The futility of war

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Yoko's Diary
by Paul Ham, editor; Debbie Edwards, translator
written for all ages | recommended
published in 2014 (2013) | ABC Books | 224 pages

A sense of the futility of war and the heartlessness of involving children in working for the war is gained upon reading this book.

It is the true story of Yoko, a young girl growing up in Japan at the time of the Hiroshima bomb. She was working 700 metres from the centre of the bomb on the day it struck and bore the full brunt of it. Japanese school children were expected by the government to work on farm plots, in munitions factories, and in areas that were at risk of aerial bombing. Yoko was taken to a nearby centre to be nursed with severe burns to her entire body. She waited several hours anxiously for her mother to come. Sadly, her mother and father were unable to reach her before it was too late, and she died asking “Isn’t Mother here yet?”

Her diary includes parts written by her brother, father, a letter to her mother from the… click here to read whole article and make comments



A small man with a big dream

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Leroy Ninker Saddles Up
by Kate DiCamillo
written for ages 7-10 | recommended
published in 2014 | Candlewick | 96 pages

Leroy wants nothing more than to be a cowboy. When he realizes that a prerequisite for the profession is a horse, he purchases an old nag named Maybelline whose idiosyncracies cause him many problems. For Leroy, however, it is love at first sight and he is determined to hold on to the “horse of his heart”.

Filled with animated, humorous dialogue, this light-hearted story is the first in the “Tales from Deckawoo Drive”. Chris Van Dusen’s lively black and white illustrations capture the emotions and personalities of Dicamillo’s characters. This is a book youngsters will enjoy reading multiple times.

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

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Love thy neighbor -  even when it is difficult

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The Pirates Next Door
by Jonny Duddle
written for ages 2-7 | recommended
published in 2012 | Templar | 44 pages

Truth be told, most children would greatly enjoy a pirate family moving in next door. Not so adults in civilised society, though. Nothing very exciting happens in the suburban town of “Dull-on-Sea”. The house next door to Tilda has been up for sale since she was a baby. She always hoped that one day a girl her own age might move in. But in what proves to be the start of a wonderful friendship and adventure, a friendly pirate family and their son, a pirate boy move in!

Neighbours quickly start to gossip about their ship that blocks views, their ‘alarming toys’, their ‘disgraceful’ garden, dirty nails, old clothes and ‘scruffy hats.’ The noise of hammering all night as they fix up their boat is disturbing,and the two Miss Yates at number 88 notice they make the postman walk the plank. They all collect a petition of signatures that states the pirate family are unwelcome and will have to go… click here to read whole article and make comments



A friendship that crosses race barriers

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The Cay
by Theodore Taylor
written for ages 11-14 | recommended
published in 2003 (1969) | Laurel-Leaf | 144 pages

Phillip remembers little of life in Virginia. He was seven when his father took a job on Curaçao, an island in the Caribbean. His mother, however, has remained homesick these past four years. Thus, when German submarines are sighted off the coast, she decides it is time to take Phillip back to the States. Although he would rather stay with his father and friends, he has no choice.

Phillip and his mother board the S.S. Hato, but never make it to Virginia. A German submarine torpedoes the ship, and in the confusion of lifeboats and passengers, Phillip receives a sharp blow to the head and is knocked unconscious. When he awakes, he finds himself adrift on a raft, with a large, African-American man named Timothy. Eventually the pair arrives on a small unchartered cay, but not until after disagreements about rationing supplies and the complete loss of Phillip’s vision. They spend several months together, all the while Timothy teaching Phillip… click here to read whole article and make comments



Crazy like a fox

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Fantastic Mr. Fox
by Roald Dahl
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended
published in 2007 (1970) | Puffin | 96 pages

A rollicking great adventure of daring as ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and his family and friends try to outwit three rich farmers. Mr. Fox has been helping himself to the farmers’ chickens and ducks. Of course, this has got the farmers quite irritated, and they try their best to capture Mr. Fox. There is humour in plenty as the mean farmers wait stubbornly above the foxhole, trying to starve the foxes so they will come out.

Mr. Fox gets his tail shot off, but is determined to protect his young foxes and family and will never give in. He begins to dig a tunnel away from the original foxhole, so they can get out to get food.

However, when the farmers figure out the foxes are tunnelling their way around underground to escape, they get in bulldozing machinery to try to out dig them. On the verge of starvation, it is then that Mr Fox devises a plan to tunnel out… click here to read whole article and make comments



Friendly ghosts

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The Children of Green Knowe
by L.M. Boston
written for ages 7-10 | highly recommended
published in 2002 (1955) | HMH Books for Young Readers | 192 pages

Toseland may be used to being alone, but he doesn’t like it. He attends boarding school in England while his father and stepmother live in Burma. He even spends holidays with the headmistress. When his great-grandmother Oldknow writes to tell him that he is to go and live with her, he has mixed feelings. Will she be the kind of old person that frightens him?

“Tolly” and “Granny” are the best of friends the moment they set eyes on each other. Toseland finds he can speak to his grandmother about anything. So, when he hears strange whispers in his bedroom at night and laughter in the garden, he does not hesitate to confide in her. Granny is not the least bit surprised. She too has seen and heard the spirits of three children, Toby, Linnet and Alexander, ancestors of Toseland’s who lived in the 17th century. Far from being frightened by his encounters with the supernatural, Toseland gradually gains the… click here to read whole article and make comments



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



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



The amazing kookaburra

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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



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


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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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