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



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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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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