Still, he cannot shake the feeling that he is being watched. When he is stung by an angry swarm of bees, Matt discovers that he has neighbors who have indeed been following his activities. An old Native American chief and his grandson, Attean, save Matt from the attack. Matt tries to express his gratitude by offering them his copy of Robinson Crusoe, prompting the old man to ask Matt to teach Attean to read. Despite their mutual resentment, the two boys become friends and swap… click here to read whole article and make comments



Life is nothing but a board game

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The Homeward Bounders
by Diana Wynne Jones
written for ages 11-14 | acceptable
published in 2002 (1981) | HarperTeen | 272 pages

Jamie Hamilton inadvertently discovers "Them": a mysterious group controlling his world as a board game. He is himself discovered and is exiled as a Homeward Bounder, doomed to walk between worlds, forced to cross from one to another whenever a move finishes in its controlling game. He meets other Homeward Bounders and some natives and with their help starts a rebellion to overcome "Them".

A cross between science fiction and fantasy. The idea has interest; it's remarkably iffy if you choose to interpret as reality the notion of everyone's life being controlled as part of a sort of war game. The author manages to bring the legends of the Flying Dutchman, the Wandering Jew and Prometheus into the story quite skilfully, and the central character, Jamie, is portrayed well enough for one to have sympathy for his predicament at the end.

Tim Golden is a comptuer programmer living in London. This review first appeared on his website

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Feminists accuse author of mysogyny

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The Witches
by Roald Dahl
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2007 (1983) | Puffin Books | 208 pages

Author Roald Dahl unwittingly started a controversy a few years ago when he said in an interview about his book The Witches:

A witch is always a woman. I do not wish to speak badly about women. Most women are lovely. But the fact remains that all witches are women. There is no such thing as a male witch. On the other hand, a ghoul is always a male … both are dangerous. But neither of them is half as dangerous as a REAL WITCH.

For some reason this story about vicious witches, who masquerade as normal-looking women by day, has offended the sensitivities of people since its publication in 1983. Roald Dahl's witches hate children and want to rid England of every single child. Feminists have criticised it as being mysogynist because all the evildoers in the story are women. Libraries in England went so far as to ban it. Hollywood's most recent movie of the… click here to read whole article and make comments



The New York Times compared this book to the Narnia series

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The Emerald Atlas
by John Stephens
written for ages 9-12 | recommended with reservations
published in 2012 (2011) | Yearling | 449 pages

Ever since her parents left them ten years ago, Kate has felt responsible for her younger brother and sister, Michael and Emma. Shuttled from one orphanage to the next, the children have never given up hope that their mother and father would someday return. At age fourteen, Kate has vague memories of them, but no recollection as to why they left.

Eventually the threesome arrive at an unlikely home for children, run by a Dr. Pym with the help of his eccentric housekeeper, Miss Sallow, and obliging hired hand, Abraham. Michael is the first to note that an orphanage with only three children is not really an orphanage at all. Since they have never eaten or slept as well, however, they set out to explore their new home. Immediately they sense there is something amiss with their surroundings. Why are there no children at all in the village of Cambridge Falls?

The discovery of a magical atlas in an underground… click here to read whole article and make comments



City boy meets country boy

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The Hollow Land
by Jane Gardam
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2015 (1982) | Europa Editions | 160 pages

A series of short stories rather in the mould of Alan Garner. Each story centres on an episode in the lives of two families living on the Cumbrian Fells, one a local farming family, the other a London-based family who rent a cottage from the locals. The characters of Bell and Harry, local lad and city child respectively form the basis for most of the stories, with the stories spread over a number of years.

A pleasant read, especially the relations between the two families, initially quite hostile but later extremely close. The last story is particularly intriguing, set as it is some short time in the future when all fossil fuel is finished and steam, electricity, etc. are the only ways.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. This review first appeared on his site

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Scientists discover that aliens cause climate change

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The Arctic Code
by Matthew Kirby
written for ages 9-12 | acceptable
published in 2015 | Balzer + Bray | 336 pages

Everyone has always considered Eleanor a bit odd. She has a daredevil streak that often gets her into hot water. While her mother, climatologist Dr. Perry, struggles to understand her, she accepts that Eleanor will always be full of surprises. Dr. Perry simply blames the anonymous "donor" who is Eleanor's unknown father. The only person who seems to "get" Eleanor is Dr. Perry's brother, Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack lives with Eleanor and her mother, taking care of Eleanor when Dr. Perry travels north to study the glacier that is edging its way to the equator.

Living in Phoenix with thousands of refugees from the frozen North, Eleanor has grown accustomed to these absences, though she does not like them. All climatologists working with GET, the Earth's primary supplier of energy, desperately want to discover a way to provide heat for the world's population. Dr. Perry is no exception. When she sends cryptic messages to Eleanor on her "Sync" with instructions… 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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